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Journal of Psychology in Africa

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Resilience in Children of Poverty

Almon Shumba
Central University of Technology, South Africa
Published online: 01 May 2014.

To cite this article: Almon Shumba (2010) Resilience in Children of Poverty, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 20:2, 211-213

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Journal of Psychology in Africa 2010, 20(2), 211–214 Copyright Ó2010
Printed in USA - All Rights Reserved Journal of
Psychology in Africa
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Resilience in Children of Poverty

Almon Shumba
Central University of Technology, South Africa

Address all correspondence to Professor Almon Shumba, Faculty of Humanities, Central University of Technology, Free State,
Private Bag X20539, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa. E–mails: &
Children of Poverty

Most studies reviewed show that poverty has a negative impact on school success and the social and emotional

functioning of learners in schools. Students' personal beliefs about their capabilities were found to influence their
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motivation and learning in schools. However, some children reared in poverty can become notably resilient and

Keywords: resilience, child development, children, poverty, school success, self-concept

Several studies on the effects of poverty show that poverty sures (physical and intellectual) and achievement scores, which
has a damaging effect the developing of children, and in particu- implies that children from successful families are more likely to
lar their school success (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Kamper & pass high school because of the support from parents.
Mampuru, 2007; Powers, 1996). For instance, Powers (1996) Allhusen, Belsky and Booth-LaForce (2005) in their investiga-
found childhood poverty to be highly correlated with poor perfor- tion of poverty's impacts on the child found that children who are
mance in academics, lower IQ scores, and an increased risk of chronically poor have lower cognitive abilities by third grade
dropping out of school. The same study also found that poverty than children who have never been poor. More specifically,
affects the level of education children attain and their mathe- Allhusen et al. (2005) followed four groups of children from birth
matics and reading capabilities. Bradley and Corwyn (2002) to third grade: children who were chronically poor, children who
found that the IQ scores of children from disadvantaged were poor from birth to age three, children who were poor from
socio-economic backgrounds were 25 points lower than their ages 4 to 9 and children who were never poor. The study found
counterparts from privileged families. These are well known that children from chronically poor families had lower cognitive
findings for the past 50 years and not worth repeating exten- abilities and noted that "chronically poor families provided lower
sively. What has scarcely been investigated are the strengths or quality child-rearing environments, and children in these fami-
assets in children who grow up in poverty and become success- lies showed lower cognitive performance and more behavior
ful leaders in the greater community. This article seeks to con- problems than did other children" (p. 795).
sider resources that children in poverty may have and which
tend to be overlooked in most studies on children of poverty. Influence of Milieu
Resilience is one quality that is widely distributed in the human Some studies show that children growing up in poverty start
population and may be particularly developed in some children out in life at a disadvantage (Slavin, 1998). For example, their
from impoverished backgrounds. In this article, I examine resil- mothers may have no or inadequate pre-natal care and may
ience as a resource in children with poverty, and as a vehicle for have insufficient post-natal health care. If the parents are fortu-
success or attainment in school settings. nate to have jobs, affordable day care may be of poor quality
First, I shall refresh the reader with a rehash of well-known (Slavin, 1998). Additionally, poor children do not have the same
findings on the effects of poverty on a variety of child kind of experiences that children of other social classes have
psychosocial outcomes. After, I will consider the concept of re- (Kamper, 2008). This implies that they miss out on experiences
silience and its potential to explain the elasticity or adaptive ca- that could help in the development of skills and academic
pacity in children. achievement. For example, the use of home computers, visits
to zoos and museums, attendance at pre-school programs,
Developmental Effects availability of literature and educational reading materials, inter-
In his examination of the impact of poverty on the child, action with educated, literate and well-spoken adults, and being
McLoyd (1998) reported that poverty has a negative impact on read to by a parent impact positively on the school success
the child's cognitive development, physical health status, aca- (Kamper, 2008). As such, children who are not exposed to
demic achievement, behavioral characteristics, and psychologi- these kinds of environments are less likely to succeed
cal status. The study effectively suggests that poverty has a academically.
myriad of impacts on the development of the child that can im- Most often, poor homes have no place for the child to do
pact the entire scope of the child's functioning. All these factors homework in peace because poverty often comes with cramped
affect the academic achievement of children in schools. living conditions (Kamper, 2008; Kamper & Mampuru, 2007). In
Other studies show that poverty has a negative impact on some cases, poor academic achievement can be due to lack of
school success, school achievement, and social–emotional education in the parents. For example, while parents may love
functioning of children (Kamper, 2008; Zorn & Noga, 2004). In their children and want good things for them, they might not un-
contrast, Zorn and Noga (2004) reported that the higher the derstand the reasons for some of the work done in school and
family success, the more children would do well on ability mea- the point of assignments. Books are not likely to be in the home
212 Shumba

