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News: Scotland’s Baby Box refreshed for five-year anniversary

Posted 1 July, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

Scotland’s Baby Box has been updated to include new clothing designs and a baby toothbrush to support early oral health as it approaches its five year milestone.

The Baby Box provides families with a range of essential items for the first six months of their baby’s life. They are delivered in a sturdy box which can be used as a safe sleeping space during those early months. The contents of the box are designed to inform and support positive parenting behaviours.

Since the launch in August 2017, approximately 222,450 boxes have been delivered to families across Scotland with an engagement rate of around 98%.

Whilst on a visit to APS (Group) Scotland, where the boxes are packed and distributed, Scottish Government Children’s Minister, Claire Haughey, said:

“As every parent knows, the costs associated with having a baby are significant. Household budgets are under increasing pressure from the rising cost of living, so it is reassuring to know that all families in Scotland, regardless of their circumstances, have access to essential items needed for the first six months of their newborn’s life.

“Uptake for the Baby Box has grown to about 98% since it was introduced in 2017. As we head towards the fifth anniversary, I am proud that the Baby Box continues to support newborns and their families.”

An independent evaluation of the Scottish Baby Box scheme, published in 2021, found 97% of the parents who took part in the research rated the box and its contents good. Parents were also positive in their assessment of how the box had benefited their family, both financially and in terms of wider benefits such as informing them about, or reinforcing, key child health and development messages.

The same review found the majority (88%) of health visitors, midwives and family nurses felt clear on the aims of the Baby Box Scheme although revealed a potential gap in training and understanding across a range of health professionals.

The Baby Box is available to every new parent in Scotland and can be applied for via midwives.

Click here to find out more about Scotland's Baby Box

Click here to access the Baby Box evaluation, conducted by Ipsos MORI Scotland

A photo of children and adults in a playgroup. They are sitting down on the floor and on chairs, talking to one another. There are toys and play things on the ground.

News: Report highlights success of family support programme

Posted 24 May, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond. Image provided by Scottish Government.

The Family Nurse Partnership programme has been recognised by the Scottish Government for its success in helping more than 10,000 young mothers and their children.

The pioneering programme supports young, first-time mothers to prepare for motherhood and throughout the first two years of their child’s life.

First launched as a pilot programme in NHS Lothian, the programme has supported thousands of young women in their first steps into parenthood.

An analysis report published by the Scottish Government shows positive results for mothers and babies in areas such as increased breastfeeding rates and uptake of childhood immunisations.

Val Alexander is the Service Manager of the Family Nurse Partnership and has been with the programme since it began. She said:

“We are so proud of the Family Nurse Partnership and everything our clients have achieved.

“FNP was fist delivered in NHS Lothian and to see it extended across Scotland to reach thousands more families is something very special for us all.

“This 10-year analysis of the delivery of the service across Scotland will help us see how far we have come and map out our goals and ambitions for the future of the programme and young families.”

Committed to improving lives

The report, published earlier this month, acknowledges the significant and complex challenges faced by parents who enter the programme, with neglect, mental health issues, homelessness and poverty found to be more prevalent in the FNP group than in the general population.

Despite these challenges, those who engaged with the Family Nurse Partnership programme were found to show a “determination to improve their lives and the lives of their children” through their voluntary participation in FNP as a long-term intervention.

The majority (80%) of clients complete the programme and graduate, making a commitment to have regular home visits from a Family Nurse for the next 2.5 years.

Expanding delivery and qualifying criteria

Earlier this year the Scottish Government committed to extending the successful programme to all first-time mothers aged 21 and under by the end of 2024. They also have hopes to extend the qualifying criteria to those under the age of 35 who are care experienced or from the most deprived communities.  The expansion programme is expected to mean support for an additional 500 families by 2025.

Click here to read the Family Nurse Partnership: 10 year analysis


A black and white image of a man from the shoulders up. He has white hair and is wearing dark glasses.

Comment: More agency must be given to children with experience of parental separation

Posted 5 April 2022, by Jennifer Drummond

Ian Maxwell (pictured) highlights the findings of new research into the reflections of young people who experienced the break-up of their parents’ relationship during childhood, and why we need to listen to what they have to say.

The Voice of the Child began as a call to give agency to children whose life is affected by a range of adverse experiences, including separation or divorce of their parents. I know no-one who doubts the importance of hearing and acknowledging what children may be trying to communicate. But we have to be careful. Any concise phrase intended to capture an important insight, over time, risks becoming just a slogan – an oversimplification that risks closing down the very debate it opened up.

