What the Economic Downturn Means for Children, Youth and Families

The deepening economic crisis is profoundly impacting children, youth and families. Its effects are rippling through the multiple contexts in which children and youth are situated. Within the nuclear family, stressors such as job loss, home foreclosure or loss in family savings place strain on parental relationships and on the family as a whole.

For already low-income families, the shock may be even more severe with basic needs such as food security, healthcare and shelter going unmet. Higher poverty rates are associated with increased rates of family conflict, child neglect and abuse, and intimate partner violence. On a broader level, the worsening economy can impact funds for public schools and community health centers, which are seeing their budgets constrained just when their services are needed the most by our nation’s children, youth and families.

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable as they undergo critical developmental transitions, for example, graduating from high school. Adolescents at this stage may be forced to postpone their plans for higher education and instead seek increasingly scarce jobs in order to contribute to the household economy. All of these changes can have profound and lasting effects on the mental health of our nation’s children and youth, often causing problems in terms of anxiety, lowered self-esteem and other emotional/behavioral difficulties.

Psychology has amassed a body of knowledge in science and practice to help families address economic stress and to prevent child mental health problems, child maltreatment and intimate partner violence. Research has shown that when given the appropriate tools for positive parenting, prevention of child abuse and neglect, and the fostering of resilience, children, youth and families can effectively cope with the stress that the economic downturn has produced. Psychologists are encouraged to participate in educational efforts in schools and community forums such as parent teacher association meetings or at YMCAs to buffer against these stressors.


APA’s resources on this topic include:

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