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Growing up in Scotland: Parental service use and informal networks in the early years

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CHAPTER 3: WHY ARE SOME MOTHERS DISENGAGED WITH FORMAL SERVICES?

3.1 Introduction

Ante-natal classes are one of the cornerstones of the provision of ante-natal education. Attendance at ante-natal classes has been linked to the propensity to breastfeed (Skafida, 2009), a lower rate of complications during childbirth and a more satisfying experience of childbirth (Spinnelli, 2003). However, as far back as the Black report in 1980, it has been apparent that the women deemed to be most in need of the additional support and information which these classes offer, are those least likely to access them. GUS data, for example, shows that women who live in more disadvantaged circumstances and who may, therefore, be considered to be in greater need of the support and advice offered by formal services, are those least likely to be using those services (see results reported above in section 2.6).

However, whilst this pattern of service use is clear, less is known about why some women do not use formal services. This section uses GUS data about specific examples of non-attendance at ante-natal classes and mother and baby groups, as well as non-use of childcare, to examine the reasons why some mothers choose not to engage with these services.

3.2 Key findings

  • Reasons for non-attendance at ante-natal classes were distinct for first-time and other mothers, the latter mainly citing previous experience as their main reason. In contrast, the main reasons amongst first-time mothers were that they didn't like groups, didn't know where classes were or that simply they didn't have a reason. Younger mothers were particularly likely to say they didn't like groups.
  • The most common reason given for not attending a mother and baby group was lack of time, largely reflecting the employment patterns of many mothers. However, a small proportion of mothers said that the availability or accessibility of such groups was a problem with others reporting feeling shy or awkward or that they just didn't want to go.
  • Childcare is predominantly used to allow parents to work. Those who did not use childcare when the child was 10 months old mainly said they would rather look after the child themselves or because childcare was not required but some also cited cost and availability as reasons.

3.3 Reasons for non-attendance at ante-natal classes and baby/toddler groups

3.3.1 Ante-natal classes

In year one of the study, mothers who had not attended ante-natal classes (55% of women) were asked to give the reason(s) why they did not attend. Reasons given were distinct for first-time mothers and mothers who already had other children. The majority of women who had children older than the cohort child, said that they did not attend because they 'had a child already' or 'knew it all already'. When reasons are examined for first-time mothers only, three main reasons emerge: not liking groups, not knowing where classes were and simply for 'no reason'. Differences are seen by maternal age, with the youngest group of mothers being particularly likely to say that they didn't like groups (Figure 3-A). Very small numbers of women reported not attending due to logistical reasons such as cost, travel, childcare and availablity.

Figure 3-A First-time mothers reasons for not attending ante-natal classes by age at the birth of the cohort child

Figure 3-A First-time mothers reasons for not attending ante-natal classes by age at the birth of the cohort child

Unweighted base - those who did not attend ante-natal classes = 1793

3.3.2 Mother and baby groups

Mother and baby groups can provide an important source of support for new parents. Some groups are run by health visitors, and can be linked with weighing clinics, while others are organised by parents themselves. GUS data does not distinguish between the two. While formal groups offer a point of professional contact and a potential for early intervention, informal groups have been found to be important as well, with women who participate in informal discussions about parenting having reduced stress, reduced social isolation and a way of learning childrearing skills (Telleen et al, 1989, Hogg and Worth, 2009).

When their child was 10 months, around 2 in 5 (39%) women regularly attended a mother and baby group, leaving 3 in 5 who did not. Reasons for not going to mother and baby groups at 10 months appeared to mirror, in some respects, the reasons for non-attendance at ante-natal classes. Thirteen per cent reported not going to mother and baby/toddler groups because there were none available or accessible and 10% reported nobody telling them about groups. In addition, 11% felt shy or awkward about attending and 12% just didn't want to go. The most common reason cited was lack of time (33%), most probably due to the interview taking place at 10 months, when around half (52%) of mothers were working. Indeed, 53% of respondents who were back at work full-time said they did not attend because they had no time, compared with 23% who were not working at the time.

