Skip to main content

Two-thirds of Scottish children experience ‘early life adversity’

The most common adverse childhood experiences involve parents suffering mental health issues or relationship break-ups

Many children in Scotland endure adverse childhood experiences such as parents suffering mental health problems, research shows

The most common adverse childhood experiences involve parents suffering mental health issues or relationship break-ups

Two-thirds of Scottish children experience early life adversity – such as domestic violence or parental drug abuse – according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that boys are at greatest risk, along with those from low-income households and those with younger mothers.

The most common negative experiences involved parents undergoing mental health problems or relationship break-ups, which affected around a third of children.

Researcher Dr Louise Marryat said: "We know that adverse experiences in childhood are associated with physical and mental health problems in later life.

"This is the first study to assess the scale of the problem in a current population of young people in the UK.

"We hope the findings will help to explain the context of adverse childhood experiences and lead to increased support for the groups most at risk."

Researchers looked at the incidence of seven types of adverse experience among more than 3,000 children, before the age of 8.

Adverse childhood experiences

One in 10 of these children was found to have faced three adverse experiences in their lifetime.

Experiences involving parents who were undergoing mental health problems or relationship break-ups affected about one in three.

Almost a quarter had experienced frequent physical punishment, with one in five saying they felt unloved or emotionally neglected.

Some 14 per cent had been exposed to parental drug or alcohol misuse, while one in 10 had been exposed to domestic violence.

One in 250 children had experienced a parent being sent to prison. Instances of sexual abuse were too few to be reported.

The research was based on the Growing Up in Scotland study, which tracks the lives of children from birth through their teenage years and beyond.

Academics interviewed parents and children about a wide range of experiences every one to two years.

The Growing Up in Scotland study is funded by the Scottish government and carried out by ScotCen Social Research.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you