Growing stronger together

14 December 2023

Insights into healthy social development from Lambeth and Southwark

Edward Davie, Lorraine Khan and Kadra Abdinasir

Children’s mental health is getting progressively poorer – and behavioural problems are one of the most common childhood mental health difficulties. This report explored what factors can contribute to healthy social development, and what can increase the risk of childhood behavioural problems.

We spoke to parents, children and professionals in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark to explore their understanding of the factors which affect children’s healthy social development.

The report, commissioned by Impact on Urban Health, finds that while parents are commonly blamed for their child’s behavioural challenges, these are often caused by exposure to multiple risks such as poverty and financial strain, racism, and inadequate and overcrowded housing. Those we spoke to felt there was an overemphasis on addressing individual child and parenting risks at the expense of recognising systemic inequalities and socioeconomic challenges facing some families.

Parents told us about the struggle to support their children’s wellbeing while also working long hours to make ends meet, or living in overcrowded and insecure housing. And they described how racism wore away at children’s wellbeing, making them more likely to face mental health difficulties including behavioural problems.

“We are currently living in two bedrooms and there are seven of us… My children have been impacted by mould. I have an asthmatic child who has been in and out of hospital. These things affect the health of my children.”

“Children and young people do not exist in a vacuum: their behaviour is largely determined by the circumstances at home, in their communities and families. If children live in poverty, in poor housing conditions, witnessing or being subjected to domestic and community violence and other traumas, then that very often does come out in their behaviour in schools and other settings.”

While behavioural problems during childhood are normal and often fleeting, some children and young people can get stuck in challenging patterns of behaviour which affect their social, emotional and learning outcomes. This can present as anger issues, attention difficulties or substance use. Behavioural problems put a child at risk of poorer outcomes, including school exclusion. Early preventative action is vital to reduce these risks and improve the mental health of all children.

In light of these findings, we’re calling on:

  • The Government to commit to ending child poverty through a Child Poverty Act
  • The Government to increase funding for local councils, so that they can invest in parenting programmes and address the housing crisis
  • Local councils to develop an overarching strategy to support children and families impacted by trauma who present with behavioural problems
  • Local councils to increase the availability of good quality social housing, promptly address issues of disrepair and overcrowding, and invest in safe green spaces in the community
  • Department for Education to work with racialised communities to develop and embed an anti-racist and diverse curriculum that incorporates the histories and contributions of all racialised communities in the UK.

Topics: Children Trauma

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