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Growing up in Scotland
The latest findings of a study shining a spotlight on the realities of life as a child in Scotland are published today.
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.
The study, carried out by the Scottish Centre for Social Research, tracks youngsters and how their circumstances change over time and, in particular, how early experiences can impact on later life.
The fifth set of reports, published today, explores a range of issues experienced by children in the first five years of their lives 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.
Angela Constance, Minister for Children and Young People, said:
"This research will play a crucial role in informing what we need to do to improve the life chances for all of Scotland's children. A child's chances in life begin to be shaped before they are even born with their development supported and influenced by many people and various experiences.
"Our priority is to create a fairer start for all, to provide the most important people in a child's journey, their parents and carers, with the right support. But we also have to make sure that support is being accessed and used to its fullest.
"This research will be used to identify areas that we need to improve and what can be strengthened to get help to those who need it the most. This is non-negotiable if we are going to achieve stability and faster, better decision making for our most vulnerable young people."
Michael Matheson, Minister for Public Health, said:
"It is unacceptable that in modern Scotland our poorest communities still suffer from health inequalities.
"A child's early years are the most important and have a huge impact on their lives. No one should be condemned to a life of ill health because of where they live or their family's background. Poor health is not inevitable and we should not accept it.
"Intervening at the earliest opportunity to improve children's wellbeing is absolutely crucial to improving Scotland's health in the long-term. We are committed to supporting parents and improving access and quality to antenatal care. Expanding the Family Nurse Partnership programme to more sites across Scotland will support first time teenage mothers from early pregnancy until their child reaches two, to improve pregnancy outcomes and child health and development."
Growing Up in Scotland is tracking 5,000 babies (born between June 2004 and May 2005) and 3,000 toddlers (born between June 2002 and May 2003) through childhood and into their teens. A new cohort of 6000 babies (born between March 2010 and February 2011) is currently being enrolled into the study.