Posted: 07 August 2016

What's pants about your local area? What's tops?

At The Children's Society we believe that the voice and opinions of young people should be at the heart of everything we do. One way we ensure this is the case is through the work of our Community Participation team, who often go into schools and youth provision to hear young people’s thoughts. We caught up with Cath and Jo from the team to hear how their roles give young people a voice.

How do you capture what young people say?

We use a range of engaging activities including cartoon cut-out tops and pants. Children write on the tops and pants what is good and bad about a particular subject. We also use online surveys to ascertain their subjective well-being and understand how they feel about different aspects of life eg school, their local area and friends. 

You mentioned subjective well-being, what is it and why do you measure it?

Subjective well-being refers to a child’s judgement of their own life; how satisfied they are with different aspects of it. We ask children, the experts, rather than look at objective measures of attainment or family income. It helps find out what they say is going on in their lives: the good, the pressures and the changes they would like to see. So our conclusions are based on their context and point of view.

What is the funniest thing you’ve heard?

There are plenty we can’t share here… But safe to say giving space for children to reflect on aspects of life and relationships always gathers interesting results! Reflecting on appearance, one primary school girl wrote ‘most boys but not all of them are not presentable and they smell a bit’.

What is the hardest thing children face in schools?

School is not a passive environment for children, particularly as they get older. Teenage girls in England are particularly unhappy with their appearance, telling us they feel judged at every turn but it doesn’t have to be this way. In Spain girls score well on appearance – so we know that poor body image and self-esteem aren’t inevitable. Another reality is possible, there is hope.

What has surprised you most about your role?

Finding out how children’s experiences of policies and processes that affect them often differs from adults’ understanding and expectations. Wherever we go, there are always children and young people who want to tell us about what’s happening. They recognise unfairness and have a drive to see this changed.

It’s the summer holidays, what does that mean for children?

For children in poverty it can present different challenges. The loss of free school meals may mean going hungry. The structure and support that school can provide is also absent. They often can’t afford to access local amenities or travel, which means they have little choice in how they spend their time. Yet, due to pressures and problems at home, they are often out, but only in their immediate neighbourhood. Or as one child put it, ‘we do the same things every day… summer gets boring’.

If you could change one thing, what would it be and why?

We’d love children to be less critical of themselves, less judgemental of others and to respect themselves and each other.

How can I find out more?

You can read about the work we did with the New Economics Foundation on 5 Ways to well-being and there is a handy parent’s guide. There is also the next Good Childhood Report due at the end of August that highlights the different impact poverty has on children rather than adults, and opens up a conversation about the importance of local communities.

By Ben Palmer - Church team