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Poverty and Early Childhood Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 3625 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Poverty has radiated into a growing problem in the United States. In 2016, the US Census Bureau estimated that there were 43.1 million people living in poverty.  Of this 43.1 million, 15 million were children (Semega). Studies have shown children raised in poverty lack developmental skills: physically, cognitively, and mentally. These skills consist of developmental milestones that help children develop physical skills as infants, which mature into the ability to speak, think abstractly, and care for themselves and others in the future.  Early intervention is crucial to help children establish these evolving skills.  Programs have been developed to help promote school readiness, reduce behavioral problems, and educate parents.  The long-term academic effects of poverty on early childhood development can be counter-argued that the cost of federally funded preschool does not outweigh the long-term benefits.  Even though schools can raise the graduation rate by helping students be successful, they cannot guarantee students will receive a high paying career or attend college.  Children in poverty lack developmental skills because of the environment they are raised in and parental unbalance. Which can be mitigated through early intervention programs reducing the detrimental long-term effects.

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Poverty has become the single greatest threat to children throughout history, increasing the infant mortality rate and subjecting children to violence, abuse, and exploitation. The United States produces more per capita than any other industrialized country. Making the United States one of the riches countries but statistics state that in the United States the poverty rate among children remains greater than most advanced countries. Clearly, poverty among children reflects the economic downturn and has been decreasing since 1960. Provided by the Census Bureau in 2016, families pre-tax earnings must be below the threshold of $24,339 for a family of four and $19,337 for a family of three to be considered living in poverty (“Children”).  The data pertaining to poverty also included that children living in impoverished conditions come from single-mother homes (“Children”).  Parents in these circumstances are unemployed, work for low wages, or have unstable employment. The federal government along with state governments has introduced effective public policies such as Head Start and Medicaid, among others, to provide help and make a difference.  These policies have been developed as support systems to improve the health and development of impoverished families.  Senior director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Arloc Sherman and associates state in the article Various Supports for Low-Income Families Reduce Poverty and Have Long-Term Positive Effects on Families and Children,

Various safety net programs provide important assistance to struggling families, help ensure that low-income individuals have access to affordable health care and provide increased educational opportunities to low-income students.  These efforts reduce poverty and hardship and promote work in the short run.  They also contribute to more positive educational, health, and employment outcomes in the longer run.

Therefore, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program provides medical, dental, vision, and mental services to low-income families.  These services deliver long-term health benefits to families and children. Additionally, federally funded housing assistance provides families with a stable housing environment at low cost, improving academic achievement in children by eliminating frequent moves, school transitions, and homelessness. The Early Head Start program was introduced to raise school completion rates and improve developmental skills by producing substantial improvement of cognitive development in impoverished children. At the same time, low-income adults can qualify for government assistance, through Pell Grants to earn a college education.  To offset payroll taxes, boosting the family’s income and employment, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit has been introduced to low-income families.  Over the past three decades, multiple policies have been tried, failed, and have been successful.  They have all been governed to promote work, support low-income individuals and families, and increase the health and development of children (Sherman).  Successfully, they have slowly gained ground on these feats, through the use of federal policies. In spite of these policies being established, children in poverty are forced to live in undesirable conditions.

The environment in which surrounds children has a direct impact on their health and developmental skills. Neuroscientist Bryan Kolb specializes in how the brain is affected by different behaviors, proclaims in his academically scholarly journal “Living in poverty places children at high risk for many health conditions later in life. Perhaps the biggest problem is that a low socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood correlates with poor cognitive development, language, memory, socioemotional processing, and ultimately income and health in adulthood” (215).  Suggesting, that parents are economically constrained in their choices of neighborhoods, inhibiting caregivers the ability to create a stable environment for their children.  Therefore, they find themselves raising their children in socially disorganized areas with high crime rates and few quality resources. Moreover, social interactions are limited because these regions do not have adequate parks or childcare facilities impacting children’s learning, social-emotional development, and school readiness. According to Van Ryzin et al. in the 2018 article written in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, school environments in these areas are found to be less supportive, with minimal positive interactions between teachers and students, putting children at a greater risk of behavioral and psychological problems (130).  The longer a child endures impoverished conditions the more severe the long-term developmental effects will be.  However, income determines the environment and the learning opportunities for children, while many factors play roles in the developmental skills produced.  Distinguished professors Greg J. Duncan and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, both of which have dedicated time in researching early childhood development suggest “A first important pathway in the quality of a child’s home environment. [The] warmth of mother-child interactions, the physical condition of the home, and especially opportunities for learning account for a substantial portion of the effects of family income on cognitive outcomes in young children” (190).  Suggesting, that the amount of child-parent interactions, the quality of the home environment, and the amount of learning tools accessible to the child, is dependent on the amount of income brought into the home.  These quality interactable items correlate into the extent of cognitive development that the child will obtain.  Furthermore, families find themselves socially isolated in these environments adding to the prevalent stressors that parents face along with a limited amount of available resources.

