Poverty Not Only Threatens Children’s Health, But Their Education

Updated on April 3, 2018

By Shelley Callahan

As a child assistance organization, Children Incorporated understands well the correlation between children’s health and their ability to get an education. We often hear from our volunteer coordinators at our affiliated projects in the United States, and abroad, that children living in poverty are at risk of falling behind in school.

Our coordinators often see children haven’t eaten over the weekend that are too hungry to concentrate in class, or kids that are sleep deprived because they don’t have a bed at home and have to sleep on the floor. Sometimes, a child’s suffers from poor hygiene and is too embarrassed to come to school at all. Without support, children from low-income households would potentially lose out on the opportunity to be educated and breaking the cycle of poverty from which they come.

Poverty is described as the economic state that does not allow for the provision of basic needs, such as adequate food, clothing, and housing. Today, in America, children are the poorest segment of our society. 22 percent of children in the U.S. live below the federal poverty level, which is the highest rate of child poverty among developed countries in the world.

Over the past 35 years, child poverty has increased in the United States due to various factors. Since the 1960s, the cost of housing and transportation has increased exponentially. Uneducated workers are earning less, the benefits that welfare programs offer have decreased in value, and the number of single parent, female-headed households has increased.

When parents aren’t able to provide adequately for their children, kids are subjected to health issues such as malnutrition and insufficient healthcare, which leads to students living in poverty having increased school absences, tardiness rates, incidents of illness during class, and rates of untreated health problems. Children from impoverished families are also more likely to be admitted to the hospital, which further increases their number of school absences. Poor children also suffer from increased infant mortality, frequent and severe chronic diseases such as asthma, and lower immunizations rates.

Poverty affects not only children’s health but their growth and development as well. Beyond just physical well-being, living in an impoverished environment creates stressful situations for children, sometimes related to perpetual abuse of neglect. Poor households are often crowded, noisy, and in physically deteriorating buildings where children witness violence and crime.

They might also be isolated from their peers, who otherwise could provide a support system for them. If parents aren’t able to provide children with the time and attention they need to feel safe and secure, in turn, children living in poverty often suffer from trauma, which further affects their ability to learn. Children who are suffering from trauma related to poverty can often be withdrawn and unwilling to participate in class, or have behavioral issues. Trauma can also lead to depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, and attention deficient disorders, all which can distract a child from getting an education.

By providing children with basic needs such as adequate clothes, shoes, hygiene items, and food, Children Incorporated supports a child’s overall welfare. These essentials, which we provide on a monthly basis to children in need, are vital to a child’s growth and success in school. But beyond just ensuring that children are adequately provided for, our sponsorship program, in which we partner individual sponsors with a particular child, provides an emotional support system, which is also important for a child in their development. If a child living in poverty is healthy both mentally and physically, they have the opportunity at a better life for themselves than the one in which they grew up in.

Since 1964, Children Incorporated has extended its reach to over 250,000 children, spread across 23 countries and through over programs and outreach projects. Children Incorporated provides impoverished children with basic needs such as food, clothing, and educational support through sponsorship in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and offer children a chance at a brighter future.


Jensen, Eric. Teaching with Poverty in Mind. ASCD. Alexandria, Virginia. 2009.

“Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma”. National Education Association. Washington, D.C. June 2016.

Wood, David.  “Effect of Children and Family Poverty on Child Health in the United States.” Pediatrics. September 2003, VOLUME 112/ Issue Supplement 3.


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