To thrive, children need a healthy diet, physical activity, and a degree of independence, but these vital needs are not being met
The damning findings of the Mental Health Commission have highlighted a crisis in the provision of mental health services to children and young people in Ireland.
The report has highlighted a national crisis of failure to provide adequate treatment and services to vulnerable children and young people with mental health problems across Ireland.
Also released this week was a report from the Children’s Rights Alliance, Are we already there, which outlines Ireland’s child rights record ahead of next week’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. He highlights 73 recommendations to the UN that require urgent government action.
Key recommendations include removing restrictions or lack of access to health care. More than 3,000 children live in homeless shelters.
Thousands live in direct care, are permanently at risk of poverty and do not benefit from child benefit payments. The gaps in mental health services are highlighted in the report, as are services for children with special needs.
dr Alcohol Action Ireland CEO Sheila Gilhean said this week that delays in implementing the Public Health Alcohol Act violate children’s rights and called on the government to commit to implementing legislation to protect them.
In particular, AAI highlighted the need to address exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, which leads to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), growing up in households where there is problem alcohol use, and being at risk on the street from others who share a are at high risk of alcohol consumption and exposure to harmful marketing practices at an early age.
dr Gilheany said that each year 50,000 children in Ireland start drinking and 37 per cent of 15-24 year olds who drink alcohol suffer from an alcohol use disorder.
One in six children lives with parental alcohol use, which puts them at risk of adverse effects on mental well-being, education and long-term health.
The organization stressed the need to implement the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 in terms of a 9 p.m. broadcast turnaround.
The high rates of FASD, with 6,000 babies being born with a lifelong preventable disease each year, could be contained by health warnings, including drinking during pregnancy, which must be acted upon without delay.
Evidence from Growing up in Ireland National Longitudinal Study of Children (2019) reported key findings on screen time and sleep. It recommends eight to 10 hours of sleep for teens, with seven hours or less being insufficient.
The study found that the average sleep duration was 7.8 hours, with one in ten reporting sleeping less than seven hours and 30 percent having trouble sleeping. Screen time was more than three hours on school days for 32 percent, with the majority (83 percent) of teens being online before bed.
Mounting evidence suggests that sleep deprivation is a leading cause of mental illness in teens, and research shows a link between severe and chronic sleep deprivation and the risk of self-harm.
Professor of psychology at San Diego University Jean Twenge noted that the change in mental health in young people “corresponded precisely to the moment when smartphone ownership became ubiquitous.”
She said part of the solution is to hold tech companies accountable for responsible design. The evidence also shows that family rules regarding sleep routines have positive effects when it comes to reclaiming valuable hours of sleep without the distractions of social media.
Access to physical activity and a healthy diet has also decreased in recent decades.
Gaming has shifted from mostly outdoors to circling around the couch, an electronic screen and mindlessly snacking on processed foods, which is linked to rising obesity.
Cities were built to restrict children’s freedom of movement.
dr Lia Karsten, Associate Professor of Urban Geography at the University of Amsterdam, said: “An age group that was once considered resilient is now treated as vulnerable and in need of constant management and monitoring. Within a few generations, their ability to roam the streets has completely disappeared for many.”
This leads to less physical activity, but also to less social capital. dr Karsten says children have fewer opportunities to form new bonds with people outside of their lives, leading to isolation and loneliness that are devastating to development.
Many children are now so wrapped in bubble wrap and considered so vulnerable that virtually all risk has been removed from their lives.
Missed opportunities to assess danger are now associated with poor coping strategies for dealing with adversity in old age.
Much of this freedom of movement for children, so important for building confidence and resilience, could be achieved by reorganizing cities with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, bus corridors and single-lane traffic.
Cities and towns where cars become part of a common space, from being the protagonist of the landscape.
This week the National Transport Authority released the 20-year Greater Dublin Area Strategy (GDA), which set out a plan for the capital and surrounding counties. A similar plan was launched for Limerick last year and Galway is next up for scrutiny to see how cities can meet the climate targets.
Prioritizing active travel and public transport, the GDA strategy focuses on a comprehensive rail network analogous to the type more than 100 years ago, only it will be cleaner, faster and cheaper.
The climate law calls for a 51 percent reduction in transport emissions by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. It makes the move away from car-based lifestyles inevitable in the next decade.
It’s a challenge, but it must be good for our health, not least our children, with the resolution of problems such as congestion, air pollution and traffic accidents.
Transport Secretary Eamon Ryan is optimistic there will be a sea change in the way we move around our cities.
“I see no reason why Dublin shouldn’t be like Copenhagen or Amsterdam. We’re a relatively flat, dry city where most rides are still fairly short, coupled with a real cycling tradition,” he says.
I agree. Fewer cars on the road mean faster, safer and more enjoyable cycling and a daily workout for the heart, muscles, bones and brain.
Our children’s vital needs are not being met – in terms of treatment and services, and equitable access to health care, education and housing. To thrive, they need healthy food with protection from online food and alcohol marketing.
They need physical activity, an element of independence, and the freedom to spend hours walking, cycling, and running outdoors in their own environment.
An exclusive focus on global markets and economic growth has gotten us where we are – with zero services and a booming economy at the expense of children’s health and well-being.
Recent reports from the Mental Health Commission, the Children’s Rights Alliance and Alcohol Action Ireland should draw our attention to the urgent need for policy change.
dr Catherine Conlon is a Doctor of Public Health in Cork and former Director of Human Health and Wellbeing at Safefood
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/to-thrive-children-require-healthy-food-physical-activity-and-an-element-of-independence-but-these-vital-needs-are-not-being-met-42316796.html To thrive, children need a healthy diet, physical activity, and a degree of independence, but these vital needs are not being met