By Annemiek Hoppenbrouwers (Fontys)

When all children are having Circle Time again after the summer vacation, the teacher asks:  “What did you do during the holidays?” “Where did you go on holiday?” It’s nice to meet again after the holidays and to give each child the opportunity to talk about what they did, right?

Or isn’t it? What if you are six, and you have never been on vacation and you didn’t do much more than play soccer in the street and watch television in the evenings? What if your parents cannot afford to go to an amusement park for a day, or have no time off to take you to a playground? And what if your parents are too embarrassed to apply for funds, because they don’t want other people to know that they are poor and because of that you couldn’t go camping with your friends?

What if you as a child, are not able to answer the question: what did you do during the holidays?

Countries that are members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) have on average nearly 1 child in 7 currently living in relative income poverty. [1] Most of these countries are developed countries with a high-income economy. For example, the Netherlands ranks 5th (17.6% of total population aged 0 to 17) in the lowest share of children at risk of poverty or social exclusion [2].

What is poverty?

Poverty is not an absolute concept; you are poor “in relation to others” if you cannot participate because you do not have enough money. The European Bureau of Statistics (ESTAT) defines poverty as the situation of people who lack the (financial) means to do a number of ‘ordinary’ things, such as: pay rent, pay for electricity and water; eat meat or fish three times a week; go on a holiday for at least one week a year; buy a car,  a washing machine, a color television or a (mobile) phone [4].

Should poverty be the only problem in a family, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be problematic for children growing up. Unfortunately, poverty is usually accompanied by other problems such as parents trying to cope with stress and psychological issues and the absence of a sufficiently wide social network. Moreover poverty is more common among single mothers and migrant families, who often already have additional problems.

Consequences for children

Research by the Netherlands Youth Institute [3] shows that long-term poverty causes so much stress in a family that most children who grow up in poverty are not securely attached to their parents and therefore have a higher risk of developing problems later on in life. In addition, there is a greater risk of children being abused. Also children from poor families are more likely to have poor health and to become victims of bullying at school. Educational opportunities for children in poverty are also fewer.

The children of parents with low formal schooling (read: poor parents) often already have a developmental delay when they enter primary school. They have difficulties keeping  up at school and experience more stress, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to concentrate and engage enthusiastically in social activities. As a consequence they risk to be socially excluded..


For children growing up in poverty, social exclusion is a serious risk, but one that we can try to diminish at the daycare center or at school. For children, poverty means: not going on school trips; no birthday or other parties; no new fancy shoes that everyone else has, no bicycle, no laptop (for doing homework); no hobbies, no membership of clubs.

What you can do

Poverty entails more than just a shortage of money. It can be tackled at different levels. As a childcare employee you cannot make families less poor. However, you do have an impact on the effects of poverty on children. It is important that you give children the feeling that they belong, that they can participate.


  • Ask inclusion questions, not exclusion questions. For example, on the first day after the holiday don’t ask: “Where have you been on holiday?”, but: “How was your holiday?”.
  • If it becomes more difficult to contact the parents, it might be that they are withdrawing because they cannot meet a certain request or obligation (e.g. paying the contribution for an event). Be aware that this can be due to embarrassment, and not because of unwillingness. Put some extra effort into getting into contact with these parents and communicating with them.
  • You could ask parents to assist you as a supervisor on a school trip. In return for their assistance you could consider letting their child participate for free: a win-win situation!




[3] Nederlands Jeugdinstituut. Opgroeien en opvoeden in armoede (2018)


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Poverty and social exclusion in ECEC

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