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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 2 December 2020

What is it like being a child in Ireland today?

The fourth biennial State of the Nation’s Children has been released.

Image: Children via Shutterstock

THE MINISTER FOR CHILDREN Frances Fitzgerald published a comprehensive 260-page document yesterday examining what life is like for children growing up in Ireland today.

Ireland now has the highest proportion of children across all European Union member states as the child population continues to increase.

“This report is generally very positive,” said the Minister on launching the publication, adding that along with the Growing Up in Ireland survey, it paints a “detailed and complex picture of the contemporary Irish childhood”.

The fourth in a biennial series, the report was compiled using statistics, data and evidence from a variety of sources. TheJournal.ie has broken down the numbers to give you a snapshot of the experience of being a child in Ireland in 2013.

Happiness and wellbeing

  • About 90 per cent of children aged between 10 and 17 report being happy with their present lives.
  • But only about four in every 10 girls aged between 15 and 17 feel “happy with the way they are”.

Living Arrangements

  • About one in six children live in a lone-parent household.
  • One in three children live in families where their mother has a third-level qualification.
  • Three out of four children have a pet of their own or a pet in their family.
  • Ninety per cent say they feel safe in the area they live.
  • The percentage of children who report that there are good places in their area to spend their free time has increased by nine per cent in three years.

Health and habits

  • Almost three quarters of pre-teens and teens have never smoked.
  • More than half of 10 to 17 year olds have never had an alcoholic drink.
  • Cannabis use is significantly higher among immigrant children, Traveller children and children with a disability and/or chronic illness.
  • 5.6 per 1,000 children provide regular, unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability.
  • The number of children on a hospital waiting list awaiting treatment decreased by 45.1 per cent between 2009 and 2012.
  • There were just 16 children on a waiting list for more than 12 months. This figure is down from 372
  • More than half of the total hospital discharges of children were children under five years of age.
  • The number of hospital discharges of children with a diagnosis of ‘transport accidents’ has decreased by almost 29 per cent between 2007 and 2011.

Suicide and self-harm

  • In 2011, there were 16 suicides among the child population.
  • Twice as many girls as boys present to hospitals following deliberate self-harm.
  • In 2011, the most common reason for children being admitted to psychiatric hospitals was for ‘depressive disorders’.


  • About six per cent of the child population of Ireland have a disability.
  • Approximately 6 in 10 children registered as having an intellectual disability are boys.
  • Of those registered on the national disability database, one in three have multiple disabilities.


  • The number of child welfare and protection reports made to the HSE have increased by 36 per cent.
  • The number of children in the care of the HSE increased by approximately 16 per cent between 2007 and 2011.
  • In 2011, 18.8 per cent of children were at risk of poverty.
  • Over nine per cent experienced consistent poverty.
  • Two years ago there were 43,578 households with children identified as in need of social housing.


  • Older children find it more difficult to talk to their mothers when something is really bothering them than younger kids do.
  • The percentage of children who report that they find it easy to talk to their father when something is really bothering them has increased from 48.1 per cent in 1998 to 66.6 per cent in 2010.
  • Significantly more girls than boys report that their parents spend time just talking with them.


  • There has been a significant decrease in the percentage of 15-year-old children who report that their parents discuss with them how well they are doing at school.
  • Immigrant children, Traveller children and children with a disability and/or chronic illness are more likely to report being bullied at school.
  • Approximately one in every nine primary school children miss 20 days or more in the school year.
  • One in every six secondary school children miss 20 days or more in the school year.
  • More schools are now including children aged 10 to 17 in the school rule-making process.


  • There has been a significant decrease in the percentage of 15-year-old children who report that their parents eat a main meal with them around a table.
  • The percentage of children aged seven classified as being in the ‘normal’ weight category has increased by five percentage points over the period 2008-2010.
  • Those in higher social classes are more likely to eat breakfast on five or more days per week. ]
  • One in five children aged 10 to 17 drink soft drinks with sugar at least once a day.
  • Children in Ireland have one of the highest levels of physical activity among 40 WHO countries and regions.


  • There has been a significant decline in reading literacy scores among 15 year olds in Ireland.
  • Reading is the favourite hobby of one third of 15 year olds.
  • Mathematics literacy scores of 15 year olds in Ireland are significantly below the OECD average but science literacy is above the average.
  • Almost 9 out of 10 children have 3 or more friends of the same gender.
  • The number of babies born to teenage girls is down by 36 per cent since 2007.
  • About one in four teens aged between 15 and 17 say they have had sex.

Traveller and immigrant communities

  • The number of Traveller children increased by almost one third between 2006 and 2011.
  • Smoking is much more common among Traveller children that the rest of the child population.
  • Traveller children are also more likely to report being drunk at least once in the last 30 days
  • The number of foreign national children increased by almost 50 per cent in the five years to Census 2011.

Births and early months

  • More babies are being breastfed by their mothers.
  • The percentage of low birth weight babies has remained relatively stable over the past five years.
  • Early antenatal care is lowest among younger mothers.
  • The vast majority of newborns were visited by a Public Health Nurse within 48 hours of discharge from hospital.
  • National immunisation uptake rates are up to 95 per cent.

Download the full report here>

Revealed: the life of a 13-year-old growing up in Ireland>

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