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The physical and mental health of our children and young people is of paramount importance as it lays the foundation for their overall wellbeing and sets them up for future success. As Children’s Commissioner, I want all children to grow up feeling happy, healthy and well, with access to support quickly and locally when they need it.  

Early investment, as in so many areas, is vital for children’s health. From the earliest years, a focus on good health and development can set a child up for success later in life. That’s why in The Big Ambition I recommended set out steps to increase the frequency of childhood health checks. Investing in health early on not only tackles preventable illness but also supports children and young people to engage fully in activities, learn effectively and build resilience to cope with the challenges of life.  

Children and young people see no difference between physical and mental health; they instead speak about these things in relation to each other. This is a younger generation which has witnessed the deep disruption of a global pandemic, seen its impact on their educations, families and social lives, and is uniquely health conscious. 

In The Big Ambition, most children agree they can access good healthcare, but there are particular barriers for some groups of children. It was concerning that in some focus groups, children suggested that you needed to pay to see a GP, perhaps reflecting worries or narratives they have heard about challenges accessing healthcare. For those seeking mental health treatment, far too many are left waiting: in the last year, nearly 40,000 young people experienced a wait of more than two years for help.    

Similarly, most children feel they have someone supportive to talk to, which is a vital safeguard for mental wellbeing, but this was lower for older children. The most concerning findings are perhaps how many children, especially girls, are not happy with the way they look.  

Responses to The Big Ambition showed children and young people are acutely aware of the need and accessibility of healthcare services in promoting both physical and mental health from a young age:  

“They should give us more support with our mental health and wellbeing as at the moment there is not enough help for students or their families to support them.” – Girl, 15. 

“The waiting times for neurological diagnoses in the UK is too long and leaves many children without access to the support they need.” – Boy, 16 

“Help us make better choices or help us to get a healthy lifestyle.” – Girl, 9 

With this in mind, a holistic and preventive approach to children’s health and wellbeing is essential, where a child’s physical health goes hand in hand with their mental health. Only when we consider wider factors impacting health outcomes, from tackling child poverty to making sure every child grows up in a safe and loving home, can we truly improve the overall wellbeing for our children for future generations to come.  

That is why I have set out five overarching outcomes I want for every child in The Big Ambition, namely that they are safe, healthy, happy, learning and engaged in their community.  

To achieve these outcomes for the health of children and young people will mean achieving the following ambitions:  

You can read all my recommendations for how we can achieve each of these ambitions in full The Big Ambition report.  

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