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Home > Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate. How are our families?: Discussion with Childhood Development Initiative.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate. How are our families?: Discussion with Childhood Development Initiative. (05 Jul 2012)

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Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate 

Chairman: I welcome Mr. Joe Horan, chairperson, Dr. Suzanne Guerin, vice-chairperson, and Ms Michelle Butler, strategy and corporate services manager, from the Childhood Development Initiative. I also welcome Ms Mary Doyle, Tallaght west community representative, and Ms Val O’Reilly, Tallaght west community representative. I also welcome Ms Sinéad McNally, Ms Grainne Smith and Mr. Ronan Cavanagh, the Childhood Development Initiative, who are in the Visitors Gallery.


I thank them for the immense work they are doing and the publication of the report, How Are Our Families? It examines and updates information on families in Tallaght west and, in particular, the risk and protective factors associated with children’s well-being......

Dr. Suzanne Guerin:The Childhood Development Initiative, CDI, welcomes the opportunity to present to the committee and thanks Deputy Maloney and members for inviting us this morning. CDI is one of the three prevention and early intervention programmes jointly funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and by Atlantic Philanthropies. The three sites, CDI, Youngballymun and Preparing for Life were set up with “the objective of testing innovative ways of delivering services and early interventions for children and young people, including the wider family and community settings”.
CDI is based in Tallaght West and began with the establishment of a consortium with 23 people in 2004. A partnership was agreed between the Government and Atlantic Philanthropies. The consortium’s first work was a needs analysis entitled, How Are Our Kids? Several priorities were agreed based on this research, one of which was the set up and incorporation of CDI in 2007. Following this, several programmes were designed and delivered between 2007 and 2011.
Our programmes for Tallaght West are the Early Years programme; the Doodle Den literacy programme; the Mate-Tricks, Pro-Social Behaviour programme; the Healthy Schools programme; early intervention speech and language therapy; the community safety initiative; the safe and healthy place initiative; restorative practice; and the quality enhancement programme. All CDI programmes are evidence-informed and manualised. The programmes are delivered through existing structures and services while CDI has a core role in promoting quality, fidelity, value for money and added value. All elements of our work are rigorously and independently evaluated. CDI will be launching our programme evaluation reports over the coming months and would welcome the opportunity to share these with the committee once they are finalised.
However, our focus today is our recent research, entitled, How Are Our Families? While this research highlights the resilience of families in Tallaght West, it also indicates ongoing disadvantage and social issues. Accordingly, we would like to inform the committee of the key findings of this research. This research was undertaken by CDI in conjunction with the UCD School of Psychology and was co-authored by Dr. Tara Murphy and me. The purpose of this study was to update our understanding and information on families in the community of Tallaght west, particularly the risk and protective factors associated with children’s well-being.
The research focused on extensive child and family demographic information and well-being indicators to provide a holistic picture of children’s, young people’s and families’ lives. The current study used the same methodology as the original 2004 study, How Are Our Kids?, with the inclusion of an additional youth survey. While not returning to the specific participants from the 2004 study, this follow-up study sources participants in the same community. It was divided into two surveys, namely the household survey and the youth survey.
For the household survey, community field workers were trained to collect information using a structured survey. Survey questions were taken from a range of existing questionnaires examining education and employment, financial issues, health and well-being, child behaviour, sense of community and safety. The youth survey was completed in school and youth settings, again with the support of trained fieldworkers. The youth survey drew on questions from previous studies such as KIDSCREEN and the Irish health behaviour in school-aged children survey.
