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Growing Up in Ireland

National Longitudinal Study of Children

CHILD COHORT - Qualitative Study

The Findings of the Qualitative Study with the

9-Year-Olds and their Parents

Growing Up in Ireland

National Longitudinal Study of Children


Elaine Harris, Erika Doyle, Sheila Greene

Name Title Institution (formerly) Research Fellow, Children‟s Research Centre Elaine Harris TCD Research Fellow, Children‟s Research Fellow Erika Doyle TCD AIB Professor of Childhood Research; Director of Children‟s Research Sheila Greene TCD Centre and Co-Director, Growing Up in Ireland The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders or of either of the two institutions involved in preparing the report.


Copyright © Minister for Health and Children, 2011 Department of Children and Youth Affairs Dún Aimhirgin 43-49 Mespil Road Dublin 4 Tel: +353 (0)1 647 3000 Fax: +353 (0)1 647 3101 E-mail: omc@dcya.gov.ie Web: www.dcya.ie All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing of the copyright holder.

For rights of translation or reproduction, applications should be made to the Head of Communications, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Dún Aimhirgin, 43-49 Mespil Road, Dublin 4.




The qualitative study of Growing Up in Ireland has benefited greatly from the contributions of a large number of individuals, groups and organisations. We thank them all on behalf of the Growing Up in Ireland Management Group and Study Team.

First, we wish to acknowledge the funding of the project by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, in association with the Department of Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office.

Thanks are due to members of both the Inter-Departmental Steering Group and the Inter-Departmental Project Team (chaired by Dr Sinead Hanafin, Head of Research, Department of Children and Youth Affairs). Ms Anne-Marie Brooks and Mr Tim Heneghan from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs were also extremely supportive.

The innumerable insights from Professor Anne Sanson of the University of Melbourne and Dr Satya Brink of Human Resources and Social Development, Canada were particularly helpful.

The Research Ethics Committee has provided rigorous ethical assessment of all aspects of Growing Up in Ireland. This has involved their critical review of often voluminous documentation at each stage of the project, requiring an extraordinary level of commitment, time and input from its members.

The 84 children who sit on the Children‟s Advisory Forum were centrally involved in developing the childcentred methodology of the qualitative study.

Staff and colleagues in both Trinity College and the ESRI provided assistance in many ways, as did the members of the Qualitative Advisory Panel, which included Dr. Ann Marie Halpenny, DIT, Dr Elizabeth Nixon, TCD, Prof. Pat O‟Connor, UL and Dr. Jane Sixsmith, NUIG.

A range of stakeholder groups gave generously of their time, assistance and support, particularly during planning and design phases.

The energy and dedication of our staff in implementing Growing Up in Ireland have been tremendous since the inception of the project. Particular thanks are due to the qualitative fieldworkers, Trish Kane, Sarah O‟Toole, and Sandra Roe.

The final (and biggest) word of thanks goes, of course, to the 122 nine-year-olds and their families who participated in the Qualitative Child Cohort of the Study. Growing Up in Ireland would not have been possible without the time and assistance they so readily and generously provided to us.

–  –  –

1. INTRODUCTION The qualitative studies which are part of Growing Up in Ireland involve interviews with sub-samples of 122 children and their parents. They are designed to complement the quantitative studies of 8,570 nineyear-olds and 11,100 nine-month-olds. This is the first report on the qualitative study with the nine-yearolds.

The broad aim of the Growing up in Ireland study is to examine factors which contribute to or undermine the well-being of children in contemporary Ireland. The output from the study is expected to contribute to the formulation of effective policies and design of services which address issues pertinent to the lives of children and their families. The study is closely aligned to the National Children‟s Strategy (2000) which identifies as one of its principal aims that children‟s lives will be better understood, and will benefit from evaluation, research, and information on their needs and rights and on the effectiveness of services.

2. CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK The conceptual framework adopted by Growing Up in Ireland emphasises children‟s connectedness to the world in which they live. The study embraces a dynamic systems perspective founded on five insights from different disciplines: ecology, dynamic connectedness, probabilism, period effects, and the agency of the child in the developmental process (Greene et al., 2009). The bioecological model proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner is a key tool in operationalising this perspective. This model highlights the importance of considering the multi-faceted and multi-layered nature of the influences on development over the life course (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1993; Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). To emphasise this conceptualisation of children and in recognition of children‟s agency in their own lives, the qualitative study gives a more rounded picture of the children as individuals, in order to get a stronger sense of the complexity and diversity of each child‟s experience of the world. The qualitative study is child-centred in that child issues and children‟s experience are the primary focus.

3. DESIGN AND METHODS Interview schedules for the qualitative study were developed for use with children and parents. The selection of questions and interview methods was informed by the literature review and guided by an advisory panel of experts in qualitative research. In addition, the Children‟s Advisory Forum (CAF), a panel of children established by Growing Up in Ireland, was involved in the design and selection of the methods. The CAF was made up of 84 children who sat on 12 committees in schools across Ireland. The developmental appropriateness of the methods was tested by the CAF and through pre-pilot and pilot assessment.

