Dame Rachel de Souza – ‘Children’s views must be central to election manifestos’

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children's Commissioner for England

The Children’s Commissioner for England hopes the results of her latest survey, The Big Ambition, will convince political leaders that children’s interests need to be top of their agendas.

Dame Rachel De Souza said that despite being fully ‘engaged’ with the world and full of practical solutions, this generation of children were being ‘frustrated and disempowered’ because their experiences are not being reflected in the decision-making process.

“Childhood is precious and should be protected – my vision for children is one where they believe in their ability to drive change without bearing the weight of adult responsibilities,” said Dame Rachel.

Only one in five children in England believe their views are important to the nation’s policymakers, and only 10 per cent of teenagers believe they have the power to influence the issues they care about, according to the The Big Ambition, which combines fresh feedback with the commissioner’s 2021 survey, The Big Ask.

‘They are talked about, rather than to’

The results, she says, shows just how committed children are to resolving issues that were previously unique to the older generation. In short, young people want to be asked what they think and, more importantly, have their answers listened to, scrutinised and acted upon.

The Big Ambition survey, which was launched in parallel with the Commissioner’s 16 youth ambassadors, draws on the insights of children, and offers practical, straightforward solutions to issues including staying safe online, challenging myths around body images and lessons in how to manage their money.

Disappointingly, only one in five feel listened to by the adults in power

There are also clear messages asking for changes to policies in order to focus on care rather than custody, to protect their childhoods and provide specialist support. Raising the age of criminal responsibility and pushing police forces to direct young offenders towards positive activities that divert them from crime or exploitation were among other issues raised.

“Children in this country constantly amaze me with their insight and awareness,” continued Dame Rachel. “This is a generation of children faced with ever-evolving technology, stiff competition for jobs and university places, a postcode lottery in access to good healthcare, parents struggling with rising costs and lives played out over social media – but rather than becoming despondent or pessimistic, they are charged with energy and a passion for making change.

“Yet – disappointingly – only one in five feel listened to by the adults in power. Without the proper structures in place to consult with them, it means when it comes to elections, manifestos, promises from their local MPs or councillors, their opinions are too easily ignored. They are talked about, rather than to – they are not truly heard.

The report marks the halfway point of Dame Rachel’s term as commissioner, and it should serve, she added, as ‘a call to action to all politicians in this general election year – listen to children and act on what they are telling you’.

Click here for links to downloading the summary and full versions of The Big Ambition.

Author: Simon Weedy

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