Overall, 141 families with 313 children participated, as well as 208 young people aged between 12 and 17 years attending local secondary schools and youth organisations. Residents completing the household survey were between 19 and 73 years old, with an average age of 33 years. The majority of the young people who participated in the study were aged between 12 and 13 years, with the average age being 13 years. Participants for the household survey were sampled from across five estates in Tallaght west with the largest group living in Jobstown, followed by Brookfield, Fettercairn, Killinarden and McUilliam. The majority of young people who participated in this study lived and attended school in Jobstown, followed by Killinarden and Brookfield. Two thirds of residents were renting their property from the local authority compared to 65% in the original 2004 study and 7% nationally. Up to 17% owned or had bought their home and the remaining renting or sharing privately.
For the purpose of this presentation, we have summarised our research findings into six sections covering family issues and parenting; employment; education; financial issues; sense of community and safety; and health. When researching family issues and parenting, in over half of the cases the family was headed by a couple, while just over 40% were single parents. People living in lone-parent households are the most vulnerable group experiencing the highest at risk of poverty nationally at 35.5%. In addition, families reported having between one and six children with an average of two children per household. Up to 21% of respondents to our household survey reported experiencing difficulties with former partners while 16% reported having regular fights with their partner. The study found that 45% of parents reported that they wanted their child to go to college or to have a good education while 8% wanted their child to get a good job and 16% wanted their child to be happy. Parental expectations for children in Tallaght west have increased with 81% reporting that they believe their child has a happy future ahead of them, which should result in positive outcomes for children in the future.
In general, young people in Tallaght west aged 12 to 17 years reported having a positive relationship with their parents or primary caregivers. Nearly 90% of adults reported really enjoying being a parent “all or most of the time”. Some 68% of the youth survey respondents felt that their parents understood them “very” or “extremely” well compared to 58% in the KIDSCREEN study; and the majority of youth participants reported feeling “very” or “extremely” happy at home, which is greater than that reported in KIDSCREEN also.
On employment, the most frequent response by adults was that they were a full-time carer, followed by more than a quarter being in full-time or part-time work. Among the second adult family member, the most frequent responses was they were in full-time paid employment or unemployment-signing on.
On education, just under two thirds of parents believed that their child was achieving his or her potential at nursery or school. In terms of school absenteeism, almost one third of parents reported their child absent for between five and 20 days, with the most common reason being illness. Other reasons were appointments, holidays, truancy or, in the case of only 1% of the group, temporary exclusion. Parents reported that just over half of the children were involved in after-school activities, and the most frequently reported were music, dance and drama, at 30%, and sports, at 26%. Just over one third of young people reported that they often or always attended an after-school club. Finally, 45% of parents reported that they wanted their child to go on to college or have a good education.
Moving on to financial issues, there are serious financial demands on families in Tallaght west. Three quarters of adults have a medical card compared to 29% nationally. Some 43% reported that State benefits are the household’s only source of income - similar to How Are Our Kids? of 2004. Families are seeking support where possible and are accessing local services, including one third access the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 29% the credit union and 7% using MABS. Just under half of households indicated that they were getting by financially. However, one third reported having financial worries almost all of the time. Participants stated they were seriously behind in paying the following bills: television licence, 31%; other loans, 19%: and electricity, 18% - compared to 15% in 2004.

