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Home > Growing up in Ireland: infants and their families.

Pike, Brigid (2011) Growing up in Ireland: infants and their families. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 36, Winter 2010 , pp. 7-8.

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The first comprehensive set of results from the infant cohort in the Growing Up in Ireland study were published in November 2010.1 The report provides a picture of the life of infants in Ireland today, across the main domainsof their development, with a view to furthering understanding of the broad spectrum of theirexperiences and circumstances.2 

A nationally representative sample of 11,100 infants born between December 2007 and May 2008 and their familieswas randomly selected from the Child Benefit Register maintained by theDepartment of Social Protection. The sample response was 65% of all families approached and 69% of valid contacts made in the course offieldwork.
The first round of data collection took place between September 2008 andApril 2009, when the children had reached the age of nine months. The main informants were the adults identified as the primary and secondary caregivers of the study child, who all completed detailed questionnaires. In the course of the household interview, the interviewer recorded the length, weight and head circumference of the study child as well as the height and weight of the primary and secondary caregivers. In addition, families were asked to provide contact information in respect of non-resident parents and other regular caregivers, where the latter delivered at least eight hours of care per week. The contact details were used to administer (by post) a short self-completion questionnaire.
Data were collected with regard to:
o    circumstances surrounding the pregnancy,
o    the child’s health from birth onwards,
o    the child’s routines, such as sleeping and feeding patterns, the child’s temperament and cognitive and physical development,
o    childcare,
o    parenting and support for parents in bringing up their child, and
o    relationships between the mother and the world outside her home, both in the workplace and in her local community.
In order to examine how children’s lives vary in different socio-demographic contexts, data were examined in relation to a relatively common set of variables, including family social class, family income, family type and mother’s highest level of educational attainment.
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy
The research showed that most mothers refrained from smoking or drinking during their pregnancies. The findings also suggested that smokers may find it more difficult to give up cigarettes than drinkers find it to abstain from alcohol.
Just under one in five (18%) mothers had smoked at some stage during their pregnancy, with this being quite strongly related to level of educational attainment. The study reported that there was strong evidence to indicate that much higher percentages of those with lower levels of education smoked at some stage during pregnancy (40% among those with lower secondary level or below, compared to 6% among graduate mothers). It was also noted that mothers with lower levels of education were less likely to have changed their behaviour to avoid smoking during pregnancy than those with higher levels of education.
A total of 20% of mothers had consumed alcohol at some stage during pregnancy. In contrast to smoking in pregnancy, the highest prevalence of alcohol consumption was found among more advantaged mothers. However, further analysis of the data showed that, although the mothers with lowest levels of education were the most likely to abstain from alcohol entirely during pregnancy, those who did drink consumed more units of alcohol each week than more highly educated mothers.
As the Growing Up in Ireland studyfollows this infant cohort it will be possible to examine the longer-term impact of both smoking and drinking – and different levels of consumption of these substances – on child outcomes. Data have also been collected on the consumption of prescribed medications and illegal substances during pregnancy.
Quality of the neighbourhood in which mothers lived
The mothers of infants were asked to rate four items relating to the quality of the neighbourhood in which they lived on a four-point scale from very common to not at all common. The items were:
• rubbish and litter lying about,
• homes and gardens in bad condition,
• vandalism and deliberate damage to property,
• people being drunk or taking drugs in public.
Rubbish and litter lying about was perceived to be the most pervasive neighbourhood problem, with 22% of mothers reporting this as being very or fairly common. The authors reported a strong relationship between family income and the other three neighbourhood characteristics, and also geographic location. For example, a total of 18% of families in the lowest income quintile agreed that people being drunk or taking drugs in public was very or fairly common. This compared with 6% among families in the highest income group. Mothers of nine-month-old infants in urban areas were at least twice as likely as their rural counterparts to report ‘homes and gardens in bad condition’, ‘vandalism and deliberate damage to property’ and ‘people being drunk or taking drugs in public’ as very or fairly common
1. Williams J, Green S, McNally S, Murray A and Quail A (2010) Growing up in Ireland – national longitudinal study of children: the infants and their families. Dublin: Stationery Office.
2. The National Longitudinal Study of Childrentracks the development of two groups of almost 20,000 children. Taking place over seven years, the study is following the progress of a child cohort of 8,500 children interviewed at nine and 13 years, and an infant cohort of 11,000 children interviewed at nine months and three years. The main aim of the study is to paint a picture of children in Ireland and how they are developing in the current social, economic and cultural environment. This information will be used to assist in policy formation and in the provision of services. The Department of Health and Children is funding the study through the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in association with the Department of Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is overseeing and managing the study, which is being carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin.

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