Equally important, with the amount of stress that parents face in poverty, they remain unable to support, nurture, or respond to their children’s needs impacting the child’s early childhood development skills.  In a 2017 journal article Dr. Kimberly Sharkins et al. assert, that parents mental health play a significant role in early childhood development.  They have described evidence representing their claim:

Maternal depression can also affect a parent’s ability to respond to their child’s needs and emotions in a supportive and nurturing way, making it more difficult to assist children in developing essential emotional regulation skills. Furthermore, research has indicated that when the effects of poverty are combined with those of maternal depression, children’s language, cognitive, and social-emotional developmental outcomes are exacerbated (494).

Through research and studies, a link has been found between the association of income and psychiatric disorders among adults (Ferguson 701). Parents mental health has an influence on their children’s developments. As a result, children that are not nurtured and supported at home will have a difficulty developing essential social-emotional skills.  This combined with parent inability to develop interpersonal relationships with their children, along with the lack of cognitive development will greatly increase the negative long-term impact of cognitive, emotional, and physical development associated with poverty.  “Some studies have established that parent mental health accounts for some of the effects of economic circumstances on child health and behavior” (Duncan 190).  Thus, parents play crucial roles in the development of their children before birth. As stated above, maternal depression can increase preterm labor or low birth weights, caused by stressors and hardships associated with the mother while pregnant and living in poverty.  Over time these complications can manifest as chronic diseases, specifically asthma and obesity; learning impairments such as cognitive learning disabilities that may result in grade retention, or special education placement; behavioral problems that may appear in school or physical arrests in the future. Through early intervention programs, these difficulties can be mitigated.

Early intervention programs are the key to helping children and families establish skills that they lack developmentally and medically.  These programs work to promote school readiness while reducing behavioral problems and educating families. Dr. W. Steven Barnett states in the journal article Long-Term Cognitive and Academic Effects of Early Childhood Education on Children in Poverty “early education programs can substantially improve the cognitive development, academic success, and lives of children in poverty while benefiting the nation as a whole” (207). Ultimately, this information suggests that early intervention programs are most effective when children receive these services before age five. Children that attend one to two years of programs, such as Head Start, or preschool can dramatically improve their developmental skills (Lunenburg 2). Generally speaking, with the use of these programs children will receive positive interactions with peers and adults learning how to manage their social-emotional skills, resulting in a reduction of behavioral problems. It should be noted that American psychologist Abraham Maslow theorizes that all humans have a set of specific needs that need to be met before they are able to learn (McLeod).  Indicating that children need to have food, water, and be healthy to learn efficiently.  Early intervention programs provide children and families with immunizations, medical care, dental exams, and psychological assistance that will each aid in enhancing the health, growth and developmental skills. These services provided at no cost to families can help establish a healthy lifestyle increasing the ability to developmentally and physically.

As discussed above, parents play an important part in influencing their children’s developmental skills. Families and parents can participate in intervention programs along with their children. Through studies performed by T.D. Tran et al. for the journal article published in Child: Care, Health and Development,

“data indicate[s] that even in the context of poverty the quality of care provided to a young child at home including the engagement of mother and father in play and learning activities with their children, the availability of children’s book[s] and learning materials, substitution of harsh punishments with positive behavior management strategies and attending pre-school education programs can have a large effect on childhood development” (424).

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Such data implies that these programs will increase parental knowledge, educating families on the importance of quality relationships with their children and family management skills.  The increase of positive parent-child relationships will improve parental involvement in the child’s education, influencing the future outcome of their children. However, these programs can also provide parents with job training skills to increase their income, mitigating the effects of poverty on their family.

In November 2013, the United States federal government introduced the Strong Start for America’s Children Act.  This act is designed to provide federally funded preschool programs to all four-year old’s that live in the qualifying low to moderate income range (Burke). Director of The Center for Education Policy, Lindsey Burke in her 2014 article Federal Preschool Proposals Will Cost Billions and Have Limited Impact on Participants refutes the implication of this act, stating “Policymakers at every level of government should exercise caution when it comes to establishing federal or state preschool programs. Evidence from existing programs raises doubts about their efficacy—not to mention the significant costs to taxpayers.”  Such information suggests that between the state requirements to implement this federally funded preschool program and the amount that it will cost taxpayers it outweighs the long-term benefits that have not yet been proven.

In defense, Board of Governors Professor and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, Dr. W. Steven Barnett argues in his 1998 journal article, “the economic return from providing early education to children in poverty far exceeds the costs” (204). Emphasizing, that federally supported early intervention programs introduced into the public school system provides long-term cognitive developmental skills to children at a significantly less cost. Resulting in a reduction in welfare dependency in the future, saving the federal government money.

