Despite the widely-accepted fact that the rate at which child abuse occurs is relatively unaffected by income, children from impoverished families are far more likely to be placed in foster care, leaving the children of wealthy abusers to suffer endlessly at the hands of their so-called “caregivers.” About half of youth in foster care come from families that are at or below the poverty line while approximately 22% of the children in this country are living in poverty. A similar disparity is seen among African American and Hispanic youth who made up, respectively, 26% and 21% of the population of foster children in fiscal year 2012 but only 13.1% and 16.9% of the overall population.
Why does it seem as if a portion of our population is essentially immune to intervention by the child welfare system? Part of it results from the inequities in our criminal justice system, which has a long, sordid history of convicting the poor more often and giving them far longer sentences than their wealthy counterparts, often landing their children in foster care. Low-income families also, quite simply, come into far more contact with authorities that could potentially spot an unsafe living arrangement for their children in situations such as applying for public benefits or moving into a shelter. However, there is also a certain presumed inequity in the way cases of suspected abuse and neglect are reported and investigated based on income. Many schools in high-income areas are reluctant to report cases of suspected abuse and anger influential parents, while schools in low-income areas can, in some cases, be too quick to call the authorities. If a child comes to school dirty and wearing worn clothes, it can be called in as a case of neglect while in reality, this could simply be a family experiencing financial hardship. While this is a tragedy and these children may be terribly traumatized by being separated from loving parents, the more profound tragedy is that so many children are left dealing with terrible abuse because of the perception that money makes a family healthy. Affluent communities often exist in a bubble where they refuse to believe that anything bad could happen to children growing up in wholesome, picture-perfect families who live in beautiful houses with picket fences. When June Cleaver’s in the kitchen and Ward wears a tie to work, it’s often ignored when “The Beav” ends up in the hospital with broken bones.
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