Poverty’s lasting effect on children revealed in new report

Children in families that fell into poverty during the recession are still displaying social, emotional and behavioural problems years later, a report reveals.

The finding is among the latest results from the ongoing Growing Up in Ireland study of 20,000 children launched in Dublin yesterday by Children’s Minister James Reilly.

The report’s co-author, Dr Dorothy Watson of the Economic and Social Research Institute, said poverty had a lingering effect on children, even in cases where the parents managed to get out of poverty.

The study found children still had social and emotional problems stemming from their families’ economic vulnerability two to four years later.

Children were less confident and more afraid. They were unable to get on with children their same age and had attention problems.

While parents might try to protect their children from the financial reality, it still had an impact on three-year-olds, as well as older children.

“Even though children might not have a very good understanding of what’s happening in the family, at some level they pick up on these differences and it affects their socio-emotional wellbeing,” she said.

The Growing Up in Ireland study, based on interviews with children, or the parents at different periods between 2007 and 2012, shows that economic vulnerability increased from 15% to 25%.

Dr Watson said they found that even in poor households, parents were better able to protect their children if the mother had a higher level of education; and if she was emotionally well. In particular, the study showed economic vulnerability and poverty spread as a result of the recession.

In 1998, 42% of two-parent families were economically vulnerable. The proportion of such families increased to two-thirds in the middle of the recession.

Dr Watson said she did not know how long the recession would affect the children. During the second wave of interviews children aged 3 and 13 appeared to be similarly affected.

“Children who have socio-emotional problems are going to be less confident, more fearful and have problems concentrating,” she said.

“We don’t know how long the effect will persist at this point because we have only followed children for a relatively short period but that would be a concern.”

Dr Watson said the risk of children developing social, emotional and behavioural problems doubled to 10% if their families were economically vulnerable just before the recession.

“Because of the recession, many economically vulnerable families no longer fit the traditional profile of poor families,” she said.


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