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Schools Blog

The Good Childhood Inquiry

I’ve always thought that if you want a sensible answer to an important question, there’s one group of people guaranteed to give it: children. Children are the ones who truly hold a mirror up to society. Children don’t worry about tact or the ‘right’ answer. Children tell it like it is. Children speak from the heart. And when children speak, they inspire any and every kind of emotion – from joy and wonder to utter heartbreak.

It is with all of these feelings that I read the latest report from The Children’s Society, The Good Childhood Inquiry. The report, published February 2009, is the culmination of two years’ hard work, incorporating views of 20,000 children and 10,000 adults from across the UK. The research was undertaken via from BBC Newsround websites, ‘My life’ postcards completed in schools, over 50 focus groups and calls for evidence to children and adults alike. No stone was left unturned as the writers talked to professionals in childcare, young people in Young Offenders Institutes, Pupil Referral Units, Romany children as well as thousands in regular homes and schools across the country, in their pursuit of answers to some pretty big questions: What makes for a good childhood? What stops that happening today? What changes could be made to help make it better?

The findings are, in some ways, remarkable; in others, what we all suspect we knew already. They are divided into key themed areas pertaining to family, friends, lifestyle, values, schooling, mental health and inequalities. At a glance, we see that the shape of childhood has massively changed - most children are healthier and wealthier than ever before, with more opportunities to achieve at school. But at the same time, child poverty is still a persistent reality, kids are feeling more pressured and family life is in a terrible state. What makes these findings astute and astounding are the words coming from the children themselves – words that portray a generation of young people as more self- and socially-aware that people give them credit for, and in the midst of it, incredibly broken. Take, for example, some responses to this issue of what would make life better for children:

‘Everyone should have a friend.’ (11-year-old girl)

‘It is important for me that childhood is sealed with a kiss – it must be full & bursting of love!’
‘I wish could make all childrens parents love them.’
(11-year-old boy)

And what are the things that make life bad for them?

‘Sometimes they blame themselves for something they haven’t done and they wen’t fergive them-selves.’ (10-year-old girl)

‘I sometimes feel that noone wants me or likes me.’

‘I do not think there is anything about my life that is bad, it is not perfect, but compared to some people I am very lucky to have the sort of life that I do and I am very grateful for that.’ (11-year-old girl)

The report is a heart-cry – from children to the adults that are called to look after them. It asks that they offer a safe and loving home life, that they are treated with respect, that they are given clear and reasoned guidance on how they should best live their life while providing the support they need to find their own path towards independence and self-realisation.

To this end, the Children’s Society recommendations are far-reaching and uncompromising. Parents, stay together and think about the responsibility being asked of you. Provide love and discipline for your kids. Schools, create a positive ethos based on mutual respect. Teachers, remember that your attitude has a massive impact on a child’s experience. Help them learn values they need for life. Parliament, help parents where they’re weak, provide more places for children to play, provide better mental health support for kids who are significantly struggling, offer apprenticeships and ban advertising. Media, stop exaggerating risks to children and misrepresenting them to the people who trust your advice and opinions. Advertisers, stop targeting kids and over-sexualising everything. And finally, to all the rest of us, be positive towards children and welcome them into the kind of society we want to be a part of.

And what for the church and other faith groups? The Good Childhood Inquiry sends strong messages about the value of values – the importance of spirituality and morality which are currently getting trampled under the Nike-clad feet of consumerism and materialism. It highlights the havoc caused by a laissez faire approach to lifestyle and modern society’s ideal of individualism. The Children’s Society recommends that parents ‘help children develop spiritual qualities’ that will give them a larger perspective on their purpose for living. They want schools to embed PSHE in the curriculum and teach sex within the context of relationships and responsibility. The need to create and recreate community is key. These are areas in which the church may justifiably claim to have a certain amount of expertise. But it’s clear from reading the report that all of these recommendations are part and parcel of a single duty each of us has to our children – a duty that doesn’t need two years’ worth of research to identify. In fact I believe a man from Nazareth preached about it to death two thousand years back. That duty is love. And it’s needed more now than ever before.

For more information on The Good Childhood Inquiry, please visit: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

Submitted by Rachel Noyce at 9:13am, 12th March 2009