Study to research benefits of free preschool places

Thu, May 31, 2012, 01:00

RESEARCHERS HOPE to find out what benefits universal free preschool places have had on thousands of children in a landmark study to be carried out later this year.

The Government-funded study Growing Up in Ireland has shed light on the health, development and family circumstances of almost 20,000 young people in Ireland over recent years.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald yesterday announced funding had been secured to extend the study to track children entering primary school this year.

The results will be used by policymakers to answer questions such as what effect school entry age has on child development, and the impact of free preschool places.

The study has followed the development of two large groups of young people over recent years: some 11,000 infants from nine months and 8,500 children from nine years. The infant cohort and their families were interviewed at nine months and three years of age while the child cohort were interviewed at nine and 13.

From September this year the infant group – who are about to turn five years of age – will begin primary school. The extension of the study will capture this stage.

Ms Fitzgerald said extra funding would allow researchers to collect data during what was one of the most important transitions in a child’s life. “We know that a smooth transition is very important for children’s future physical, emotional and cognitive development, and this research will help us to identify the ways in which children can be supported at this time,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

The free preschool year began in January 2010 and provided a free childcare place for all young people in the year prior to starting primary school. It benefits more than 60,000 children a year.

Researchers at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin will continue to lead the consortium undertaking the research.

The study’s principal investigator, Prof James Williams of the ESRI , said the research team was delighted important work on childhood and children’s health and wellbeing was continuing.

“It is particularly important at this crucial phase of the child’s life. Growing Up in Ireland is a wonderful investment which will assist in developing effective policies and services for all children and families in Ireland today and into the future.”

The study is funded by the Department of Children in association with the Department of Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office.