Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The connection between mother and child well-being

On May 13, the second Sunday of the month, many countries throughout the world - Cuba, United States, Australia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, the Netherlands, Zambia, Honduras and Greece - paid tribute to mothers and their role in society by celebrating Mothers Day.

Despite the diversity of these countries in terms of their culture, languages spoken, history and economic wealth, one common element present within them and the world over is the importance of the role of mothers in children’s development. As documented in the Save the Children report ‘Nutritionin the First 1,000 Days, State of the World’s Mothers 2012’ the quality of children’s lives is dependent on the health, security and well-being of mothers. Providing mothers with access to education, income earning opportunities, maternal and child health care gives them and their children the best chance of survival and quality development.

The report applies a ‘Mother’s Index’ and ranks countries based on results. The index is constituted of a composite of separate objective indices for women’s and children’s well-being - which grouped into the broader areas of women’s health status; educational, economic and political status; children’s well-being - include female life expectancy, under 5 mortality rates, primary and secondary school enrolment, maternity leave benefits and ratios of male to female income earned. 

Applied to 165 countries (43 developed nations, 122 in the developing world) the index revealed stark differences between the situation for mothers in developed countries and those in the developing world with Norway ranked as the best place to be a mother and Niger the worst. The index reveals the severe inequality between countries and the degree to which mothers and their children, can and do, survive and thrive throughout the world.

The results of these objective indices are vital for revealing existing gaps and dangers, specifically related to child nutrition, and effectively focus on women as actors for change. In terms of the other aspects of children’s integral development (cognitive, socio emotional, spiritual and physical), the role of mothers is equally important and subjective as well as objective indicators of well-being are an effective way of measuring this and the situation for mothers and children beyond their mere survival.

Throughout the world mothers are the primary family caregivers and from Manhattan to Kinshasa, their emotional well-being, as well as their physical health, is highly important to the creation of a positive environment for children’s growth and development and therefore their long term well-being. Scientific studies show that children who grow up in a positive environment tend to have greater mental and emotional health throughout the course of their lives. Additionally, the maintenance of positive emotions during early childhood has an effect on self esteem and behaviour (Reynolds, 2007 & Stark 2002).

The application of subjective indicators such as those employed in the Canadian Index of Well-being - living standards, time use, community vitality, democratic engagement, and leisure and culture – would help to better ascertain how they feel about themselves, their lives, responsibilities as caregivers and their capacity to fulfil them. Such an approach would allow for insight into barriers that may hinder women’s well-being and the development of their children, for example the burden of caregiver responsibility that they carry and how without support opportunities for income generation, furthering education and free time for mothers are impeded affecting their economic, emotional and physical well-being and, their ability to breastfeed and the societal and cultural attitudes towards breast feeding.

Such detail can help to identify where greater supports are required for the benefit of mothers and in turn that of their children.

Reynolds, A., J. Temple, S. Ou, D. Robertson, J. Mersky, J. Topitzes y M. Niles (2007). Effects of a Preschool and School-Age Intervention on Adult Health and Well Being: Evidence from the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, March 30, 2007, Boston, MA.
Stark, I. (2002). Engaging and Supporting Parents and Providers throughout A Continuum of Children´s Mental Health Services. Child Care Bulletin, spring (25), p. 7.

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