The Role of Public Health Agencies in Addressing Child and Family Poverty: Public Health Nurses’ Perspectives

Benita E. Cohen* , Marion McKay
Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, 377 Helen Glass Centre, 89 Curry Place, Winnipeg, MB, R3T2N2, Canada

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© Cohen and McKay; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, 377 Helen Glass Centre, 89 Curry Place, Winnipeg, MB, R3T2N2, Canada; Tel: (204)-474-9936; Fax: (204)-474-7682; E-mails:,


Poverty rates among child-bearing families in industrialised countries remain unacceptably high and have significant implications for population health. Both today and in the past, public health nurses have observed the impact of poverty on family health and well-being every day in their practice; yet, their perspectives on their role in addressing child and family poverty are currently absent from the literature. This paper presents findings of a qualitative descriptive study that explored perspectives of public health nurses in an urban Canadian setting about the impact of poverty on the well-being of children and families, and the potential roles of health organisations and public health nurses in addressing this issue. A key finding is the large gap between the role that nurses believe they can potentially play, and their current role. Barriers that public health nurses encounter when attempting to address poverty are identified, and implications of the findings for public health policy, practice, and research are discussed.

Keywords: Public health nursing, child and family poverty, determinants of health, vulnerable populations, health care provider perspective, qualitative methods.