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The Evaluation of Children's Hearings in Scotland: Volume 3 - Children in Focus

Chapter TWO

The children and their social and personal circumstances in February 1995

This chapter describes the personal and social circumstances of the children at the beginning of the study in February 1995.

The age and sex of the children

Of the 1,155 children in the study, just over two-thirds were male (67%) and one-third female (34%). The majority (64%) of children were between 12 and 15 years, reflecting national statistical patterns which show adolescents as having the highest number of referrals to Reporters ( Statistical Bulletin 1997, Figure 4). The next largest grouping of children was in the primary-school age range, that is 5 to 11 years (20%). The smallest sample numbers consisted of young people aged 16 or 17 years, the 16-plus group. Figure 2.1 below presents the age distribution of children in the cohort sample.

Figure 2.1
Age of the children in the sample grouped in age bands
(n=1,155)

Figure 2.1 Age of the children in the sample grouped in age bands Age of the children in the sample grouped in age bands (n=1,155)

There were equal numbers of males and females for the youngest age grouping (under 5 years) (see Table 2.1 below). With increasing age there were more males, especially for children and young people aged 12 years or older.

Table 2.1
Age and gender of the sample
(n=1,155)

Age (in years)

Number

Male %

Number

Female %

under 5

57

5%

57

5%

5-11

136

12%

92

8%

12-15

518

45%

219

19%

16+

57

5%

19

2%

Total

768

67%

387

34%

n=1155 Per cents of each category in the total sample are given.

The age distribution of the children (see Figure 2.2) reflected national referral patterns.

Figure 2.2
Age of all the children in the sample at 1 February 1995
(n=1,155)

Figure 2.2 Age of all the children in the sample at 1 February 1995 (n=1,155)

* 00 means children aged under 1 year.

Ethnicity

Less than 1% of children were described as coming from ethnic minority backgrounds (0.8%) and a further (0.6%) of children were described as being of mixed parentage.

Educational status

The vast majority of the children (93%) (n=939) in the cohort sample aged between 5 and 15 years were enrolled in school in February 1995 (see Table 2.2).

Table 2.2*
The school status of the children at February 1995

Status

Number

Per cent

enrolled

874

93%

not enrolled

59

6%

not known

6

0.6%

Total

939

99.6%

* There were 26 children for whom data was missing.

Sixty-nine children were reported as excluded from school in February 1995. The largest proportion of those excluded were young males in the 12 to 15 years age group (56), 9 females in this age group were excluded and 4 male children aged under 12 years.

The majority of children who were enrolled in school were in local authority provision (756); the remainder were involved in a wide range of alternatives (see Table 2.3).

Table 2.3*
Type of schools in which the children were enrolled

School type

Number

Per cent of all enrollees

local authority

756

87%

private school

2

0.2%

specialist educational unit

58

7%

specialist school for disability

6

0.7%

secure accommodation-school

10

1%

residential school

26

3%

other

14

2%

not known

1

0.1%

total

873

101%

* There was one child for whom data was missing.

Living circumstances

Almost four-fifths 79% (905) of the children were living with one or both parents or with relatives (n=1,148). This pattern was broadly similar for the 3 age groups (under 5s, primary and secondary school age) but dropped to just less than half of the children aged 16 or 17 years (47%).

Foster care, residential schools and children's homes provided the main alternative for the remainder of the children (see Figure 2.3). Cohort children under 12 years were mainly located in foster care 16% (37 n=68) rather than residential units.

Figure 2.3
Where the children were living at February 1995
(n=1,148)

Figure 2.3 Where the children were living at February 1995  (n=1,148)

The children's families 3

Almost half of the children's families consisted of lone parent households (511, 46% n=1,115), including 75 (7%) children where a lone male parent was the head of the household (see Figure 2.4). In the general population in the United Kingdom 20% of dependent children in 1994-95 were living with only one parent ( Social Trends 26 p.49) and 1% of dependent children were living with a lone male parent ( Social Trends 26 p.49).

Under one-third (29%) of the children's families comprised the traditional 'nuclear family' where children live with both birth parents 5 (n=1,115).

Just under one-fifth of the children lived in some form of reconstituted family involving step-parenting.

Figure 2.4 illustrates the family composition of the children at February 1995.

Figure 2.4
Family composition at February 1995
(n=1,115)

Figure 2.4 Family composition at February 1995 (n=1,115)

The 'other' category includes children who had no family base for the purposes of this chart.

