Growing Up in Ireland by Annette J Dunlea
Growing Up in Ireland is a Government-funded study of children that was carried out jointly by the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin. The study takes place over seven years and will follow the progress of two groups of children: 8,000 9-year-olds and 10,000 9-month-olds. The second visit to 9-year-olds takes place when they are 13 years old, and the infants when they are 3-years-old. This study is the first of its kind on this scale in Ireland. A large and varied amount of information is collected as part of the study, and will be used to form evidence-based policy and services for the benefit of all children and families in Ireland. The datasets will be made available to researchers through the Irish Social Sciences Data Archive.The main aim of this national longitudinal study of children is to paint a full picture of children in Ireland and how they are developing in the current social, economic and cultural environment. This information will be used to assist in policy formation and in the provision of services which will ensure all children will have the best possible start in life.
Child Cohort: Information was collected from the child, their parents or guardians, school teacher and Principal, and childminder.Each child was asked to complete a Drumcondra test in reading and maths. The child's teacher and principal were asked to complete two questionnaires. The Study Researcher then arranged to visit the home and the child's parents or guardians and the child were asked to fill out separate questionnaires.Detailed data on the child cohort included: birth weight, gestational age at birth, mode of delivery; time spent in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), breastfeeding; any on-going chronic physical or mental health problems; accidents or injuries requiring ospitalisation, child's use of health services, hospital in-patient, A&E; dental care; physical, emotional or mental health; speech and hearing; diet and exercise.The child cohort group is made up of just over 8,500 nine-year-old children who were selected randomly through the National School system. The infant cohort group is made of 11,000 nine-month-old infants selected randomly from the Child Benefit Register. Recruitment of these families began in September 2008 and ran until April 2009. Growing Up in Ireland is one of the largest and most complex studies of this nature that has ever been undertaken in Ireland.
The more supportive the family, the better the outcomes for the child are likely to be. There are just over 56,400 nine-year-olds in Ireland, 51% of whom are male.This shows that a substantial majority (82%) of nine year-olds lived in two-parent families – 35% in two-parent families with 1 or 2 children under 18 years and 47% in two-parent families with 3 or more children under 18 years. Historically, Ireland had larger family sizes than other European nations and this still pertains, with the effect that almost half of nine-year-olds lived in households with two or more other child.In 2009 one child in 11 was living in consistent poverty in Ireland.
A total of 89% of nine-year-olds were born in Ireland (as recorded by their mother).A total of 82% of nine-year-olds lived in two-parent families.• The Primary Caregiver of the vast majority of nine-year-olds was female – mostly, though not exclusively,the child’s biological mother. Equally, Secondary Caregivers (where resident) were principally males –largely the father of the child. Approximately 2.5% of nine-year-olds lived with Primary Caregivers who were not their biological mother.Approximately 54% of mothers were employed outside the home, with 39% self-classifying as being on home duties or looking after the home. In contrast, 91% of fathers were employed outside the home. Family income and highest level of maternal education both increased with family social class. Two-parent families are more likely than single-parent families to be in the higher social class categories and in the higher family income groups.
Key findings of the report are:
• The majority of children in the Growing Up in Ireland study lived in two-parent families with three or more children. A total of 93% of couples were married, a further 7% were cohabiting and 18% of children lived in single-parent households.
• There was a clear relationship by family type and employment status in the household. Couples with one or two children were most likely to be dual earners, while single parents with three or more children were more likely not to be working outside the home.
• In terms of family relationships, mothers were more likely to report high levels of closeness to their daughters while fathers were more likely to report high levels of closeness to their sons.
• The relationship between child and parents was associated with the child’s view of their relationship with their sibling(s). Close relationships were linked to child reports of Always getting on with their sibling(s) while high levels of conflict were linked to them saying they Never got on with their siblings.
• While the vast majority of children in the Growing Up in Ireland study were likely to say they got on Very well with their mother, those who only got on Fairly well with their mother were more likely to do so if they were in a high conflict relationship with them or if the relationship was not a close one.
• A majority of children experienced parenting characterised by both high levels of support and high levels of control from both their mothers (77%) and their fathers (68%).
• Boys are parented differently to girls, particularly by fathers.Boys are more likely to receive an
authoritarian parenting style from either parent and also to be smacked by their fathers. Girls are more likely to receive an indulgent or permissive style from either parent and are less often smacked by fathers.
• Very few children with non-resident fathers (5%) were conceived outside the context of a relationship between their parents. Over a third (37%) had parents who had been married to each other.
• Children were more likely to have had contact with their non-resident father on a daily basis if he lived close to them (within 30 minutes’ drive of their home).
