The Experiences of Mothers Aged Under 20: Analysis of Data From the Growing up in Scotland Study

Analysis of Growing Up in Scotland data on the circumstances of first-time mothers in Scotland who were aged under 20 at the time of the child’s birth. Data collected up to the child’s sixth birthday were used to compare these circumstances with those of mothers who were aged 20 to 24 and aged 25 or older at the time of their child’s birth.


Background to the report

1.1 The aim of this research was to use existing data from the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study to explore the characteristics, circumstances and experiences of mothers aged under 20 in Scotland and examine how they compare with those of older mothers. Understanding the extent to which the challenges that these young mothers face are different to those experienced by mothers aged 20 to 24 and 25 and above helps not only to justify the extra support that teenage mothers receive but also to explore whether some of this extra support might also benefit slightly older mothers.

1.2 GUS is an important longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of several cohorts of Scottish children through the early years and beyond. The study is funded by the Scottish Government and carried out by ScotCen Social Research. GUS provides crucial evidence for the long-term monitoring and evaluation of policies for children, with a specific focus on the early years. The study collects a wide range of information about children and their families - the main areas covered include childcare, education, parenting, health and social inclusion.

1.3 GUS launched in 2005 with two cohorts of children. The youngest of these, the first birth cohort, involves a nationally representative sample of around 5200 children who were all born in 2004 or 2005. Data was collected annually from these children and their families, from the time when the cohort child was aged 10 months until they were six years old. A second birth cohort was recruited to the study in 2011. This cohort consists of a nationally representative sample of around 6100 children who were all born in 2010 or 2011. The initial wave of data collection occurred when the child was 10 months old.

1.4 GUS data offer a unique opportunity to more fully understand the characteristics, circumstances and experiences of mothers aged under 20 in Scotland and how these compare to those of older mothers. In addition, through utilisation of data from the first birth cohort (BC1), in which children were born in 2004/05, it is possible to map the pathways of mothers - for example in relation to their relationships or socio-economic circumstances - from the time of their child's birth up to his or her sixth birthday.

The policy context

1.5 Policies and initiatives supporting teenage and young parents in Scotland have emerged from a range of inter-related social policy frameworks. Underpinning these is the National Performance Framework which has provided focus to all policy development since 2007 (Scottish Government, 2011). Reflecting the growing awareness of the importance of early years (particularly pre-birth to three years of age) for the long-term health, wellbeing, learning and life chances of Scotland's population, this Framework established the policy emphasis on the avoidance of negative settings in the early years.

1.6 This in turn led to a number of other policy frameworks which impact directly or indirectly on young parents. These are in turn reinforced by policies that are consistent with the principles of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)[2], a distinctively Scottish multi-agency approach to improving outcomes for all children. Foremost among these is Early Years Framework.[3] Developed under the new arrangements for partnership working between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), this long-term strategy addresses the needs of families with children from pre-birth to age eight. A central theme is the reduction of inequalities, particularly health inequalities. Its broad strategic approach towards achieving better outcomes for Scotland's children includes not just development of specific support services for children and families but also consideration of how other key determinants of health and well being impact on outcomes for children. The parenting task group for the Framework recognised that:

Every child has the right to be planned for, prepared for and parented by adults who are aware of and responsive to their growing needs. We have a duty to support parents in developing the skills and capacities that will help them make the most of their role as parents, provide services which assist families with this responsibility and target support to those who need assistance to access those services [3.2]. (Parenting Task Force, 2008)

1.7 At the same time it acknowledged that some parents, including teenage parents, faced particular challenges in supporting positive outcomes for their children.

1.8 Alongside this, a number of other inter-related frameworks have been put in place to address specific inequalities relating to health, deprivation and social inclusion. Equally Well[4] recommends creating healthy environments that promote healthy lifestyles for children. Achieving Our Potential[5] acknowledges the risks faced by children and young people who experience poverty and that many children and young people are being held back by social and economic factors that limit their chances of escaping poverty when they are older. The Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland[6] sets out the Scottish Government's approach to tackling these risks by maximising household resources, improving children's life chances, addressing area-based disadvantage and working with local partners.

