information for transformational people

Parents 246Wide division in building good childhood foundations in high-low socio-economic families   

The Social Mobility Commission has recently published a new study by Oxford University describing the childhood origins of social mobility and how these have changed over time. Using data from the 1960s to the present day, the report finds some improvements in the early life chances of the United Kingdom’s least advantaged children. But it uncovers a wide social divide between children from families with high and low socio-economic status (SES) in building the childhood foundations for mobility in later life - such as dads reading to, and parents playing with, their kids.

Some good points - improvements overall and the narrowing of previous divisions:

  • Families eating their evening meals together do not vary much by SES, and inequalities are not worsening over time.
  • Levels of truancy fell from 15% of pupils in 1999 to 2000 to 10% in 2013 to 2014, with the socio-economic gap for this measurement narrowing from 11 percentage points to 5 percentage points over this period.
  • An increase - from 90% to 95% in the same period in attendance at parents’ evenings at schools with a narrowing in the social class gap - from 20 percentage points in 2004 to 12 percentage points in 2013.
  • Parents helping with homework increased overall from 81% to 83% while the socio-economic gap closed from 15 percentage points in 2004 to 4 percentage points in 2013.
  • The likelihood of mothers reading regularly to their children also increased substantially between 1965 and 2006, from 50% to 95%.
  • The amount of time parents invest in doing developmental activities such as playing or reading with their young children saw an average increase from 23 minutes per day in 1975 to 80 minutes per day in 2015.

Gaps between high and low SES families though have widened in some areas vital to child development and attainment at school:

  • Fathers reading regularly to children: the gap between high SES fathers and low SES fathers increased by almost three quarters - from 15 percentage points in 1965 to 26 percentage points in 2006
  • Parental time investment: very young children with high SES parents receive on average 40 minutes a day more parental engagement in developmental activities like playing and reading than those with low SES parents (which equates to 240 hours a year), a gap that’s widened since the 1970s
  • Children’s wellbeing and behaviour: 11-year-olds from the lowest SES groups are three-and-a-half times more likely to display the worst behaviour problems compared to the highest SES groups. This has risen from twice as likely in 1969
  • Hyperactivity: in 1969 children from all backgrounds had more or less equal risk of hyperactivity but by 2012, low SES children were twice as likely as high SES children to score in the highest 10% most hyperactive.

There are also a number of areas with persistent gaps between children from high and low SES families over time. This includes:

  • Participation in sport and physical activity: in 2012, 34% of low SES children did sport less than once a week compared to 13% of high SES children
  • Participation in cultural activity: 84% of high SES children go to art galleries, compared to 51% of low SES children
  • Having high status acquaintances: broad social networks are an important part of developing aspiration, character and opportunity - 48% of high SES parents compared to 14% of low SES parents know a university or college lecturer
  • Engagement with schools: high SES parents are far more likely to be involved with parent-teacher organisations (22% compared to 4% of low SES parents) and are therefore much better placed to ensure that their own children’s needs are met at school

Rt Hon. Alan Milburn, Chair of the Commission, said:
"Every parent tries to do the best for their kids and this report shows parental involvement increasing over time. But there remains a yawning divide in children’s life chances. The social class make-up of children’s behavioral and emotional problems is truly shocking. Low incomes and insecure jobs place an enormous strain on family life. It is not right that children from low SES families miss out on the opportunities for play with their parents or reading with their dads that is the norm for their better-off peers. These activities are vital to children’s development and provide a platform for improved educational attainment at school and social mobility in adulthood. This report makes clear that parenting can no longer be a no-go area for public policy. There has been a lot of focus on improving social mobility by tackling disadvantage in schools, universities and workplaces - but social mobility begins in the home. Parenting has not received the attention it deserves. Parents provide the foundations for children’s progress in later life and government must do more to support them in doing so."

While we wait for public policy to be debated and argued about, what can churches do to respond? Please see my previous blogs on:
Help children by helping their parents
The effect of inter-parental relationships on children
11 resources for parenting - families and early years

We have the initiatives, we've access to resources. The key is how can we intentionally reach families on low incomes.

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Geoff Knott, 15/06/2016

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