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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-16752: Elaine Smith (Central Scotland)

Scottish Labour

Date lodged: 17 May 2018

To ask the Scottish Government what research it has carried out or plans on the causes, prevention and mitigation of adverse childhood experiences.

Answered by: John Swinney 29 May 2018

The Scottish Government is currently exploring options for inclusion of ACEs questions in the Scottish Health Survey 2019, which will help us to understand better the prevalence of ACEs in adults in Scotland and how this can impact on people’s health and social outcomes. It is proposed that these questions will focus on the ten most commonly measured ACEs, which include: abuse (emotional, physical and sexual); neglect (emotional and physical); and household challenges in which people grew up in a household with adults who had alcohol or drug problems, had been in prison, had mental health difficulties, and where a child witnessed domestic violence or experienced parental separation. This will enable the Scottish Government to compare the results with other countries including England and Wales.

There are a range of other types of childhood adversity that can also have negative long term effects, for example, bereavement, bullying, poverty and community adversities such as living in a deprived area and neighbourhood violence. The Scottish Government is committed to addressing all types of childhood adversity and using research to inform the development and delivery of policy.

The Scottish Government continues to analyse the data from the Growing up in Scotland (GUS) study. GUS collects information on some of the commonly measured ACEs, including: parental separation, parents’ alcohol and drug use, mental disorder in the immediate family, domestic abuse, and parental imprisonment. GUS also collects information on other types of childhood adversity for, example, bereavement of a close family member, bullying, and homelessness. The evidence illuminates the circumstances underpinning such adversities and identifies protective factors associated with positive outcomes and resilience. For example GUS research indicates that improving the physical and mental health of mothers and supporting parenting skills can help protect against the impact of adversity and disadvantage in childhood. A key paper which has informed Scottish Government early years policy is Tackling inequalities in the early years: key messages from 10 years of the Growing up in Scotland Study .

The Scottish Government is keeping abreast of the wider evidence on ACEs and resilience including key studies undertaken by Public Health Wales and evaluations of trauma-informed approaches which aim to prevent and mitigate ACEs. The Scottish Government is also closely engaged with cross-nation work on ACEs, which provides a collaborative forum for sharing evidence and best practice on how to effectively address ACEs. The Justice Directorate has recently reviewed the evidence on childhood adversity in relation to criminality and victimisation and published a short summary paper on the Scottish Government website which was published in May.

Over the past ten years, the Scottish Government has conducted and drawn from an established evidence base on child well-being, health inequalities and early intervention. Some key sources of evidence that have and will inform Scottish Government policy on preventing and mitigating childhood adversity include:

  • Longstanding research on early intervention and prevention which has informed preventative programmes such as the Family Nurse Partnership programme and the Universal Health Visiting Pathway. This includes work by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health on child wellbeing e.g. Health and early years, children and young people: a GCPH synthesis (2016) which emphasises the importance of emotional attachment, safety and building resilience.
  • The Scottish Government is funding a robust evaluation of the Family Nurse Partnership. The findings will be published in late 2019 and continues to monitor the impact of Scotland’s Baby Box.
  • Research on child poverty and inequality such as Annex 2 of Every Child, Every Chance: The Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018-22 which includes a summary of the evidence on the drivers of child poverty, and the groups at highest risk of child poverty.
  • The evidence on whole school nurturing approaches which focus on wellbeing and relationships and research which is informing the National Improvement Framework. For example, the Scottish Government published A Research Strategy for Scottish Education (2017) which highlights the importance of evidence in delivering the Framework – a key priority of which is improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
  • Recent evidence informing the Child Protection Improvement Programme such as the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection’s Tackling child neglect in Scotland 3: rapid review of legislation and policy (2018)
  • Other relevant research underway includes research relating to substance use (Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS)), and alcohol misuse (and the Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS).

The Scottish government works closely with the NHS Health Scotland based Scottish ACE Hub to learn from good practice and explore how parents and families can be better supported to address ACEs. The Scottish ACE Hub in partnership with the Scottish Government is hosting a research seminar on ACEs on 19th June 2018 to bring together research experts on ACEs, identify priorities for future research and build a network to share evidence.