The Big Ask was a national consultation exercise with children in England to ask them about their lives and priorities, aspirations and worries for the future. It was launched in April 2021, and 555,000 children responded with 2,261 of those children being children in care.
Last month the Children’s Commissioner, in accordance with the children’s charity Coram, presented their analysis of the results from this survey in respect of children in care, and made recommendations on the basis of their findings.
The survey ran for 6 weeks and included children aged 6 to 17. Responses were received both from children in care and children who were not in care. This allowed direct comparisons to be made between the experiences and views of children in care and those outside the care system. Some of their key findings were:
- Overall, the happiness of children in care is lower than among young people in the general population. However, the percentage differences in unhappiness levels were small and unhappiness was generally low throughout the population.
- The biggest difference in happiness levels was in family life, where 10% of children in care aged 6 to 8 were unhappy in comparison to 7% of children not in care, and 88% of children in care aged 9 to 17 described themselves as happy compared to 94% in the general population.
- Children in care had a general sense of being underestimated or judged based on their situation and some recorded that they had been told they couldn’t achieve or were not good enough to succeed.
- Children in care identified a lot of high-level societal and cultural issues, such as inequality, healthcare, government and financial issues as being barriers to achieving their goals. This tended to mirror children who were not in care who also focused on macro level barriers. This showed that children in and out of care were similarly ambitious and attentive to their wellbeing.
- However, some children in care also saw their experiences in care as a barrier to achieving their goals, and they provided examples such as not being able to see their biological family, or foster parents having to seek permission before they could engage in certain activities.
- Children in care reported that they received help from their foster carers, teachers and social workers.
- Previous research has found that children in care may feel responsible for the abuse they suffered and/or their entry to care. It has been shown in the past that children in care can blame themselves and think something is wrong with them; however, these barriers were less frequently mentioned and instead wider reaching barriers were focused on in responses to The Big Ask. The report hypothesises it may be that Covid-19 has had an impact on how children viewed opportunities and barriers.
- Being underestimated and overcoming barriers were two themes in the responses from children in care.
It is unsurprising that children in care report less happiness in their family lives, given that these children will have been removed from their families and have experienced uncertainty and instability. However, the overall picture is that the responses from children in care are not significantly different to children outside the care system. The report confirms that the findings illustrate that children in care are children, first and foremost.
Three recommendations are made in the report. These are:
- A reminder that children in care are children first, and every professional who supports children in care and care leavers should have high aspirations for them and support them in every aspect of their lives. This is intended to combat the common theme that children in care feel underestimated;
- Teachers and school staff are a source of support. As a result schools should be recognised as a key source of stability and support for children, and work is necessary to help children stay in school and attend regularly. Schools and primary care networks should be better utilised in supporting Local Safeguarding Partnerships. Further, the report states that all children in care should be entitled to advocacy services as standard to provide independent advice, assistance and representation support; and
- That there should be an emphasis on children’s voice in research and evaluation – and importantly, children’s voices should be at the forefront of policy development and education. To quote the report, “Children are the experts in their own life experiences and they know best what needs to change to improve the lives of children”. Future research should concentrate on children’s views so as to gain a better understanding of the issues affecting children in care.
The findings of the report are interesting and perhaps unsurprising. It appears that in recent years children have become more acutely aware of macro problems such as health and the environment and this has impacted the responses in The Big Ask. It is possible that the timing of the survey plays a role in this – questions were asked in April 2021 amidst the pandemic.
The Government’s response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has now been published after being delayed from 2022. Further comment will follow regarding the Government’s consideration of the review, particularly in light of the recommendations from The Big Ask.