Table 3.1 Reasons for not going to mother and baby groups at 10 months

Reason

% of respondents

No time

33

No suitable classes available or accessible

13

Just didn't want to go

12

Felt shy/awkward about attending

11

Nobody told me about them/no information

10

Don't like groups

8

Not first child/knew it all already

7

Other

17

No particular reason

11

Weighted base

2101

Unweighted base

1980

Again, mirroring ante-natal class findings, younger mothers were more likely to not attend due to disliking the group format or, what appeared to be more important at this stage, being shy or awkward about attending (1 in 6 giving the latter as a reason). Younger mothers were also less likely to know about groups (12% of those aged under 25 compared with 6% of those over 25), while older mothers were likely to not attend due to this not being their first child.

3.3.3 Toddler groups

Data on attendance at mother and toddler groups is available from several years of GUS allowing an examination of differences in reasons for not attending groups according to differences in the child's age. Overall 43% attended a toddler group when their child was 2 and 20% attended at age 3. For 33% of those who did not attend a toddler group when their child was aged 2, they were not attending because the child was at nursery. By the age of 4, this explains 75% of non-attendance. In addition, 20% of respondents at age 2 and 11% at age 3 said that they had no time to attend a group.

Of those who actively decided not to attend when their child was 3, the main reasons given, other than that the child was attending nursery, were that there were no suitable groups available or accessible (7%), that the child was too old (5%), that it wasn't their first child (4%) or that they simply just didn't want to go (4%). However, other reasons emerged amongst some mothers including that they had tried this sort of group before and didn't like it (2%), that they didn't like groups (2%) and that they felt shy or awkward about attending (2%). In similarity to ante-natal education, there appears to be something about the group format which some mothers find difficult to engage with.

Table 3.2 Reasons for not going to mother and baby/toddler groups at age 2 and 3

Reason

% of respondents at age 2
(34 months)

% of respondents at age 3
(46 months)

Child attends nursery

33

75

No time

20

11

No suitable classes available or accessible

8

7

Just didn't want to go

6

4

Don't like groups

5

2

Tried this sort of class before and didn't like it

4

2

Nobody told me about them/no information

3

3

Felt shy/awkward about attending

3

2

Not first child/knew it all already

3

4

Child is too old

1

5

Weighted base

2015

2897

Unweighted base

1927

2885

3.4 Reasons for using and not using childcare

Data about reasons for using and not using childcare were considered at years 1 and 3, when the children are aged 10 months and 2 years old respectively. Around 1 in 5 parents used a formal childcare provider as their main childcare provider at 10 months. Reasons for using and not using childcare were quite different to those given for ante-natal classes and parent baby/toddler groups. This is, of course, primarily due to the predominant use of childcare to allow parents to work, this reason being given for almost three quarters of respondents using childcare at 10 months.

Other common reasons for using childcare at year 1 were to give the main carer a break (27%), so that the respondent could go shopping, attend an appointment or socialise (30%) and because the child liked spending time at the provider (25%). However, even at 10 months, 'necessity' wasn't the only reason given for using childcare, with around 1 in 10 respondents reporting that they use childcare for their child's educational development or for their social development 12 (see Figure 3-B).

Figure 3-B Reasons for using childcare when child aged 10 months

Figure 3-B Reasons for using childcare when child aged 10 months

At year 1 of the study, when the children were just 10 months old, the majority of parents who did not use childcare said they did not do so because they would rather look after the child themselves, because childcare was not required, or because they rarely needed to be away from the child. However, as Figure 3-C shows, 1 in 6 parents not using childcare reported that they could not afford childcare when their child was 10 months old, while 1 in 10 said there was a lack of availability or choice.

Figure 3-C Reasons for not using childcare by year

Figure 3-C Reasons for not using childcare by year

Note: Birth cohort: Year 1 n = 1344, Year 3 n = 590 (unweighted)

Fourteen per cent of respondents at year 1 said that they could not afford childcare. Affordability was more of an issue for lower income households. Just 6% of parents not using childcare in the highest income group cited this as a reason compared with 19% of those with a household income less than £26,000 and 14% of those with an income of less than £15,000. It is likely that this slightly lower figure for the latter group reflects a lower requirement for formal childcare amongst this group due to the lower employment rate rather than a greater ability to meet the costs of childcare.

By the age of 2, just 18% of children were not in some form of childcare. The main reasons for not using childcare were similar to those given at 10 months. However, there were significant falls in the proportion of parents citing 'childcare not required' (decreasing from 59% to 5%) and 'lack of choice or availability' (from 11% at year 1 to 2% at year 3) as reasons.