New Scottish government statistics have shown that rising costs of childcare and an increasing reliance on support from grandparents are threatening to undermine improvements in child health and development north of the border. Richard Hook investigates.
The Growing Up in Scotland survey (GUS) tracked the health outcomes of 6,000 children born between 1 March 2010 and 28 February 2011, and produced a number of interesting findings across family demographics, pregnancy & birth, infant feeding, parental support, childcare, and child health & development.
Child Poverty Action Group Scotland believe that while there were clear positives with 25% more family-friendly employers, 91% satisfaction with health visitor services and 2,500 fewer children suffering accidents, a fall in the average income of families combined with rising childcare costs is "threatening to undermine the best efforts of parents and Scottish ministers".
Chair John Dickie said: "The evidence is clear from GUS that disadvantaged families already face greater challenges than ever.
"Children in families with low household incomes are more likely to suffer low birthweight and the increased health risks that come with it. They are less likely to be described as having good health.
"The pressures of parenting in disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to leave parents with negative feelings and create barriers to key developmental activities, such as visiting other families.
"Politicians, policy-makers and service providers must ensure that children are prioritised in every budget decision that they make and that services reach out more effectively to the parents who need support the most."
There was a significant increase in the number of families on annual incomes of less than £10,833 compared with five years ago (up from one in five to more than one in four families) and a 40 per cent increase in reliance on grandparents to help out financially.
At the same time, the cost of childcare has increased by approximately £624 per year and CPAG forecasts suggest that at least 65,000 more children will be pushed into poverty in Scotland by 2020.
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Other key findings in the report included a significant reduction in the number of women breastfeeding to six weeks, and an increasing number of Scottish women smoking and feeling unwell during pregnancy.
With less than half of women breastfeeding to the Royal College of Midwives advised term, the RCM's director for Scotland said the report made "very interesting reading".
Gillian Smith added: "It shows there is still a lot to do, for midwives and other health professionals, to improve the health of pregnant women and their babies, in areas such as breastfeeding and smoking in pregnancy.
"Midwives can have a great influence in improving the long-term health and lifestyle of women beyond pregnancy. Healthier pregnant mothers also produce healthier babies that grow to be healthier adults with fewer health problems as they age."
While there was a 2% rise among those who smoked during pregnancy this was counterbalanced against a 6% fall in those who drink during pregnancy.
Reacting to the survey results, Scotland's Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell said: "There are a number of positive results from this study, that [alcohol finding] being one of them. 80% of women not drinking at all during pregnancy is good news because we know of the negative health consequences. It shows us there is progression in that area.
"It's good to know that people are heeding advice, that polices are working in this area, because of the damage that can be done during pregnancy."
Indeed, the vast majority of parents (91%) reported being satisfied with the service provided by their health visitor during the first few months following the birth of their child. The quality of advice also continued as 77% of parents stated that they were either very or quite satisfied with the information available to them about parenting and 72% said they were either very satisfied or quite satisfied with the services available to support them in their role as a parent.
The report was commissioned by the Scottish government and carried out by ScotCen Social Research.
Lead author and senior research director at ScotCen Paul Bradshaw concluded: "There is clear evidence in this report that parents are listening to healthcare advice coming from the Scottish government.
"Mothers are increasingly likely to completely cut out alcohol during pregnancy and to follow guidelines on the introduction of solid food to young children. There are also signs that employers are more open to family friendly policies, such as flexible working.
"While progress has been made in some areas, in others there is still some way to go. The findings suggest that there has been little change in breastfeeding rates.
"There also remain significant inequalities in health behaviours and access to information in relation to pregnancy and birth, and in child health outcomes such as birth weight and general health at 10 months."
Read the full report at www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0041/00414641.pdf