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Children’s commissioner: Children are determined to put pandemic behind them

Children and young people struggled during lockdowns, with vulnerable children being the worst affected, the children’s commissioner for England’s Big Ask survey has found.

Dame Rachel de Souza

The Big Ask was launched by Dame Rachel de Souza after she became children’s commissioner for England and the survey gained 557,077 responses from children in England aged 4—17. This is equivalent to nearly 6% of the whole population of this age group in England, a hundred times larger than comparable surveys and there were also responses from children in all of the 151 English local authorities.

Children and young people experienced lost learning time, being cut off from friends and play, supporting struggling parents and siblings, enduring lockdown in homes that are not safe. In fact, when asked if there were spheres of life where they wanted to be happier, the main issues were remarkably consistent across all groups:

  • things to do in their local area
  • experience of school
  • mental health.

“Growing up in a world worried about fairness, about the environment, about coronavirus, they are a generation that does feel burdened with a sense of inherited problems,” said the report by Dame Rachel de Souza, children’s commissioner for England.

“But they are determined to put the pandemic behind them, to recover well, to get back to school and make good lives for themselves. The majority of English children are in fact happy, optimistic, and outward‑looking,” the report added.

Lockdown made children and young people more aware of managing their wellbeing and are newly conscious of the components of being healthy and happy.

The Big Ask survey revealed:

  • They want to spend more time outside and invest in and improve their local areas.
  • They want to participate in more activities.
  • They care not just about their own priorities, but about creating happier families, neighbourhoods, schools, and communities – both local and national.
  • They are not a snowflake generation – they are a ‘sleeves‑up’ heroic generation.
  • They simply need adults to notice, and to help lift what burdens they can.

Overall, The Big Ask pointed to a vision of how to make the best possible version of England for children which can be broken down into six policy areas:

Families - Children revealed how much they care about their family, whatever form the family unit takes. Across all identity groups and regions of England, the message was universal: family forms a fundamental pillar of children’s lives, and of their happiness. As we emerge from the pandemic, this is now the moment to support families, especially those families where children are vulnerable.

Children and Community - This generation of children are civic‑minded, social, and outward‑looking. They want to do activities in their local area that are fun and sustaining, they want their lives to be made safer, they want to be treated fairly and they want to feel part of something larger than themselves – a caring, engaged community.

Health and Wellbeing – Children care about feeling happy and healthy. This is a generation newly conscious of the artificial dichotomy between mental and physical health. They want to be able to rely on the NHS to be there for them when they need it. Now, as we emerge from the pandemic and all the extra strain it placed on children’s lives, there is an opportunity to make sure we are prioritising children’s wellbeing in general, and, where it is needed most, the speed of their access to good healthcare outcomes.

Schools  - Children in England care passionately about being able to go to school again, to recover from the pandemic. They find school challenging, but fulfilling. They do not expect rewards without hard work, but they do expect to be truly supported, especially given the extent of the demands placed upon them. Vulnerable children are, as ever, in particular need of support.

Work - Children from all over the country are determined to get on and do well reflecting an ambitious generation. They spoke in terms not just of jobs, but careers. They want to be able to afford a good adult life and be confident of getting there, whatever the pathway.

Children in Care - Children in care share the same hopes and aspirations as their peers. Children told us about the care they were grateful for, but also about the times they were let down. Children in care are not always confident the system will be there for them when they need it. Even when care is working well, there are bureaucratic processes that can be frustrating or alienating. The positive stories show us what the system can deliver: we must now make sure this is the experience of all children in the system.

Furthermore, children and young people wanted to protect the world they are growing up in and spoke about their concerns for climate change and animal welfare.

Finally children were exasperated when they felt that their thoughts and ideas were dismissed. Being dismissed for expressing the legitimate view that the problems they are most concerned about – discrimination, socioeconomic inequality, and a damaged environment – are inherited problems. No matter where they were from, children in England were distressed when their voices are invalidated. They care about being heard.

“This report is an appeal directly to the government, to the Treasury, to put children at the heart of the recovery. Will this investment show up in GDP next year? No. By the end of this parliament? Perhaps not. But the life of a parliament can mean successive periods of short‑term policy‑making and generations of children, who cannot vote, are rooted at the bottom of the spending priorities list. Apart from anything else, ensuring secure pathways for young people does make long‑term economic sense. Remember that, in a functioning system, each pound invested in securing happy, productive futures for children is repaid tenfold,” the report concluded.

The Big Ask The Big Answer

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