The Effects of Poverty on Child Development
Understanding the effects of poverty on child development is the beginning of compassion and activism for those removed from the daily struggle millions face. The effects of poverty on children are many and varied. There are obvious physical effects, like malnutrition, but the ways a child will struggle because of poverty can last a lifetime.
Shari Marino, the former director of Pediatric Health Initiatives, writes, “Social determinants of health, or the places people live, work, and play, all have a strong influence on the trajectory of one’s life course. For children living in need, it isn’t only a matter of the obvious effects of poverty, such as food scarcity or poor living conditions, that have negative consequences. Other factors that are less visible on the outside, like toxic stress as a result of the conditions of poverty and lead in drinking water, have long-term effects on health as well.”
Child development, like all health sciences, continues to grow in fullness of understanding. The ways that a child’s health is affected by their environment can be surprising. The child may not even realize they are being affected until much later in life.
“The most important developmental period is the early childhood period as the brain is developing rapidly, and is easily influenced by conditions of poverty,” Marino continues. “This formative, developmental phase includes physical, social/emotional, and language/cognitive development, all of which are influential on wellbeing throughout life. Children living in poverty early in life have poorer outcomes than adolescents who experience poverty later in life.”
Sadly, poverty’s effects don’t just start at birth. “Many of the problems children born into poverty face begin before they are even born. Poor prenatal care is positively associated with poverty. Women living in poverty are less likely to have been vaccinated for infectious diseases that can be passed on to the fetus,” according to a review in the Journal of Mental Health and Social Behavior.
Sahlma is a child who knew firsthand many of the effects of poverty on children. Her family, already in a difficult economic situation, endured a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, plunging them and their entire area into even deeper poverty. The effects of poverty on society are often shared, as Sahlma’s family understood. Their homes and possessions were now buried in rubble.
With a heavy heart, Sahlma’s parents went to a nearby town to find work, leaving her to raise her three siblings alone at the age of 9. Soon, she took on a job herself as a porter, carrying loads well beyond what a child should be burdened with. She just wanted to take care of her family, buy food and other necessities. School was the furthest thing from her mind.
Some of the saddest realities are the effects of poverty on education. When you are just trying to survive, one of the first things to go is school, which is what happened to Sahlma. Her days should have been filled with reading, writing and math. Instead, she was lugging loads up and down the mountainside and caring for her siblings.
GFA workers in the town where her parents labored heard about Sahlma. They wanted to help her learn, grow and dream of a better future. Her parents agreed to enroll her in GFA’s Child Sponsorship Program. The program covered her school fees and supplies, and she was fed nutritious meals every day. This eased her family’s financial burden, so Sahlma went back to school, no longer working hard every day beyond what her body could endure. Eventually, she and her siblings joined their parents and started moving out of surviving into thriving.
Sponsoring a child like Sahlma greatly impacts a young person in dire circumstances. There are millions of children in similar situations. You can be the one to make a difference. For just $35 a month, you can help change a child’s life. The program will ensure the child goes to school, gets after-school care and assistance with homework, as well as regular nutritious food. They also get access to clean water, toiletries and more.
These basic services lift significant burdens off of families, allowing them to put their precious resources towards other things, like food and healthcare. Ensuring kids go to school sets them on a path toward a better future. With an education, they can get more skilled work or go on to pursue higher education and well-paying jobs.
Sahlma was only 9 years old, laboring up and down a mountain, trying to put food on the table because her parents were away trying to earn an income. Most 9-year-olds in the Western world are playing with friends, going to school and dreaming of the future. The effects of poverty on child development impact all areas of life—social, physical, educational and so much more. One sponsor saved Sahlma from a lifetime of difficulties.
Be a sponsor today for another child. It is guaranteed to change his or her life for the better.Learn more about toilet poverty
 “The Effects of Poverty on Children.” Focus For Health Foundation. April 1, 2019. https://www.focusforhealth.org/effects-poverty-on-children/.
 “The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Development.” Journal of Mental Health and Social Behavior. February 19, 2021. https://gexinonline.com/uploads/articles/article-jmhsb-132.pdf.
 “A Burden Slides off Preteen Girl’s Back.” GFA World. January 2022. https://www.gfa.org/news/articles/a-burden-slides-off-preteen-girls-back-wfr22-01/.