Child poverty’s life-long scars end up leaving society poorer

Report provides a frightening insight into how deprivation affects young children

Rather than being protected from the worst effects of austerity, children and their families are being exposed to its full force during key developmental milestones in their lives.

Rather than being protected from the worst effects of austerity, children and their families are being exposed to its full force during key developmental milestones in their lives.

Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 20:39

Every so often we get a frightening glimpse of the life-long scars that poverty inflicts on young lives. The publication of the latest Growing Up in Ireland study was one of those moments.

We now know that by the age of three, children from poor families are more likely to display behavioural problems, have poorer diets and to be obese than other children.

So even before they have started school, children from disadvantaged areas are lagging behind their peers.

Child poverty damages lives and causes life-long difficulties. The longer a child is poor, the greater the deprivation they are likely to experience in later life. Poor children become poor adults. The cycle continues.

There was good news in the research: the majority of Irish three-year-olds are in good health and display low levels of behavioural difficulties.


Disturbing
But the effects of poverty on poorer kids is deeply disturbing. There are at least 107,000 children living in consistent poverty. Reports of concern over child neglect or mistreatment have escalated by some 25 per cent over recent years.

Rather than being protected from the worst effects of austerity, children and their families are being exposed to its full force during key developmental milestones in their lives.

Budget spending cuts have hit young people disproportionately hard through reductions in child benefit and back-to-school allowances and other cynical cost-cutting measures.


False economy
It’s a false economy. Many young people’s life prospects are likely to be damaged for life as a result. And society is storing up profound social and economic problems for the years to come.

If anything, the study’s results are a powerful argument for investing in children from a young age. Even conservative estimates show the long-term return to the State on this spending provides a benefit of €4 for every €1 spent.

Yet there is still talk of cutting child benefit payments, targeting special funding for disadvantaged schools or disability services.

Childhood is the most important period in life: giving children the strongest foundation possible creates enormous potential for them and our society.

The Government has, at least, maintained funding for the free pre-school year and is developing new area-based approaches to child poverty. The establishment of the new Child and Family Agency is a hopeful attempt to join the dots of services which too often have failed vulnerable families.

Tackling child poverty is not easy. It is complex, long-term work. But we know that early intervention and high quality childcare are highly effective in providing life-long benefits.

There is an opportunity for politicians to improve children’s lives. We know what needs to be done. What is less clear is whether our leaders are willing to support such moves.