ItemChildLinks Issue 1: Children and Nutrition(Barnardos, 2009) BarnardosOne in four 9 year olds in Ireland is overweight according to the July report of the Growing Up in Ireland study. The study found that 74% of 9 year olds were not overweight, 19% were overweight and 7% were obese. These are very disturbing statistics but ones which are consistent with the growing international trend of increasing obesity in childhood. The study found that girls were more likely than boys to be classified as overweight and obese. It also found that children’s weight was related to social class, with a greater incidence of overweight being linked to lower socio-economic background. An additional link was found between children’s healthy eating habits and parental education, in that better eating habits were linked with higher parental education. The theme of this issue of ChildLinks is Children and Nutrition. The costly health consequences of childhood obesity in physical, social and financial terms is highlighted by Celine Murrin from UCD. Overweight and obesity in childhood is associated with greater risk of many chronic diseases in childhood and adulthood. The National Taskforce on Obesity (2005) made extensive recommendations to promote healthy eating and active living, however implementation has been mixed. An example of an innovative approach to promoting healthy eating which targets children and parents via early years services is presented in an article on the Sligo/Leitrim Early Years Health Promotion Project. The issue of the marketing of unhealthy foods to children has been prioritised by the Children’s Food Campaign, which is an Irish campaign. UK research has found that there is sufficient evidence to show that food promotion has an effect on children, particularly their food preferences, purchase behaviour (including ‘pester power’) and consumption. The Children’s Food Campaign is calling for a ban on television advertising of unhealthy foods to children up to the 9pm watershed. They are also looking for a comprehensive set up of measures across all media to protect children from the sophisticated multi-media approach of the food industry. Barnardos supports the implementation of these measures in the interests of promoting childrens’ health. ItemChildLinks Issue 3: Parental Alcohol Misuse(Barnardos, 2009) BarnardosMedia focus on the abuse of alcohol in Ireland is too often focused on underage drinking to the neglect of the problem of parental alcohol misuse, which is the theme of this edition of ChildLinks. One of the common messages across all of the articles presented is the hidden nature of this ‘hidden harm’. Dr Shane Butler highlights the multi dimensional impact of parental alcohol problems, which consists not only of alcohol dependence but also a variety of related difficulties including marital disharmony, financial pressures, family violence, child neglect and inconsistent parenting, all of which have a negative impact on children. Health and Social Services have great difficulty responding to problem drinkers and the challenge of bridging the gap between addiction services and child welfare is still at an early stage of development. It is estimated that alcohol misuse is a factor in at least 25% of child protection caseloads. From Barnardos’ experience working with families affected by harmful alcohol use, children living in these families often present many difficulties which can be far reaching and can have long-term implications for a child’s life both in childhood and in adulthood. Multiple layers of support are needed to help children and families dealing with addiction. Services need to be properly resourced and co-ordinated to ensure multi-agency, effective early intervention systems. As Wendy Robinson points out in her article on approaches from the UK experience, workers and agencies across all disciplines need to be more pro-active in their approach to children and adults with alcohol problems, and to work collaboratively for the benefit of families. Insights gained from the experience of the Hopscotch project which works with children living with parental alcohol misuse are explored in an article from Barnardos. At a policy level it is interesting to learn from the experience of Northern Ireland who are working to implement an Action Plan for drug misuse and alcohol misuse under the ‘Hidden Harm’ framework. The National Substance Misuse Strategy 2009-2016, which includes alcohol policies, presents a key opportunity to address the needs of children and families in a vital area. ItemChildLinks Issue 2: Developments in Early Childhood Care and Education(Barnardos, 2009) BarnardosWelcome to this issue of ChildLinks, which focuses on recent developments in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). Writing this editorial in the week after the December Budget, it has to be acknowledged that while funding for childcare has been left relatively unscathed, parents are having to cope with a 10% cut in Child Benefit and poorer parents are also having to cope with a 4% cut in social welfare payments. There has also been a cut of €2.5 million to the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme. However, even in the context of recession and budget cuts, there are developments happening in the Early Childhood Care and Education sector that are to be welcomed. In this edition of ChildLinks we have the latest information on Aistear and the Workforce Development Plan. We have an analysis of key issues facing the ECCE sector and an outline of priorities from Start Strong, the new advocacy agency for ECCE, which is supported by Barnardos and many of the key local and national organisations involved in ECCE. The implementation of Síolta and the learning from the experience of working with early years providers in Ballymun is shared in an article by Barnardos’ Early Years Quality Co-ordinator in Ballymun. The impact of the recession in the UK on the implementation of the Governments’s 10 year strategy ‘Choice for parents, the best start for children’ is explored from the perspective of the Daycare Trust. In an Irish context, Síolta and Aistear provide quality frameworks that everybody concerned with the best interests of children will support. The key challenge remains the lack of sufficient investment to enable service providers to make these quality frameworks a reality. As the report of the National Competitiveness Council concluded earlier in 2009, international evidence indicates that Ireland is under-investing in services for younger children and given the effects of quality care and education on educational attainment and productivity in the economy, the case for targeting expenditure where returns are greatest remains strong.