1.9 There have also been significant policy developments relating to the education and training of young people. The Curriculum for Excellence[7] was rolled out in August 2010 and aims to increase the quantity and quality of education about, and preparation for, motherhood. This includes information and support about contraception, family planning, relationships and child health/development. From April 2012, Opportunities for All guaranteed all 16-19 year olds an offer of an appropriate place in learning or education.[8] Building on these, the Post-16 Transitions Framework[9] aims to engage all young people in education or training. In recognition of the need to treat young people as individuals, it calls on partners delivering the model to monitor the circumstances of young parents and help them to re-engage with education or training when they are in a position to do so.

1.10 Reinforcing this policy focus on the early years is the preventative spend agenda. An enquiry led by the Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee recommended prioritising funding for early years' initiatives in recognition of the importance of positive child development upon national wellbeing across a wide range of indicators.[10] The establishment of the Early Years Taskforce in November 2011, alongside the Early Years Change Fund and, more recently, the Early Years Collaborative, demonstrates the firm commitment from Scottish Government to shifting the balance of public services towards early intervention and prevention.

1.11 The Early Years Taskforce was established to develop the strategic direction for the early years change programme and co-ordinate policy across Government and the wider public sector to ensure that early years spending is prioritised by the whole public sector. The objective of the four year £270m Early Years Change Fund is to convert the high level principles set out in the Early Years Framework into practical action. In addition to this, the Scottish Government and the Big Lottery Fund have established a £4.5 million Communities and Families Fund to support community-based solutions to family support and early learning and childcare.

1.12 In October 2012, the Scottish Government published its Parenting Strategy thereby formalising its commitment to providing better support to all parents.[11] Emphasising the need to move towards a culture where parents feel encouraged to seek support, the Strategy seeks to:

  • Ensure all parents have easy access to clear, concise information on everything from pregnancy to the teenage years and beyond
  • Offer informed, coordinated support to enable parents to develop their parenting skills, whatever their need, wherever they live, whether they live together or apart
  • Take steps to improve the availability of - and access to - early learning, childcare and out-of-school care, taking into account parents in rural areas and those who work irregular hours
  • Provide targeted support to families facing additional pressures that impact on day-to-day parenting
  • Acknowledge and address the wider issues that can affect parents' abilities to provide a nurturing environment and care for their child.

1.13 The concept of 'progressive universalism' informs this strategy. Some services and support will be available to all prospective and actual parents. Additional support will be targeted at those requiring it to reach a basic standard of parenting.

1.14 This steer towards progressive universalism is echoed in the Children and Young People's Bill. In line with the goal to make employment, education and training more accessible for all parents, it proposes an increase to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare for 3- and 4-year olds. (A recent amendment to the Bill has now extended this provision to disadvantaged 2 year olds.) Local authorities will be obliged to increase the flexibility and expand their provision of early learning and childcare. Every child will have a Named Person from birth up to leaving school who will act as a point of contact for the child or young person and their parents/carers when seeking information or advice.

1.15 Amongst these broader policy developments there have been more recent moves amongst Scottish policymakers to consider issues specifically around teenage pregnancy and parenthood. In 2013, the Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee undertook an inquiry into teenage pregnancy. The inquiry sought to examine ongoing work directed at reducing unplanned teenage pregnancy and explore what additional support could be offered to young people at risk of pregnancy or who have a child very young. Amongst other things, the Committee's report (Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee, 2013) recommended that the Scottish Government develop a new national strategy for tackling teenage pregnancy. In their response to the report (Scottish Government, 2013), the Scottish Government have committed to doing so, building on the National Parenting Strategy published in 2012. The teenage pregnancy and young parents strategy is expected to be published in Spring 2015.

