The Department for Education published on February 7, a report about the well-being of children and young adults in the UK, aged 5-24 years, for the academic year 2021-2022.
Richard Crellin, Centre Associate, discusses key insights in the report and next steps.
Covid-19 has created a huge public interest in the well-being of children. It is surprising that the UK has difficulty answering the question, “How are our children doing?”
The fourth installment of the Department for Education’s annual reports on the health and wellbeing of children was published earlier this month. These reports combine the best available data on children’s wellbeing. They highlight key trends, areas for concern and positive developments in a variety of wellbeing domains, including personal wellbeing, mental health, education, skills and relationships, “what do we” and “self”, “society and the future”.
Recovery and impact of Covid-19
This year’s report focuses on the 2021/22 academic calendar.This article examines the period in which children recovered from the pandemic, with their social and school lives returning to something that is almost normal. Schools and colleges resumed full-time face to-face teaching and formal exams.
One of the key findings in the report is that children’s well-being in 2022 seems to have rebounded from its lowest point in 2020’s pandemic, to a level closer to the pre-pandemic period.
Nevertheless, there are some troubling findings that can puncture the good news. Get the most recent national data from schools It is evident that children’s anxiety at primary and secondary levels is greater than in 2020/21. Survey by NHS Digital on the prevalence of mental illness among children and youth The report also indicated a worrying rise in possible mental health issues among 17- and 19-year-olds, from one in six in 2020 to one in four by 2022.
These facts should be cause for concern. Although many children and youth have recovered from the pandemic, and are generally happy with their lives, many still struggle.
The pandemic can be ignored, even though The Children’s Society reports on it regularly in its Good Childhood ReportThe latest 11 data waves from Understanding Society The 2009/10 to 2019/20 data shows a slow, steady but statistically significant decline of the happiness of 10- to 15-year olds with their lives. It can be hard to see changes in wellbeing at the population level, but it is concerning that our children are experiencing a decline in their wellbeing.
The report on the state of the nation offers an opportunity for reflection on the many factors that influence children’s well-being and to ask the crucial question: What society should do to improve it? As young people became cut off from their families, friends and schools, the pandemic caused increased concern about children’s health. It is important that we don’t lose sight of the larger challenges facing our children as the shock from the pandemic passes.
Consistency measurement: Shifting the dial
A technical reflection, although important, is about how difficult it can be for us to get a picture of children’s feelings in real-time. The report on the state of the nation 2022 examines the last academic year. It must use multiple data sources. It is published halfway through each academic year. It is possible that no meaningful changes will be made until the next academic year.
Understanding the experiences of certain groups of children is difficult, such as those who have Special Educational Needs, receive Free School Meals, and/or are from different ethnic backgrounds. These groups are often difficult to compare because of the small sample sizes. Additionally, different questions are asked across different surveys which makes it even more difficult. Some sources ask for household income while others use eligibility for Free School Meals as a proxy of low income.
It is difficult to determine what works and how to address the concerns we are seeing in children’s health.
Next steps: At the national or local level?
The outlook from a policy perspective is uncertain. The importance of family relationships for children’s well-being is evident. Independent Review of Children’s Social Care This provided an opportunity to reset our approach and called for a two-billion pound investment in early assistance for families in need. In May 2022, the final strategy published total financial commitments of approximately PS200 million across all areas of children’s social services. The new strategy for children’s social care may bring about important improvements, but the financial commitment seems small compared to the size of the wellbeing problem.
Local initiatives could be more effective and lasting than any major intervention that might occur during a general election. Schools now routinely measure their wellbeing. Initiatives like #BeeWell Greater Manchester Provide the data necessary to stimulate and inform actions across entire city-regions
The What Works Centre has always been interested in encouraging such local action. The Centre, in partnership with The Children’s Society has created a framework for measuring the subjective wellbeing of young children and adolescents. The user guide and the database of measures Provide a single-stop shop for charities, community groups, professionals and others working with children to identify relevant, solid and consistent measures for subjective wellbeing for children in the UK. These measures are a critical way to evaluate the impact of child support.
Additional resources available:
- Public Health England – Fingertips Profile Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing
- The Office for National Statistics Wellbeing Indicators set.
- OECD Measurement of Child Wellbeing and Policies.
While answering the question “How are our children doing?” nationallly remains a difficult business, there’s no reason for organisations to not confidently state that their important work has made a difference in the lives of the children they support.