Last year, Jamie Wark, a psychology undergraduate at the University of Glasgow did work with us, funded by the Robertson Trust, to obtain the views of young people whose parents had separated during their childhood.

When parents separate and can’t agree on arrangements to share the responsibilities, as well as the rights, of parenthood their children may feel their choices are limited. The certainties they have known disintegrate around them. Jamie conducted a survey amongst fellow students and other young people about their experience of family separation and their subsequent involvement with their parents when they were growing up. This was followed with interviews and focus groups.

His findings have now been published in our report “Sharing My Parents” (click to read).

The project breaks new ground in Scotland by asking young people directly about the effect of parental separation on their own life. It gives agency to a perspective missing from the previous debates in Scotland – young people whose experience is recent but who no longer feel constrained in what they can say.

The young people whose parents had separated reported that they had spent most of their time with their mothers (83%). Most indicated that they would have liked to have spent more time with their fathers.

"I would have liked to have visited my dad more but I was often a bit worried that it would upset my mum as my dad left my mum for someone else" revealed the loyalty conflict faced by one respondent.

A focus group participant actively looked for support during her parents' break-up. She felt unable to speak to her parents because of their emotional involvement in the situation but was left disappointed by her experience seeking support externally. She commented: "I went to a school counsellor, and I hated it and never went back”.

Another interviewee said that she couldn’t talk to even her sister about the separation until they were both adults and had left the family home. Only then did they realise that they had both been experiencing the same struggles.

Given that at least 30% of Scottish children will experience family separation, a lack of adult insight into its impact is of great concern.

Research shows that frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict is harmful to children with potential life-long consequences.

It will help legislators, professionals and, most importantly, separated parents themselves, if they take time to listen to what these young people say, putting aside their own emotional needs or political priorities.

We have long argued that in our adversorial system, parents are pushed into decisions about arrangements for sharing (or not sharing) meaningful time with their children at the point of break-up when they are least able to apply the perspective that puts their children’s long-term interests first. The same applies to children who are asked for their views in the midst of conflict.

There are some things happening already to support parents. Local services within Relationships Scotland run very useful Parenting Apart training sessions (click to view), helping parents to appreciate how they and their children can move forward positively.

In addition, Shared Parenting Scotland has brought New Ways for Families online training and coaching to Scotland (click to view).  Developed in the USA by the High Conflict Institute, we have adapted this training programme for parents to also support children and young people.

Recent Scottish legislation such as the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 and the move to incorporate the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law putting increasing emphasis on the need to take children’s views into account when important decisions are made about their lives, including family separation.

Listening to the voice of the child is an important step forward in Scottish policy and practice but, as Jamie’s ground-breaking work shows, there are often many nuances that must be acknowledged, especially when it comes to family life. We must really listen to the voice of children and be careful not to oversimplify their experiences, which may be just as damaging as the previous deafness to it.

Ian Maxwell, National Manager, Shared Parenting Scotland

Click here to find out more about the Sharing my Parents research, by Jamie Wark for Shared Parenting Scotland

“When a child moves from primary to secondary, there is a drastic upping of stakes in social comparison”

14 December 2018

For our 25 Calls campaign we interviewed Professor Richard Wilkinson, co-author of the groundbreaking book The Spirit Level and its 2018 follow-up The Inner Level. In part four of an extensive interview, he discusses how intersecting identities of gender, race and more are affected by increased inequality, and why family environment shapes our perceptions of the world

Children in Scotland: What do you think about intersectionality and discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, age, sexuality, how that might figure in producing poorer wellbeing in children and young people?

Richard Wilkinson: They’re spin-offs of the same issues. Given that there is this huge differential in how much people are valued, no one wants to belong to a group who are seen as inferior whether that is a matter of class, ethnicity or gender. If you’re black you mind all the discrimination against ethnic minorities very much. And if you’re gay or female similarly. These aren’t separate issues. I often say that when anything becomes a marker of low social status it then attracts what are basically the same forms of discrimination, so whether it’s lower class accents, or whether it’s skin colour, or religious affiliation, or in some societies the language group, when any of those become markers of inferiority or low social status, they attract the same sort of stigma and discrimination. And the way we must get rid of them is making sure that there isn’t this huge differential in how people are valued.

