Almost 20 years ago, in 2004, the Children Act 2004 set out the Children’s Commissioner’s primary function: to promote and protect the rights of children in England, including promoting awareness of their views and interests.
Since starting my post as Children’s Commissioner in March 2021 I have put children’s voices at the heart of everything I have done. Starting with The Big Ask, the largest ever survey of children in England which heard from an incredible 550,000 children to my recent work on Attendance which has involved speaking directly with more than 300 children across the country.
My office and I are always thinking about the best way to give children the opportunity to make their voices heard, from online surveys to focus groups to visits to settings, including where children are resident away from home.
It’s not enough to only hear from children – we must act on what they tell us. I do this through publishing reports and blogs on what children have told me and recommend policy changes that reflect what children really need to make their lives better.
This year, again, all my work will be guided by children’s voices and experiences. To build on the work of the past two years I have recently launched my children’s advisory board. The advisory board will make sure that children are central to our decision making so that everything we do is rooted in the lived reality of England’s children.
In 2023, children will be at the receiving end of some of the old and new challenges this country faces, such as the cost of living crisis, waiting times for mental health support, and lack of provision for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). In the context of some of those challenges for young people today, one 16 year old boy who my team met during the work for The Family Review said:
‘I think young people’s ideas get shut off by older people thinking they’re foolish and stuff when some young people have smart and intelligent ideas and they might not want to share them because they might feel no one will be listening to them and they’ll be judged. They just stay quiet.’ – Boy, 16, who CCo met at a youth group, Family Review.
This year, let’s all make a conscious and active effort to change this. Children mustn’t feel like they’re not being listened to and stay quiet. To bring about change, children must feel empowered to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. They are the experts in their own life experience.
It’s important to listen to children this year. It’s important to listen to children every year, every day, all the time.
So, let’s do it. If you’ve got any ideas for what we need to speak about in 2023 – let the Office know #listeningtochildren2023.