The child‟s interview schedule was semi-structured and designed to be both interesting and enjoyable for the nine-year-old participants, while also gathering important information for the study. A variety of prompts and activities were interspersed with the interview questions. To cater for children with diverse abilities, a mixture of visual and verbal methods was also employed. All interview schedules and materials can be found in Appendix 1.

The main topics explored in the interview with the nine-year-old child were:

1. Wellness, health, and physical development;

2. Emotional development;

Child‟s relationships;


4. Growing up and transition to adolescence;

5. Family and parenting;

6. Community, neighbourhood and sense of citizenship.

The methods used were:

–  –  –

In the interviews with parents, family photographs were used as an ice-breaker and to generate discussion of family routines, activities and relationships. The topics explored in the parents‟ interview


Parents‟ perception of the child 1.

2. Parent-child relationship

3. Perception of being a parent

4. Family decision-making

5. Parental concerns and aspirations for their children

3.1 Profile of children and families

A total of 120 families from the nine-year cohort participated in the qualitative study. There were 58 girls (47.5%) and 64 (52.5%) boys, including two sets of twins. During the quantitative study, the families were invited to sign a consent form to have their name put forward for selection into the qualitative sample.

The qualitative sample was stratified according to socio-economic status, rurality, and number of resident parents, with reference to the characteristics of the achieved sample.

3.2 Data analysis

A combination of inductive and deductive coding was used. The coding structures for inductive analysis were based on the topics covered by the interview schedules which map onto the domains of the main study. The questions asked of the participants were framed by the ecological perspective on child development and by hypotheses derived from the literature about what influences children‟s lives and the course of their development. Each interview was analysed by topic. Thematic analysis entailed the examination of data to deduce patterns in participants‟ responses, which were coded as emerging themes.




The children were asked to talk, write or draw about the factors that contribute to keeping them healthy and well. For many of the children, their understanding of well-being was associated primarily with physical health. The main factors that children felt contributed to keeping them physically well and healthy were diet and exercise. In terms of diet, most of the children listed a healthy diet made up of lots of fruit and vegetables as the key factor contributing to their health.

–  –  –

The children perceived smoking as having a detrimental effect on health outcomes and described their understanding of the physical damage smoking can have on the body. Drinking alcohol in moderation was viewed as acceptable but excessive consumption was seen as unhealthy and potentially very damaging to people‟s lives.

–  –  –


Using the My Hand activity sheet, the children were asked to write down five words to describe themselves. The majority appeared to possess a lot of self-confidence and on the whole their selfperception was very positive. The strongest themes in children‟s self-perception were physical appearance and personal traits.

–  –  –

The children did not think that looks were particularly important; instead they valued individuality. Some gender differences were identified, mainly about dress and preferred activities.


The children were asked a series of questions about parenting, including what they felt it would be like to be a parent and what they perceived to contribute to positive parenting. They were also asked to describe the rules in their homes and how they were disciplined. The strongest theme on parenting was responsibility; children recognised the time, effort, and energy required to take care of them.

“Well, I would have to cook, clean, I would have to work, listen to the children nag, listen to them fight” (Girl) Most of the children could list some rules that they must follow at home, mostly related to behaviour, doing chores, and bedtime. They also described the discipline strategies used by their parents, which ranged from being sent to their rooms or grounded to, in a small number of cases, physical punishment.

–  –  –


Many of the children appeared to enjoy a very close relationship with their mother. Typically, the children spent most of their time with their mother and in many cases mothers were at home when the children finished school.

“Every day after school we talk, we have a chat. […] Sometimes we play with each other and just last week we were dancing with each other in the kitchen” (Boy) Fathers‟ involvement was mainly in their children‟s sporting activities and boys in particular seemed to enjoy their fathers helping them with their sporting pursuits.

–  –  –


The children were asked to talk, write or draw about their ideas of what it is like to live in their neighbourhood. Overall, they appeared to be content with where they lived. Many discussed the positive attributes of their communities, which mostly centred on proximity to friends and facilities for children.

Urban and rural areas both offered valued amenities.

–  –  –


Cantril‟s (1965) Self-Anchoring Ladder asks people to rate their satisfaction with life on a scale from zero to 10, anchored by their own identified values (Cantril, 1965). For the 122 children in the qualitative study, the mean score was 8.13 (SD = 1.66). Over half the children (51%) gave a score of nine or higher regarding their life satisfaction. When asked to give reasons for their scores, children reported that their

–  –  –

life satisfaction was influenced by factors such as comparison to others‟ lives, positive and negative experiences in their own lives, and how they were getting on in specific areas of their life, such as school.

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