Child poverty is associated with poorer physical and mental health, negative educational outcomes and adverse long-term social and psychological consequences, all of which impact on service demand and expenditure. Until now, however, prevention and early intervention practice has tended to focus on enhancing inter-parental relationships and parenting skills (e.g., via relationship skills education, home visiting, parenting programs, family therapy) or child language, social-emotional and life skills (e.g., early childhood education, school-based programs, youth mentoring). Programs often target low-income neighborhoods or families but rarely address poverty directly. While there is substantial evidence for the effectiveness of such interventions in improving child outcomes, null results are not uncommon and even positive effects are often small, short-term, and difficult to replicate. One avenue to enhance intervention effectiveness is to improve families’ economic circumstances. There are several arguments for this refocusing. It is arguably unethical to focus on individual risk without acknowledging or seeking to address (where relevant) families’ social and economic contexts, while the stigma and material constraints associated with poverty can make it harder for families to engage with psychosocial support. There is also evidence that increasing household income improves child outcomes. Although national policies to alleviate poverty are important, it is increasingly recognized that practice-based initiatives have a role to play (e.g., income maximization, devolved budgets, money management support). However, knowledge about their implementation and effectiveness is relatively thin. For instance, there is some evidence that co-located welfare rights advice in healthcare settings can improve recipients’ financial circumstances and health, but it is mixed and of limited quality. Moreover, there is little rigorous research on whether and how such services affect mediators (parent-child interactions, parenting capacity) and/or child physical and psychosocial outcomes directly. We call for prevention and early intervention programs to attend more to families’ economic circumstances, and for experimental studies to test their implementation, reach and effectiveness.



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Journal of Prevention



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Peninsula Medical School