The housing circumstances of the children's families

Nearly three-quarters of the children's families (72% n=1,125) were living in local authority accommodation, including 10 children with families in temporary local authority accommodation (see Figure 2.5). A further 44 children had families living in either housing association or privately rented accommodation. Only 59 (5%) of the children's families described themselves as living in owner-occupied property. This figure is very low considering 52.1% of households in Scotland in 1991 were in owner occupation (1991 Census Table G, p.20).

Figure 2.5
Housing tenure at February 1995
(n=1,125)

Figure 2.5 Housing tenure at February 1995 (n=1,125)

Income sources of the children's families

State benefit was the main source of income for just over half (55%) of the children's families, salary or wages being the other main income source for one-quarter (283). The source of family income was 'not known' in just under one-fifth (19% n=1,132) of cases.

There was a significant relationship between sources of income and family status (p² 0.01). Lone parents were more likely to be living on state benefit, 69% (353, n=1,078) compared to 42% (135) of nuclear families. Within the 'nuclear families', sources of income were more evenly distributed between state benefit (135, 42%) and wages or salaries (142, 44% n=1,078) (see Table 2.4 below).

Table 2.4
Income source by family status at February 1995

Status

Wage

State

Total

Lone parent

14%

69%

n=510

Nuclear family

44%

42%

n=322

Reconstituted family

30%

48%

n=190

Children and adversity

Longitudinal research has established some of the factors which appear to be associated with resilience in children, and has identified the specific features of a child's environment which appear to play a role in protecting children coping with adverse personal circumstances (Robins and Rutter, 1990). Fonagy et al (1994) identify a broad range of factors that appear to be associated with resilience in children. These include high socio-economic status; the absence of physiological deficits; a good network of informal relationships, formal social support through better educational experience, and the absence of early separations or losses. Booth and Booth (1996) highlight the uneven distribution of risk or exposure to adversity as the most significant factor in a child's health and development. The backgrounds of the children often showed they were experiencing at least one, if not more, sources of adversity in their lives.

The nature of Reporters' recorded concerns for the children fell into 5 broad categories. As the range of concerns outlined by Reporters often related to the very specific and complex circumstances of a particular child, just over one-third of children (34% n=1,094) had an 'other' category coded at least once (see Table 2.5 below).

Social factors such as poverty or housing problems were less often recorded as a concern by Reporters (4% of children), even although many more of the cohort children could be seen as experiencing adverse social circumstances.

There were 175 cases where Reporters indicated concerns about possible abuse or neglect (see Table 2.5 below). Despite this, over four-fifths (88% n=1,062) of the children under 16 years (936) were not currently on the local authorities' child protection register at the time of Reporter contact in February 1995. Of the 56 children who were known to be on the register 30 were male and 26 female.

Table 2.5
Adversities in the lives of the children at February 1995
(n=1,094)1

Type of adversity

Number

Per cent of cases

Difficulties in parental behaviour

carer's alcohol problems

79

7%

carer's drug problems

39

4%

carer's mental health problems

34

3%

parental relationship problems2

99

9%

domestic violence

34

3%

Parent-child difficulties

child care concerns

248

23%

parent-child relationship problems3

239

22%

child no contact/lost a birth parent

53

5%

possible abuse/neglect of child

117

11%

contact with sched. 14/suspected abuser

58

5%

Difficulties in child's behaviour

behavioural/emotional problems

240

22%

offending

354

32%

truancy

262

24%

sexually inappropriate/abusive behaviour

7

0.6%

sexually at risk/concerns re. sexual activity

18

2%

drug and/or alcohol misuse

79

7%

General concerns about the child

child unemployed/no training place

3

0.3%

child pregnant/is a parent

5

0.5%

lacks education/education placement

49

5%

General social concerns

poverty/financial/housing problems

41

4%

lack of facilities for children in home area

11

1%

Other concerns

366

34%

No concerns

67

6%

1 Up to 4 responses could be recorded for each child therefore totals do not add up to 100%.
2 This includes cases where partners/spouses relationship has broken down.
3 This includes cases where the parent-child relationship has broken down.
4 Sched. 1 refers to an offender who has been convicted of an offence(s) under schedule 1 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975.

Children with health problems and/or disability

In total 216 children, just under one-fifth of the sample (19%), were reported as having at least one type of health problem or disability, including 36 children with more than one difficulty (see Table 2.6). Information for just under one-quarter of the children (23%) was either not known or simply missing 7. This absence of information has been reflected in prior research relating to children in the care of local authorities (Butler and Payne, 1997).

