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Understanding growing up

Posted on 13 March 2014 .
Tags: Jane O'Brien, babies, children, children & young people research, methodology, methods, young people

Jane O'BrienAs Head of the Children & Young People team, our work involves everything from sensitively gauging how new mums are doing, to convincing indifferent teens to tell us about their experience at school. It’s a tough job, but my team are real experts. Here are some of the things that we’ve been up to:

We’ve been working with UCL on the UK Life Study. We're asking women from when they are 7 months pregnant until their baby is 1 year old about all aspects of their lives and health to find out how the family, social and physical environment in very early life influences child development, health and well-being.

In our Study of Early Education and Development we're following 8,000 two and three year olds to see what effect going to nursery school or a childminder has on their long term education outcomes. Our interviewers are in homes now finding out what words children use and recognise, whether they know how to share, their problem solving abilities, which allows us to measure their speech, learning and behaviour.

Our Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study is tracking the lives of thousands of Scottish children from birth until their teens and beyond. Information is collected about their household, social economic characteristics, parenting, child health and development, to build a picture of the whole child. This has already shown that children born to very young mothers face much harder circumstances from a very young age and that this remains a disadvantage as they mature.  

Also up in Scotland we have been using a number of innovative methods to find out about 5 to 17 year olds' experience of court hearings when it’s decided whether they can live with their parents or need to be in care. These delicate interviews involve sensitively talking to children using interactive probing and questioning methods - pictures, photographs, emotion cards and traffic light systems – to find out about an extremely emotional and life changing experience for them.

We’ve also been talking to young people at sixth form and colleges about their experience of getting money from the government’s Bursary Fund. We’ve carried out focus groups with students with special educational needs and learning disabilities to find out from them what their experience of being able to access the fund has been and what they spend the money on. This means adapting our techniques to ensure these young people can express themselves using accessible information and tools (prompt cards, photographs).

Although face-to-face interviews and focus groups are still important, of all the people that NatCen speaks to, young people are possibly the group that most needs, and is most receptive to innovative forms of participation. The next step for my team is to engage the tech savvy generation online, in their own communicative space. 

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