Supporting families to flourish

Learning from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health

The early years are a crucial period in childhood. There is a strong evidence base that shows our development - physical, intellectual and emotional - is based on what happens to us during this period of our lives. Consequently the experiences children have in their early years will be important for their development now and for health and wellbeing throughout the life-course.

The Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) is concerned with generating evidence and supporting innovative approaches to inform and influence action to improve health and tackle inequality, in Glasgow and beyond. We know that poverty is the biggest driver of poor health in any society, and with 34% of children in Glasgow living in poverty it is a key concern for the GCPH.

Across Scotland the number of children living in poverty is thought to be growing, and low-income households, especially those with children, are falling further behind those on middle incomes. Evidence shows that child poverty impacts a child's health, educational attainment, future prospects and health in adulthood - even where individuals experience improved economic circumstances in later life. One approach that the GCPH has supported is the Healthier, Wealthier Children project that developed ways to provide money and welfare advice services across NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde to help pregnant women and families with children at risk of, or experiencing, poverty. The project sought to maximise family incomes by providing advice with debt, employment, childcare, finance, and housing. We are also concerned about minimising the unintended impacts of poverty resulting from welfare reform on children and young people which will play an important part in child health and wealth.

Even if a child's parents are working, this will not necessarily guard against the effects of poverty unless they can find secure, meaningful and adequately paid work that provides the material and psychological foundations for leading a health-enhancing life. A parent's ability to go out to work however, may be determined by the availability of affordable, flexible, high-quality childcare. The GCPH are exploring this issue currently as the evaluation partners in the 'Childcare and Nurture, Glasgow East' project (CHANGE) which is seeking to provide a new model of childcare through engagement with local families.

The GCPH has also been investigating the role of 'resilience' in a health and wellbeing context. Resilience is not only about what is within us as individuals, or our ability to cope through mental toughness, but it's also dependent on our relationships with others, and our ability to influence wider decisions that will have implications for our lives. Services that build relationships with families help to empower parents, and set expectations for their children about their ability to take control of their own lives.

Other examples of approaches that our research suggests will be beneficial to support families in the early years of a child's life include: the provision of emotional support to parents with adverse childhood experiences to prevent such experiences being repeated; providing opportunities for parents to expand their social networks and develop peer support; and support for parenting and child development through education services.

A recent GCPH publication brings together all of our learning related to 'health and the early years, children and young people' from over a decade of GCPH research.