Publication - Research and analysis


Published: 6 Oct 2015

This report uses data from the Growing Up in Scotland Study to compare the circumstances and experiences of children aged 3 in Scotland in 2007/08 with those at the same age in 2013.It looks at child health and development and parental health as well as other aspects that could be compared including television viewing. The report considers how these vary by socio-economic characteristics: household income; area deprivation; maternal age and parental level of education.

104 page PDF

1.3 MB

104 page PDF

1.3 MB

Chapter 1 Introduction

104 page PDF

1.3 MB

Chapter 1 Introduction

This report uses data from the Growing Up in Scotland study to compare the circumstances and experiences of children aged 3 in Scotland in 2007/08 with those at the same age in 2013. This type of comparison provides an opportunity to examine whether and how these circumstances and experiences have changed for children and families in Scotland over time and this data is presented for the first time. Furthermore, the report explores whether the level and nature of change varied amongst children and families with different characteristics. For example, was change more or less likely for children in lower income households or living in areas of high deprivation and how did that change differ from children in higher income households or living in areas of lower deprivation? Such comparisons allow consideration of whether there has been any progress in reducing inequalities in experiences and outcomes for young children in Scotland and whether Scottish Government policies may have influenced change (relevant policy developments are discussed later on in this chapter).

The data presented here from BC2 at age 3 is new data and has not been reported on previously. Whilst some of the BC1 age 3 data has been published previously, this is the first time that the data has been looked at systematically, by different socio-economic groups and seen in comparison with outcomes amongst BC2 children.

In particular, the data on developmental milestones, child television viewing, parental support and some aspects of parental health at age 3 using BC1 is published here for the first time.

1.1 About the Growing up in Scotland study

Commissioned by the Scottish Government Children and Families Analysis Division and managed by ScotCen Social Research, Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) is a large-scale longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of several cohorts of Scottish children from the early years, through childhood and beyond. Underpinned by a wide- ranging purpose, the principal aim of the study is to provide information to support policy-making in Scotland, but it is also intended to be a broader resource that can be drawn on by practitioners, academics, voluntary sector organisations and other interested parties.

The study focused initially on a cohort of 5217 children aged 10 months (Birth Cohort 1 or 'BC1') born in 2004/05, and a cohort of 2859 children aged 34 months - almost 3 years old - born in 2002/03 (the Child Cohort or 'CC'). The first sweep of fieldwork with these cohorts began in April 2005 and annual data collection continued with both cohorts until BC1 children turned 6 years old. In 2011, a new birth cohort was recruited to the study consisting of 6127 children aged 10 months, born in 2010/11 (Birth Cohort 2 or 'BC2'). At this point the study stopped tracking the CC and the frequency of interviews with BC1 dropped to biennial. Parents in BC2 were then interviewed during 2013 when the child was nearly 3 years old.[1]

Data is collected via a face-to-face interview carried out in participants' homes by specially-trained social survey interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). The interviewers read questions from, and enter responses directly into, a laptop computer. From the second sweep onwards, interviewers seek to contact the participant from the previous sweep. The participant is the child's main carer. In virtually all cases, this is the child's natural mother. Consequently, the terms 'parent', 'participant' and 'mother' are virtually synonymous in the analysis that follows.

1.2 The data in this report

A key feature of the study's multiple cohort design is that it permits comparison of results from different cohorts when the children were at the same age. This report draws on information collected from families when the cohort child was approaching his/her third birthday. For BC1, this was during 2007/2008 and for BC2 it was during 2013. In so doing, the report provides a comparison across a range of circumstances and experiences for 3-year-olds in Scotland and their families between the two time points.

