As I take up my position as Children’s Commissioner for England we are at a watershed moment for our country. The Covid pandemic has had a dramatic impact on all our lives, but especially for children who have spent so much time out of school, and missed out on many of the things we now take for granted about childhood, like birthday parties, school trips, and even playing football with their friends. In terms of economic, social and cultural shocks – in terms of deaths – this is a post-war generation in all but name. As we start to emerge from the pandemic, blinking into the light, we have a chance to reassess where we are going as a country and set out a new vision for our future.
It is at moments like this when children look to us as adults to provide the answers. As a teacher, then a headteacher and running a team of schools, I have always taken that responsibility extremely seriously. This job is no different.
But to provide the answers our children need as they ponder an uncertain future, we first need to listen to them. That’s why I launched The Big Ask, the largest ever consultation with children in England. Over half a million children have taken part in our survey, sharing their views and opinions on what worries them most, their dreams for the future, and the barriers they feel are holding them back. I have travelled up and down the country, from Grimsby to Gateshead, from Bristol to Birmingham to talk to children about their lives today, their experiences of the pandemic, and what they need from us as adults to help them thrive. I’ve heard from children in custody, on mental health wards and in children’s homes. We’ve held focus groups with parents of toddlers, and with children from a range of different backgrounds who often don’t get their voices heard.
What is so clear to me from what I’ve heard is this is a passionate, and compassionate generation of children. They have strong views about protecting our environment and building a fairer society. Now I want to work with others to help children achieve their goals, by dismantling those barriers that are holding them back. This is the moment to bring together people working in all the different parts of the system to create a support structure that works for children and families. We need to harness the ambition of William Beveridge, when he published his landmark report in 1942. We need to listen to what children are telling us and create a national vision to make this country the best country in the world in which to grow up. The responses to The Big Ask will drive the next phase of work for my Childhood Commission which will propose big changes to the way in which we support children and families in this country. When I hand over this role to my successor, I want to look back at six years in which adults in power in this country have done even more for children than the post-war generation. I want to see not just a golden age of policy-making, but a golden age of delivery. As adults, that is our responsibility to the next generation.