The environments in which our youngest children live, grow and play have changed dramatically over the past century. For the best part of the twentieth century, young children were cared for in the family home and went to school sometime after the age of three. For much of that time, Irish society was largely agrarian based and children worked on the farm; work which had economic value to the family. Families were large, twice as large on average as those in the rest of Europe for most of the century. Children lived in households which frequently comprised members of the extended family. Emigration was a way of life and many children must have grown up in the knowledge that they would leave and not return. The Catholic Church and the State operated a symbiotic relationship in relation to many aspects of Irish life, including education, following Independence. In particular, the Church appears to have had considerable influence in terms of family life, a position consolidated by the 1937 Constitution. Changes began to occur in the 1950s when increasing industrialisation and urbanisation began to have an impact. Around this time, too, family size began to reduce. It was not until the 1970s, though, that substantial numbers of women began to enter – and stay in – the paid workforce. This was partly due to the lifting of the marriage bar in the civil service and the beginnings of movement towards parity of pay and rights for women with their male colleagues following Ireland’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). Out-of-home care arrangements for children then became a necessity for some families.
With changes in family patterns, more children are now living in smaller families, one parent families or in disparate families. Young children in contemporary Irish families are experiencing substantially different parenting trends, not least of which is that many now have the... [continues]
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