GUS has been designed specifically to allow this sort of 'cross-sectional time-series' comparison on selected measures. The cohorts are suitable for comparison because:

  • The same sampling approach was used to select eligible families
  • The interview was carried out when children were the same age
  • The data was collected using the same method (face-to-face CAPI interview)
  • Parents were asked the same questions[2]

The cohorts are both comprised of nationally representative samples of children living in Scotland at age 10 months (their age at the first sweep of data collection) and who were born over a specific time period.[3] For BC1, all children were born between June 2004 and May 2005. For BC2, all children were born between March 2010 and February 2011. For simplicity, comparisons in the report refer to BC1 and BC2. However, the results for BC1 should be understood to represent all children living in Scotland aged 3 in 2007/2008 and BC2 as all children living in Scotland aged 3 in 2013.

As such, any statistically significant differences noted in the report should be taken to reflect actual differences in the circumstances and experiences of 3-year-olds and their families. They have not occurred because of differences in the research design for the two cohorts.

Some families who initially took part in GUS did not do so for all of the subsequent sweeps. There are a number of reasons why respondents drop out from longitudinal surveys and such attrition is not random. All of the statistics have been weighted by a specially constructed longitudinal weight to adjust for non-response and sample selection.
Both weighted and unweighted sample sizes are given in each table. Standard errors have been adjusted to take account of the cluster sampling.

1.3 Structure of report

Exploring whether and how the circumstances and experiences of 3-year-olds and their families have changed presents an opportunity to consider how Scottish Government policies or other factors may have influenced this change (relevant policy developments are discussed later on in this chapter). However, no detailed policy evaluation is undertaken in this report.

The results are ordered by topic area. These topics have been chosen partly because there is comparable data for both cohorts and because the Scottish Government have identified them as particular areas of interest.

Differences on all measures within a topic area have been examined by cohort and, within each cohort, by four indicators of socio-economic status:

  • Equivalised household income;
  • Maternal age at the birth of the cohort child;
  • Parental level of education;
  • Area deprivation (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, SIMD)

Some measures, in particular those on child development, also consider differences between boys and girls.

These socio-economic indicators have been chosen because previous research using GUS data has shown that they play an important role in shaping outcomes for children and families. One of the National Outcomes set out in the Scottish Government's Performance Framework is that significant inequalities in Scottish society are tackled.

Having helped to identify the nature of these inequalities in the early years of a child's life, GUS is an invaluable source of data not only on whether these inequalities persist as children grow older but also whether there has been any progress, across time, in narrowing the gap on experiences of and outcomes for children of the same age.

In addition, the Scottish Government is interested in exploring whether there has been any change specifically amongst key sub-groups of interest such as children with mothers aged under 20, children in the lowest income households and those living in the most deprived areas.

Therefore, a particular focus of the report is to look at the differences between children who live in different socio-economic circumstances and to assess whether any differences evident in outcomes in 2007 (amongst BC1 children) had changed by 2013 (amongst BC2 children).

1.4 Presentation of results

For each table, there is a description of what the table shows and whether or not any differences that are being examined are statistically significant. Where the data in the table indicates that there may be a change in the nature of the relationship between the two cohorts, this was further investigated through logistic regression analysis. Appendix B provides a short explanation of how to interpret the data in the tables.

The relationship between the outcome variable (e.g. health or cognitive ability) and the measure of socio-economic indicator was examined separately for each cohort. This allowed the identification any noteworthy differences in outcomes, within each cohort, between children in different groups. By then comparing the results for BC1 and BC2 we are able to assess if there has been any change in the nature of the relationship between the outcome variable and socio-economic indicator across the cohorts. For example, whether there had been a narrowing or widening of the differences between the different socio-economic groups.

The population or population sub-group being examined in each table is clearly described and the numerical base is also shown. While all results have been calculated using weighted data, 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. Due to rounding, it should also be noted that some column percentages may total slightly less or slightly more than 100%.

1.5 The policy landscape

Growing Up in Scotland is a research project developed primarily to support evidence-based policy, with a specific focus on supporting the development of policies and services for children and families. This section provides a brief overview of policy developments that occurred between the time that BC1 children were aged three in 2007/08 and the time BC2 children were the same age in 2013. The policy landscape provides an important backdrop for considering the circumstances and outcomes for 3-year-olds described in this report. It should be noted, however, that without further investigation it is not possible to attribute any of the changes in children's circumstances to changes in policy.

