Vulnerabilities in child wellbeing among primary school children: a cross-sectional study in Bradford, UK

Publication authors

Kate E Pickett, Mildred Ajebon, Bo Hou, Brian Kelly, Philippa K Bird, Josie Dickerson, Katy Shire, Mark Mon-Williams, Neil Small, Rosemary McEachan, John Wright, Deborah A Lawlor


Objective: To describe the prevalence of factors related to wellbeing among primary school children in a deprived multi-ethnic community. Design and participants: Cross-sectional survey of 15,641 children aged 7-10 years in the Born in Bradford Primary School Years study: whole-classroom samples in 89 Bradford primary schools between 2016 and 2019. Main outcome measures: Prevalence estimates by ethnicity (%, 95% CI) of single and multiple vulnerabilities in child wellbeing within and across four domains (home, family, relationships; material resources; friends and school; subjective wellbeing). Results Only 10% of children have no vulnerabilities in any domain of wellbeing; 10% have one or more vulnerabilities in all four domains. The highest prevalence estimates were for being bullied some or all of the time (52.7%, 51.9 to 53.4%), keeping worries to oneself (31.2%, 30.5 to 31.9%), having no park near home (30.8%, 30.1 to 31.5%) and worrying all the time about how much money their family has (26.3%, 25.6 to 27%). Boys were consistently significantly more likely than girls to report all of the vulnerabilities in the Home, Family and Family Relationships domain, and the majority of indicators in the other domains, and in all domains except Friends and School, boys were significantly more likely to have at least one vulnerability. Girls were significantly more likely to report not having many friends (16.7%, 95% CI: 15.9 to 17.6% vs. 12.5%, 95% CI: 11.8 to 13.2%), being bullied some or all of the time (55.8%, 95% CI: 54.7 to 56.9% vs. 49.7%, 95% CI: 48.6 to 50.8%) and feeling left out all the time (12.1%, 95% CI: 11.4 to 12.8%) vs. 10.3%, 95% CI: 9.7 to 11.0%). Variations in vulnerabilities by ethnicity were complex, with children in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups sometimes reporting more vulnerabilities and sometimes fewer than White British children. For example, compared to children of Pakistani heritage, White British children were more likely to say that their family never gets along well (6.3%,5.6 to 7.1% vs. 4.1%,3.6 to 4.6%) and to have no access to the internet at home (22.3%,21 to 23.6% vs. 18%,17 to 18.9%). Children with Pakistani heritage were more likely than White British children to say they had no park near their home where they can play with friends (32.7%,31.6 to 33.9% vs. 29.9%,28.6 to 31.3%), to report not having three meals a day (17.9%,16.9 to 18.8% vs. 11.9%,10.9 to 12.9%) and to worry all the time about how much money their families have (29.3%,28.2 to 30.3%) vs. 21.6%,20.4 to 22.9%). Gypsy/Irish Traveller children were less likely than White British children to say they were bullied some or all of the time (42.2%,35.4 to 49.4% vs. 53.8%,52.3 to 55.3%), but more likely to say they were mean to others all the time (9.9%,6.3 to 15.2% vs. 4%,3.5 to 4.7%) and can never work out what to do when things are hard (15.2%,10.6 to 21.2% vs. 9%, 8.2 to 9.9%). We considered six vulnerabilities to be of particular concern during the current Covid-19 pandemic and associated national and local lockdowns: family never gets along well together; no garden where child can play; no nearby park where they can play; not having 3 meals a day; no internet at home; worried about money all the time. Pre-pandemic, 37.4% (36.6 to 38.3%) of Bradford children had one of these vulnerabilities and a further 29.6% (28.9 to 30.4%) had more than one. Conclusions Although most primary school children aged 7-10 in our study have good levels of wellbeing on most indicators across multiple domains, fewer than 10% have no vulnerabilities at all, a worrying 10% have at least one vulnerability in all the four domains we studied and two thirds have vulnerabilities of concern during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared no competing interest.

Funding Statement

This study was funded by a joint grant from the UK Medical Research Council and UK Economic and Social Science Research Council (MR/N024397/1), with support from a Wellcome Trust infrastructure grant (WT101597MA) and the National Institute for Health Research under its Applied Research Collaboration Yorkshire and Humber (NIHR200166). The funders had no role in the design of the study, the collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data; the writing of the manuscript, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. All authors are independent of the funders, had full access to all of the data (including statistical reports and tables) in the study and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily those of any funder.

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I confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained.


The details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below:

Ethical approval has been obtained from the National Health Service Health Research Authority Yorkshire and the Humber (Bradford Leeds) Research Ethics Committee (reference: 16/YH/0062).

All necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived.


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