Children hide poverty to protect parents
Kids' feel the shame of poverty but keep it hidden.
Children from poor families deny their own needs to protect their parents from blame and social stigma, a new study has shown. They claim not to like joining a sports team or going on a school excursion, which they know their families can't afford.
''Their demands were incredibly modest,'' the nation's leading poverty researcher, Peter Saunders of the University of NSW, said.
Quite often, they would say they were fine financially, when it was obvious they weren't. They didn't want to acknowledge to strangers that they weren't doing well
The study is the first in Australia to hear children's accounts of what it is like growing up poor. Almost 100 young people from 11 to 17 were interviewed, as well as teachers and parents.
The children's tendency to deny wanting what other children ordinarily had was a way to ''protect themselves from the pain of missing out and their parents from the anguish of having to say no'', the report said.
Called Making a Difference, the report was undertaken by the Social Policy Research Centre and the Smith Family. It found the children were reluctant to make a fuss of their economic disadvantage. They were angrier about the physical degradation of their neighbourhoods and schools.
''Quite often, they would say they were fine financially, when it was obvious they weren't,'' Professor Saunders, who co-wrote the study, said. ''They didn't want to acknowledge to strangers that they weren't doing well.''
Some of the children lived in a shared culture of poverty, separated from the rest of the community. Specialised youth and welfare services in disadvantaged areas, while important in building self-esteem, often failed to connect children with mainstream sports and arts activities where they could meet their better-off counterparts, the report said.
It also revealed an unflattering portrait of how these children regarded teachers and schools. The researchers considered excluding the criticisms ''because teachers too often bear the brunt of blame about why our education system does not deliver equity''.
The children felt keenly that their parents were not respected by school staff. Many were bored by and disengaged from the curriculum, and they were frustrated with teachers who could not maintain discipline and didn't seem to care. The children appreciated enthusiastic teachers and meaningful curriculum but ''this type of opportunity for learning was too often missing from young people's accounts of school''.
The increasing trend for schools to impose ''user pays'' levies for some activities was also detrimental. One parent reported her fury at the discovery, after four years, that the school had a fund to help. Professor Saunders said the schemes were not widely advertised for fear that demand would outstrip supply.
Some children revealed they moved between extended and supportive family networks. Some also received sporadic financial help from relatives. Some families gave tithes to the church or sent money to family overseas, depleting low incomes.
Another new report, by the Australian Social Inclusion Board, reported that 590,000 children under the age of 15 - 14 per cent of all children - lived in jobless families last year, and 640,000 people aged 18 to 64 suffered multiple and entrenched disadvantages.
However, 75 per cent of Australians were satisfied with their life, higher than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 63 per cent.