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The times, they are a-changing

Since Children in Scotland launched in 1993, we have worked hard to improve services and outcomes for children. But will life be very different for a baby born in Scotland today, compared to 20 years ago? Our policy team takes a look back

Over the last 20 years, probably the biggest change we have seen, and one that has affected everyone’s lives, is the advent and rapid development of electronic communication.

In 1993, computers were becoming fairly common in workplaces, but were just beginning to become an essential home accessory. Internet was not widely available, was expensive, and finding information was much more complicated than it is today. The children born twenty years ago have grown up with this technology, and have seen it transform learning and communication. They have seen computers become standard equipment in classrooms and become used to being able to communicate widely at all times, from all places. Of course this has brought risks as well as advantages - cyberbullying and sexting, for example, had not entered our vocabulary twenty years ago.

Like any other technological innovation, however, it has taken time for it to move from being affordable and accessible to only a few, to becoming the norm for everyone. Even now, those least likely to reap the educational and social benefits of this revolution are those children whose life chances are also compromised in other ways.

Here in Scotland, the other seismic shift has been in the way we are governed. Most of our laws that affect children and their families are now enacted in Edinburgh rather than in London, and most of the legislation that affects children today has been introduced following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. More time to discuss and agree laws affecting Scotland has resulted in a substantial body of new legislation impacting on children, such as the Additional Support for Learning legislation and the Children’s Hearings Act, aimed at improving the lives of Scotland’s children and helping those needing extra support.

We have also seen great changes in the way services are provided. Public bodies like local councils and NHS Boards now commission more services, and provide fewer directly. The range and diversity of providers has hugely expanded, but there are also many more services for who finding continued funding is an ongoing challenge. This can make it much harder for families to find, and be able to rely on, the right kind of support.

The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. Are children’s chances in life much better now than they were twenty years ago? Using the SHANARRI wellbeing indicators of Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included, we find the picture to be quite mixed.


  • Children are far less likely to be killed or seriously injured as a result of road accidents – annual figures are now less than half what they were in the early 1990s.
  • Though numbers of children on child protection registers dropped steadily throughout the 1990s, they then began to rise again. The latest figure (2,706) has now surpassed the 1993 figure (2,666).
  • We still do not have reliable data on how many children’s lives are blighted by domestic violence, but research would suggest that there are tens of thousands; twenty years ago we assumed it was far less prevalent and we did not have the range of protective and supportive measures in place that we have today.


  • In 1993 all young children had regular contact with a health visitor who monitored their wellbeing in the first years of life and helped families access services they would find helpful and supportive. Developmental checks were carried out at 8, 24 and 39 months whereas now, only a minority of families will have health visitor contact after the first few months of life. This has meant that some children have missed out on early support, as difficulties or developmental problems have not been recognised until later. It should be noted there is an intention to reintroduce a check at 27 months, and it is proposed that all children will have a ‘named person’ who has a legal responsibility for overseeing their wellbeing.
  • Life expectancy for a baby born in 2013 is about four years more than for one born in 1993.


  • Educational attainment has risen for all children, but the gap between better off and poorer children has remained virtually the same.
  • Unemployment among 16 – 24 year olds fell significantly during the 1990s, but increases in recent years has resulted in a higher level of unemployment in this age group now than 20 years ago.
  • Though some local authorities provided pre-school education places in the early 1990s, there was no entitlement to provision till 2000. Currently the Scottish Parliament proposes to increase this entitlement to 600 hours a year for each child.


  • In 1993 the body of research relating parenting approaches to outcomes for children was much less extensive. Their importance has now been highlighted in government policy with Scotland’s National Parenting Strategy being published in 2012. A substantial and diverse range of parenting supports have been developed but it is still true that outcomes are far worse for children in poor families and deprived communities.
  • Registration and inspection of childcare services had been recently introduced in 1993 and 20 years on this provision has been greatly expanded. We do not know, however, to what extent outcomes for children have improved.
  • For parents who wished to work, childcare was in scarce supply in 1993, as well as being very expensive. Since then, various initiatives have greatly expanded provision, but costs remain high.
  • Breastfeeding figures show a slow upward trend over the past twenty years.


  • We know much more about children’s activity levels, but data shows that children are less active, spend more time in front of a screen, eat more unhealthy foods and are more likely to be overweight than they were twenty years ago.
  • Reductions in local authority funding has meant that there are fewer local opportunities for many children to participate in sports clubs and groups.


  • Though the UK endorsed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990, awareness of the Convention and understanding of how to implement it is much greater than was the case in 1993.
  • The post of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People was set up in 2004. This has led to many important issues affecting children’s rights to be raised and addressed.
  • The provisions of the Children and Young People Bill, currently before the Scottish Parliament, will require Ministers to take children’s rights into account in making decisions.


  • There are many more opportunities for children to participate in civil society and public life than in 1993. It is, however, difficult to measure the impact of this activity.
  • In 1999 the New Community Schools initiative was aimed at developing schools as a community and family resource and improving integration of services for children. This has informed a continuing direction of travel towards better integrated services that are more responsive to           community needs.


  • Child poverty affects far fewer children than in 1993. Figures suggest that there has been a drop from 29% of children living in poverty to 21%.
  • The longitudinal study Growing Up in Scotland has shown conclusively that those children at bottom of the socio-economic spectrum have failed to benefit proportionately from many of the positive policies and strategies to bridge inequality divide.

This feature was first published in Children in Scotland magazine, Issue 150 (Winter 2013/14)

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