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Speech by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD | 11th Annual Growing Up in Ireland Conference

Published: 21 November 2019
From: Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone TD

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I would like to thank Professor Alan Barrett, Director of the Economic and Social Research Institute, for his welcome.

I would also like to thank co-Principal Investigators of Growing Up in Ireland, Professors Dorothy Watson and Emer Smyth, for inviting me to make the opening address today and to launch the new set of Key Findings on 20 year olds.

It’s always a pleasure to be involved in Growing Up in Ireland events. As GUI, funded mainly by my department, represents a significant and unique investment by the State in high quality longitudinal research on the lives of children, young people and their families.

The annual GUI research conference has become an important date in the calendar for researchers and policy makers who are committed to understanding the lives and development of children and young people.

It is a conference that I have seen grow and prosper in my time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Reflecting on GUI to date

And hence, before I talk about today’s event, I’d like to take stock briefly of what GUI has achieved to date. Since Growing Up in Ireland began in 2006 it has yielded a vivid picture of the lives of children and young people - their experiences of family life/ of school, their relationships with their parents, friends and teachers, their development, aspirations and concerns, and their health both mental and physical.

Longitudinally, GUI has also provided particularly valuable insights into developmental trajectories and what factors support or impede positive outcomes along the way.

In this sense, GUI has provided us with a unique national resource - and a study that is now well established in the international family of cohort studies.

I would like to thank the GUI study team at the ESRI and colleagues at Trinity College. As the ongoing commitment of the team has ensured the delivery of a national longitudinal study that is both first-class science and highly relevant for policy making.

I would also like to thank officials at the Research Unit in my department who work closely and collaboratively with the Study Team to help realise the ambition of GUI.

The Future of GUI

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my department’s commitment to this important and unique study.

I am delighted to report that my department has secured funding to extend the current contract with the excellent team at the ESRI for a further three years from 2020-22.

The Study Team is already in the process of planning the next wave of data collection with Cohort ’08 at age 13, as they move into their teenage years and on to secondary school.

I would also like to let you know that following discussions and agreement with the ESRI and the CSO, I achieved Government approval earlier this year for a proposal to continue GUI and provide it with a long term sustainable future beyond 2022.

My department is now working closely with both the ESRI and the CSO to provide this sustainability.

This will involve establishing a long-term home for GUI at the CSO, our national statistics office, from 2023.

Our key goals in this process are:

  • to provide the best possible future for GUI and continue to build on our investment to date
  • to preserve and build on the knowledge and expertise that has been developed among the GUI study team so far
  • to ensure that scientifically robust longitudinal data from GUI remains a core component of our national data and research agenda into the future

Today’s Conference Papers

Today’s conference includes an impressive 27 presentations from speakers across 10 educational and research institutions.

The papers cover a wide array of topics – such as physical and mental health, work-family reconciliation, the experience of immigrants, school social mix, gender division in household chores, bullying, the impact of screen time on socio-emotional development, sexual orientation, the home learning environment and anti-social behaviour.

The range of papers is indicative of the extent of data collected by GUI.

It also illustrates the reach of the study across so many areas of life and the potential of the data to shed light on a variety of scientific and policy questions.

I would encourage policymakers and researchers in the audience, who have not yet done so, to have a close look at what is available from GUI and how to access the data.

I would invite you to think, with renewed energy, about how it might help you in your own particular area of work. We want your input. We want your ideas.

We want to ensure Ireland is at the forefront of research dedicated to achieving better outcomes for all our children. For now, I wish all the presenters well and look forward to hearing more about your findings.

Keynote Speaker

I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the keynote speaker for 2019, Professor Ross Macmillan from the University of Limerick, who will present just after lunch on Culture and the socio-economic status of families: Irish exceptionalism?

Professor Macmillan is a sociologist and demographer, and the Chair of Sociology at the University of Limerick.

His research has focused on crime and victimisation, child development and the life course, family relationships, and social epidemiology.

Though unfortunately I won’t be able to stay for the keynote presentation, I have no doubt it will provide plenty of food for thought and I look forward to hearing about it.

Launch of New Key Findings

The other main item for today’s event is the launch of a new set of Key Findings about Cohort ’98 at age 20. The key findings provide headline data from the most recent wave of data collection which was completed earlier this year.

These participants were just 9 years old when we first collected data from them so they have truly grown up with the Study.

With the publication of these latest Key Findings, we now have a detailed picture of this cohort from childhood, through adolescence and into young adulthood, with data collected when they were 9, 13, 17 and 20 years old.

One of the interesting aspects about these latest Key Findings is that they are the first findings on GUI participants as young adults.

In that sense, they provide important data on the transitions made from school towards the increased independence of young adulthood.

The Key Findings cover important issues such as young adult’s mental health and stress, their health and health behaviours, their post school education and employment, their relationships, as well as their concerns and aspirations, their political engagement and their experiences of volunteering.

Findings from GUI to date have shown that most children and young people are doing well. However, I want to highlight two key themes that have emerged from the study over the years.

Firstly, findings have highlighted where problems occur, as well as evidence of inequalities in some outcomes across social groups.

Secondly, they have also highlighted how, even though change for the better can occur, problems or inequalities experienced in early childhood can persist over time.

I understand that these same themes feature in the findings to be presented today. These are issues that warrant our close attention and concerted efforts from a policy perspective.

This evidence from GUI supports the commitment of my department to focus on the issues of prevention and early intervention and child poverty in key national strategies.

We have a duty to create the conditions that offer our children the best possible start in life, a strong and equal start.

This is a core message of First 5, A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families (2019-2028). A package of measures to tackle early childhood poverty is one of the five ‘big steps’ that reflect the major changes to be delivered by the strategy.

Both early intervention and tackling child poverty are also integral to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures: the national policy framework for children and young people, 2014–2020.

I look forward to hearing Professor Watson present some of the highlights from the new Key Findings shortly.

Conclusion and Acknowledgements

To conclude, I want to thank everyone who was involved in producing these new reports, as well as all those involved in organising today’s annual conference.

To those who are presenting papers, thank you for your continued interest and for your contribution to the success of Growing Up in Ireland. Your research is a critical element in the formation of new evidence-based policy making in Ireland.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank the thousands of cohort members and their families who participated in the study. Without their continued commitment, cooperation and effort, Growing Up in Ireland would not be possible.


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