Poverty on Development through Childhood to Adolescence

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The ecological systems concept presented in module two acknowledges the significance that many settings play in people's lifelong behavior. When a child is born, he or she inherits specific traits that predispose them to grow and develop to certain degrees and become what the traits dictate. The characteristics may influence whether a child grows up to be chubby, slender, and clever, or to have specific powerful and strong talents. These are the talents that allow them to endure or cope with life, as well as adapt to tremendous adversity throughout the course of their lives.However, the realization of a child's hereditary predisposition to have powerful and strong is dependent on environmental circumstances (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). This makes development a function of the interaction between nature and nurture. Poverty is a serious environmental aspect that can impact on the ability of a child to realize their full hereditary strength. Aspects that emanate from poverty that are worthy exploring in relation to how they affect development range from the physical wellbeing, mental and functional health to the ability of a child to learn. It is important to estimate and illustrate the gross mechanism by which poverty can deprive children from realizing their expected milestones of growth and development. This is since poverty makes children to be vulnerable by causing deficiencies to them nutritionally, rendering them susceptible to infections and stress (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007, p. 63). The seriousness of these effects may become more emphatic as children develop into the puberty and adolescence years when they have to be independent and require emotional, physiological and physical health and wellbeing.

The infantry of a child and the subsequent few years of childhood are usually marked by a rate of development that is at a scale which no later stages of life can match. The significance of the initial years and the development that usually happens is that they lay the foundation upon which future development will occur. However, when a child attains the age of six years, any factors that may have inhibited or interfered with their rate of development will already have yielded evident preventable inequalities in their growth and development (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000, p. 309). Notably, family incomes is salient among the factors that can play either the inhibitor or catalyst on the healthy development of children. Of importance to note that the children who find themselves growing up in a household environment of optimum income essentially enjoy the comfort of security and develop beneficial attachments that support their emotional stability (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000, p. 309). Conversely, those from low-income families lack security that is a basic human need and as well live an inconsistent and random life that makes it impossible to achieve required attachments for their emotional benefit. Since the importance of initial years of life cannot be overstated, it only follows that these period be marked with the most controlled, consistent and predictable supply of care, supply of required needs enough to trigger a maximized start-up in a child's life. Having pointed that out, it then goes without saying that lack of providing for children's needs, supporting their emotional and physical wellbeing and putting them in a childhood context of deprivation can have detrimental developmental effects that the following sections explicate.

Poverty and its consequences on childhood health

As stated in the foregoing discussion, when children are in a low-income household, the exhibit health outcomes that are worse as compared to other children if different indicators are considered. There are various mechanism through which poverty takes a toll on the health of children. They are presented in the following indicators

Birth outcomes

The module presented various indicators of childhood health and wellbeing. Some of them fall in the overall category of birth outcomes and based on which various risks associated to poverty can be understood. One of the indicators is that of infant mortality which is at the basic level of birth outcomes, a societal health and wellbeing concern. Infant mortality is associated with wealth levels and how it is relatively distributed in households and communities. In most countries, higher-income families and especially those that are urban-based have lower mortality rate as compared to the higher mortality rates of those that are low income. In one study based on the households in Canada, low-income urban households recorded a whopping 66% higher mortality rate over the low mortality rates of higher-income urban families. The data recorded that for every 1000 live births in low income urban households, 6.5 percent died (Engle & Black, 2008, 252). In comparison, only 3.9% of deaths per 1000 live births were recorded for the urban high-income families (Engle & Black, 2008). In contributing to the vulnerability to lead to death is the birth weight factor. Mothers in low-income families do not afford all the required nutritional nourishment, some do not eat at the right intervals while others deprive the children they are carrying of nutrition as they have to work hard and use up a lot of energy and nutritional resources that otherwise would be channeled to the baby (McLoyd, 1998, p. 185). As a result, the children suffer deprivation nutritionally and do not grow or develop fully leading to the low birth weight (Petterson & Albers, 2001, p. 2001). Such children with low birth weight end up being predisposed to some of the risk factors that Engle and Black (2008) put forward in their paper. The gross effect of this is that the child has to be re-hospitalized over and over again. Being unable to get the child to better care or feed the child to improve their nutritional value, the child may progress on a path of starvation, become weaker and eventually die (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997, p. 63). The net effects of poverty is poor nutrition and its concomitant risk factors such as illnesses

