Monday 5 December 2016

Growing Up in Ireland study: All children aren't 'equal'

Wealth determines weight and academic achievements

Published 12/10/2016 | 08:25

Stock Image: PA
Stock Image: PA

Despite developments in education and health, all Irish children are not "equal", according to a new study.

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The figures from the ten year Growing Up in Ireland study, which has been published by the ESRI, show that despite many improvements in Irish society more support needs to be provided to help children most in need.

In the past century, Ireland has made strides in how it thinks about and treats children, according to Prof James Williams of the ESRI.

“Despite the changing nature of inequality over time, children’s future prospects continue to be shaped by family circumstances. Measures existing to help children flourish must be cognisant of the powerful impact of the home environment on child wellbeing and development.”

The study found a consistent pattern of disadvantage for children living in one-parent families, mostly due to poorer socio-economic circumstances.

“Even accounting for differences in family characteristics such as income, maternal education, parent-child conflict and maternal depression, children in one-parent families are at a significant disadvantage in terms of their risk of experiencing socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties.”

Although mothers with a migrant background tend to be more highly educated than Irish mothers, especially those from Western Europe and Asia, migrant children’s reading and math scores are lower.

This is especially so for eastern European children, in the case of reading, and African children, for maths.

It also found that the attitudes, dispositions and language skills of five-year-olds differ according to social class background, mother’s education and household income.

Low birth weights of less than 2,500 grams were found to have a possible lasting impact on a child’s growth and development.

Children with low birth weights are five times more likely not to meet developmental thresholds for communications and gross motor skills at nine months and even have lower scores on reading and maths tests at nine years of age.

The study also found that 7.9pc of children from lowest income families were found to be low birth weight, compared to 4.6pc of those from the highest income families.

Overweight and obesity are strongly linked to social disadvantage, around 25pc of three-year-olds in Ireland are overweight or obese.

The children of unskilled manual parents are 65pc more likely to be obese at three years of age than children of professional parents.

Discussing if the words in the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, resolving to “cherish all of the children of the nation equally” have been realised 100 years on from the Easter Rising, Williams said:

“While we have undoubtedly made huge strides in terms of how we think about and treat children in Ireland, the book presents evidence concluding that we have not lived up to the Proclamation’s resolution to cherish all of the children of the nation equally.”

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