Too many children and young people are living in circumstances that make it difficult for them to thrive. That is the key message from the third Annual Report of the Director of Public Health (DPH) for Northern Ireland, which was published today [14th June]. This significant report highlights the many public health challenges that affect people in Northern Ireland.
As Director of Public Health, Dr Carolyn Harper’s report describes the main public health challenges across Northern Ireland, and details work being undertaken by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and its partners over the past year to improve the health and wellbeing of people here.
Speaking at the report’s launch at the PHA’s Annual Scientific Conference at Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey, Dr Harper said: “The health and wellbeing of children and young people have a massive impact on their prospects in later life.
“Not only does this section of society represent 34% of our population, but they also embody Northern Ireland’s future, so it is vital that they are provided with the social and emotional foundations to succeed as adults.
“A range of factors can impact on a child’s wellbeing and development – parental mental health problems, alcohol and drug misuse, domestic violence, absent parents, abuse, and a neglected neighbourhood.
“That is why particular emphasis needs to be placed on the first few years of life. It is hard for children to recover from a poor start to life, and the cycle continues as they become more likely to be involved in risky and antisocial behavior as teenagers and adults. By giving them a strong foundation on which to grow, we can increase their chances of having a better life”
What is being done
The PHA and its partners undertake and support a range of work to ensure children and young people achieve the best start in life.
Dr Harper continued: “Even with modest investment in programmes to support early years, the population of Northern Ireland will experience huge health, social and economic benefits. For example, economists have found that a modest investment in pregnancy and early years brings a nine or ten-fold return on every pound invested.
“Instead of reacting late to problems in adulthood which are precipitated by troubled formative years, the PHA is shifting or emphasis towards early and ongoing support to give children and young people the social and emotional resilience they need to handle the problems life can present.
“The knock-on benefits of this approach are multi-stranded, ranging from better employment opportunities and academic achievement to improved mental and physical health.
“Intensive early support is a key tool in improving the overall health and wellbeing of not just the next generation, but also this generation of people in Northern Ireland, and it will continue to play an important role in the PHA’s work,” she concluded.
Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA added: Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA added: "We must ensure that every baby born in Northern Ireland has the best possible start in life. Research has shown that disadvantage starts before birth and much of the pattern of a person’s future adult life is established in childhood. So investment in proven early years interventions will mean better outcomes, not just for children and families, but for communities and for society as a whole.
"Partnership working between government, statutory and voluntary and community sectors provides a real opportunity to ensure positive early years experiences."
Contact PHA Press Office on (028) 9055 3663.
Notes to the editor
To read the DPH annual report please see here.