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Insight Into The Lives Of Our Children At Nine Months Of Age

Growing Up In New Zealand Provides Insight Into The Lives Of Our Children At Nine Months Of Age

23 March 2012

Early insights from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study show the country’s most vulnerable families are living on a diverse range of financial support in the first critical year of their child’s life.

The study will soon be able to conclusively identify the characteristics of these families but early indications suggest they live in high deprivation areas. Amongst these families are teenage mothers.

Growing Up data shows 18 percent of families received income in the form of unemployment, sickness, invalids or domestic purposes benefit. A further six percent received child support payments. Households also received payments from ACC, other insurers, superannuation, pensions and students allowances.

Study Director Dr Susan Morton says this information will help policy makers target children most in need.

“This information and supporting detail raises several questions such as whether those in the greatest need actually get access to all the appropriate assistance and whether in fact support through a number of Government agencies is cost efficient, practical and delivering for families.”

These insights into the 21st century lives of our babies are contained in the latest data from Growing Up in New Zealand, which details information about a group of nearly 7,000 babies born in Auckland, South Auckland and the Waikato.

Dr Morton says “this report tells us about the lives of the Growing Up babies from pre-birth until nine months of age. It is early days in the study – but we know that this is the time when developmental pathways are being established.”

Overall, at nine months, babies are achieving developmental milestones with 98 percent smiling or laughing while looking at their mothers.

“The first 1000 days of a child’s life are critical, from gestation until the age of two and this report is the half-way point – we will have greater and more complex insights into these children once the children are two.”

“But already the data is suggesting that our smoking and drinking messaging needs a longer view, that many homes are not conducive to good health and that our babies are turning to the TV before they can walk.”

Data from the first 500 days of life for the Growing Up babies introduces us to their health, environment and families. The 120 page “Now we are Born 2012” details information gathered from two face to face interviews, two telephone interviews and routinely collected perinatal health records.

Their health
• 45 percent of children had had a cough lasting a week or longer by the time they reached nine months of age. One in four experienced chest infections. Nearly half had been prescribed antibiotics.
• Fewer babies had their immunisations completed by nine months than was reflected in the intentions of their mothers before they were born. There was an early fall off in completion rates seen clearly for Māori children and for those living in high deprivation areas. This was also apparent, to a slightly lesser extent, for NZ European children. Given rates of infectious disease in our pre-school population (and the inequities within the population in these rates) this provides early indications of a likely contributor to these statistics.

Their environment
• Almost one in three babies are living in households where one or more people smoke.
• There is a small but significant group of mothers returning to smoking when their children are born.
• Many mothers who had stopped drinking during pregnancy had started drinking again but not at pre-pregnancy levels. NZ European mothers are the most likely to be back drinking.
• 20 percent live in homes that are damp and 20 percent sleep in rooms with heavy condensation.
• Large numbers of babies watch TV or DVDs either actively or passively in their first nine months of life. 76 percent of babies are in rooms with a TV on a daily basis. 20 percent watch DVDs or videos weekly while another 18 percent watch them daily. 20 percent watch children’s TV programmes weekly while 32 percent watch children’s TV programmes daily.
• 50 percent of the babies sampled one of the following in the first nine months of life: a sweet, chocolate, hot chip or potato chip.
• 35 percent of babies at nine months of age spend time being looked after by people other than their parents. The most common form of childcare is daycare for high decile NZ European families while low decile and Pacifica and Asian families turn to unpaid extended family members for care support. This information is highly preliminary as a significant number of the Growing Up mothers remain on leave.
• English is the predominant language spoken in homes but Te Reo Māori was commonly used by 16 percent of mothers and 12 percent of partners (this compares with just five percent of mothers and 3.5 percent of partners who reported they conversed in Te Reo before their children were born.)

Their families
• Family life meant a third of working mothers worked at the weekend while 40 percent of partners.
• Families reported tightened incomes, which meant they were forced to buy cheaper food (50 percent) and put up with cold to save on heating costs (18 percent). Thirteen percent had made use of food grants or money shortages.
• The study found 11 percent of mothers suffered depression compared with 16 percent antenatally.
• When mothers do return to work they opt for more flexible hours and less supervisory roles while partners return to the same job. Growing Up’s insight into parental work arrangements and childcare is important as, in time, we will be able to measure the effects of work and care patterns on child development and wellbeing.

The study is still to model the data to form links between findings. This information will be released over time and will be further enhanced by data collected when the children reach two years of age. This data collection wave is already underway.

The Growing Up in New Zealand cohort is of a size and scale, which allows for the findings to be generalisable to country’s pre-school population.


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