Social determinants and parental/caregiving factors profoundly affect experiences to shape lifelong outcomes.
From the point of conception, the social, economic, and environmental conditions into which we are born, grow, live, and age have the power to shape our lives. We know these factors as the social determinants of health and result in a social stratification that enforces disparities in exposure to health-damaging factors/conditions and differential vulnerability, in terms of health conditions and material resource availability.
A significant body of evidence highlights a strong correlation between poverty in early childhood and adverse health and wellbeing outcomes in later life. While children from high-income families with developmental delays are likely to catch up to their peers in later life, children from low-income families are much less likely to do so and in fact, the gap between them and their more affluent counterparts is likely to grow exponentially.
Poverty in pregnancy is associated with poor nutrition, obesity and an increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs—all shown to increase the likelihood of health and developmental vulnerabilities in children. Poverty is likely to increase a mother’s exposure to psychological stressors such as domestic violence and homelessness, affecting the body’s hormonal regulation during pregnancy and increasing the likelihood of fetal growth delay and preterm birth.
Low income adversely affects a mother’s ability to keep their immediate environment healthy and secure, feed and clothe their children, and look after their health needs. The quality of care that children receive, the number and quality of learning opportunities they have, and the level and duration of stress that they experience are all significantly influenced by the experience and duration of poverty. Children who experience poverty are less likely to live in cognitively stimulating environments, have less access to books, fewer age-appropriate toys, fewer informal learning settings, and spend more time in front of a television.
Access to stable and adequate housing is a basic human need. It has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of children as it provides families with a safe environment, autonomy and the security needed for full participation in social, educational, economic, and community life.
Housing instability can cause pregnant women stress and is associated with adverse outcomes for the mother and potentially long-term risks to the child. Housing instability is a significant predictor of lower birth weight and preterm birth. Housing instability increases the likelihood of intimate partner violence for women, including during pregnancy.
High housing costs can affect child wellbeing by contributing to family financial or material hardship. Families who allocate a disproportionate amount of their income to housing have to cut back on other basic needs such as food, clothing and heating. A lack of affordable housing can affect parenting capacity and mental health. Housing affordability can contribute to family stress if housing costs are the major source of economic hardship and/or family conflict. Homeless infants and toddlers are vulnerable and more likely to experience delays in physical and mental development.