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Babies in Northern Ireland to join first UK study of child development in two decades

Babies and parents in Northern Ireland are set to participate in a new UK-wide birth cohort study, which will aim to shine a light on the challenges faced by families as they emerge from the covid-19 pandemic and navigate the cost-of-living crisis.

The “Generation New Era” study is led by researchers at University College London (UCL) in partnership with Ipsos and the universities of Ulster, Swansea and Edinburgh. Hundreds of letters are now being sent out to families in Northern Ireland, inviting them to take part in the nationally representative study, which was rolled out across the rest of the UK last year.

Study director for Northern Ireland, Dr Orla McBride (Ulster University) said:

“The UK has a long history of rigorous longitudinal research, which has shaped our understanding of developmental processes, resulting outcomes, as well as the impact of growing up within diverse economic, social, and physical environments. I’m delighted to be involved in this study and to ensure families across Northern Ireland are represented.”

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, the study will follow children in Northern Ireland, born in 2023, during their early years, and potentially beyond, providing vital new insights into their health and development.

The evidence gathered will answer important scientific and policy questions, which will help inform decisions about early years and childcare services and improve the lives of families with young children across the UK.

With their babies now approaching nine months old, the families randomly selected to take part will soon be visited by the study’s interviewer team from Ipsos, to answer questions about their child’s development, family circumstances and their own lives.

Study director for the UK, Professor Alissa Goodman (UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies) said:

“We are looking forward to meeting with families in Northern Ireland in the coming months, as they join families from across the UK in the first birth cohort study to be launched since the millennium.

“With the economic and social repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impacts of the rising cost of living on our economy and society still unfolding, we hope that the Generation New Era study will help us to better understand the challenges facing this generation of babies, their development as children and their future prospects.”

Generation New Era is part of the UK’s rich portfolio of birth cohort studies, which follow the lives of people born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and 2000-02.

Parents will be asked about their child’s health and growth, behaviour and development, sleep and diet, as well as the activities they do with their baby. They will be invited to share their experiences as a mother or father, including information about their home and family, their parenting approach, and formal and informal childcare provision.

Just as importantly, they will be asked about their own personal circumstances, such as their health and wellbeing, neighbourhood, work situation and finances.

Routine administrative data, held by government departments, such as family health, educational and social care records, is also planned to be linked to their survey data, enabling researchers to gain a more detailed picture of participants’ lives.

Information about their local area or property, including data on air pollution levels and green spaces, is also planned to be added to survey data to help understand the importance of where people live.

Some parents and babies will be asked to give a saliva sample, to help understand how genes influence people’s lives, and how genes and the environments people experience work together.

To try to ensure that all people’s voices are heard, the Generation New Era team have boosted the numbers of babies included in the study born into disadvantaged and ethnic minority families. The study aims to be as inclusive as possible, engaging both fathers and mothers in taking part in the study, and to recruit babies born to all family types and circumstances.

Dr McBride added:

“It is vitally important that we hear from as many families as possible, so the study reflects the diversity of families across Northern Ireland, and the UK as a whole.

“By providing vital new insights into the health and development of children, Generation New Era will help us to build a complete picture of what life is like for children growing up today.

“Knowing how children develop, and how the early years affect later lives, will provide vital evidence to researchers, governments and service providers, so they are able to help improve the lives of children and families in the UK both now and in the future.”

Further information

If you’ve been invited to take part in Generation New Era, find out more on the study website.