children and poverty: talk about harm!

a comment to my blog entry on self harm says:

“From a professional point of view, the only time intervention is required is when a behaviour becomes pathological ie socially unacceptable and detrimental to your health or someone else’s.”

i am grateful to dawn for this comment because it brought up some important concepts.

an interesting question is, what does “detrimental” mean – is there a degree of acceptable and unacceptable detrimentality? can one be more detrimental to one’s one health than someone else’s before intervention is needed? is intervention required when both of these conditions have been met, i.e. social unacceptability as well as the activity being detrimental to someone’s health? what does “required” mean? how do we define “intervention”?

how do we measure what’s socially unacceptable? a client of mine only washes her clothes every 4-6 weeks – is that socially unacceptable? does that mean there needs to be an intervention? by whom?

and just how detrimental to someone’s health does one have to become to warrant intervention, and particularly “required” intervention?

these questions may seem academic; however, as someone who has worked in the social services field, i know that they can become very real.

parents living in poverty and in the welfare system, for example, are often harming their health or those of their children, or are at the verge of it – because poverty and the welfare system themselves are often harmful to health.

two examples.

one, a single father of two children. they are on social assistance. he has a disability. he is a doting father, spends tons of time with his kids. he does not spend a lot of time cleaning the house; he has only so much energy and rather spends it on his children. because there is no money, they live in substandard housing. the lack of cleanliness in the house, combined with bad housing and the lack of money to buy medication, causes the children to regularly have lice, fleas and bedbugs. the social worker finds this unacceptable and the children often end up in foster care, where they are emotionally neglected and abused.

another example is the connection between obesity and poverty.

people who live below the poverty line often have little choice but to feed themselves and their children via food banks and free meals provided by non-profit organizations. this leaves little room for food planning, and is invariably marked by an unhealthy proportion of daily intake of fibre, fat, sugar and carbohydrates.

both food planning and having a healthy proportion of these food items are essential to healthy nutrition. thus, through poverty and the welfare system, many parents become unwitting agents of their children’s obesity (i.e., they are unwittingly detrimental to their children’s health).

however, this is socially acceptable.

children being yanked from a loving home is socially acceptable.

children eating unhealthy food is socially acceptable.

children living in poverty is socially acceptable.

harsh statements.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

2 thoughts on “children and poverty: talk about harm!

  1. Dawn

    Hi Isabella
    I agree with your comments wholeheartedly – we live in a society of shifting goalposts, where crime, deviancy, and challenging behaviour are socially constructed, and what is acceptable is purely subjective.

    We treat children without respect and then we wonder what’s wrong with them when they react adversely ie aggressively or via self harm (drugs, over/under eating, cutting and so on).

    Intervention is a process of protection and remediation. If and when intervention is necessary depends upon the perception of the person with power.

    This is not as straightforward as it seems and has been a major topic for debate within the Human Rights remit – every person should have choice – so if a resident in a care home wishes to stay in bed all day – is that OK? two days – is that OK? How many days before you would decide that this behaviour was self injurious?

    It’s the same with washing clothes, having head lice, and feeding a family. Behaviours are considered mal-adaptive and anti-social if they injure your health or someone else’s.

    Equally, leading a life-style that leads to depression is mal-adaptive when it gets to the point where you can no longer function in a way that you wish to do.

    The real issue is about empowerment, and affording people respect and autonomy – at the moment we disempower, disrespect, and make other people’s decisions for them (eg forcible removal of children). What can this possibly achieve – it might give the kids a bath and a hot meal, but equally damage them psychologically. What are the choices here? Does anyone ever stop to think? The answer to that is ‘Rarely – let’s find someone to blame instead’.

  2. isabella mori

    thanks for your insightful comments. especially this one:

    We treat children without respect and then we wonder what’s wrong with them when they react adversely ie aggressively or via self harm (drugs, over/under eating, cutting and so on).

    i don’t know about you (you are a therapist, too, aren’t you?) but in my years of working with people with severe addiction problems, i never once came across someone who did not have considerable problems in her or his childhood. all of them were related to not receiving sufficient respect/validation.

    some people contradict this by saying that some children had the opposite problem, that they were overly spoiled, which then led to problems such as drug use, acting out sexually, etc.

    that, however, is confusing the issue. children who are truly “spoiled” almost invariably did not receive enough respect or validation. instead of receiving that (and love and attention), they received material goods and irregular attention instead of the little daily doses of attention that truly nurture a child.

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