This blog is open to members of the SOPA Committee and others and offers an open space for personal perspectives on topical issues to stimulate debate. The views expressed are independent of SOPA and are not endorsed by SOPA. See Chair Tom Berney's column in Newsletters and the Annual Report for official SOPA policy statements.


The Holyrood Baby

by Val Bissland - 00:06 on 24 May 2016

Many of the ideas expressed in Tom Freeman’s article today in Holyrood Magazine struck me as particularly heartening for older people in Scotland. In 2014, in a campaign video for the Scottish independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon asked us to imagine a baby girl born into one of Scotland’s most deprived communities. She asked what kind of Scotland we wanted her to grow up in. 

Currently, there is a 'Growing Up in Scotland' study involving the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR). It is tracking 10,000 actual Scottish children in two batches - one group born in 2014 and the other in 2010. CRFR co-director Professor Lynn Jamieson says many relationships are key to a baby’s development, not just better childcare policies and health services. According to the study it is likely the maternal grandmother will play an important role. “Most infants in Scotland benefit from grandparents contributing to their family life and, for some struggling parents, a grandparent may be keeping chaos at bay, plugging gaps in care or holes in budgets,” says Prof Jamieson. It is good to see attention drawn to this aspect of family life which so often is overlooked.

Dr Beth Cross of the University of the West of Scotland wrote a report on engagement with babies and found new approaches in community health hubs have made a difference through a culture of listening. ‘Books for babies’ in Craigmillar, for example, has spawned a 'Baby book of the year' award and they do not rely on experts to shortlist books. They are the experts. "In fact, that award is now named after a local grandmother, rather than Sainsbury’s or something,” she said. "Empowering communities will have a direct effect on a baby’s development." Neuroscientific  evidence shows that when a baby is born, she already recognises the voices of the people around her mother which she has been hearing for months. So she will know Mum's voice or Dad's voice or Gran's voice and the emotional environment they create - stressed out and shouty or calm and happy, and the unborn child's own brain chemicals will be altered also, for better or worse, in preparation for the world she will soon inhabit. The article concludes: “What we need to be doing, as families and a society, is to think more deeply about creating the world we want our babies to live in. We are failing to achieve that in ways we don't realise and wouldn't choose, if we did.” 

Older family members have played important roles in shaping the lives of their young folk for generations. In this age of the professionalisation of services and the rhetoric of older people as 'a burden', it would be a tragic waste of human resources if older people are not included in the business of community empowerment.  If categorised as mainly recipients of care, they will cease to be encouraged to remain engaged in active roles in their families and communities, and projects such as ‘Baby book of the year’ award would never happen. 

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