Illnesses and health conditions

Asthma is one of the leading illness vulnerabilities in the world presently even if it is not captured in the risk factors by Engle & Black (2008). However, they mention lack of breastfeeding that has been associated with causing respiratory problems. Breastfeeding is dependent on the soundness and balance of the nutritional components in the diet of a mother. For lower income families, their diet options are limited and in fact are based on a scattered interval (McLoyd, 1998, p. 185). This means that there may not be enough production of milk for breastfeeding and in the case of limited dietary options, the little milk produced may not offer the nutritional richness that can offer strength, build immunity and catalyze the development and growth of system and organs in the body to withstand extreme conditions (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007, p. 63). This accounts for the development in asthma in the Canadian low-income family infants that has even reached levels of concern. With the problem arising in one part of the world, it suggest that it exists in other parts even if it may be at a suppressed rate. The problem of asthma is also related to the Malaria infection that is located in tropics of the world. Propensity for malaria infection if especially in the low-income neighborhoods (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000, p. 309). This is because they are more likely to be untidy, and to have breeding grounds for mosquitoes. They may also not have the healthy habits of tucking pregnant and infant mothers in mosquito nets in order to avoid infection through mosquito bites. Engels & Black (2008) note malaria risk factor as being prevalent in at least 90 countries and affecting 40 percent of their population. An estimated 300-600 million children are at high risk of malaria infection.

The ecological systems theory is relevant in the understanding of the way that the behavior of low-income families is shaped. They are concerned more about survival and meeting their daily needs that they are oblivious of routines and practices that can help make life safer. This includes ensuring tidiness of their surroundings, clearing any bushes, in some remote families such as those in Africa, constructing toilets is not a priority as other concerns of life are foremost. It is not rare to find a mother from a low income family who has been provided with a free mosquito net through aide not covering it up. This is because the environmental factors around her and the behavior of the people she interacts with do not reinforce behavioral practices that are aimed at averting disease (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007, p. 63). Even their access to and the level of responsibility to health care services is shaped by the fact that they are economically deprived and this means that the children that are born in the households are vulnerable to risk factors.

The diarrhea risk factor is one that cannot go without mentioning. This is because it is rampant among infants when they are not put in a proper environment that is safe. Since low-income neighborhoods may not have access to clean drinking water, the children may in danger of contracting infections that lead to diarrhea (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997, p. 63). These include cholera that is still recorded in some parts of Asia and Africa. Diarrhea leads children to dehydration and as children lose a lot of body fluid. Poor families that do not seek urgent medical attention for the child may see their child succumbing (Ryan et al., 2006). This is an indication of the interconnected nature of risk factors as one may easily be the causative of another. However, a lot of the risk factors contribute to infant mortality. In places that have no latrines, there is risk of water bodies being polluted, especially for communities that rely on river or stream water sources. This is because human excretions are dropped anyhow and are washed into the water bodies and these poses serious risks to the safety of water. Diarrhea then becomes rampant among the children. One problem then leads to another until the infant ends up affected badly if they survive dying. Diarrhea, asthma, cholera and diarrhea are all associated with the quality of housing, sometimes, air quality and exposure to various pollutants in the environment.


Engle & Black (2008) also present exposure to violence and conflict as a risk factor that is associated with poverty. They tip that armed conflict that happened in the period between 1990 and 2003 in about 27-38% may have affected n estimated total of 20 million children (Engle & Black, 2008, 247). Wars are mostly known to happen in low-GDP countries that have higher low income populations. However, even in high income countries, the environments in which people live are violence and injury predisposed. The neighborhood are usually insecure and the constructions are usually dangerous or the activities that people engage in to some extent pose danger children. Since parents may not have a lot of tie to even care for children as they are always out in search of means to fend for children, the infants are left under the care of their older siblings who are not careful. Some even carry the children to their work places and place them under a shed as they work (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997, p. 63). These means that injuries to them are likely to happen one way or another such as burns, being dropped, hit. In countries with armed violence, the injuries to children may be physical, cognitive and emotional, this is because houses are burned leaving families homeless, without food and sometimes displaced (Ryan et al., 2006). The injury this does to the infants and children usually leaves lifelong torment, developmental disenfranchise and challenges to attainment of stability in growth.

Child poverty and adolescence developmental progression

First it has to be appreciated that the childhood years shape much of the perspective with which a child is incepted into life. Poverty usually creates a lot of vulnerability on children. This is because parents do not offer focused upbringing. They concern themselves more with looking for income than raising the children. Children are therefore spontaneously raised pick up behaviors, attitudes and values as they find from the environment (de Wit PhD, 2007). The children may resist schooling and resort to early employment or money-seeking. Since parents cannot supply all the needs that the adolescent wants, they become independent too early and this means seeking for casual employment (Duncan et al., 2010, 311). This leads to self-perpetuation of poverty that is inherited from parents to children. Children who live in small houses with their children may develop naughtiness especially as they may be exposed to mature actions early. They start entering relations with the people that are close to them. This leads girls to become sexually active early and some get early pregnancies while some boys become early fathers (Walsh et al., 2014). In some cases, living in tiny houses with children has led to the registering of cases of incest among sister and brother.

