The Independent

Thursday, September 2, 1999


The Independent

CHILDREN'S EMOTIONAL and social well-being has deteriorated over the past 100 years although they are healthier, wealthier and better educated than at any time this century.

Children are suffering more mental health problems and stress because they are being kept indoors, their family life is more unstable with high divorce rates, and they are facing increasing pressure to do well at school, according to a leading child development analyst.

In a review of how children's lives have changed since the turn of the century, Dr Gillian Pugh, chief executive of Coram Family, previously known as the Thomas Coram Foundation, has also found that the poverty gap between the richest and poorest children has increased.

"Children who live in two-parent, two-earner family in a suburban house with good services have seen an improvement in their lives. But the lives of children who live in unemployed or lone-parent families, in rented accommodation in an inner-city area with poor services has got worse," she said.

"Children born and raised in low-income neighbourhoods run increased risk of poor health, lower educational performance and poor employment prospects."

Although children's physical health has improved generally, there are a growing number of children whose emotional and physical well-being is at risk. Many children are being restricted in the amount of freedom and creativity they can enjoy and are not allowed to play independently because there is a growing fear among parents of violence, said Dr Pugh inCommunity Care magazine.

Recent figures from the Mental Health Foundation showed that the number of British children experiencing mental ill-health has increased since the Forties to an estimated one in five.

An increasing number of children are showing signs of not being able to cope with modern life. More are being excluded from school and getting into trouble, plus there is a rise in the suicide and self-harm rates in young people.

"The increasing tendency to keep children at home and the rise in computer entertainment at home has led to a rise in `battery children'," said a spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. "Children are being prevented from walking to school and are not allowed to play outside because parents are worried about their safety."

Since the beginning of the century children aged five to seven have on average increased in size by 1-2 cm per decade and are stronger and heavier than children in 1900.

Improvements in children's physical health has had more to do with nutrition and hygiene than scientific or technical advances, according to Professor Neil Marlow, of the Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham. "Although a lot of people would like to think that medical advances such as antibiotics are responsible, better nutrition has done more for improving the quality of life for children."

Major advances in the past 30 years have led to improved rates of survival for children with cancer. The main cause of death for children over one year is now accidents, particularly road accidents, rather than disease.

The range and diversity of families living in Britain at the end of the century would have been inconceivable in the early 1900s, said Dr Pugh. "Children now grow up in nuclear families, extended families, with step-parents, with lone parents, gay and lesbian parents, which will, in their own ways, influence children's experience of growing up," she said.

The breakdown of marriage is six times higher than it was 30 years ago, with one in three marriages ending in divorce.

In 1905 there were under 600 divorces in England. Now eight per cent of children live in stepfamilies and one in 25 see their parents divorce before they are four years old and one in four experience divorce before they leave school at 16.

"Despite the evidence that children whose parents run increased risks of poor educational attainment and behaviour there is no straight- forward relationship between family disruption and the consequences for children other than a clear message about the impact of the ensuing financial hardship," said Dr Pugh.

The number of children living in poverty rose from from one in 10 in 1971 to one in three in 1994.

It is estimated that 4.3 million children now live in households with below half the average income. Nearly a quarter of children now grow up in "work-poor" families in which no-one earns money.

"A society cannot be at ease with itself while large numbers of children live in poverty with limited chances and aspirations," said Terry Philpot, the editor-in-chief of Community Care, yesterday.

"This is a fundamental issue that the Prime Minster must place at the heart of the Government's programme linking up economic and parental support services with a real and sustained strategy to defeat poverty."



Infant mortality was very high, approximately 150 out of every 1,000 babies born in England died before they reached the age of 1.

Only a few small groups of children were vaccinated against smallpox, and children died of diphtheria, typhoid, cholera and generally had poor nutrition before the First World War. Children born in 1911 had an average life expectancy of under 55 years old. A 17-year-old boy was on average 1.66m tall.


In 1948 the National Health Service was established, providing free health care for all children for the first time. Height was on average 2.5 centimetres more compared with the previous generation - or about 1.69m for a 17-year-old boy.


Nationwide immunisation programmes for polio, tetanus and diphtheria were introduced for all children in the 1950s.

Children in average circumstances gained height at the ages of 5 to 7 at a rate of 1-2 cm a decade, and at ages 10 to 14 by 2-3 cm per decade.

In the 1970s advances in the treatment of children cancers, such as leukaemia, led to big improvements in survival.


Infant mortality declined to less than 5 per 1,000 babies born by the late 1990s.

By 1996-97 children had a 90 per cent of being immunised against all major inoculable diseases, including mumps, measles, influenza. Meningitis vaccinations are being introduced next month.

Children born today have a life expectancy of more than 20 years above those born at the turn of the century.