1.6 Improving outcomes in the early years

The most significant changes in the policy landscape likely to have affected outcomes across the two GUS birth cohorts are the Early Years Framework; Equally Well; and Achieving our Potential. These, taken together, form a coherent approach to addressing disadvantage in Scotland.

The Early Years Framework (EYF), published by the Scottish Government (2008a) in Autumn 2008, recognises the significance of a child's early years to their development and makes a commitment to shifting resources away from crisis intervention to prevention and early intervention at the Local Authority level. By January 2011 (two years into the 10 year timescale for the Framework) there was already evidence that services were being redesigned and resources redirected towards the early years (Scottish Government, 2011a). This focus on early intervention and prevention has more recently been followed up by the establishment of the Early Years Taskforce in November 2011, alongside the Early Years Change Fund in 2012/13, and the Early Years Collaborative[4] in October 2012. Although these more recent developments are expected to have tangible impacts on outcomes in the early years, they were introduced too late to have affected outcomes for BC2 children at age 3.

Equally Well (2008) is a report of the Scottish Government's Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities. Though its focus is not restricted to children it nevertheless highlights the early years as a priority area and recommends a number of actions be addressed at this critical stage in life (Scottish Government, 2008b). Equally Well defines child health inequalities in two ways: those related to negative outcomes (such as low birth weight); and those related to exposure to risk factors (such as poor diet, lack of physical exercise, and parental drug or alcohol misuse) that increase the likelihood of, or perpetuate, poor health outcomes. Reviews in both 2010 and 2013 point to the continuing relevance of the Equally Well principles (Scottish Government, 2013).

Achieving Our Potential (2008), the Scottish Government's framework to tackle poverty in Scotland, highlights the risks faced by children and young people who experience poverty. It also acknowledges 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 (Scottish Government, 2008c). These risks and their potential impact are reiterated in the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland which sets out the Scottish Government's approach to tackling child poverty via maximising household resources, improving children's life chances, addressing area-based disadvantage and working with local partners (Scottish Government, 2011b).

All of these overarching frameworks underline the importance of early intervention and prevention. This emphasis is also visible in initiatives aimed at supporting parents, and over the last decade the Scottish Government and local authorities have introduced a range of legislation, policies and interventions focused on improving parenting capacity through the delivery of parenting support and education (Hutton et al., 2008). The Scottish Government formalised its commitment to better assisting parents through the publication of the National Parenting Strategy in October 2012 which aims to make Scotland the best place in the world in which to grow up. However, even before then (by January 2011), most local authorities had developed formal parenting strategies, including the use of evidence-based parenting programmes (Scottish Government, 2011a).

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is a distinctively Scottish approach to improving outcomes for all children (Scottish Government, 2010). GIRFEC has been a national policy since the completion of the Highland GIRFEC Pathfinder in 2009, and the approach has been adopted to varying degrees by Community Planning Partnerships, independent schools and third sector providers. In 2014, key elements of the GIRFEC approach (wellbeing, Named Person and Child's Plan) were put into statute through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. Key aspects of the GIRFEC approach are the emphasis on taking a child-centred approach, an understanding of wellbeing based on the SHANARRI indicators (Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included), and an outcomes-focused approach to prevention and early intervention, with co-ordinated planning of service provision where required.

1.7 The early home learning environment

Between the time that BC1 and BC2 were aged 3, there has been an increased emphasis on promoting home learning - something which previous analyses of GUS has shown is important for children's vocabulary at age 3 (Bradshaw, 2011).

Play, Talk, Read is a Scottish Government campaign which aims to support and encourage parents to stimulate their children from an early age through playing, talking and reading with them on a daily basis. The campaign seeks to achieve this by highlighting the importance of playful interaction for boosting children's development. It provides parents and carers of children aged up to 3 years old, with free or low cost ideas on how to positively engage with their children. The campaign has been delivered through a combination of television, outdoor and online advertising as well as social media and the Play, Talk, Read website. There are also two Play, Talk Read buses that seek to bring the campaign to local communities across Scotland.