and reading materials might be limited to newspapers (Gorski, vironments have a strong influence on the self–concept of
2005). The culture of education might not be understood under learners (Aldridge et al., 1999). In his qualitative study in the
this kind of situation. Poverty often comes with a lack of other re- United States, Pierce (1994) found that the level of academic
sources (McLoyd, 1998); for example, school trips might be too achievement can be improved by engaging learners in activities
expensive for the family, even if they are a vital part of the that help to raise their self–concept. Similar findings were re-
school curriculum. ported in Japan (Le Tendre, 1997). The above findings have im-
Another aspect that affects the achievement of poor stu- plications for teachers who need to identify children living in
dents involves the schools themselves (Acker–Hooever & poverty and make them feel accepted within the classroom so
Touchton, 2002; Gorski, 2005; Kozol, 2005). Schools serving as to raise their self–esteem.
low–income students have fewer resources (e.g., no books) be-
Resilience as a Health and Well-being Construct
cause they are located in lower quality facilities and face greater
challenges recruiting highly qualified teachers (Zorn & Noga, Research shows that resilience is a social construct that
2004). In his study, Barton (2004) found that high poverty stu- identifies both processes and outcomes associated with what
people themselves term well-being (Luther, Cicchetti, & Becker,
dents are typically taught by teachers with less than three years
of experience in schools with high teacher turnover. Kozol 2000; Ray, 2004). This implies that resilience is more likely to
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(2005) observed several schools, which were dilapidated and in occur when survivors are provided the services or supports and
dire need of repair. Similar findings were reported by Gorski health resources that make it more likely for every child to do
(2005) who found that many schools in high poverty areas have well in ways that are meaningful to his or her family and
limited technology access, inadequate facilities, inoperative community.
bathrooms and insufficient materials. In their study, Zorn and Resilience can assist children to cope with trauma in life
Noga (2004) found that poor children are more likely to be mo- (Ungar, 2008). This implies that resilience can make an individ-
bile in search of food than their more advantaged peers and thatual recover from or adjust easily to all the change and misfor-
this is a primary risk factor for dropping out of school. tune one experiences day by day and is about your actual ability
to maintain a balanced health state. As such, resilience is key to
Behavioral and Social Development health and wellbeing in the face of adversity (Ray, 2004). Resil-
Some studies have investigated the impact of poverty on the ient people have adaptive cognitive coping styles, solution
child's behavioral development and school success. In a longi- focused in their problem solving.
tudinal study, Bradley, Corwyn, & Burchinal (2001), investi-
gated children from six family groups and followed them from Resilience in Children of Poverty
birth to age 13 in order to understand how poverty impacted the Despite the fact that there is clear evidence that suggests
development of the child and school success. The findings re- that poverty will have an impact on the socio-emotional devel-
vealed that children from poor homes experienced higher de- opment of the child, some studies suggest that children reared
grees of behavioural problems, which made them unsuccessful in low-income families can exhibit a high degree of resilience in
in their academic studies. In other words, children with behav- childhood and adolescence. According to Horning et al. (2005),
iour problems are less likely to perform well in their studies. there is some evidence that suggests that children reared in
Eamon (2000, p. 143) has also examined the impact of poverty poverty can become notably resilient and even perform well in
on the behavioural development of the child and school success school achievement. The authors suggest that all encompass-
and noted that "children who live in economically disadvan- ing research that attempts to categorize all children raised in
taged families are more likely to experience socio-emotional poverty may not provide an accurate picture for understanding
problems, such as impaired peer relations, low self-esteem, the outcomes for all children. For example, a study carried out
lower levels of sociability and initiative, and classroom by Horning, Rouse and Gordon (2002) demonstrated that, "pov-
externalizing, and internalizing behavior problems, than chil- erty experienced during the first 5 years of a child's life de-
dren who live in families with greater financial resources". In creases the probability of completed years of schooling more so
their study, Hobcraft and Kiernan (2001) examined data for than does poverty during middle childhood and adolescence, an
adults at the age of 33 and compared them with data from their effect that is more pronounced among African Americans than
childhood. These researchers found that adults who classified whites" (p. 156). In other words, more children were found to be
themselves as poor in childhood were socially isolated in ado- passing their studies through resilience. More research is still
lescence and adulthood and had academic achievement prob- needed to quantify specific characteristics that make children
lems. Such findings demonstrate that there is a link between more resilient to poverty than others.
poverty, behavioural problems, social and emotional
development, and school success. Conclusion
Studies reviewed suggest that poverty makes the child sus-
Self–concept and School Achievement
ceptible to a host of developmental complications that have a
Poverty has also been found to have a negative effect on the negative impact on academic success. Other studies show that
self–esteem (Gwirayi & Shumba, 2007) because children who there are cases in which the child can develop the resilience to
live in poverty are less likely to develop a positive self–concept. overcome the environment that surrounds the child. However,
Studies show that students' personal beliefs about their capabil- there is controversy over what promulgates such resiliency and
ities to learn influence their motivation and learning in schools hence more research is needed on this issue.
(Aldridge, Huang & Fraser, 1999). Students can only develop
positive beliefs if their home and school environment are condu-
cive and supportive to their learning. Hence, children living in
poverty are less likely to thrive in their studies if the environment Acker-Hooevar, M., & Touchton, D. (2002). How principals level
is not conducive and supportive to their learning. Classroom en- the playing field of accountability in Florida high poverty/low
Children of Poverty 213

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