Very low divorce rate. The number of cases is measured in hundreds per year. The number of divorces in multiplied by four after First World War to reach 2,000. Children born outside marriage ended up in orphanages or were sold in a practice known as "baby farming".

Until after 1918 boys often wore dresses until they were as old as eight when an occasion known as "breeching" took place and they then wore trousers.


The deprived many children of their fathers, and effectively created single-parent families. After rising steadily to reach 4,000 per year by 1930, the number of divorces rockets after the Second World War, stabilising at about 27,000 per year in the 1950s.


In 1950s strong nuclear families and low divorce rate. By the the 1960s, the number of divorces doubled to reach 55,000 per year, and it doubled again in the 1970s.

One in 10 children were living in poverty, cohabitation and single motherhood became more acceptable with one in ten children being born outside marriage.


The number of children living in poverty since the 1970s has risen to one in three, and 4.3 million children live in households with below half the national income.

Nearly one in five children live in a family headed up by a lone mother and one in six fathers now live apart from their children. 8 per cent of children live in stepfamilies. In 1995, there were 165,000 divorces in England and Wales



School education became universal, free and compulsory for most children under the age of 12 by 1900. Children could leave school and start full time work at 13 without having taken any exams. The leaving age was raised to 14 in 1918.

At the turn of the century 23 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls aged 10 to 14 were in employment. This included selling flowers in the street and sweeping chimneys. Many were street beggars.


The age that children were allowed to leave school was raised to 15 in 1944.

In the same year free medical services, such as basic tooth, eye, tonsil, and adenoid problems were provided for the first time to all elementary school age children.


The school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972 despite resistance from employers wanting cheap labour and poor parents needing extra income.

The golden age of progressive education where teaching English grammar to children went out of fashion, and comprehensive schools came into force. Free school milk abolished by Conservative government.


Children no longer walk to school, but are taken by car or local transport.

Increasing numbers of children are going on to higher education, now a third of all children.

Girls are starting to perform better than boys at schools across the board. Children face national tests at 5, 7,11,14 and 16, even primary schools have to teach revision and exam technique.



Pastimes were rare. Young children had few manufactured toys and often amused themselves with outdoor games such as hopscotch and British bulldog. Christmas time treats could be a bag of oranges.


The belief that a child's will was something to be conquered was waning. Favourite toys included jacks and the whip and top. Safe local communities meant children were free to roam and would often be absent from the home for long periods.


Young people had a disposable income for the first time and spent their money on clothes and records which defined them as different from their parents. Youth movements began, based around music and rebellion, the 1950s had the teddy boys,the Seventies had punks.


Parental fear of stranger danger and accidents is curbing children freedom to go outside. One in three children now have television or computer in their room and computer games, surfing the internet and watching television have become popular pastimes.

Thirties Child

Smacks and bed by 9.30

"I WOULD be up at 7.30 to take a bowl of hot porridge to my father. After the 10-minute walk to my father's butcher's shop I would catch the bus to school.

Usually you'd hear them coming before you saw them. They had a trailer which was stoked up with coke that powered the bus because there was no petrol.

At school things were very different from today. We all had to stand up when a teacher came into the room and we couldn't sit down until they said so.

Corporal punishment was used regularly. If you hadn't done your homework you'd be strapped. But the teachers usually kept order with a 3ft rule they used to slam down on your desk. We all sat up very straight in those days. School finished at 4pm.

Things were pretty tight but my mother gave us the best she could provide, like a little corned beef. But never cheese, that was very tightly rationed.

After school finished, I would get the bus home and complete two hours of homework before father returned. All of us would then sit down for an evening meal.

If I behaved myself I was allowed to listen to the radio for a while before I went to bed at 9 or 9.30."

Ian Borland, 73, of Shawlands, Glasgow

Nineties Child

Surf the Net 'til midnight

"LIKE MOST people my age, an alarm clock is not enough. So, at seven every weekday, my human alarm clock, my mother, wakes me up.

I usually leave 10 or 15 minutes later than my mother, who teaches at a school near by. I rush to make sure my keys are where they need to be and I have the right books.

At 7.35am I take my place at the 36 bus stop outside the Oval tube station. My school, The Grey Coat Hospital in Victoria, is a mere 10 minutes away.

My day consists of seven 45-minute lessons. I spend my time swapping career ideas with my friend, Ebony, who encourages me, and we work together as a mini study group. We do this through phone calls, meetings, shopping and general socialising.

Being a child of the technology era, my prized possession at the moment is my new mobile phone which comes in handy at lunch times when I can send messages to my friend when he's at college.

After a seven-and-a-half hour day which could easily pass for a lifetime, I return to the fold where I spend the rest of my time watching Neighbours, Home and Away and Jerry Springer.

Then I surf the net and get my e-mails from friends. Sleep around midnight."

Juanita Rosenior, 15, is an editor for `Children's Express'