Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Early life trauma affects two-thirds of Scots children

Jan 2019: CCBS research suggests that most Scottish children experience a traumatic event before the age of eight.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at the incidence of seven types of adverse experience among more than 3,000 children. They interviewed  parents, and later the children, about a wide range of experiences every one to two years.

The study found that two in three children in Scotland experience domestic violence, physical abuse, or other traumatic event before the age of eight, and that 1 in 10 have experienced at least three such traumatic events in their lifetime.

Boys are at the 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 each affected around one-third of children.

Almost one quarter of children had experienced frequent physical punishment. One in five 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.

Boys were more likely to have had three or more traumatic experiences, as were those whose mothers had fewer educational qualifications and who lived in deprived areas.  

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 ACEs, and lead to increased support for the groups most at risk.

Dr Louise MarryatResearch Fellow, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

The research is published in the journal BMJ Paediatrics Open. It was based on the Growing Up in Scotland study, which tracks the lives of children from birth through their teenage years and beyond.

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

Related links

Dr Louise Marryat's profile

Read the article in BMJ Pediatrics Open: Factors associated with adverse childhood experiences in Scottish children: a prospective cohort study.