Parenting support programmes

1.16 Over the last decade, the Scottish Government and local authorities have supported the introduction of a range of interventions focused on improving parenting capacity through the delivery of parenting support and education. Recent initiatives providing targeted support directed at young, first-time mothers include the Family Nurse Partnership and You First:

  • The You First initiative was developed by Barnardo's and funded by the Scottish Government (Black et al, 2012). It provides training, peer support, experiential learning and connects young parents with local universal and specialist services. The initiative is targeted at vulnerable parents aged 21 and under, with a child under the age of one, who live in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland. Originally piloted in three areas, the programme was expanded to cover a further eight areas in 2012. The Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) programme is aimed at first-time teenage parents and is delivered from early pregnancy until the child reaches 2. The programme is provided in a number of health board areas across Scotland, starting in Lothian[12] and Tayside and extending to Fife, Glasgow, Highland and Ayrshire and Arran. It is a preventative programme offered to all pregnant teenagers within the pilot areas andis delivered by highly-trained nurses through a one-to-one home visiting service. It begins in early pregnancy and is orientated to the future health and well-being of the child and is intensive enough to make a difference. It is intended to fill a gap in the continuum of the progressive universal Health for all Children (HALL 4) programme.The National Parent Strategy announced that FNP will be extended to five NHS boards by the end of 2013 and that the Scottish government is committed to further areas for extension of the scheme.
  • In 2013, the Scottish Government began work with NHS Lothian to develop a teenage pregnancy pathway.

1.17 Examples of other targeted initiatives at a local level include the teenage parents project developed in response to the identification of specific issues facing young parents in the Levenmouth area of Fife (Reid Howie Associates, 2010). Funded by a grant from the Fairer Scotland Fund, this project was delivered through the Health and Well Being Alliance. It provided one to one and group support to teenage parents and pregnant teenagers aged 16-19. The Transforming Lives Young Lone Parents Project in North Lanarkshire tailored a programme of support to young pregnant teenagers and young parents aged between 13 - 21 years. It was funded by the STV Appeal and Scottish Government.

Changes to the welfare system

1.18 The development of improved support for mothers under 20 has occurred, and continues to occur, alongside significant changes to the UK welfare system. In 2007, the DWP Green Paper In Work, Better Off (DWP, 2007) put forward a range of proposals which were designed "to raise the employment rate to 80%, to reduce the numbers of working age people who are dependent on benefit and continue to close the employment gaps between different groups". Many of the welfare changes have the potential to affect mothers under 20, particularly because they are more likely than older mothers to be, and remain, lone parents.

1.19 Lone Parent Obligations, for example, were introduced in November 2008. At that time, most lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over lost entitlement to Income Support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. The age of the youngest child was lowered to ten in October 2009 and to seven from October 2010. In 2012, the Welfare Reform Bill 2011 changed the eligible age of the oldest child to five.

1.20 On becoming ineligible for Income Support, many lone parents become eligible for and thus move onto Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). Continued receipt of JSA, for all recipients not just lone parents, is subject to a number of conditions including that recipients are willing and able to take up work; are actively seeking work and able to demonstrate doing so, and attend regular jobsearch reviews (sign on). JSA can be removed as a 'sanction' whenever any of these conditions, and various others - including losing a job for misconduct or leaving without 'just cause' - are breached.

1.21 The Welfare Reform Bill 2011 also sets out plans to reform the welfare system by introducing a Universal Credit, expected to be introduced from October 2013. Universal Credit will provide a new system of means-tested support for working-age people who are in or out of work. Support for housing costs, children and childcare costs will be integrated in the new benefit.

1.22 The changes which have already taken place and those which are anticipated when Universal Credit is introduced, have raised a number of concerns in relation to young, single parents - relevant, in particular to mothers under 20. A range of research has already been undertaken to explore these concerns and examine the impact of these changes on lone parent families (Gingerbread, 2012; Haux et al, 2012; McHardy, 2013; Colman and Riley, 2012). This research has highlighted a significant number of issues and challenges experienced by lone parents as they have attempted to make the transition from income support to JSA and/or into employment. Of particular significance amongst these have been issues related to a lack of suitably flexible employment opportunities and corresponding affordable and available childcare.

