Childers is born to Erskine Hamilton Childers (Ireland’s fourth President) and his first wife Ruth Ellen Dow. He grows up in a multi-cultural atmosphere which influences his whole life. From an early age, he has an obvious fascination with history and world affairs. He studies at Newtown School, Waterford and much later on at Trinity College, Dublin and Stanford University. At Stanford he is actively involved with the National Student Association and rises to Vice-President of the organisation by 1949.
By 1960, Childers is in London working for the BBC in both radio and television. His broadcasts from the BBC World Service range on varying topics from the Suez Crisis and Palestine to the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. He is one of the first presenters at the start of the BBC TV show The Money Programme in 1966. The Suez Canal and Palestine issues later form the basis of his writing on the subjects.
Childers is distinguished as one of the first mainstream writers in the West to systematically challenge the contention that Palestinian Arab refugees of the 1947–1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War fled their homes primarily from Arab broadcast evacuation orders, rather than from the use of force and terror by armed forces of the newly forming state of Israel.
Childers specialises in UN issues, even serving as a periodic consultant including a special mission in the Congo for Secretary-General U Thant. In 1967, under the leadership of Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr., he is hired to lead a United Nations, UNICEF and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) programme called Development Support Communication. In 1968 he co-authors a paper with United Nations colleague Mallica Vajrathon called “Project Support Communication,” later published in an important anthology about social change.
From 1975 to 1988, Childers is based in New York as Director of Information for UNDP. By his retirement in 1989 after 22 years of service as Senior Advisor to the UN Director General for Development and International Economic Co-operation, Childers had worked with most of the organisations of the UN system, at all levels and in all regions.
After his retirement, Childers continues to strive relentlessly for the ideals for which he had worked so hard. He co-authors several notable books for the Ford Foundation and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation on the reform of the United Nations with his colleague and equally devoted United Nations civil servant, Sir Brian Urquhart. The best known of these publications is A World in Need of Leadership. He continues writing on United Nations matters while traveling constantly and lecturing on the Organisation and the many challenges confronting it, such as globalisation and democracy, conflict prevention and peace-keeping, humanitarian assistance, human rights, famine, ageing and development, health, financial arrangement of the United Nations, citizen’s rights, female participation, design and perceptions, education, the North South divide and world economy. In 1995 he co-authors a paper with his international law colleague Marjolijn Snippe called The Agenda for Peace and the Law of the Sea, for Pacem in Maribus XXIII, the Annual Conference of the International Ocean Institute, that is held in Costa Rica, December 1995.
Childers becomes Secretary General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations in March 1996. Having served for only five months, he dies on August 25, 1996 during the organisation’s fiftieth anniversary congress. He is buried in Roundwood, County Wicklow.