Children’s well-being lowest in eight years, report finds
The Children’s Society annual report, The Good Childhood Report, published this week, has found a significant decrease in children’s overall happiness.
The report, now in its eighth year, is part of an ongoing research programme with the University of York, and ‘was initiated to ensure that children’s own voices could be central to any public debates about their well-being’. 67,000 children have now been involved in the programme and according to the report, the body of work has not only contributed to the ‘now widespread agreement that children’s well-being can and should be measured’ but also to the notion that ‘children’s own reports of how their lives are going should be considered the gold standard when measuring well-being’.
The report explores the trends of childhood happiness over eight years, concluding that its ‘analysis of the latest trends (comparing 2009-10 with 2016-17) in subjective well-being for children aged 10 to 15 show decreases in children’s happiness with life as a whole’, with almost a quarter of a million children experiencing low well-being. It also explores childhood happiness in relation to friends, family, appearance, school and schoolwork.
The report goes on to look at ‘children’s self-reported experiences of disadvantage’ and how much these contributed to an overall lower well-being, finding that bullying, not feeling safe at school and material deprivation had the greatest impact. It also finds that children ‘experiencing disadvantages across multiple areas of their lives had lower average well-being than those experiencing more than one disadvantage in one area’.
The report also explores the relationship between families’ financial circumstances and children’s well-being, looking not just at household income, but also ‘how well the family is coping financially’. Unsurprisingly, it finds that children living in income poverty to be significantly more likely to experience low life satisfaction and depression than a child not living in income poverty. However, it finds the well-being ‘gap’ is larger when comparing experiences of financial strain to experiences of income poverty. When looking at the history of poverty, it was found ‘living in intermittent poverty is associated with lower life satisfaction than living in persistent poverty’, which could link to other factors related to fluctuations in income. The report concluded
‘that the link between economic circumstances and children’s subjective experience is much more complex and important than is evident from considering only current household income.’
According to the report, of the 10 domains of well-being that children were asked about, ‘the lowest average score is for what may happen in the future’. Children living in income poverty were significantly more worried about having a home to live in, having enough money, and their future mental health, while children with low life satisfaction generally were significantly more worried about their future than other children.
It goes on to set out policy recommendations, stating:
‘The evidence is clear and uncontroversial: from family issues and neighbourhood safety to progress at school and mental-ill health, understanding children’s wellbeing provides important insights that could be used to improve childhood. As a society we have to start taking children’s well-being more seriously.’
Recommendations include reviewing policies such as Universal Credit, which has seen ‘increased reports of families experiencing financial strain’, and re-prioritising early intervention through ‘youth services, family support, or drop-in hubs’. In regards to children’s worries about the future, the report argues that ‘young people need to be heard’ and we need to ‘ensure that their views are taken seriously and acted upon’, through ‘participatory budgeting, citizen assemblies, and co-production in service design’. Finally it proposes a comprehensive national measurement of children’s well-being to replace the current ‘ad-hoc’ approach: as it stands children fill out a range of unstandardised surveys, the data gathered is rarely benchmarked, and ‘most of the time it is of little use to, or little used by, other local and national decision makers’.
The report concludes:
‘Making the effort, once a year, to ask young people how they are feeling – and then working with them to respond nationally and locally in an authentic way – is a simple way to start addressing these concerns and make genuine progress in improving children’s well-being.’
Read the full report here.
Sign The Children’s Society’s petition to demand the Government measures young people’s well-being across the country.