The impact of poverty on child mental health

A Buttle UK survey of over 1,200 child support workers reveals the alarmingly common occurrence of experiences that put children at increased risk.

By Reason Digital · October 10, 2019

Applications for Buttle UK’s Chances for Children grants come from a unique network of frontline support workers who are interacting with the most vulnerable children and young people across the UK on a daily basis.

These individuals include family support workers, community project workers, social workers, health visitors, school careers advisors, probation officers, advocacy/advisors, youth workers, community nurses, tutors and head teachers.  They work for organisations such as local authorities / councils, charities, housing associations, advice services, local healthcare trust partnerships, primary and secondary schools and children’s centres.

We surveyed support workers to find out about their current experiences of working with children in poverty. While all these individuals are used to seeing child poverty on a daily basis, their feedback illustrates the extent of some of the challenges that families are currently facing.

We had over 1,200 responses to our quantitative survey questions, making this an extremely comprehensive survey.

In this particular report we explore survey results on the extent to which children affected by poverty experience mental health issues, and the circumstances that contribute to this.

Results highlight:

  • 65% report that poverty has a high negative impact on children’s mental health.
  • 60% report that poverty has a high negative impact on children’s self-esteem.

Support workers reported the following specific areas as having a large negative impact on children’s mental health:

  • 58% – family financial pressure
  • 54% – not enough sleep
  • 53% – social isolation
  • 45% – bullying
  • 42% – not enough exercise
  • 42% – screen time

Supporter workers providing qualitative feedback reported a range of other issues affecting children’s mental health:

  • 29% noted the impact of difficulties in family relationships. Of these:
  • 41% referred to parenting / the parent-child relationship
  • 51% referred to the relationship between parents (i.e., couple relationships)
  • 17% referred to sibling relationships
  • 10% referred to the extended family
  • 15% observed the impact of parent mental health problems
  • 13% noted exposure to / witnessing drug and alcohol abuse and crime
  • 9% reported the impact that being a young carer can have
  • 11% highlighted that children’s mental health can suffer when there are issues around school and education.
  • 11% drew attention to the relationship they see between housing issues, of which 38% referred to overcrowding in particular.
  • 9% reported that problems with peer relationships and 11% noted that they commonly see social media use among children impacting mental health.