The latest findings of a study shining a spotlight on the realities of life as a child in Scotland were published this week.
Launched in 2005, the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) gathers the experiences of 14,000 children and their families including attitudes towards children’s services, parenting, childcare, healthcare and education.
This round of reports is the fifth set in a longitudinal study which explores a range of issues experienced by children in the first five years of their lives. The reports cover a range of issues including parenting and child health, cognitive development, service use and support, and the impact of significant events.
The findings include:
· During the first five years of their lives, around one in ten children in Scotland experience their parents separating, with the incidence being highest in the first two years after the child’s birth. Separation increased the likelihood of mothers experiencing poor mental health and low income, both known drivers of child outcomes.
· The gap in cognitive abilities between children from more and less advantaged social backgrounds found at age 3 persists at age 5. The largest differences in ability are between children whose parents have higher and lower educational qualifications. Factors such as a rich home learning environment had a positive influence on the improvement of cognitive ability in the pre-school period.
· Mothers living in disadvantaged circumstances are more reluctant to engage with services aimed at supporting parents with young children and are less likely to make use of such services. Informal support by family and friends was used equally by those with different levels of service use.
· Child health and health behaviours are less favourable in families experiencing adversity. However, good parenting was found to have a positive impact on child health. This suggests that parenting support could go some way in reducing health inequalities.
In the reports one quote caught my eye in particular :
The positive impact of infant-maternal attachment on improvement in relative language ability was specific to children whose parents have lower qualifications. This implies that the overall negative effect on cognitive development associated with a lack of parental qualifications can be limited somewhat by improving early infant-maternal attachment.
This point jumped out at me because many of the other findings in the report were rather depressing in that they confirmed the picture of inequality without pointing at means of breaking the cycle of inequalities. We know that attachment can be improved and that their are interventions some of them relatively simple that can improve attachment behaviours between babies and significant adults even before the babies are born. Similarly the report highlights the benefits of positive parenting behaviours, and the need for good informal networks that parents can access when the going gets tough all things that we can make it easier for individual parents to achieve or access with good services and open caring communities.