Children of recession marked by effect of financial stress

Study of almost 20,000 children reveals extent of social and emotional problems

Children can experience emotional and psychological problems arising out of the recession even if their parents’ economic situation improves.

Children as young as three are affected in households where there is financial stress. Feelings of stress and alienation can often persist in homes even if the parents’ economic status improves, researchers have found.

The findings come from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study that tracks almost 20,000 children. Families of children born in 1998 were interviewed when their children were nine and 12. Similarly, families of children born in 2008 were interviewed when their children were nine months and three.

Dr Dorothy Watson, associate research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and co-author of the report, said the findings of lingering stress were surprising.

“It did not fade away in the space of two to four years. It is worse to be stuck in poverty than to get out of it, but we are finding an effect later. That would be a concern,” she said.

Financial stress can manifest itself in children being less confident and more fearful. Some have problems concentrating and others feel low.

The researchers found behavioural problems were more than twice as likely to manifest in households where there were persistent economic difficulties.

Approximately 4 per cent of children exhibit socio-emotional problems in households where there has been no economic trauma.

For those whose parents had experienced financial hardship at the first interview, but not the second, the rate rose to between 6 and 7 per cent.

The highest rate of 10 per cent was exhibited by children from homes where the parents experienced ongoing financial hardship.

Dr Watson said the attitude of the parents or parents during times of financial stress can determine how children cope. “If the mother is hopeful that things are going to improve, the consequences for children are not so bad. Children are not necessarily aware of a parent’s financial stress, but they do pick up if parents are struggling or are under stress.”

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly said the Government was "acutely aware" of the costs of childcare which was "like a second mortgage".

Dr Reilly suggested the best way of helping poor children is to get their parents out of poverty by getting them back into the workplace.

He revealed the that department is discussing an early child strategy which will help lone parents with the cost of childcare if they wish to return to work.

He also said the department is recruiting social workers to deal with the 9,000 children without a social worker.

“The children of this country are our future. The last thing I want to be responsible for is to have another mother and baby home review in 40 years time over something that we failed to do.”