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Damage of race abuse evident in reception class

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As thousands of children start school for the first time this week, a new study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research finds family experience of racial prejudice could be linked to poor outcomes for children as young as five.

The UK’s first ever study of the impact of racist abuse on families finds that by the age of five, their children are more likely to struggle with cognitive tests and face more socio-emotional problems than their peers.

One in five ethnic minority mothers in the UK has experienced racist abuse and the impact on their children is evident by the time they start school, according to a new study by Professor Yvonne Kelly at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. The study, Associations between Maternal Experiences of Racism and Early Child Health and Development: Findings from the Millennium Cohort Study funded by the Economic Social Research Council, found that family experience of racial prejudice could be linked to poor outcomes for children as young as five.

The research looked at over 2,000 five year olds from ethnic minority backgrounds and their mothers.

12 per cent of mothers reported racist insults or attacks were common in their residential area, 23 per cent had experienced verbal insults in the previous 12 months, 20 per cent reported unfair treatment and 23 per cent reported unfair treatment of a family member.

The patterning of racist abuse varied according to ethnic group – Bangladeshi mothers reported more racism in their local area, whilst Black Caribbean and African mothers reported more disrespectful or unfair treatment.

Analysing the outcomes for their children at age five, researchers discovered they were more likely to have socio-emotional issues – such as hyper-activity or problems interacting with their peers. They also received lower scores in cognitive skills tests – a key influence on academic achievement. The results also showed a small increased risk of obesity.

Professor Kelly commented:

“Our findings suggest experienced racism or feeling fearful about racist victimisation might impact on what parents allow their children to do, and constrain their capacity to provide the conditions to foster healthy child development."

“Living in an area where racist attacks are perceived to be common may lead to children spending less time outside the home environment that might otherwise be the case, thus limiting the breadth and interactions and experiences with others outside the home setting. This may be further compounded by the impact of poor parental mental health, linked to experienced racism and discrimination, which is in turn likely to lead to non-favourable parent-child interactions and parenting behaviours. These influences combine to negatively impact on socio-emotional as well as cognitive behaviour.”

The study is the first in the UK to look at the evidence of the impact of racism on the health and development of children. Academic in the USA have already established links between racism and health outcomes.

Commenting on the research findings, Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of the national charity for children and families, 4Children, said:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the experience of racism can have both direct and indirect impacts upon a child and their future life chances.”

“The ambition to reduce inequalities and improve outcomes for children is key throughout the childcare sector – and much of the success that children’s centres have had has been in their capacity to welcome a range of cultures and ethnicities in the different communities.”

“It is therefore vital that centres continue to have an open door policy despite tightened budgets and an emphasis upon targeted support.”

Notes to Editors:

‘Associations Between Maternal Experiences of Racism and Early Child Health and Development: Findings from the Millennium Cohort Study’ by Professor Yvonne Kelly, Professor of Epidemiology at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, based at the University of Essex, is published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

For further media information and interviews with Professor Kelly please contact Louise Clarke Cullen, Communications Manager, on 0777 17 92393 or via email: lcullen@essex.ac.uk

Photo credit: hammersmithandfulham