Poverty is a complex issue with many layers. When thinking about how poverty affects children, there are three main things that we believe every adult should understand. 

1. Kids in poverty require extra support. 

Children who grow up in poverty quite simply need additional support and resources. This is not because they’re inherently more challenging or less equipped to face the world, but because they don’t have the same tools and resources as other children. 

If one student in a classroom has a cut, it doesn’t make sense to give every child a bandage. But it also doesn’t make sense to give NO kids a bandage. Some kids need things that other kids don’t. That’s the case when it comes to poverty. Kids who grow up in poverty don’t have the same resources as other children. They are less likely to have access to books at home, for example. They may not have as healthy of a diet, and we know that nutrition and brain development are related. They may not get as much sleep. They may not have adequate medical care. Treating these children with the same resources and attention as all of the other children is a disservice to the children who need it. 

Let’s be clear – there is nothing inherently different about children in poverty. They’re not less smart, less capable or more difficult. They don’t need extra support because there’s something wrong with them. But when children come from environments of poverty, they’re starting at different starting line. They need extra support so that they can catch up to the starting line. 

2. Poverty does not equal hopeless

Certainly, without question, poverty is damaging to children. It is absolutely better for children to grow up in environments without poverty. That said, a childhood of poverty need not determine the rest of one’s life. Children who grow up in poverty can go on to break cycles of income instability. What we know about the brain is that it can repair with time and attention. Areas of the brain that have been damaged due to insecure attachments with adults, for example, can be repaired with a safe relationship with another adult later in life. The same is true for the damaging effects of poverty. The effects of poverty that we have discussed – unstable housing, nutrition, healthcare and more – can all be buffered by safe relationships with adults. And those areas of the brain that are damaged can be repaired. When working with children in communities or families of poverty, it is important to hold hope that they will be able to overcome this adversity and go on to break the cycles of poverty. 

3. Kids in poverty are often very resilient. 

If we had to choose – should kids live in poverty and be resilient, or should we eradicate poverty – no contest. Of course we don’t want kids to grow up in poverty. There’s really nothing positive about communities that don’t have adequate resources. As a society, we can and should do more to make sure that less children face this adversity in the future. Working with our current limitations, we can recognize that children who grow up in environments of poverty often learn valuable coping skills that will benefit them later in life. Adults working with children in these environments can capitalize on this resilience and use it as a stepping stool to other important social emotional skills. 

If adults can keep these three things in mind, they can provide necessary support, hold onto hope and capitalize upon the strengths of children. We all need to work to end cycles of poverty, and at the same time, help children facing this adversity to thrive.

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