Speeches

Speaking notes for Minister Andrews to launch Growing Up in Ireland: The Infants and their Families Monday, 29th November 2010, Alexander Hotel

Introduction:

I am delighted to be here this morning to open the second research conference for Growing Up in Ireland – the National Longitudinal Study of Children.

I would like to welcome you all to this Conference, in particular, Professor Ann Sanson, who has joined us here from Australia this morning and I know many of you are looking forward to hearing her speak.

I am also very pleased to launch the second formal publication from this Study ‘The Infants And Their Families’ and would like to congratulate everyone involved in this collaborative endeavour.

Background:

‘Growing Up in Ireland’ is a Government-funded study and one of the most significant pieces of research ever to be undertaken into Irish children.

This Study follows the development of two cohorts of children – an infant cohort of 11,100 nine-month-olds and a child cohort of 8,570 nine-year-olds.

Since the contract to undertake this Study was awarded, the first round data collection for both cohorts has been completed and preparations for the next round of data collection are now at an advanced stage. The publication today of the first findings from the infant cohort marks an important milestone and the analysis of the data and the use of the findings from the Study will be key to ensuring its continuation.

Key Findings

There are a lot of good news stories in this publication about infants and their families including good infant health and positive parental attachment. There are some issues arising, which are amenable to further policy intervention. For example:
About 8 out of ten pregnancies are planned. This is a positive finding as planned pregnancies give prospective mothers the opportunity to improve their diet and modify or cease potentially harmful lifestyle habits, such as smoking and consuming alcohol. On the downside however, one in five mothers continued to smoke and/or consume alcohol at some point during their pregnancy.

The Department of Health and Children has an important role to play in reducing alcohol and smoking although it is also important that people take responsibility themselves for their behaviour. The benefit of this type of Study is that we will be able to look at the impact of smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy on children’s development in years to come.

Data from this Study will also allow us to identify the different groups of mothers most likely to engage in these risky health behaviours in the prenatal period and this will allow for a more targeted approach to interventions.

Breastfed infants show better outcomes and for this reason, the promotion breastfeeding has been a key Government policy since the mid 1990s with the introduction of the National Breastfeeding Policy for Ireland in 1994 and the publication of the five-year strategic action plan in 2005.

Indeed, there has been modest year on year increases in breastfeeding rates since 2000 and for the first time, data presented in the forthcoming State of the Nation’s Children Report will show that over 50% of mothers now breastfeed on discharge from hospital. Nevertheless, findings emerging from this publication suggest that breast feeding rates continue to remain comparatively low and there are significant variations according to the mother’s education level and whether or not she was born in Ireland. The Government remains committed to increasing these rates and again, data from this Study can be used to identify the different barriers to breastfeeding and different motivations of mothers who choose to bottle-feed. This again will allow is to target interventions more effectively.

Most infants in Ireland had received their early vaccinations. This is another welcome finding emerging from this publication and a positive outcome of the Childhood Immunisation Programme, which is a key policy of the Department of Health and Children. Again, on the downside, this publication has highlighted significant variations according to family structure, social class and whether or not the infant’s mother was born in Ireland. The Government is committed to ensuring that all children in Ireland have as healthy a childhood as possible and the promotion of vaccination uptake in different family structures, across different social classes and among immigrant and Irish born mothers, will continue to form part of Government policy in this area.

So already, from these data, we can see how Growing Up in Ireland has the potential to assist in developing policies that will improve the lives of children in Ireland and I am confident that this first publication from the infant cohort will prove to be of enormous benefit to both policy makers and practitioners.

I look forward to an even greater wealth of knowledge that will become available from this Study as further waves of data are collected and released and, most importantly, seeing how these data will impact on children’s lives and children’s policies in the years to come. I strongly encourage all researchers here today to use this data, which will be lodged in the Irish Social Science Data Archive by the end of this year. The data from the child cohort is already available for use by researchers and I am aware that there has been significant interest in the data set to date.

Conclusion

Before I invite Professor James Williams, Professor Sheila Greene and some of their colleagues on the Study Team to share some of the key findings from this publication with you, I would like to thank and congratulate them, their research team and their team of fieldworkers who carried out this Study.

I would also like to thank Officials in my Office, other Government Departments and the Central Statistics Office for their role in managing this Study.

Most importantly I would like to acknowledge the commitment and contribution of the parents, infants and their Carers who have all generously given their time to participate in Growing Up in Ireland. Without the time, experience and insight they have given, the Growing Up in Ireland study would not be possible.

I wish you a useful exchange in this Conference.

Thank you.