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Reported Illnesses and disabilities double for nine-year-olds, new report shows 

New research shows that the number of 9-year old children reported to have illnesses or disabilities has more than doubled in ten years.  

The ERSI report, which draws on data from the Growing up in Ireland study, compares nine-year-olds in 2007 and 2008 to children at that age in 2017 and 2018. The research is produced in partnership with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth (DCEDIY), looks at how the lives of nine-year-olds have changed over a decade in terms of their relationships with family and friends, their pastimes and their school experiences

Researchers said the findings showed that there had been a shift in the profile of children and their families in the period. Parents are more likely to have degrees (increasing from 26% to 39%) they said – and the proportion of children with migrant parents increasing from 8% to 11% between cohorts.

They also noted a significant increase in children reported to have illnesses or disabilities, which they said increased from 11% to 24% in the period.

“One of the most noticeable changes was the increase in the proportion of mothers who reported that their child had a long-standing illness or disability, from 11% for Cohort ’98 to 24% for Cohort ‘08. A similar increase was evident in the proportion said to be hampered by that condition – from 5%  to 13% . Changes in the questions asked and classifications used make it difficult to untangle which kinds of conditions have increased over time and the potential role of increased awareness in reporting these conditions. Further research using GUI data could usefully unpack changes over time in the composition of this group,” the report said.

The research also found that eating together as a family every day has become less common, declining from 72% to 67%.

A significant increase was found in the proportion of nine-year-olds who have their own mobile phone (from 44% to 54%). – and those spending more time watching TV and using computers are less likely to engage in sports, reading for pleasure and cultural pursuits. “Owning a mobile phone is associated with less time reading and lower levels of involvement in cultural activities,” the report found.

It also found that “the social worlds of nine-year-olds are quite different for girls and boys and these gender differences persist over time.”

“Girls have closer and less conflictual relations with their parents than boys but have smaller friendship groups and see their friends less often. They are more likely to read for pleasure and engage in cultural activities but less likely to take part in sports. They also spend less time on digital devices than boys. They are more positive about school overall but less positive about Maths, and gender differences in attitudes to Maths widen over time,” the report said.

Socio-economic differences also emerged. “Children’s lives are strongly influenced by the socio-economic situation of their families. More parent-child conflict is found and children tend to have smaller friendship groups where families are under financial strain. Children from more advantaged families are more likely to be involved in sports and this social gap widens over time. Social background differences in reading for pleasure become more pronounced over time, with a decline in daily reading for all children except those with graduate parents,” the research found.

Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) is the national longitudinal study of children. It is funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, with a contribution from The Atlantic Philanthropies. The study is managed and overseen by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in association with the Central Statistics Office (CSO). It is carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin.

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