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# Growing up in Ireland
Poor housing conditions affect children's health - research
The Government study ‘Growing up in Ireland‘ has published a new report on the housing conditions of children.

POOR HOUSING CONDITIONS affect children’s health and social and emotional wellbeing, new research shows.

The long-term Government study ‘Growing up in Ireland‘ has published a new report on the housing conditions of children. 

Using data on children born in 2007-2008, the findings published by the ESRI show that given living in inadequate housing and in more disorderly neighbourhoods have worse health and developmental outcomes at the age of nine than their peers. 

Inadequate housing includes damp conditions, lack of heating and inadequate space.

The report shows that the longer children are exposed to inadequate housing from birth to age nine the more harm they experience.

Housing conditions

At age nine, 75% of children lived in owner-occupied housing, 12% in social housing, 11% in the private rented sector and just over 1% were living with their parent(s) in their grandparents’ home.

While the majority of nine-year-olds lived in accommodation that parents thought was suitable to their needs, one in 10 lived in unsuitable housing, mainly due to the size of the accommodation.

A similar proportion of children lived in homes that parents could not afford to keep warm, while 19% were living in neighbourhoods that parents felt had higher levels of disorder, such as rubbish and vandalism.

For some children, inadequate housing conditions were a persistent problem throughout their childhood.

7% of children spent persistent periods in homes that parents could not afford to keep warm; a similar proportion spent much of their childhood in housing that was too small; and 16% spent persistent periods living in neighbourhoods with higher levels of disorder.

Housing conditions are closely linked to families’ socio-economic circumstances, the study found. 

Children with parents out of employment, who have lower incomes, less education, and who live in rented accommodation, are more likely to live in poorer housing conditions.

However, even after taking account of families’ circumstances, children in lone-parent households were still more likely to live in private rented and social housing, and to experience heating deprivation and neighbourhood disorder.

Problems of housing quality are more common among those living in the private rented and social rented sectors (social housing).

Impact on children

Longer exposure to poorer housing conditions significantly impacts on children’s social and emotional development, the study said. 

Nine-year-olds who spent more of their childhood in homes that parents could not afford to keep warm, that parents considered too small, or in more disorderly neighbourhoods, faced more social and emotional difficulties than those growing up in better-quality housing.

Similarly, nine-year-olds who grew up in more disorderly neighbourhoods or in homes that parents felt were not child-friendly had less positive interactions with others compared to their peers.

Worse housing conditions can also harm children’s health, the study said. 

Respiratory problems (such as episodes of wheezing) were more common for nine-year-olds who spent longer living in poor housing conditions, such as damp, as well as in homes not adequately heated.

Children who grew up in inadequately heated homes were also more likely to have worse health, as reported by their parents, and experience more accidents or injuries requiring medical treatment.

Childhood accidents were also more prevalent in disorderly neighbourhoods.

The impact of moving house on children’s wellbeing depends on their families’ socio-economic background.

Moving house is linked to better wellbeing among children in the top fifth of household incomes.

However, among children in the bottom fifth of household incomes, moving house is associated with a significant increase in social and emotional difficulties.

“A significant minority of children experience periods of inadequate housing over their childhood, and some spend years exposed to poor housing conditions, with negative impacts on their social and emotional development and health,” James Laurence, lead author of the report in the ESRI, said. 

“This reports shows that current housing policy needs to focus as much attention on housing quality and adequacy as supply and affordability, for the wellbeing of children and families,” Laurence said. 

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the report is “an important reminder that when we speak of housing or accommodation for children, we are speaking of their home, which is more than a place of shelter but somewhere essential to their wellbeing and that of their family”. 

“For my own Department, the report highlights the important role early years education can play in enhancing the cognitive and social-emotional wellbeing of children living in disadvantaged areas,” O’Gorman said.

He said officials in the Department of Children are currently “progressing the development of a new strand of funding to tackle disadvantage in early learning and care services – whereby, services will be provided with a proportionate mix of universal and targeted supports for children and families accessing their services who are experiencing disadvantage”.

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