Report calls for more help for parents of babies

Minister says economic cost to country of not intervening ‘enormous’

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs  Frances Fitzgerald. File Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald. File Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The importance of early intervention to help parents raise their children was highlighted by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald at the launch of the latest Growing Up in Ireland report today.

The report investigates infants’ development at nine months of age and looks at the role of parenting on that development, particularly factors such as parental stress, depression and sensitivity towards the child’s needs.

It calls for greater supports for parents with depression or stress and more help for women at risk of giving birth to premature or low birth-weight babies.

Ms Fitzgerald said there were a lot of lessons to be learned from the findings, adding that the continuities between child health and adult health were frightening. “I don’t think people out there realise it at all...I’m really trying to get that message out there about early intervention and getting resources into those early years, and I include teenage years in that,” she said.

“The economic benefits are so enormous for our country and the cost of not intervening early is so high.”

She also said there was a need to offer more support after a baby’s birth to help mothers breast-feed, saying it could make “quite a difference” to the sensitivity of mothers towards their children.

The Growing Up in Ireland - Parenting and Infant Development report, by Elizabeth Nixon and Lorraine Swords of Trinity College Dublin and Aisling Murray of the Economic and Social Research Institute, found that premature babies or babies with a low birth weight may be at risk of poorer developmental outcomes.

However, Dr Nixon said it was possible that they just needed time to catch up. The babies were nine months old when studied and she said the information being collected on these families when the children were three and five years old would allow researchers to see how these early experiences were affecting outcomes later in the child’s life.

She said 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.l

* Details of the study, which involved more than 11,000 children, can be seen at growingup.ie