The Play, Talk, Read website was launched in Autumn 2009, re-vamped in early 2011 and again in 2014. It contains digital books, an online community and interactive videos. Parents can also register for an online community where they can share experiences with other parents. By the time the website was first launched, the children in BC1 were around 5 years old and therefore outside the target age range for the campaign. However, children in BC2, born in 2010/11 were therefore within the campaign's target age group of 0-3 years.

The Play Talk Read buses provide play areas for young children and their parents or carers, with play workers available to support and encourage activities. They started touring local authorities from 2011 and in 2012 the purpose of the buses expanded to focus on providing play facilities and actively supporting parents and children to play through face-to-face engagement. From April 2012 onwards, bus routes were planned to ensure coverage of areas with high levels of deprivation.

Bookbug is the Scottish Government's early years book gifting programme; a universal scheme run by the Scottish Book Trust. When launched in 2010, Bookbug consisted primarily of gifting book packs to babies, toddlers and ante-preschool children (age 3 years). Packs were distributed to all families in Scotland, typically through their health visitor or early years setting. In addition to this, free song and rhyme sessions are held, often at local libraries. Since 2010 the programme has expanded and a further book pack is now gifted to children when they start primary school and Bookbug now also involves outreach work targeted at children in disadvantaged circumstances.

The programme seeks to promote the importance of books and the benefits of early book sharing. An important aim of the programme is to encourage parents to share books with their child or children from an early age. In addition to laying the foundations of early literacy, Bookbug aims to improve attachment between young children and their parents or carers, as well as to increase children's emotional intelligence, communication and listening skills.

1.8 Early Years intervention programmes

In addition to the policies and initiatives set out above, a number of interventions aimed at improving children's outcomes were introduced after BC2 children were born. These are outlined below, mainly to illustrate that due to the timing and nature of the interventions, any impact on outcomes for BC2 children is likely to be very limited and would, at best, only be of relevance for a small minority of the children born in 2010.

In April 2013, there was a national roll-out of the universal 27-30 month health review. As part of the review, information is collected about a child's development (social, behavioural, communication, gross motor), the child's vision, hearing, height and weight, and any diagnoses or health issues. The review provides an opportunity to work with parents to assess children's wellbeing, provide age appropriate health promotion advice, build parenting capacity, identify needs for support, and facilitate early access to effective interventions.

Prior to the re-introduction of the universal 27-30 month review in April 2013, a review was completed at 2 years of age for children who required additional or intensive support. Families of children who did not require additional or intensive support were invited to contact a designated person in the primary care team if they had any concerns about the child. BC2 children born between October 2010 and February 2011 would have been eligible for the universal 27-30 month health review. Amongst BC1 children and BC2 children born between February and September 2010, however, the majority of children would not have received an offer of a health review around this age, although children who required additional or intensive support may have been offered a health review at age 2.

Another example of an intervention introduced to improve children's outcomes in their first years of life is the Family Nurse partnership (FNP) programme. FNP is offered to young, first time mothers. The women must be 19 or under at the start of the programme and enrolled on the programme by 28 weeks gestation. The programme offers intensive, structured home visiting, delivered by a specially trained nurse from early pregnancy until the child's second birthday. The programme aims to improve pregnancy outcomes, child health and development and parent's economic self-sufficiency. BC2 children born to a teenage mother may have benefitted from this intervention. However, due to a gradual roll-out of FNP across Scotland, only 24 parents in BC2 were supported by FNP.

1.9 Improving outcomes for parents

This report explores outcomes for main carers as well as for their 3-year-old children. In this regard it is worth mentioning that parental behaviours and outcomes may, of course, also be related to wider policies and initiatives. For example, patterns in maternal smoking, discussed in Chapter 8, are likely to have been driven by changes that have affected the wider population, including the ban on smoking in enclosed spaces which was introduced in 2006.


Email: Liz Levy