New research from the Growing Up in Scotland survey on
Attended a 1/2 day conference held by the Growing Up in Scotland team earlier this week. The session was led off by the new early years minister Angela Constance and one phrase in her speech caught my attention in particular.
As parents its what we do, not who we are, that is most important.
By which I think she meant that parents who are facing adversity in the form of poverty or poor health can do as good a job as parents who aren’t facing the same adversity. I think we all know that to be true, or at least we want it to be true.
However, it is also true that many parents do become overwhelmed by the adversity they face in bringing up children. Talking to some head teachers in the last week or so has highlighted this for me. In the run up to the summer holidays many parents and children face the summer holidays not with a sense of joy and opportunity, but with with a sense of foreboding -‘how am I going to cope without the structure that school and nursery provides’. For many children this fear is expressed in terms of their behaviour in school, and for the child protection system I suspect it is reflected in the number of Initial Referral Discussions that take place in the run up to the summer holidays. ( I would guess that the economic climate is making the summer holiday period even harder for some parents this year?)
Services are responding with partnership approaches to supporting families over the summer period. In Midlothian Equally well champions are using their development fund to support a project called ‘Play in the Park’ which has been developed in the Woodburn community over a number of years, and will extend it to the neighbouring community in Mayfield, they are also exploring ways of further supporting transition from nursery to P1. In East Lothian champions are currently discussing whether to support for a second year a Summer transition programme supporting parents of children who are moving from nursery to P1 who need some additional support
Talking about parenting skills always makes me a bit twitchy, partly because even if nobody is else is making judgements about me as a parent I cant’ help making judgement about myself. For the same reason I have never felt completely comfortable with parenting courses / programmes which are the focus of many parenting strategies. More fundamentally than doubts about my own performance I also wonder whether parenting programmes over emphasise the individual parent behaviours rather than the wider family and community support that is fundamental to good parenting. It is easier to be consistent with rules, be positive and affirmative and to have a good attachment or connection with your child / children if you feel supported as a parent and can access a network of practical and emotional resources. Angela Constance also spoke about the development of a national parenting strategy for Scotland which was a manifesto commitment for the SNP. I for one hope that it is as strategy for family support as much as a strategy for developing parenting skills.
The GUS team have made a particular study of parenting skills and their relationship with health and a presentation on the findings is linked here There is also an audio file of the presentation from Dr Alison Parkes on the GUS website. The slides are quite complex so the audio file is well worth listening to.
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.
Dr Rosemary Geddes from the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and policy has completed an ‘Environmental Scan’ of interventions aimed at promoting cognitive and social development in early years children. Rosemary has previously given presentations to the planning board for Support from the Start and was one of the speakers at a 1/2 day session on readiness for learning (see earlier posts).
I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘environmental scan’. It turns out that it is management speak for getting a very smart person like Dr Geddes to rapidly but systematically review evidence for what works in a policy area at the same time as making an assessment of what is actually being delivered.
The definition given in the report is
Environmental scan – In management terms, an environmental scan is the internal communication of external information about issues that may potentially influence an organisation’s decision-making process. Our environmental scan refers to the process of rapidly scoping the literature for evidence of what works, reviewing the current policy landscape and interviewing key informants to determine which programmes are currently being delivered.
The document is a weighty read at 169 pages, but gives a very clear review of the research in this area, including brief overviews of different programmes that met the criteria to be included in the scan, and the range of Government policy and strategy that has bearing on children’s early development .
Yesterday Lesley Kelly, dissemination officer for the Growing Up in Scotland survey, gave a presentation about the finding of the survey to staff in Mid & East Lothian with particular reference to readiness for learning and supports for parents.
Lesley gave an overview of the findings from the survey and there was a lively discussion at the end of the session.
For me one of the key findings presented by Lesley was the type of supports that were utilised by parents whose children were not experiencing difficulties. It was clear that parents that were accessing a range of informal and community based supports were also experiencing less health, social and emotional problems in their children. In other words parents using community and family based support seems to support the resilience of children. Strengthening the capacity of community and family based support for parents along with supporting parents who are experincing difficulties to access this type of support seems to me to be good value for money, but will it be be valued an protected in the current climate. The childrens commisioner has released a press statement which raises concerns about how supports for parent can be maintained and enhanced when the pressures are for service reductions.
The other key finding for me was that parents / carers who spend time playing with and reading to their children can influence the childs readiness to learn independant of their income status. So often the message from statistics about health, education well being can seem negative. If you have a low income the dice can seem to be stacked against you statitistically speaking. Here is a different story – it doesnt matter if you are on a low income you can still make a difference for your kids
Her presentation is linked below