- Dame Rachel de Souza DBE praises the resilience, optimism, and honesty of children who, having lived through Covid, reject, as she does, talk of “a lost generation” but are on the evidence, a roll-up-their-sleeves, “heroic” generation.
- She issues a rallying call to put the next generation front and centre of the recovery from the pandemic by adopting a range of immediate measures that would improve children’s lives: their health and wellbeing, catch-up in schools, their family life, the communities they value, deliver on their ambition for good jobs, and improve their experiences in care.
- Looks towards future work focussing on more complex issues to put children, particularly the most vulnerable, firmly on the political agenda and to forge further changes that will keep children’s lives improving for this generation and the next.
Dame Rachel de Souza DBE, Children’s Commissioner for England is today (Tuesday 21st Sept) responding to those 557, 077 children who made her Big Ask survey of children (21st April- 16th May 2021) the largest survey of children of its kind anywhere, ever. In a message both thanking them and revealing her thinking about what they said, she sets out both immediate policy changes that would make England’s children and children in England’s lives better. She also points to future areas of change where she and her Office will work on in the long term. “This report isn’t the end of the Big Ask, it’s the start of a new deal for children”.
The report, “The Big Answer” highlights how overall, despite the effects of the pandemic children in England are happy, and optimistic, but have specific concerns and worries. Across all groups of children, no matter their ethnicity, deprivation, vulnerability, the top things they care about at the moment are the same: their mental and physical health, things to do in their local area, life at school, progress in education. There was also a significant focus placed on future careers: 69% of 9-17 year olds said having a good job was one of their main priorities.
Amplified by their experience in the pandemic children have better understood the value of a supportive loving family life, the importance to them of being physically and mentally well, and that they like being in school. However, they want more to do in the real world, as they understand the online world has been both a blessing and a curse. Nor is their focus just on themselves. Children told us they want fairness for all, and they care deeply about the environment – the second most common future worry for children between 9-17 was whether they would grow up to benefit from a healthy planet. 39% of 9-17 year olds say challenges to the environment is one of their main priorities and concerns for the future.
The report divides the findings into six themed, but linked areas: family, community, health and well-being, schools, jobs and skills, and children in care.
- 71% of 9-17 yr. olds and 94% of 6-8 yr. olds are happy with their life overall, though 9% of 9-17 yr. olds don’t think they’ll have a better life than their parents.
- Of those who are unhappy 70% were unhappy with their mental health.
- Girls are twice as likely to be unhappy with their mental health than boys and 52% of 9-17 yr. olds say having good mental health is one of their main aspirations.
- 80% of 9-17 yr. olds said they are happy with their family life but where children are unhappy with that, they are 9 times more likely to be unhappy with life overall.
- 57% of children from deprived areas said leaving school with a good education was one of their most important priorities.
There are a wide range of immediate Big Answer policy suggestions including:
- A comprehensive catch-up package for schools, an urgent focus on improved services to children struggling with attendance and consequences of the pandemic, and voluntary time, after school but in school, for catch up and activities.
- A rapid expansion of mental health support teams using the voluntary and charitable sectors, developing consistent digital counselling which children often say they prefer, and develop Community mental health hubs to provide children with open access to NHS services for advice and treatment.
- A package of measures to improve children’s online experiences including stronger safeguarding from social media platforms and preventing children’s access to online pornography.
- Extend the Kickstart programme for 6 months into 2022, to allow for more placements to be established, a specific strategy to improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships across a wider range of sectors.
- Expansion of the Family Hubs network, and use them to make public services more accessible, integrated and efficient. Double the Supporting Families programme.
- Immediate investment in better residential children’s homes, measures improve children in care’s access to mental health support and immediate improvements to care-leavers support including reforms to universal credit for them.
Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England said:
“When I launched the Big Ask, I hoped for a big response, and we got a huge one. Within the half-a-million-plus responses we got is a rich display of honesty, hope, and authenticity about what concerns them. Given what they have sacrificed during the Covid pandemic, not only did they deserve a Big Answer from me, which I think we have given but they have inspired me with how resilient, consistent, optimistic, and thoughtful they are, even those most vulnerable and from deprived backgrounds. Our response today which is full of recommendations to start improving their lives now, is not the end of the process. The voice of half million children gives me, and those in my team, a road map for how we continue to build a brighter future for childhood in England, not just in the aftermath of the pandemic but for the long term. I hope the Big Answer will be the foundation for a truly transformative period for a generation who are far from ‘lost’ and need all of us to help build them the future they most certainly deserve”.