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Problem behaviour in children: policy, politics and social inequality in Scotland

This paper explores the impact of socio-economic and other inequalities on the risk of conduct disorder among a cohort of children aged 10 years in Scotland. Broadly defined, children with conduct disorder have a difficult time following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. In the UK, early onset conduct disorder is the main reason for referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. While there is an extensive literature on childhood conduct disorders, most research to date has focused on individual and family level factors, for example, child personality traits, family background and dysfunction, parenting styles and more recently, the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A similar focus is reflected within policy, whereby the main emphasis is on parenting classes and child psychological therapies. For example, the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 aims to have completed a national roll-out of targeted parenting programmes for three and four-year olds with conduct disorder by 2019-2020.

Drawing on data from the longitudinal Scotcen Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) longitudinal survey, this paper aims first, to extend the theoretical lens through which conduct disorder is viewed, with a particular focus on structural inequality; second, to determine whether child conduct disorders are exacerbated by growing up in poverty, when taking account of other risk factors; and third, to draw out the policy implications.
The analysis suggests that policy-makers should put greater emphasis on the more stubborn structural factors associated with childhood conduct disorder, including the stresses associated with inconsistent or insecure employment, and that bolder redistributive measures are needed, that not only lead to better outcomes around conduct disorder, but also help to reduce wider societal inequalities in Scotland.


Research Team

Dr Kath Murray
Research Fellow