MORE than 1.1 million children are now living in the State – one in four of the population – as a result of the baby boom, a new report reveals.
In the midst of the country's financial woes, the child population continued to rise in the decade to 2011, with a 13.4pc surge recorded.
The 'State of the Nation's Children Report: Ireland 2012', which is due to be published later today, reveals that Ireland has the highest percentage of children – at 25pc of the total population – even in the expanded EU community.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has described the youth as offering "unprecedented potential" for Ireland's economic future.
Yet the Government has warned that the stark rise in the under-17 population poses challenges in planning. Schools, for instance, need 3,000 new teachers over the next three years.
Ms Fitzgerald pointed out that amongst the many challenges were improving the affordability and accessibility of childcare – particularly as the pre-school population has surged by 18pc since 2006.
She said the level of public spending on early intervention and services for children needed to be reassessed by Government.
"We have had a legacy of providing direct cash payments, instead of investing in services," the minister said.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs will spend €260m on early intervention and childcare services – compared to billions on child-benefit payments and allowances, she added.
Ms Fitzgerald told the Seanad that she still intended to introduce a second universal free pre-school year, possibly on a phased basis, which would cost €200m per year. Around 94pc of qualifying children have taken up their places on the first free pre-school year.
The report – compiled by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and which has been seen by the Irish Independent – provides a snapshot of children's lives including their relationships, habits, health and medical treatment.
Among the many positive trends noted in the report are that the number of newborn babies visited by a public health nurse within 48 hours of discharge from hospital rose to 84pc for the first time.
In addition, the number of children on hospital waiting lists dropped by 45pc in the four years to 2012.
The negatives include that there were still 3,065 children on hospital waiting lists in September 2012. Yet the number waiting 12 months or more fell from 372 in 2011 to just 16 in 2012.
It also pinpointed a rise in the number of children in the care of the HSE, with a 16pc surge to 6,160 between 2007 and 2011.
The report reveals that the number of babies born to teenage girls dropped by 36pc between 2007 and 2011. Just 399 births were recorded to mothers aged between 10 and 17 years in 2011. The figures show that 99pc of those births were to teenagers aged between 15 and 17.
The campaign to tackle smoking may be taking effect, with almost three-quarters of children aged 10 to 17 reporting that they have never smoked. This increased from 50pc in 1998 to 74pc in 2010.