Scotland: where we tolerate babies, not love them


Alan Sinclair explains why Scotland is trailing behind much of Europe in child wellbeing

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10th April 2018 by TFN Guest 3 Comments

Why does Scotland lie in a lowly 16th place in the UNICEF league table of the best countries for child wellbeing, behind the likes of Ireland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal? 

Scotland is a nation where a combination of generations of poor parenting, lack of support for new mothers and misdirected health and educational spending has spawned a vicious circle of unhappy, stressed people having unhappy, stressed babies.

The consequences are around us all to witness today: children failing from the first day of primary school and growing up into troublesome teenagers; unemployable adults and poor parents; unprepared teenagers having babies; struggling, lone mothers and absent fathers; understaffed maternity wards pushing new mothers and babies out after minimal care; lack of follow-up by care services into their wellbeing; stressed parents attempting to placate rowdy children with toys instead of quality time.

Alan Sinclair

Alan Sinclair

Across Scotland today one child in four is assessed as vulnerable when they arrive at primary school. Vulnerable means they lack confidence, social skills, emotional maturity, language capability and good physical health. They have poor wellbeing. Many have experienced serious trauma in the form of abuse (sexual, drugs, alcohol), violence and neglect. There are 15,400 Scots children currently in the care of social services.

Across Scotland in 2017,  £310 million was spent on 1,600 young people in residential care. In Glasgow, 93 children were placed in specialist residential care at an average cost of £228,000 a year. Most of these young people have complex needs and have lead traumatised lives. What does that say about us as a society and as adults?

The latest medical and scientific research into the lifelong consequences of poor parenting on the development of babies’ brains points  to the fact that damage begins in the womb, where the foetus suffers trauma through experiencing external influences ranging from the mother’s drugs and alcohol use to beatings from violent men. This damage is exacerbated once born if the baby suffers a lack of the loving care that mothers across most species devote to their young.

The result is generations of young Scots who are incapable of recognising love when they find it, and cannot give it when it is required. They are damaged beyond repair in their first 1,000 days of life, from conception to two years old, and society bears the huge cost of coping with their lifelong struggles.

I have visited the countries at the top of the Unicef league table, led by Holland and Finland, and contrasted what parents do, supportive national cultures, and the health and care system with Scotland’s efforts to deal with the consequences of inadequate parenting and poor parenting support.

We are many decades behind Europe’s best, and we need to recognise a new national priority: the need to put babies first so they have a better chance of a quality life.

We need to make long-term changes as parents and to our care, education, employment and medical systems to succeed in putting babies first. My research shows that the best returns from a society’s investment in its education and health systems come when they focus on the youngest citizens during their first 1,000 days.

It could take 50 years to bring Scotland up to the wellbeing standards currently being achieved in the more child-focused nations at the top of that revealing UNICEF league. But there is no alternative.

Alan Sinclair is the former chief executive of the Wise Group. His book, titled Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies, is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series published by Carol Craig of the Glasgow-based Centre for Confidence and WellBeing.

10th April 2018 by may livingstone

i would liked to have been able to tweet this. is it possible for the twitter icon to be added to these pages in future?

12th April 2018 by Craig

I'm very glad to see this hugely important issue getting the attention that it deserves. However, as someone who is trying to deal with the consequences of a traumatic start in life, I find it very disheartening and depressing to read that people in my position are 'damaged beyond repair' and that these are 'lifelong struggles'. I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

13th April 2018 by Cath Cunningham

It is not enough to provide increased day care/nursery places for young children. Increased Resources need to be allocated to family and parenting support. Surely we need to be creating communities of people who can share their parenting knowledge skills and experience and support one another? This kind of developmental approach costs but can lead to change that is sustained.Throwing cash at childcare if other supports are not funded proportionally Will not ensure that our children flourish.