When Poverty Is Called 'Neglect'

Can poverty lead to losing your children? Sadly, yes!

In her 2017 New York Times article “Live in a Poor Neighborhood? Better Be a Perfect Parent,” Emma S. Ketteringham painted a poignant and tragic picture of what it is to be in poverty and constantly at risk of losing your children as a result. It’s not that the poor are perfect parents, but that most of them are no more imperfect than the rest of us.

Our own research shows that this experience, while closely linked to a certain demographic, is not unique to the South Bronx. In Michigan, for instance, more than 90% of all child welfare cases cite “neglect” as one of the factors leading to child removal. And a greatly disproportional number of those cases are in low-income minority homes. As in the Bronx, the state has effectively made it a crime to be poor, and the punishment is the loss of your family.

To combat this injustice, we support bills like Texas's 2021 "Poverty is Not Neglect" law, which explicitly removes symptoms of poverty from the state's (and child welfare services') definition of "neglect." States keep children safer (and save money!) by providing support for the impoverished family compared to supporting those children only after forcing them into foster care.

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