Despite the crippling recession, job losses, and growing household debts, Ireland is in the midst of a surging baby boom.
Figures revealed by amajor government report into children’s lives have found this country has the highest percentage of children in the EU.
According to the latest instalment of the two-yearly State of the Nation children’s report, published by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, there 1.1m children or teenagers in the country.
The figure means 25% of Irish people are aged under 18 — above the 19% EU average and a rate that appears to contradict the expected impact of the recession on families.
Since 2001, Ireland’s child and teenage population has increased from 11.6% of the national population to 25%.
While the situation is good news for families, Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said it comes with potentially troublesome consequences for state services.
In particular, she said that despite the “unprecedented potential” that comes with an increased youth population, it also means as many as 3,000 new teachers will be needed to cope with school demand over the coming years.
Cheaper crèche prices may also have to be considered as part of attempts to help families cope with the burden of young families, she said.
With the pre-school population also rising 18% during the same period, the minister said a second universal free pre-school year is another issue currently being discussed.
The detailed 260-page government report addressed a series of other issues.
The snapshot findings include:
*One quarter of 15-17-year-olds said they have had sex. However, since 2007, there has been a 36% drop in the number of children born to teen couples — with 399 of these births recorded during the period;
*Just under one-in-five children are living in homes at risk of poverty;
*The number of kids and teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol is falling dramatically, although children from minority ethnic groups are at greater risk;
n18% of children live in single-parent families, with the highest rate in Dublin and the lowest in Leitrim;
*The number of children in the care of the HSE has increased by 16% since 2007;
*Tragically, 16 people aged between 10 and 17 died by suicide in 2011 alone, indicating the real risk of mental health issues among the vulnerable age group. However, despite this, parents are not always available to speak with their children.
Ms Fitzgerald said the findings offer an important insight into the lives of Ireland’s next generation.
“These changes clearly present challenges both to policy makers and service providers,” she said.
PARENTS AND FAMILY
The number of children born to teen girls has fallen dramatically since the last major study into the lives of Irish children.
The latest State of the Nation research shows that since 2007, there has been a 36% slump in births to teenage mothers.
The study also confirms that one-in-three children are now living in households where their mother has a third-level qualification.
However, despite the likely benefit of continuing education on a family’s income, just under one in five children are living in homes at risk of poverty.
While nine out of 10 children complete the Leaving Certificate — up from 82% in 1997 — the research shows maths and literacy standards are below international norms in our next generation.
This is despite the fact that one in three children under the age of 15 consider reading to be one of their favourite pastimes.
In addition, the report warns there has been a “significant decrease” in the number of children under the age of 15 whose parents take the time to speak with them about school.
The number of lone-parent households has also increased by 10.2% since 2007, the report states.
CHILDREN AND DRUGS
The number of children and teens who experiment with smoking, drugs, or alcohol from a young age is continuing to fall.
Figures in the detailed report show that, between 1998 and 2010, the percentage of 10 to 17-year-olds who said they never smoked a cigarette rose from 50.8% to 73.5%.
Similarly, over the same period the percentage of 10 to 17-year-olds who said they never drank alcohol also increased, from 40% to 54%.
While the development is welcome, the report has still warned that children of minority ethnic groups are at greater risk of developing the unhealthy habits.
According to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs study, children from the Travelling community are more likely than others to have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
The same situation was reported for both this group and immigrant children when it came to smoking and cannabis use.
The report also notes that one-in-four 15 to 17-year-olds have had sex, despite the falloff in teen pregnancies in recent years.
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