This year, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office conducted the largest ever survey of children in England. A record-breaking half a million responded – the voice of a generation. The ‘Big Answer’, published this September, is our first response to this outpouring of children’s voices as we emerge from the Covid pandemic.
We were overwhelmed by the stories and views that children entrusted us with. They told us about their hopes, fears, dreams and ideas across every aspect of their lives. They told us what they needed to live full lives and achieve their ambitions.
Now it is our job as adults to act on what they have told us. Using this landmark set of data, the Children’s Commissioner is building a plan to give back to children after the pandemic. This plan involves all adults – across government, health, education, business and beyond – coming together to make change happen for this heroic generation of children.
This blog post is the second of a series outlining what we heard and setting out what needs to happen next.
Put simply, family is a fundamental pillar of children’s lives. Children care deeply about family – families of all kinds. 4 in 5 children are happy with their home lives and find support in their closest relationships. There is great optimism in the power of families to nurture and stimulate, regardless of what form family takes. This is especially inspiring to hear as we come out of the pandemic, when households have been locked down together, often under challenging circumstances.
“I have been very lucky to have grown up with a very supportive and stable family environment with fantastic role models in my parents” – Boy, 17.
The pandemic asked a lot of children. Stuck at home with their families, they began to see behind the curtain of adulthood, growing up, but absorbing the stresses and strains of parents, siblings and carers. Children worried about money and took on caring responsibilities. Parents too noticed their patience wearing thin amid the overwhelming demands on them.
“My family struggles because it is only my mum working. I try to help with chores and cleaning but my mum is tired and I’m worried about her. She can’t handle this any longer since my dad walked out” – Boy, 11.
As we put the pandemic behind us, it is time to transfer those burdens back to adults. In doing this, we need to build parents and carers up to be as strong as they can be – and be there to catch them when they fall. There must be support available when families need it, and that support must be good enough.
We have proposed three policies as a starting point in making this happen.
First, an expansion of the Family Hubs network would mean a welcoming and convenient access point for families to get help in every community. We want to see Family Hubs across the country being able to link families up with any support they might need, for themselves and for their children of any age. Universal services like Health Visiting, should be based in hubs so that they become familiar and friendly places to all families, from all backgrounds.
Second, the Supporting Families programme helps bring positive change for families facing multiple disadvantages. Doubling funding for this programme would build on progress to date helping hundreds of thousands of families, delivering real results, such as getting parents into work, helping children stay in school and diverting children away from social care involvement.
Thirdly, to provide support for families and children who are need. Free breakfast clubs and an extension of the Holiday Activities Fund, which provides food and activities to children during the school holidays are both measures that would tackle child hunger. Free school meal enrolment should become automated and free school meals should also be extended to families with no recourse to public funds, who are some of the most vulnerable families in this country.
To read more about our proposals to support families, see here.
This is just the start of an ambitious journey to carve out a new deal for children’s futures – at home, at school, for their health, in their local communities and the jobs they get in future.
The Big Ask: The Big Answer report is available to read here.