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Maternal health and children’s socio-emotional and cognitive development: New evidence from the Growing Up in New Zealand study

For this study, researchers used Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) data to examine how maternal chronic illness or disability during child’s infancy influenced children’s socio-emotional and cognitive development in early and mid-childhood. The study also explored the characteristics of families who receive government support.

Approximately a quarter of New Zealand adults have a disability and various chronic illnesses affect significant proportions of the population, many of whom are living with multiple conditions. However, little is known about the psychological development of children with parents with chronic illness and disability in the New Zealand population.

Given the persistence and prevalence of these long-term conditions it is important to understand the effects of chronic conditions and disabilities on other family members, particularly children.

Findings and Future Considerations

Researchers found that the difference in outcomes for children whose mother lived with a long-term condition was small in their younger years, but as time went on, these children became more restless, worrisome, and quarrelsome.

The study showed that other socio-economic factors had a greater influence on socio-economic outcomes for children with mothers living with a long-term condition. Findings showed that regardless of maternal health status, the more positive parenting practices, and access to more resources led to stronger socio-economic outcomes.

The study also showed that families who seek government support earlier will have stronger support in the long term. Earlier intervention is needed to help families living with long term conditions to ensure the best possible outcomes for children in these families.

The study recommends that these support systems should not just include financial support, but extend into emotional and mental wellbeing support and be tailored to consider different family environments, schooling and community organisations.

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