Inequality gap in children’s development revealed in study

Children from Scotland’s most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to have concerns raised about their development, official figures have indicated.

According to analysis published by ISD Scotland of its 27-30 month health review, 22% of children from the most deprived areas had a concern raised about their development.

In the review, health visitors were asked to assess a number of areas of development including speech and communication, problem solving, personal and social skills, and behavioural development.

Just over 20% of children in the most deprived areas of Scotland were recorded as having at least one developmental concern, with speech, language and communication or emotional or behavioural concerns, noted as being the most pronounced.

This compares to less than 10% of children in the least deprived areas of Scotland recorded as having any concerns over their development.

The overall number of children recorded in the study as having a concern raised over their development has decreased since the health review was first introduced six years ago.

In 2013-14, the first year of the review, a total of 19% of children from 43,102 reviews had been recorded as having had concerns raised.

This had dropped to a total of 15% of 50,600 children in the latest figures for 2017-18.

The analysis also indicated children under the care of their local authority were found to be more likely to have a developmental concern than children who are not.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome these latest figures and acknowledge the benefit of having a means to identify issues at an early age and put meaningful support in place.

“The fact that 29% of children who were looked after were more likely to have a developmental concern recorded at this review against 15% of non-looked after children is not unexpected. It reflects the broader vulnerability of this group to adverse childhood experiences.

“We are taking a range of actions through our Getting it Right for Every Child approach to ensure young people receive the right support.

“This is also addressing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to identify the earliest opportunities to prevent childhood adversity occurring and reduce negative impacts where such experiences have occurred.”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised Scotland’s children the best start in life but instead poverty is increasing and is harming the life chances of Scotland’s poorest children.

“These startling poverty-related health inequalities are failing children.

“Scottish Labour shares the Scottish Government’s aspiration for Scotland to be the best country to grow up in so we are bitterly disappointed that the ambition is not backed up with investment in children and young people.

“The SNP government has failed to tackle poverty-related health inequalities after over a decade in power.

“In government, Scottish Labour will invest in our people, communities and public services to build a Scotland that works for the many, not just the few.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “It won’t be a surprise to health visitors that youngsters in more deprived areas are more likely to have developmental issues than those in the wealthiest.

“But the geographical gaps across Scotland are stark. It’s incredible that a toddler born in Inverclyde is six times more likely to have these problems recorded than one in Aberdeenshire.

“Of course, many of these problems will be addressed and sorted out by the time a child attends school. But for others, it will create a huge disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

“Ministers must analyse these important statistics as a matter of urgency and ensure this gap is closed for the better in future years.”