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



Social background variables

Equivalised annual household income

The income that a household needs to attain a given standard of living will depend on its size and composition. For example, a couple with dependent children will need a higher income than a single person with no children to attain the same material living standards. 'Equivalisation' means adjusting a household's income for size and composition so that we can look at the incomes of all households on a comparable basis.

Socio-economic classification ( NS- SEC)

The National Statistics Socio-economic Classification ( NS- SEC) is a social classification system that attempts to classify groups on the basis of employment relations, based on characteristics such as career prospects, autonomy, mode of payment and period of notice. There are fourteen operational categories representing different groups of occupations (for example higher and lower managerial, higher and lower professional) and a further three 'residual' categories for full-time students, occupations that cannot be classified due to a lack of information or other reasons. The operational categories may be collapsed to form a nine-, eight-, five- or three-category system.

This report uses a five-category system in which respondents and their partner, where applicable, are classified as managerial and professional, intermediate, small employers and own account workers, lower supervisory and technical, and semi-routine and routine occupations. The variable is measured at household level. In couple families this corresponds to the highest classification amongst the respondent and his/her partner.

Mother's level of education

At the first wave of data collection, each parent was asked to provide information on the nature and level of any school and post-school qualifications they had obtained. The information is updated at each subsequent contact. Qualifications are grouped according to their equivalent position on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework which ranges from Access 1 to Doctorate. These are further banded to create the following categories: Degree-level academic or vocational qualifications, Higher Grades or equivalent vocational qualification ( e.g.SVQ 3), Upper-level Standard Grades (grades 1 to 4) or equivalent vocational qualification ( e.g.SVQ 1 or 2), Lower-level Standard grades (grades 5 to 7) or equivalent vocational qualifications ( e.g. Access 1 or 2, National Certificates). The highest qualification is defined for each parent and a household level variable is calculated. In In couple families this corresponds to the highest classification amongst the respondent and his/her partner.

Mother's employment status

Mothers were grouped into three employment categories at each wave: Unemployed, part-time (working under 16 hours per week) or full-time (working 16 hours or more). The 16-hour cut-off was used because of it being the cut-off point for certain benefits, such as working tax credits.

Other variables

Family type

At each wave of data collection households were classified as to whether they were a lone parent household ( i.e. a parent with no partner living in the household) or a couple household (two parents or a parent and their partner in the household).

Long-standing illness

This is defined as a illness or disability that has been present, or is expected to be present for 12 months or longer. At each wave a child is classified as having, or not having, a long-standing illness.

Service use

For the purpose of this research project, 'service use' is defined as contact, in-person that the child's parent has with a wide range of statutory or voluntary agencies in order to seek advice, information, support or treatment in relation to the cohort child. Services explored include ante-natal classes, parenting classes, mother and baby/toddler groups, health professionals, pre-school providers and childcare services.

Scales of service use were used to classify respondents into two main groups: 'low service users' and 'average/high users'. This classification was achieved by first looking at the mean scores of service use at each age point. All those who had lower than average service use - that is a score on the scale below the mean - were classified as 'low service users' with those scoring at or above the mean being classified as 'average/high service users'.

At year 1, the mean service use score was 4.95, thus all those who used four or fewer services were termed 'low service users'. At year 5, the mean service use score was 3.85 meaning that all those who used three or fewer services were termed as 'low service users'. This resulted in 41% of parents at year 1 and 43% of parents at year 5 being classified as 'low service users'.

Parental confidence

Mothers were asked at year 1 how they felt they were as a parent. They could respond: Not a very good mother, an average mother, a better than average mother, or a very good mother. This question was asked in the self-completion section of the questionnaire where the mother completes the answers on the laptop herself.

Attitudes to service use

At years 1 and 4, respondents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements about help-seeking behaviour and accessing support:

  • "Nobody can teach you how to be a good parent - you just have to learn for yourself."
  • "If you ask for help or advice on parenting from professionals like doctors or social workers, they start interferring or trying to take over."
  • "It's difficult to ask people for help or advice unless you know them really well."
  • "It's hard to know who to ask for help or advice about being a parent."

Five categories of response were available for each statement: strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, disagree strongly. Agreement (strongly or otherwise) with the statements was considered to represent a more reluctant attitudes towards service use and engagement.

To measure change in attitudes, responses were scored from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). A respondent who scored higher on a single item at year 4 compared with year 1 was considered to have a more receptive attitude to services at year 4.

A more receptive view did not necessarily constitute a movement from agreement to disagreement (although this would be represented) but could also be movement from, for example, 'strongly agree' to 'agree', 'neither' to 'disagree' or 'disagree' to 'disagree strongly'.