The presence of children still continues to be an important part of Irish families, even though the birth rate is below replacement level. The traditional large family consisting of four or more children has been replaced by smaller families. In 1968, for example, 37.4 percent of births were to mothers with three or more children. By 1998 this had fallen to 12.7 percent (Health Statistics 1999, p. 28). The trend is for more women to have children, but to have fewer of them. Only 15 percent of couples live in households where there are no dependent children (Social Situation in the EU 2000). This strong positive attitude towards having children is supported by attitude surveys, which show that the Irish adult population places great value on having children for their own sake (MacGrail 1996).
Although children are highly valued, they are still at risk of poverty; studies consistently show that single-parent families and families with three or more children are most at risk ( Johnson 1999). In an attempt to combat this, successive governments in the 1990s introduced a range of measures, including significant increases in child benefit and employment incentives for unemployed parents. In an effort to protect children from poverty and abuse, the government launched a National Children's Strategy in 2000 and established an Ombudsman for Children.