Methods and data

1.23 The report presents findings from cross-sectional analyses of data on first-time mothers from the Growing Up in Scotland study. It utilises data from each of the two birth cohorts involved in the study and, for the older cohort, from multiple sweeps of data collection (i.e. when the child is of different ages). In all analyses, the experiences and outcomes for mothers aged under 20 are compared with those of older first-time mothers. For this purpose, the older group was separated into two sub-groups: those aged between 20 and 24, and those aged 25 or older. Data is compared across all three age groups. The mother's age always refers to that at the time of the child's birth.

1.24 The first set of analyses uses data from sweep one of the second birth cohort (BC2) collected in 2011. Children in this cohort were born in 2010/11. This analysis therefore represents a 'current' picture of the circumstances, experiences and behaviours of Scottish mothers aged under 20 when their child is aged 10 months old. Furthermore, as noted earlier, the population of mothers included in this cohort reflects the direct, national peer group of those mothers involved in the FNP pilot programmes in Lothian and Tayside.

1.25 Currently, the cut-off for support delivered via the FNP programme is when the child reaches two years of age. Thus the focus of the second set of analyses was to explore the pathways of first-time teenage parents from that point onwards. These analyses used data from the first birth cohort in GUS (BC1). Children in BC1 were born in 2004/05 and data was collected annually from 2005 to 2011, as the children aged from 10 months and to six years. Data from multiple age points is therefore used to explore how the circumstances, characteristics and experiences of first-time mothers aged under 20 change over time, in comparison to older mothers. More specifically, the analysis examined how circumstances when their child is aged two compare with those when their child is older - at age 3, 4, 5 or 6 - for mothers in different age groups.

1.26 To undertake this second set of analyses, a set of key variables of interest was identified, all of which were available in the age 2 dataset and at least one, but often more, of the later datasets. Results for those mothers who were teenagers at the time of the child's birth, for whom the child was their first born, and who have data at each time point (n varies from 221 to 134) were compared with those of older mothers (based on the definition noted earlier: those aged between 20 and 24, and those aged 25 or older) at each 'sweep' or time point - corresponding with the child's age. Change over time for mothers in each age group was identified. For example, the analysis shows that when the child was aged two years old (using data from sweep two)[13], 64% of mothers aged under 20 were living as lone parents. By the time the child was aged six, this had decreased to 45% - a change of 19 percentage points. In comparison, 7% of older mothers (aged 25 or older) were living as lone parents when their child was aged 2, increasing very slightly to 10% at age 6.

1.27 Any findings which refer to the child at 10 months are taken from sweep 1 of BC2 - data collected in 2011. Findings which refer to the child at older ages (ages two to six years) are taken from sweeps two to six of BC1 - data collected between 2006 and 2012. Thus the 'trend by child's age' data refers to a different population of mothers than the 'current circumstances' data.

Presentation of results

1.28 All figures quoted in this report have an associated margin of error, due to the fact that they are estimates based on only a sample of children, rather than all children. This margin can be estimated for each figure. For a figure which has a significance value (or p-value) of < .05 or 95%, this indicates that there is a 95% chance that the true value across all children in the population subgroup (as opposed to just those in the sample) falls within the margin. Unless otherwise stated, only statistically significant differences (between subgroups) are commented on in the text. This is true at the 95% confidence limit.

1.29 All tables and graphs have a descriptive and numerical base showing the population or population sub-group examined in it. While all results have been calculated using weighted data (to compensate for differential non-response and sample drop-out across the subgroups included in GUS), the bases shown provide the unweighted counts. It should therefore be noted that the results and bases presented cannot be used to calculate how many respondents gave a certain answer.

1.30 Tables were created in SPSS v18 using the Complex Samples module. This module generates robust standard errors that take sample design features, such as clustering, into account. The commands identify the sample clusters; the between- and within-cluster variances are then used to generate robust standard errors.


Email: Liz Levy

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