It’s National Children’s Day in the UK on Sunday. It raises awareness of the importance of a healthy childhood, and how we need to protect the rights and freedoms of children to ensure they can grow into happy, healthy adults.

Get it right for every child (and every adult)

In Scotland, we have a government that wants our country to be the best place for children to grow up and a policy approach that is about improving children’s lives. It would be surprising to find anyone who would disagree with the aspiration to get it right for every child and young person to give them the very best chance to succeed in a prosperous society.

At NHS Health Scotland, we know that a successful Scotland is rooted in health. Ensuring the healthy development of babies and children is important to reduce inequalities arising later in life. So, we advocate for fair access to the resources and opportunities that will enable more people to live for longer, and in better health. This starts young, and needs to be seen within the context of the environments which families are living in – environments which are created by the political economy of a country. We need to support the adults who play such important roles in children’s lives. The adults who, through the everyday interactions and opportunities they have, are able to support healthy child development. If we really want to get it right for every child then we need to get it right for every adult, family and carer.

Invest in people

This requires action to provide safe, nurturing homes and neighbourhood environments, enable better access to health services and education opportunities, prevent adversity in childhood and increase family income. That's why, at a time when the scale of child poverty is not only unacceptable but set to increase, our message is clear: investing in communities, families and people who need our help the most is crucial and requires the efforts of all of society.

National Children’s Day is about celebrating the importance of childhood. It’s a good time to focus on what we do at NHS Health Scotland to keep attention on all the factors which create the conditions for a healthy and happy childhood, within the wider context of tackling social inequalities.

A healthy and happy childhood

We are working with partners to deliver a public health approach to tackle childhood adversity that is rooted in evidence of what is most likely to improve population health. Our research has stimulated further interest from some services about whether sensitive enquiry of adults about their experience of adversity in childhood may improve understanding between a practitioner and a patient about current wellbeing, shifting the focus from ‘what’s wrong with you’ and the presenting symptoms to interest in ‘what’s happened to you?’. Through our work with a small number of GPs we hope to contribute by evaluating a pilot exercise on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

We work with local partnerships on action to reduce child poverty and we co-ordinate a Scottish ACEs hub to progress national action. We inform thinking about how to tackle the attainment gap by preventing adversity, and hold national events to influence decision makers. We have also produced an animation to show how we all have a part to play across sectors to build resilience in children.

Through our work, I’m determined that the current interest from policy-makers, practitioners, the third sector, the academic community and the public will lead to policy decisions and practice that will prevent the adversities that children in Scotland face today. Creating the conditions so there is equity among all children to have the opportunity for health and happiness.

Now that would be something to celebrate.

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