To the Point - Telling it how it is

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Children's Commissioner Maggie Atkinson says that we must listen to what children and young people think and feel

maggie-atkinson

As Children's Commissioner for England, I have a legal responsibility, as do the staff of my office, to represent children and young people's voices, views and interests to people and organisations that make decisions that affect their lives. Our work is about promoting and protecting children's rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights cover every aspect of childhood, from the centrality of the family, children's health and well-being through education, to safeguarding and freedom from fear and all forms of abuse, neglect and violence.

I count myself particularly fortunate to work with Amplify, my advisory group of children and young people aged between 11 and 18. Its members are at the heart of our work. They, with other groups of children and young people, work with us on specific projects when they have experience of what we are investigating.

Amplify recently led a project of its own, supported by members of my team. Its research looked at children's and young people's hopes and dreams, and the basic things, opportunities and hopes that all children and young people need to live happy lives. The result is a report of the findings, What We Say We Need, and an excellent film.

VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS

The research originated from Amplify's concerns that children and young people, especially when they live in low-income families, are the least likely people in society to have their voices heard by adults who make decisions that affect their lives.

The strength of their report lies in the fact that the research was developed, led and promoted by children and young people themselves. Amplify members were given a budget to co-design both the research and a web-based survey. They worked diligently with staff to sift, analyse and present their findings, and then with talented film-makers to produce their findings in an engaging way. More than 1,300 children and young people responded to their questions and voiced their concerns, as well as their triumphs - the latter sometimes achieved against massive odds.

The research found that nearly 90 per cent of respondents thought money was needed to underpin their lives and help them achieve their goals. Access to education was the option picked most among important opportunities, alongside access to health care.

Children in care, or who were care leavers, placed high importance on basic practical items such as cookers, clothes and the need to feel safe in their homes, highlighting that they face greater challenges obtaining such items than others do. We should be concerned that they feel they have to emphasise to us their need for even basic items such as clothes.

Responses from children and young people with disabilities were particularly interesting, as they placed a greater emphasis than other children on being able to get involved in sport, go on holidays and exercise their wish and ability to travel. Having a good social worker and support, and good transport fit for their needs and purposes, were important in helping them achieve their hopes and dreams. This echoes the findings of other research we commissioned recently on disabled children's experiences of being raised on low incomes, We Want To Help People See Things Our Way.

DOES IT RESONATE?

Children and young people themselves know more than anyone else what their lives are like. Nursery colleagues will know that far from being passive recipients, even very young children are capable of reflecting on their experiences and telling adults how they could be improved.

I am extremely proud of the work Amplify members have presented in their report and I welcome what it says to the adult world. They are intending to send it to every director of children's services in the country, as well as to people responsible for local child poverty plans. I am sure it will resonate with the adults who read it. And though it was completed by, and is likeliest to be read, by older children, I am certain you will find it resonates with you, as should so much of our work.

More information

What We Say We Need

We Want To Help People See Things Our Way

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