Child poverty and poor health outcomes

 

Sir, – Your news report highlighted many of the positive findings from the Growing Up in Ireland Study (GUI) that reassure us that most children in Ireland are happy and healthy (“What we’ve learned from a decade of research”, November 7th).

Your editorial on the topic on Monday 11th drew attention to some of the more worrying aspects of the report, and we are writing to express our concern about this.

The GUI study provides evidence that we have a serious ongoing problem with how our State looks after vulnerable children.

This study highlights our continuing failure to ensure that all children in Ireland have equal health outcomes.

At nine years of age, 13 per cent of children in the poorest households have a chronic health condition compared to 9 per cent in the wealthiest households.

We know from working as GPs in disadvantaged areas that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.

There is an abundance of evidence internationally outlining how childhood poverty has a life-long negative impact on health.

When a family transitions into poverty, there is a 50 per cent higher risk of mental health difficulties in children, a sobering thought when you consider our rising rates of homelessness in children.

We also know that cumulative poverty exposure has a dose-response relationship with poor health outcomes, so that children with persistent exposure to poverty fare the worst.

Surely we can’t blame the children for this?

We also have clear evidence of what will work to address this issue.

Social spending on children, particularly in the early years of life, improves population health across the lifespan. Early intervention works.

As GPs, we need to be able to intervene early and effectively when children and their families show signs of distress.

This means supporting families and resourcing community services based on needs, which is not done currently. There are more than 6,000 children on waiting lists to see psychologists in Ireland, with longer waits in disadvantaged areas where needs are higher.

Our education system recognises through the Deis school system that we need to put more resources into schools in disadvantaged areas, but we have no equivalent system to protect the health of children living in poverty.

Without policy action to address the impact of child poverty on health, we will look back on our current care provision in decades to come with the same shame we know feel about mother-and-baby homes. We know what works and we need social and health policy to deliver on that. – Yours, etc,

Dr SUSAN SMITH,

Inchicore;

Dr EDEL McGINNITY,

Mulhuddart;

Dr PATRICK O’DONNELL,

Limerick;

Dr ANNE O’BRIEN,

Corduff;

Dr BRID SHANAHAN,

Summerhill;

Dr ANNA BEUG,

Dolphin’s Barn;

Dr KATE McSWEENEY,

Coolock;

Dr RAY WHALLEY,

Glasnevin.