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What matters to children is as important as what matters to adults
It’s easy for the government’s army of statisticians and inspectors to ignore the voices and views of the nation’s 11 million children. Civil servants can all too easily see children as passive objects to be studied rather than active participants with valid opinions. Yet there have been some encouraging indications in the last week that this is changing.
In response to the prime minister’s call at the end of last year to determine the country’s progress in terms of how happy as well as how wealthy we are, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has embarked on a programme of work to develop measures of well-being.
The first step was a national debate, asking thousands of people what matters most to them. Children were included in this group and they highlighted the importance of family and friends, while adults also included health and financial security.
In a society where there is a tradition of children being seen but not heard the ONS’s recognition that what matters to children is as important as what matters to adults is a significant step forward.
Advocating for children’s well-being
At The Children’s Society we have long urged government to take children’s views more seriously and have developed an index of children’s subjective well-being. This shows that not only family and friends matter but critically the ability to exercise choice and autonomy are equally important.
The ONS is now committed to developing national well-being measures that are relevant to everybody. But their plans for measuring children’s well-being still need to be developed and there is a risk that adults’ views could be given priority.
Much depends on whether the statisticians are held to account to deliver what they have promised. We’ll certainly be seeking to do this but hopefully the emerging recognition that children need to be actively listened to will also provide added pressure.
The schools inspectorate, Ofsted, which has responsibility for assessing the crucial work of child protection, is one organisation that has now decided to review how it listens to children. Previously, inspections have been so focused on process that they’ve lost sight of the importance of the child’s experience.
Rather than asking children what they think about how they have been treated by social workers and other professionals, inspectors have busied themselves examining whether targets have been met and procedures have been followed.
Thankfully this is set to change. Ofsted is proposing that the majority of inspectors’ time will be spent talking with children, families and professionals. There will be a firm focus on the child and his or her journey.
If inspectors get it right this could result in a dramatic improvement to how children’s social services are judged. Critically it should mean that the child’s best interests are genuinely at the heart of the child protection system.
Children should be considered active participants, not passive recipients
The approaches taken by the ONS and Ofsted to seeing children as active participants, rather than passive recipients of adult decisions, should not be underestimated.
It reflects a gradual change in how some of the big state bureaucracies view children.
This is by no means a cultural revolution but is certainly a welcome sign that the voice of the children is now being taken more seriously.