Action is needed to prevent today’s children from becoming the “lost generation,” said England’s new Children Commissioner.
Dame Rachel de Souza said that every government department should “constantly push” to improve the lives of children.
And she has urged the Prime Minister and Chancellor to include children in every speech and to ensure that childhood is “high” on the government’s agenda.
She starts a one-time review to reach out to each child and identify any barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential amid the pandemic.
Dame Rachel was the executive director of a chain of academies with 14 schools in Norfolk and Suffolk before taking office this month.
With that experience behind her, she will hope that her testimonies will give even more authority to her warnings.
She said, “I’ve seen firsthand the impact this crisis has on young people’s hopes and dreams, and sometimes our answers just weren’t good enough.”
The review, titled The Childhood Commission, aims to address policy deficits that have hampered children’s lives for decades, as well as issues made worse by the pandemic, the commissioner said.
Dame Rachel told the Press Association that she was “absolutely determined” to see that children are given priority so they don’t become the “lost generation” as a result of the pandemic.
She said, “When we think about it, in many ways these children have made the greatest sacrifices for the least return. In terms of their experience, they are stuck at home, they haven’t seen their friends, they are concerned about their exam results, they are concerned about their next steps.
“Now is the time for us to give something back and put it first. I really believe that.”
The Children’s Ombudsman would like to ask every child in England how the pandemic has changed their life, what their pursuits are and what barriers there are, how things are at home, how their communities could be improved and how they feel about the future
Dame Rachel told PA, “We have an epidemic of mental health problems that is bubbling. I’m really interested to see what kids and teens are saying because every conversation I have comes up now.”
A study by NHS Digital shows that one in six children in England aged five to 16 will have a likely mental disorder in 2020, up from one in nine in 2017.
The new child representative would like a counselor in every school to help solve such problems.
She added, “I want childhood to be high on the government’s agenda. This means that every speech by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor mentions children and every government department is constantly pushing to improve children’s lives.
“We will listen to children first and have the largest consultation with children in England that has ever been.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said a change in summer vacation and longer school days are being investigated as part of long-term recovery plans to help students catch up on missed learning.
Dame Rachel said to PA: “I think it’s really interesting. When I ran a trust myself, it was the children themselves who wanted to go back to school and school during the summer holidays so they wouldn’t miss it.”
She said that many schools are already “running longer school days in a way that works for their communities.”
Dame Rachel said, “I think we should investigate these ideas with school principals, parents and children, but for me as a child officer, it is my job to ask children and young people what they think and to share this. That’s why we’re doing “The Big Ask”. “
As part of the consultation that will take place after the Easter break, an online survey will be distributed to all schools.
It is also sent to youth protection organizations, inpatient CAMHS units and children’s homes.
The Children’s Ombudsman added, “I want a 10-year plan and a plan that really puts children at the heart of all policies so that they can lead successful lives.”
The Commission will draw inspiration from the ambitions of William Beveridge’s report in the 1940s.
This work laid the foundation for the country’s welfare state.
Dame Rachel said, “Our response to the trauma of World War II was to create a blueprint for a social service system and national health service that will improve our lives.
“We now have the opportunity to do the same for children all over again. There is a great opportunity to reshape our social regulation that will not come for decades, and we must take advantage of it. “
Mark Russell, CEO of the Children’s Society, said, “The scale of the challenge is huge and we have to be big and brave.
“Ultimately, it is up to the government to make change through an ambitious agenda for children and young people, and we hope that their intent to put children’s wellbeing first as we emerge from the Covid crisis will not be just warm words but lead to concrete measures. “
A government spokeswoman said: “We know that children and families have faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.
“We have expanded support for frontline charities, providing schools and teachers with new resources to support child and adolescent mental health, as well as training professionals to overcome fear and trauma when returning to class.
“Our £ 1.7 billion investment in recovery support will help manage the effects of learning loss, and we are investing an additional £ 79 million to increase the number of mental health support teams that are involved Schools and colleges work together. “