Child abuse and neglect can have lifelong effects on a person well into adulthood including an increased risk of chronic physical and mental health issues. A child who grows up in a household that struggles with financial stability has poorer educational and health outcomes. So, how are those two issues related?

A new study helps us continue connecting the dots between child maltreatment and income inequality. There is a significant association between an increase in child maltreatment rates and an increase in income inequality, or how evenly or unevenly income is distributed in a particular geographic area. In the study, the relationship remained significant even after adjusting for education levels, racial and ethnic make-up, and poverty itself. The impacts of income inequality were also greatest in counties with the highest rates of child poverty.

What does this mean for Kentucky?

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In 2012, approximately 27 percent of children in Kentucky lived in poverty, roughly 4 percent higher than the national rate. In the same year, 52 percent of children in the Commonwealth ages 0 to 8 were considered low-income. These high rates of poverty, especially for our youngest citizens, have significant impacts on growth and development, especially for those children in high-poverty areas where at least 30 percent of the people are poor. Areas with high concentrations of poverty are likely to be the same areas where income inequality exists.

Of the 16,553 victims of child maltreatment in Kentucky in 2012, 76 percent of those cases identified income issues as a risk factor. If income inequality continues to grow, as it has over the past several years, more children will likely be at risk of becoming victims of maltreatment.

There are options for addressing this problem. One way is to look toward early detection and intervention solutions, like ensuring professionals who interact with children are trained to recognize early signs of pediatric abusive head trauma. Kentucky included this training for many professionals in statute in 2010, and a bill (HB 157) is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature that will ensure doctors receive this important training as well.

Another way to address the problem is to focus on reducing income inequality. A steady income helps to decrease stress in the family environment, which can reduce the risk of child abuse in a household. For example, a state refundable Earned Income Credit (EIC) in Kentucky would encourage work and help low-income, working Kentuckians keep more of their hard earned money so they can become financially secure.

SB 155 would enact a State Earned Income Credit. It is currently awaiting action in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee. An EIC in Kentucky could not only help families reach financial stability, and in turn, reduce the risk of child maltreatment in low-come areas. A state Earned Income Credit is one solution that appears to be a win-win for Kentucky’s kids and for the financial security of families across the state.