There is a mechanism of explaining low socio-economic childhood and how its impact drags into adolescence and beyond. To put it in clear terms, the level of aspiration of children starts with how it is set up from the early infant years. School readiness and willingness to tolerate and stay the course of attaining success relies so much on family conditions and the income level is instrumental (Grantham-McGregor et al., 2007, p. 63). This explains the reason why most of the children from low-income families have low willingness to learn. Poor parents do not set expectations for children which is the reason why prior underachievement of parents serves as a set piece for subsequent underachievement by children (Duncan et al., 2010, 311). In adolescent years, they do no show ambition, zeal and commitment to attain education success of attain literacy. They even despise mainstream and conventional ways of pursuing success and this means they despise authorities such as that of teachers (de Wit PhD, 2007). This is recipe for dropping out of school. Since they lack social and educational capital, in adolescence, the children embrace the creation of social identities and this is what motivates early parenthood (Ryan et al., 2006). To this extent, their occupational options are limited and path of life may be restricted to striving to make a livelihood hence getting stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Adolescence is usually also the time when children feel stresses emanating from the conditions in their family. This is because the family setting does not offer enough emotional and physical support for them to face life. As the children start finding themselves at disadvantages when they face life challenges in interactions, at school and socially, they become stressed. With poverty compounded by such violent practices as wife beating and battery may just pile the pressure on the adolescents the more (Ryan et al., 2006). They therefore start wishing for a change, prefer marriage and they find comfort in early relationships. With the vulnerability that they already have, such adolescents easily get won over into unlawful activities such as burglary, or otherwise for girls they have ready acceptance for any plan that appears promising to relieve them from family stress. Early marriage is always a ready and express option.


Poverty has an impact on the birth outcome of children. This includes birth weight and infant mortality. This steam from the nutritional aspects of the mother.

Poverty predisposes children to asthma and other conditions and illnesses. This is because of lack of breastfeeding and the debilitated environmental conditions that children are placed in. malaria and diarrhea are also risk factors. The risk of injury is high in childhood poverty due to lack of safe care and exposure to violence.

The ecological systems theory explains the way that poverty conditions lead people to adopt behaviors that may put children in harm's way. Poor parents do are not ken on adhering to safe practice and behaviors such as teaching children toiletry, tucking children in mosquito nets…etc.

Adolescents growing in poverty have lower ambition and embrace deviousness readily. They lack social and educational capital and hence cannot face challenges in life well. They therefore have low willingness for school attendance and are worn over easily to engage in acts that shutter their path of achievement through education. Lack of initial school success sets the stage for subsequent underachievement which, by the adolescent years, is associated with lower levels of educational attainment and literacy, and higher rates of school dropout.


Childhood poverty is a danger in itself but is also a danger to health, education and socio-economic mobility. Poverty alleviation is one preoccupation that still requires rejuvenated efforts in the form of initiatives and programs. Governments are supposed to invest money to economically empower communities in order to raise the living standards of people. However, the problem can also be addressed symptomatically. This is through addressing some of the childhood effects of poverty to low-income families and children. Such includes running hygiene sensitization campaigns, sensitization on access of health care services and making information on any support for education of economically disadvantaged children well publicized. There is also need to build certain social amenities in neighborhood of the disadvantaged. These include hospitals, schools and sanitation facilities such as toilets (Walsh et al., 2014, 719). Enforcing such initiatives as compulsory elementary education that is subsidized or completely toll free is also a strategy of addressing poverty. Streamlining the access to labor markets and vibrancy in the economy to create jobs is also necessary to boost income and reduce poverty. All efforts of intervention into poverty and its concomitant effects have to be coordinated through interagency strategies that are tailored at the community level in order to ensure effectiveness.


Brooks-Gunn, J. and Duncan, G.J., 1997. The effects of poverty on children. The future of children, pp.55-71.

de Wit PhD, M.L., 2007. The impact of poverty on the current and future health status of children.

Duncan, G.J., Ziol‐Guest, K.M. and Kalil, A., 2010. Early‐childhood poverty and adult attainment, behavior, and health. Child development, 81(1), pp.306-325.

Evans, G.W., 2004. The environment of childhood poverty. American psychologist, 59(2), p.77.

Engle, P.L. and Black, M.M., 2008. The effect of poverty on child development and educational outcomes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136(1), pp.243-256.

Grantham-McGregor, S., Cheung, Y.B., Cueto, S., Glewwe, P., Richter, L., Strupp, B. and International Child Development Steering Group, 2007. Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries. The lancet, 369(9555), pp.60-70.

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McLoyd, V.C., 1998. Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American psychologist, 53(2), p.185.

Petterson, S.M. and Albers, A.B., 2001. Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development. Child development, 72(6), pp.1794-1813.

Ryan, R.M., Fauth, R.C. and Brooks-Gunn, J., 2006. Childhood Poverty: Implications for School Readiness and Early Childhood Education.

Walsh, M.E., Madaus, G.F., Raczek, A.E., Dearing, E., Foley, C., An, C., Lee-St. John, T.J. and Beaton, A., 2014. A new model for student support in high-poverty urban elementary schools: Effects on elementary and middle school academic outcomes. American Educational Research Journal, 51(4), pp.704-737.

April 19, 2023

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