Table 2.6
Children with health problems or disability

Type of problem

Number

Per cent*

Chronic health problem

45

4%

Learning disability

56

5%

Physical disability

12

1%

Psychiatric problem

67

6%

Multiple problems

36

3%

Total

216

19%

*The percentage figures are reported as a proportion of the total sample.

Past care experience

Separation from parents, especially involving institutional care, is a recognised risk factor in the lives of children (Bowlby, 1979; Hodges and Tizard, 1989a, b). A child's experience in public care can result in a number of negative consequences, for example: multiple placements; loss of contact or infrequent contact with important family members; moves of school (Packman et al, 1986, Millham et al, 1986).

Reporters were asked to record whether the children had any experience of living in care away from home involving the social work department (SWD) or the Reporter. Just over one-third of children (34%, 381, n=1,124) at February 1995 had at least one experience of being in care living away from home.

The pattern of care history ranged from children with only one short-term experience of care to those who had much longer or more varied patterns of public care history (see Table 2.7). Almost half (49%) of the 'care group' had been in care living away from home for extended periods of their childhood.

Table 2.7*
The children's pattern of care history

Pattern of past care history

Number

Per cent
of care group

brief but frequent periods in care

38

11%

few but extended periods

175

49%

never in care prior to current admission

13

4%

one period in care of less than 6 months

53

15%

one period in care of more than 6 months

49

14%

not known

27

8%

Total

355

101%

*There were 26 children for whom data was missing.

positive features in the children's lives

Reporters were asked to comment on the positive features they could identify in the lives of the children at February 1995 (see Table 2.8 below). Support from at least one parent and/or other family member(s) was identified as a positive by Reporters for just under two-thirds of the children (65%). On the other hand, for 82 children Reporters were unable to identify any positive aspects in a child's life, comments such as 'very little', 'none', 'very few' being common for this group of children.

Table 2.8
Positive features in the lives of the children at February 1995
(n=1,037)1

Positive feature

Number

Per cent of cases

support from at least 1 parent

519

50%

positive relations with other relatives

158

15%

child care good/adequate

86

8%

positive school experience

145

14%

positive relations with social worker and/or placement staff


162


16%

in employment, training or education

21

2%

characteristics of the child

43

4%

at least one continuous carer

96

9%

parents willing to accept help/support

58

6%

positive peer relations

10

1%

resources available to the child

52

5%

other

108

10%

none

82

8%

1 Up to 3 responses could be recorded for each child therefore totals do not add up to 100%.

Social support

Reporters were asked to record whether a child had, in their view, someone to turn to in times of stress. Half the children were seen to have someone to support them in times of difficulty. Reporters were unable to answer this question for over one-third of the children (36% n=1,117) (see Table 2.9).

Table 2.9
Children with support in times of stress at February 1995

Support available

Number

Per cent

Yes

558

50%

No

92

8%

Not known

405

36%

Not applicable

62

6%

Total

1,117

100%

Parents and relatives predominated as the main source of support for the children. Social workers were also identified as a significant group providing support to some of the children (see Table 2.10). Reporters identified a schoolteacher or school itself as a source of support in times of stress for 13 children. Research has shown that positive school experiences, including a good relationship with a teacher, can have a beneficial effect on a child's development (Quinton and Rutter, 1988).

Table 2.10
Persons offering support to the children at February 1995
(n=558)*

Person

Number

Per cent of cases

parent(s)

275

49%

grand-parent(s)/other relative(s)

103

19%

social worker

199

36%

placement staff/foster carers

67

12%

friends/partner

2

0.4%

teacher/school

71

13%

other

22

4%

not known

1

0.2%

* Up to 2 responses could be recorded for each child therefore totals do not add up to 100%.

Summary

The study found that:

  • the majority of the children were living at home with at least one parent
  • almost half of the children lived in lone-parent households
  • the majority of the children's families were living in local authority accommodation
  • state benefit was often the main source of the children's families' income
  • the vast majority of children aged between 5 and 15 years at 1 February 1995 were enrolled in school
  • sixty-nine children were excluded from school at February 1995
  • just under one-fifth of children had at least one type of health problem or disability
  • difficulties in parental behaviour were noted by Reporters at February 1995. Alcohol and parental relationship problems were cited
  • Parent-child difficulties accounted for a much higher proportion of Reporters' concerns than difficulties in parental behaviour alone
  • difficulty in the child's behaviour was often cited as a concern by Reporters at 1 February 1995 - behavioural problems, offending, truanting and drug and alcohol abuse were prominent
  • just over one-third of children at February 1995 had at least one experience of being in care living away from home
  • half the children were seen to have someone to turn to in times of stress. Parents and relatives were often seen as the main source of support.