Children need to be provided with high-quality childcare that will mitigate the long-term effects of poverty.  In a 2007 article authored by H.B. Ferguson, professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Toronto, he concurs, that a direct link exists between an increase in cognitive development and the use of early-childhood intervention programs, among children associated with low socioeconomic status (703).  Signifying, that the best solution to increase development in children that live in poverty would be early intervention programs.  As previously stated, children in poverty do not have the development that regular children do.  This lack of development among impoverished children causes long-term mental, physical, behavioral, and health conditions. Consequently, early-intervention preschool programs give children a better chance of achieving developmental milestones. In the article Examining Effects of Poverty, Maternal Depression, and Children’s Self-Regulation Abilities on the Development of Language and Cognition in Early Childhood: An Early Head Start Perspective,Dr. Kimberly Sharkins et al. proclaims that preschool attendance will lead to self-regulation of behavior and emotions in the future (497). Furthermore, teachers that interact with children can develop interpersonal relationships that can influence children to develop self-regulation skills, improving their behavior and increasing academic success. 

To conclude, a child that spends half or more of their childhood in poverty is 40% more likely to live in poverty as an adult (Van Ryzin 128).  This information stresses the importance that we understand the effects that poverty has on early childhood development when a great number of children are living in horrifying conditions, without a hope to escape.  The environment, toxic stress, and improper care that a child is exposed to, will automatically embed itself into the long-term development and future of each child reducing the number of developmental skills obtained in early childhood. Children need to live in positive environments that will stimulate their developments by increasing safety and stability. Additionally, parental unbalance coupled with depression, low education, and unstable employment can cause long-term problems in their children commencing at a young age.  These issues will result in the children’s ability to learn efficiently subsequently a lack of developmental skills mentally, cognitively, behaviorally, and emotionally. With early intervention programs for children combined with parent education, there can be an improvement in the health and developmental skills during early childhood among impoverished children. Concluding, that through these programs the detrimental extent of poverty will be mitigated, the developmental gaps will be bridged, and the quality of life among children in poverty will improve resulting in positive long-term outcomes and futures.

Works Cited

  • Barnett, W. Steven. “Long-Term Cognitive and Academic Effects of Early Childhood Education on Children in Poverty.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 27, no. 2, 1998, pp. 204-207. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9578996.
  • Burke, Lindsey, and Brittany Corona. “Federal Preschool Proposals Will Cost Billions and Have Limited Impact on Participants”. The Heritage Foundation, 2014, https://www.heritage.org/education/report/federal-preschool-proposals-will-cost-billions-and-have-limited-impact.
  • “Children in Poverty – Child Trends”. Child Trends, 2018, https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/children-in-poverty.
  • Duncan, Greg J., and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Family Poverty, Welfare Reform, and Child Development.” Child Development vol. 71, no. 1, 2000, pp. 188-196. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=3061039&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
  • Ferguson, H.B., S. Bovaird, and M.P. Mueller. “The Impact of Poverty on Educational Outcomes for Children.” Paediatrics & Child Health, vol. 12, no. 8, 2007, pp. 701-706. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528798/.
  • Kolb, Bryan, and Robbin Gibb. “Childhood Poverty and Brain Development”. Human Development, vol. 58, no. 4-5, 2015, pp. 215-217. Karger, doi:10.1159/000438766.
  • Lunenburg, Fred C. “Early Childhood Education: Implications for School Readiness.” Schooling, vol. 2, no. 1, 2011, www.researchgate.net/publication/ 267204993_Early_Childhood_Education_Implications_for_School_Readiness.
  • McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. Simply Psychology, 2018, https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.
  • Semega, Jessica et al. “Income and Poverty in The United States: 2016”. Census.Gov, 2016, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2017/demo/P60-259.pdf.
  • Sharkins, Kimberly, et al. “Examining Effects of Poverty, Maternal Depression, and Children’s Self-Regulation Abilities on the Development of Language and Cognition in Early Childhood: An Early Head Start Perspective.” Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 45, no. 4, July 2017, pp. 493–498. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10643-016-0787-9.
  • Sherman, Arloc et al. “Various Supports for Low-Income Families Reduce Poverty and Have Long-Term Positive Effects on Families and Children”. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2013, https://www.cbpp.org/research/various-supports-for-low-income-families-reduce-poverty-and-have-long-term-positive-effects.
  • “Supporting Young Children: Addressing Poverty, Promoting Opportunity and Advancing Equity in Policy”. Cssp.Org, 2016, www.cssp.org/policy/2016/Supporting-Young-Children-Addressing-Poverty-Promoting-Opportunity-and-Advancing-Equity-in-Policy.pdf.
  • Tran, T. D., S. Luchters, and J. Fisher. “Early Childhood Development: Impact of National Human Development, Family Poverty, Parenting Practices and Access to Early Childhood Education.” Child: Care, Health and Development, vol. 43, no. 3, 2016, pp. 415-426. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/cch.12395.
  • Van Ryzin, Mark J. et al. “The Promise of Prevention Science for Addressing Intergenerational Poverty.” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, vol. 24, no. 1, 2018, pp. 128-143. American Psychological Association (APA), doi:10.1037/law0000138.
  • Votruba, Drzal, Elizabeth, et al. “Poverty, Urbanicity, and Children’s Development of Early Academic Skills.” Child Development Perspectives, vol. 10, no. 1, Mar. 2016, pp. 3–9. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/cdep.12152.


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