In the youth survey, interestingly, 71% of participants reported very often or always having enough money to do the same things as their friends compared to 69% nationally. This suggests that parents are working to ensure their children have access to activities and other things.

On sense of community and safety, two thirds of families reported that they felt a sense of community with other people in their area, with over 90% reporting that they knew at least one of their neighbours. Some 16% of adult respondents stated that they felt unsafe in their home, with 8% reporting that their child felt unsafe. Some 90% of parents reported that their child felt a sense of community with other children in the area. One third of young people reported that they had been bullied at least once, which is higher than that found in the HBSC survey, compared to 29% of adults reporting that the child has been bullied.
In the household survey, there was a high reporting of crime in the neighbourhood, at 87%, anti-social behaviour, 79%, and environmental issues, at 77%. However, the extent to which participants reported that these issues impacted directly on their family was lower in all of these categories. This suggests that families are aware of these issues but they are affecting them personally less frequently.
In terms of incidence of anti-social behaviour reported by youth, 50% of the participants in the youth survey indicated that there was a problem with this in their neighbourhood, but only 13% indicating that it directly affected them. Some 49% felt that crime was an issue, but only 10% reported that it directly affected them. These findings suggest that parents, schools or responses within the community may be mediating the direct effects of crime, anti-social behaviour and environmental problems.
On health, we addressed issues regarding physical and mental health and general well-being in both of the surveys. Children’s and families’ health and well-being needs to be nurtured and access to supports and services to ensure overall good health and well-being are essential. We found that two thirds of young people believed that their health was very good or excellent compared to a similar figure for KIDSCREEN and the HBSC survey.
Some 27% of the adult respondents self-reported difficulties with anxiety or depression, and 16% reported that their partner experienced anxiety and depression. Some 22% of parents had a child who felt worried or sad, and this compares to 14% in the original How Are Our Kids? Some 35% reported that their child had difficulties with emotions, concentration, behaviour or getting on with others. Nationally, almost one in five of those aged nine are reported to have mental and behavioural conditions - from “Growing Up in Ireland”. One in five adults reported that they themselves have an illness, health problem or disability on a long-term basis compared to one in four in the original How Are Our Kids? survey. Some 18% of families report that they have a child with an illness, health problem or disability on a long-term basis, similar to How Are Our Kids?, at 15%.
Three quarters of young people reported having a very or extremely enjoyable life. Friendships and peer support are very important for children and young people. Some 86% of young people completing the survey stated that they and their friends very often or always helped each other and the majority of respondents reported having very positive relationships with their friends.
In conclusion, How Are Our Families? provides a detailed report on the lives of a group of families living in Tallaght west. Overall, findings from this study suggest that families are coping well in relation to health, parenting, and general well-being. For example, there is a positive sense of community and family support appears to be forthcoming for the majority. There is less parent-reported school absenteeism and bullying for children and young people, and nearly half of respondents in the household survey and just under half of respondents in the youth survey reported participation in out-of-school activities. However, the findings also highlight the struggles that some families have, particularly in paying bills. This is also reflected in the type of formal supports being accessed by respondents.
Central to the learning from this report is the clear theme that while many families in Tallaght west face challenges on a day-to-day basis, and, indeed, a significant minority experience multiple and major challenges, there is strong evidence of resilience and coping within the community. Members of the community report positive experiences, a sense of community, and developed social networks. They also provide examples of coping with challenges, drawing on and providing supports, both through friends and family and engaging with formal services.
The main conclusion of this report is that supporting the development and well-being of children and families in Tallaght west relies on understanding the challenges the community faces, recognising the resources that are clearly evident within the community and identifying the gaps between these as areas for future development.
On the basis of the combined experience of the three prevention and early-intervention programmes, there are three key messages that are advocated for inclusion in the development of policy for children in Ireland: one, mandate prevention and early intervention as a principle of service provision for children and families; two, drive the implementation of area-based approaches to child-poverty; and three, build requirements for evidence-based practice into funding conditions. CDI will launch the programme evaluation reports over the coming months and these will add significant insight to the areas discussed today. We would welcome the opportunity to share these with the committee once they are finalised.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I thank the witnesses for their presentation and research work. Reports can often produce varying views depending on the methodology used. How were the respondents approached? This is an important question when one is trying to drill down into areas where social exclusion is prevalent. There is a higher chance of receiving a response to a letter from a household that is functional. Is it possible that further difficulties have not been exposed by the figures? The research indicates that 11% of respondents reported problems with alcohol or drugs. It is less likely that an individual with alcohol or drug addiction would read a letter in the first place. What methodology was used to recruit respondents? Were they repeatedly approached and were the issues discussed with them?
The research highlights difficulties with societal changes and developments. Was the large influx of migrants into Tallaght west taken into account in the surveys and are any noticeable trends emerging which may signal difficulties in terms of integration or racism?
Some 21% of respondents reported difficulties with former partners and 16% reported regular fights with partners. Do these difficulties involve maintenance, violence or is it a more general question? Anybody who was asked might say he or she had a difficulty with an ex-partner but what type of difficulties did the survey encounter?
Does the report offer any solutions or recommendations to address the more serious difficulties identified? None of us like austerity. I hate austerity and the Government is terrible but we live in the real world and we have to find solutions that do not require endless resources. If our solutions depend on endless resources, we will never get solutions……..
How Are Our Families?: Discussion with Childhood Development Initiative
Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate
Thursday, 5 July 2012

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