Poverty in Australia continues to be an issue of concern, particularly the proportion of adults and children experiencing deep and persistent disadvantage and social exclusion. This narrative review describes key findings from the literature on the impact of poverty in early childhood. Growing up in adversity can significantly harm children’s development, health and educational success both now and into their future. Poverty experienced early in the life course is particularly problematic, due to the sensitivity of children’s rapidly developing brain. For instance, it can contribute to continuous activation of the body’s stress-response system, limiting children’s ability to respond effectively to adversity. The experience of poverty in early childhood can also inhibit the development of their brain’s executive function, a core set of skills that form the foundation for lifelong learning. Poverty can also harm children if it limits parents’ capacity to provide responsive care and low-stress environments. However, evidence suggests that by assisting adults to build the skills necessary for success in parenting and the workplace children can be protected from the adverse impact of poverty in early childhood.