Being at the bottom of the social ladder would not of course feel much better if you knew that equal numbers of men, women, black, and white, and so on were at the bottom of the social ladder. We have to make sure the differences are smaller and the social ladder is not so steep.

CiS: You describe in The Inner Level how inequality penetrates family life from the earliest age. Could you say a bit more about how that comes about and how we might be able to prevent it?

RW: The quality of social relationships in the family, from very early on, shape the development of children. People have always talked about the quality of family life as being crucial – indeed more important than whether you have one parent or two parents is the quality of your relationships with whoever your carer or carers are. And, again, I think we need to see this in terms of evolutionary psychology. I’m sorry to keep repeating this, but people’s social environment, their subjective experience, can influence gene expression meaning not that it changes your genetic make-up but that it switches genes on and off so you develop differently according to your social experience. The point of those mechanisms, why we have them and why they exist in animals and even plants, is to allow the young to adapt to the kind of world they’re growing up in.

So a plant which experiences drought early on becomes better able to deal with drought when fully grown. In human beings it’s a matter of: what kind of social relationships are we going to have to deal with? Am I going to have to fight for what I can get? Learn not to trust others because we’re rivals? Or am I in a world where I depend on trust, on reciprocity, on cooperation? Although family life is no longer a good indication of what the world out there in wider society is like, early social experiences still affects our emotional and cognitive development in a way that would have made perfect sense if you were part of a hunting and gathering band, where you interacted with lots of adults and you should learn whether everyone is cooperative and helpful or whether there’s a lot of conflict.

The strong tendency to much higher rates of bullying in more unequal societies is perhaps because children are almost programmed into hierarchical relationships. I don’t think we’re in a position to make a clear distinction between how much comes from family life and how much comes from school experience, but it is clear that when children move from primary school to secondary school and into their teenage years, suddenly finding themselves in this enormous social environment with a thousand or more other kids, it’s an incredibly difficult process. It drastically ups the stakes on social comparisons and puts you in a framework where you feel vulnerable to being judged all the time rather than being amongst a small group of people who know you well and have bonds with. And the experience of bullying can leave life-long scars. It affects how people see themselves and feel others see them; it makes social interaction much more fraught.

CiS: In terms of a family that might be struggling, exposed to violence, or dealing with poverty, do you think we’re any further forward in policy terms in early intervention? In Scotland, it could be argued, it’s talked about, paid lip service to, but there’s little sign of a substantive policy and legislative shift around it.

RW: I think the Labour government was making some progress in reducing child poverty and providing some preschool support but some of that’s been undone, and of course child poverty is forecast to rise. It’s very damaging. Not only in the way I’ve described, but also because there is a sense in which part of the function of parenting is to pass on the experience of life, so if you as a parent have experienced a lot of adversity and felt you had to fight for what you can get, then you probably feel you need to toughen your children up to prepare them for that same experience. I sometimes refer to a court case where women were on trial because they’d been making their toddlers fight. On trial they apparently showed no remorse, but said it was important to toughen [the children] up. If that’s your experience of the social world then you can’t let your children grow up too soft. And yet, if they find themselves in a different world they may not be good at being cooperative and trusting, which would have looked soft in another world. So, it’s not a matter of whether we should all be either more cooperative or harder, in about adjusting to the reality of the society you’re in. Why I focus on inequalities, is because I think it makes a fundamental difference to the social reality – the quality of social relationships – in the wider society.

Click here to read part one of the interview

Click here to read part two of the interview

Click here to read part three of the interview

Richard Wilkinson is Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, Honorary Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London and Visiting Professor at University of York. He co-founded The Equality Trust with Kate Pickett.

The Inner Level is published by Penguin.

Interview by Chris Small. Edited by Morgaine Das Varma.

About the interviewee

Co-author of 'The Spirit Level', Richard Wilkinson is a world renowned expert on inequality

Click here to find out more

Read part 3 of the interview

“There is so much more bullying in schools in more unequal societies. But why?”

Click to read the Q&A

Read part 2 of the interview

“Inequality makes us more antisocial so we use social media more antisocially than in an egalitarian society”

Click to read the Q&A

Read part 1 of the interview

“How do we challenge inequality? We need to build a mass movement”

Click to read the Q&A

What can you do about child poverty?

Professor Wilkinson contributed context and analysis to Call 2, on tackling child poverty

Click to read the call

25 Calls to improve children's lives

We spoke to Professor Wilkinson as part of our 25 Calls campaign

Click to find out more