Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

The wider impact education effects of childhood chronic illnesses.

Project Number:



Eilidh Cowan (University of Edinburgh)
Prof Chris Dibben (University of Edinburgh)
Dr Tom Clemens (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:



The project aims to address the following research questions:

1. How does the presence of a chronically ill sibling affect school attainment and attendance?

2. Do the socio-economic circumstances of the family mediate these relationships and are there clear inequalities in this relationship?

3. Do these relationships vary between different geographical areas such as between geographical locations?


1. Children with chronically ill sibling have reduced school attainment and attendance in comparison to children without chronically ill siblings.

2. The above relationship will be greater in those children with a lower socio-economic status.

3. There will be differences between different areas for the above outcomes.

Recent medical advances have allowed chronically ill children and youths to live longer and to reside at home in the care of their families rather than in a medical institution. Therefore, there is an increase in families with chronically ill children in the western countries. Children, their parents and their siblings now have to adapt and cope with chronic illness as an on-going stressor in their daily life. It appears that siblings of children with chronic conditions have poorer educational outcomes and these can be linked to wider outcomes of wellbeing. This finding is derived from lower attendance after diagnosis, reduced attainment and less ability to partake in extracurricular and social activities. Although these findings are educational, it appears that these may stem from psychological and social decline due to coping with changes within the family and daily life after their brother or sister has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. The potential for there to be a psychological effect if great, and children may present as they are “coping” but in fact looking at other areas such as school may provide indications for noticing the effects of having a chronically ill sibling. The education system provides a wide opportunity for interventions and diagnosis in the UK. Families are also often embedded within schools, including the ill child, and they may provide the opportunity for family interventions as well as individual strategies. However, the impact of having a chronically ill sibling is grossly understudied, especially longitudinally. Therefore, greater research in this area is required in order to fully understand the long term outcomes in education and wellbeing, of children with chronically ill siblings, and to characterise the underlying psychological reason behind this. This will allow the education system and policies to recognise areas to support these children better and mitigate the potential long term impact in this population. Finally, health and education should be considered together. Education settings provide a platform to observe changes in behaviour and the perhaps highlight concerns in wellbeing at an early stage. Further to this, the education setting is an ample setting to provide interventions and support a child in a challenging situation. This study aims to examine at a population scale, the health and education effects, for wider family members, of caring and looking after children within the family with chronic illness.


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