The emerging picture of Irish parenting practices is a positive one with high usage levels of both the optimal parenting style (authoritative) and the optimal discipline strategy (explaining why a behaviour is wrong).However, it also suggests that there is a small percentage of parents who may benefit from parenting support or guidelines – particularly those parents who are adopting an authoritarian, uninvolved or permissive parenting style.The foundations of health are established in early life, and are shaped by biological, psychological,environmental and social processes.The vast majority of mothers (98%) reported that their child was in good health with 73% rating their child as Very Healthy and a further 25% as Healthy, but a few minor problems.Almost all mothers (98%) reported that their children were in good health, with 73% rating their child as Very Healthy and 25% rating them as Healthy, but a few minor problems.
Fewer children from lower SES backgrounds were likely to be rated as Very Healthy:they had poorer oral healthcare, were at increased risk for overweight and obesity, and had poorer diets.There were also some noteworthy gender differentials. Parents of boys were twice as likely to report a mental or behavioural condition than parents of girls, while rates of overweight and obesity were found to be more heavily concentrated in girls. The public health challenge, especially in the current economic climate, is how best to marshal limited resources to improve child health outcomes. Even at this early stage in the study it is possible to discern areas where policy initiatives aimed at improving the general health of children can be usefully targeted. For example, improving children’s nutritional profiles and increasing rates of exercise participation are achievable public health objectives that will result in improved child health outcomes.Rates of GP visits are highest amongst girls and amongst those with full medical card coverage. A total of 62% of nine-year-old children were reported to visit the dentist at least once a year. Dental care varies by family income level, with 53% of boys and 55% of girls from the lowest income quintile visiting once per year compared to 74% of boys and 71% of girls from the highest income quintile.The majority of nine-year-olds in Growing Up in Ireland were classified as having normal behavioural,emotional and relationship functioning.
Generally, children were found to be positive about their schooling, with girls being more likely than boys to say that they liked school, looked forward to school and liked their teacher. Levels of absenteeism and uncompleted homework were higher for children from less advantaged groups, though the absolute differences were relatively small. Girls were more likely than boys to report that they liked Reading and Irish, but Mathematics was more popular with boys. Most nine-year-old children were being taught by female teachers, aged in their twenties. The majority of nine-year-old children were being in taught in schools with a pupil-teacher ratio of 17.5:1. The ratio among nine-year-olds who were in more disadvantaged schools was lower, reflecting the targeting of resources towards these schools over the last decade. In relation to discipline, verbal or written reports to parents were the most common forms of discipline with exclusion or expulsion rarely or never used. Mothers were found to support their child’s education (by helping them with homework and attending school meetings), possess high levels of literacy and numeracy, and hold high expectations of how far their child will go in their education, with less than 1% expecting them to only achieve their Junior Certificate. In general, mothers had high educational aspirations for their children. Maternal expectations for their nine-year-olds were strongly related to their own education level, with those who had a graduate education themselves being most likely to expect their child to also achieve a graduate education. The education of the child’s mother was also positively related to how many children’s books were in the home, while reading for fun also showed important differences across social class groups and educational attainment groups. Girls were also more likely to read for fun than boys.In relation to the home environment of nine-year-olds, high levels of functional literacy and numeracy are evident as are high educational expectations for their children.
The majority of nine-year-olds had at least two close friends and spent time with their friends out of school on at least two days of the week. Half of the children had a larger friendship network, with at least four close friends and one-quarter of the children spent time with their friends almost every day of the week. The experience of bullying appears to be common for nine-year-olds in Growing Up in Ireland.Watching television is an almost universal activity among nine-year-olds in Ireland.Substantial amounts of time were spent playing video games, especially by boys. 74% of boys and 54% of girls spent some time each day playing video games, with 30% of boys and 12% of girls spending one hour or more.Three-quarters of nine-year-olds were involved in some form of organised sports club or organisation,the rate being higher among boys (84%) than girls (67%).
13% of children were involved in Scouts/Guides, etc.Social class differences were clearly evident in how children spent their free time and opportunities for outdoor play,sport and other organised leisure or cultural activities can be very variable, depending on the family’s access to resources. Children from lower social class categories tended to be engaged for longer on a daily basis in sedentary pursuits such as watching TV, videos and playing video games, while children from higher social classes appear to have more opportunities to take part in organised sports and cultural activities. The majority of parents (91%) reported that it was safe for children to play outside during the day and the majority of children (95%) reported that they felt safe living in their neighbourhood. ZHere again,those in the higher social class categories were more likely than others to report a sense of feeling safe in their local neighbourhood. Availability of services, such as GPs, schools, banks and shopping was high across all social class and income levels, whereas services such as public transport, libraries, Social Welfare offices and recreational facilities appropriate to a nine-year-old were somewhat less prevalent, particularly to families in lower social class categories.The report provides a comprehensive picture of the life of infants in Ireland today, across the main domains of their development, with a view to furthering our understanding of the broad spectrum of their experiences and circumstances.
Causes Annette Dunlea Supports
The National Council of The Blind, Ireland