The stress of modern-day living is not just something parents suffer from, Scotland’s younger generation are affected too, says Carol Iddon
FOR the children, young people and families that Action for Children Scotland supports at our 74 services across the country, life is turbulent. More than 5,000 children in Scotland are in care and studies suggest that as many as one in five live in poverty. Parents are under a lot of pressure – and we know that children and young people are feeling the emotional impact of this.
We recently surveyed our frontline staff to get a better understanding of the problems that families in Scotland are facing. The response was overwhelming. They told us that children and young people are really struggling to cope with daily life. More than half (59 per cent) of our staff reported that they are seeing children who need more support with the issues their families are facing, such as parents losing their jobs, illness, family breakdown and domestic abuse. These are not problems we would typically associate with children – but they are the reality for many living in Scotland today.
The research, published in our report The Red Book 2013: Children Under Pressure, revealed that 41 per cent of Action for Children Scotland staff believe children and young people need more support because of parental depression, 50 per cent because of domestic abuse, 41 per cent because of parental mental illness and 31 per cent because of parental substance misuse. Our staff are witnessing a deterioration in the mental health of children and young people, with almost a fifth of managers seeing children who need more support due to substance misuse.
Scale of problems
In my 35 years’ experience in social care, I have never experienced the scale of problems that children are facing today. I hear about local shops selling single eggs because families cannot afford the buy a packet of six, and mums becoming distraught when eggs are broken. Families in Scotland are really struggling and we now have to provide food, clothing and other essential items on a regular basis. Something must be done and I believe that early intervention is vital in making sure that the problems of children and young people don’t get worse.
We know the Scottish Government is doing what it can to support families in this country. It has shown a real commitment to early intervention and by working in partnership we have been able to deliver a number of pioneering services – from Transitions, which helps young people leaving care to prepare for work; to our Roots of Empathy classes, which take a parent and baby into school classrooms in order to help pupils understand their feelings and the feelings of others, promoting caring societies and reducing levels of bullying.
However, I feel that there is more the UK government can and should do. As a charity, we are now calling for the introduction of five-year spending plans that set out the funding to be made available for children’s services in line with the fixed-term parliament. This will enable the public sector in Scotland to plan more effectively and ensure it is able to continue to deliver vital services. It will also secure services for children, young people and families and enable them to receive the support they need for as long as they need. The present system creates uncertainty for services and this adds to the pressures families feel – they can’t be sure that the support provided by a vital service will always be available.
The importance of early intervention cannot be underestimated. If children miss out on early help, their problems won’t just disappear. Their needs will escalate and staff at our services will see them further down the line – when problems are more severe and more expensive to resolve, both financially and in human terms.
One story that sticks in my mind is that of a little boy who wouldn’t stop crying after ripping a small hole in his trousers. He wasn’t hurt, he was worried because he knew his mum couldn’t afford to buy him new ones.
The distress this little boy displayed just goes to show that pressures at home are having an emotional impact on children in this country at a very young age – and this simply isn’t right. In order to be truly effective the state, communities and civil society must work together to make Scotland a great country for children to grow up in, and to give young people and families the opportunity to flourish.
• Carol Iddon is director of children’s services at Action for Children Scotland, which has launched an urgent Christmas appeal to help those facing difficult, frightening or stressful situations. To donate £5 to the appeal text DONATE5 to 70080 or visit www.actionforchildren.org.uk/itsnottheirfault