The importance of early intervention to help parents raise their children is one of the principal findings in the latest report from the Growing Up in Ireland study. In a large, well-funded longitudinal study initially taking place over a seven-year period, researchers are following the progress of two groups of children: some 8,500 nine-year-olds and 11,000 nine-month old infants. It is providing much valuable information on how children are developing in the current social, economic and cultural environment.
The report investigates infants’ development at nine months and looks at the role of parenting on that development, particularly factors such as parental stress, depression and sensitivity towards the child’s needs. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the Economic and Social Research Institute found that both mothers’ and fathers’ parenting behaviours could be negatively affected by stress and depression, but babies could be protected from these potentially negative influences if sensitive parent-child interactions were maintained.
The study also found that children who lagged behind developmentally in areas such as communications and problem-solving at nine months continued to lag behind cognitively at three years. Children brought up in families in which the parents were in some form of stress were more likely to display behavioural difficulties. The study found that behavioural difficulties displayed by children at three years were related to changes in the stress levels of their parents since nine months.
And it has established that a substantial minority of parents who work outside the home were experiencing difficulties with work-life balance. Just under two-thirds of parents said they were finding it difficult to make ends meet. As noted by Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, the economic and personal cost of not intervening early to help ameliorate the issues highlighted by the study cannot be ignored.