Chapter 1

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1.1 Introduction

Knowledge and expectations about children and childhood are changing, as is the structure of families and family life. Traditional conceptions of childhood viewed all children as moving within similar, clearly defined, parameters. Evidence of diverse experiences of childhood were downplayed and there was little acknowledgement of the child's active involvement in his/her environment. The absence of child-centred research further contributed to an incomplete picture of childhood. For these reasons, the changing nature of childhood and children's lives in Ireland over past decades was, until recently, largely uncharted. Now a clearer view of Irish childhood is possible thanks to an emerging body of work focusing on both structural and experiential aspects of children's lives (Greene, Hennessy & Hogan, 2000; Cleary, Nic Ghiolla Phadraig & Quin, 2001a, 2001b). The way in which children emerge from childhood with a sense of identity is not linked to any single or definitive set of needs (Woodhead, 1990). They develop competence in a variety of different ways and are capable of negotiating adverse circumstances within and outside their family environment (Gilligan, 1993; Hogan, Halpenny & Greene 2002). Children's life prospects are not totally dependent on adults.

The young people studied for this report have grown to adulthood at a time of significant cultural and economic change and there has been much speculation about the effects of this change on children's lives. A link has been claimed between social change and the rise in conduct disorders and suicidal behaviour in recent decades (Rutter, Giller & Hagill 1998; Cleary, Corbett, Galvin & Wall, 2004). Yet the assumption that children are endangered by change, including family change, is unproven and some features of change may even be beneficial (Furstenberg, 1991). The majority of children (in Ireland and elsewhere) are without behavioural problems and emerge from childhood healthy and well-adjusted (Leader, Fitzgerald & Kinsella, 1985). It is difficult to generalise about social and other outcomes for children because children grow up in different social settings and create their own understandings of these environments (Greene 1994, p. 367). Yet there are important predictors of adult outcome for children such as socio-economic factors and family background. This report is an attempt to explicate these elements in a particular group of young Irish people.

1.2 Phase One of the Study

The first phase of this study was undertaken in 1990 (for a full account see Fitzgerald & Jeffers, 1994). As part of this investigation over 2000 urban children were assessed for intellectual status and behavioural problems. A clear socio-economic and gender pattern was evident from the findings. The rate of behavioural deviance was higher for those attending disadvantaged schools and boys were twice as likely as girls to have these problems. A sub-sample of 185 children and their families was then studied in detail across a range of psychological, social and economic dimensions. A sizeable group (16%) of the children showed evidence of formal psychiatric disorder and this was related to economic circumstances, to the marital status of the parents and to the psychological functioning of the mother. One-third of the mothers were categorised as suffering from a psychiatric disorder and again this was associated with economic disadvantage as well as dissatisfaction with domestic roles and lack of social support. According to Fitzgerald and Jeffers (1994), maternal depression was linked to economic disadvantage and compounded by lack of social support. These features undermined the mothers' parenting ability, making it more likely that their children would become disturbed.

1.3 Phase Two: A Ten Year Follow-up of Children and their Families

The present research project was commissioned by the Department of Family, Social and Community Affairs, under the Families Research Programme. The research was carried out in 2000 by a multi-disciplinary research team consisting of a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a sociologist. The purpose of the research was to follow up the cohort of young people (n=185) who were assessed in detail in Phase One of the study.

1.3.1 Aims of the Study

This phase of the study proposed to investigate social and psychological outcomes for the group of 185 young people assessed for the original research project. The specific research aims were:

  • To examine mental health status, educational and employment levels, alcohol and drug use and involvement in crime.
  • To investigate whether the factors associated with childhood behavioural disturbance, identified in Phase One of the study, were connected to long-term outcome. These factors included gender, psychiatric diagnosis in the child and the mother, the child's IQ score, the marital status of the parents and the economic circumstances of the family.

1.4 Outline of the Report

The following report contains an outline of the methodology (Chapter 2) and a review of relevant literature (Chapter 3). The study findings are presented in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. The final chapter (Chapter 7) summarises and discusses the main findings of the study in the context of existing research findings.


Note re Authorship
Executive Summary
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Methodology
Chapter 3: Risk and Protection for children
Chapter 4: Social and Psychological development
Chapter 5: Health and Behaviour in Childhoods
Chapter 6: Educational Attainment
Chapter 7: Discussion and Conclusions
Appendix 1

- Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Diagnoses (SCID)
- Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSSI)
- Rosenberg's Self-esteem Scale
- Arizona Social Support Interview Schedule (ASSIS)
- Locus of Control

Appendix 2

- Frequency of SCID Diagnostic Categories

Last modified:04/05/2010

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