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The Big Ask – let’s listen to our children

“If adults are to learn one thing from this report, it should be as follows. This is not a snowflake generation. It is a heroic generation.”

– Dame Rachel de Souza DBE. Children’s Commissioner for England, 2021.

Back in March, the Children’s Commissioner’s office embarked on an ambitious undertaking. 

The purpose? 

To ‘hear the voices of as many children in England as possible [and] to amplify them’.

The project in question was called the Big Ask.

The questions posed, the answers are in. It’s time for us all to take notice.

In penning her foreword for the sizeable report in which the study’s findings are outlined, Dame de Souza began with a single, simple word.

That word is listen. It is so important.

There is no point in asking a question and not giving the answer our attention, yet all too often, children and young people struggle to make their voices heard.

Derided in some quarters as snowflakes, concerns are all too often brushed aside, and issues overlooked or ignored.

Do we, as a society, really listen to young people? Do we consider their thoughts and their feelings? Do we contemplate the things that cause the greatest troubles, or those that matter to them most?

In spearheading the Big Ask, the Children’s Commissioner has given children a prominent platform from which to make themselves heard.

In eliciting 557,077 responses from those aged between four and 17, it is quite clear that there is much that children are keen to tell us.

These are children – it must be made clear – from all backgrounds; those in care, those with social workers, those attending special schools, and those who have additional learning needs; those who receive mental health support and those who do not; children diverse and different, yet all share common beliefs and values – or, as the report puts it, ‘a generation of children with a common voice.’

So the things that are most important to them… 

Their families and their communities; feeling happy, feeling well; going to school, working hard, having ambitions; the state of the nation; having a voice and making it heard, it isn’t much to ask.

These are, as Dame de Souza notes ‘their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their stories [and] their plans for tomorrow’, and in articulating them, great credit is due.

“However reassuring the promise of anonymity, to share the contents of your heart, even in an online form, is an act of trust, courage and hope,” the Children’s Commissioner wrote. “A more cynical generation might have said ‘no’.”

This is something that, here at CPUK, we perhaps understand better than most, for our experience attests that opening up and articulating that which is inside is no small feat.

It’s for this reason that we chose to blog about this…

For all those involved, taking part was a big ask. 

If such questions are to be posed, it’s incumbent upon us all to listen to the answers.

The Big Ask report is too long for us to detail at length here, but for anyone determined to understand children and young people better, it is recommended reading. It’s all online. You can find it here.

In the meantime, the things that most struck a chord here include a description of post-lockdown childhood in England, of children ‘bruised [and] vulnerable [yet] happy, optimistic [and] determined.’

This is – as the report notes – a ‘survivor’s generation, a sleeves-up, pragmatic generation, with civic-minded aspirations.

‘They believe in family – not just the nuclear family, [but] families of all kinds. Simply, they want happy homes. They want to be healthy, mentally and physically, [and] to escape the digital labyrinth in which they’ve been trapped . . . to be outside in open spaces, to play, [to engage in] activities and sport, not for competition [but] for participation.

‘They want community . . . to vote . . . to be part of something bigger than themselves [and] to get on and do well. [Times have been] frightening [and] sacrifices [made, but young people] see the challenges and want to reckon with them. [This is] a heroic impulse.’

This might not fit the snowflake narrative, or the myths so often perpetuated.

But this is a more accurate representation, a truer picture, the voices that matter, being heard at last.

That being the case, we recommend that you do as Dame de Souza suggests and listen.

Really, that’s not such a big ask.