Labour St Helens Borough Council commissioned The Children’s Society to carry out the St Helens Borough Good Childhood Well-being Inquiry, surveying more than 3,000 children from primary and secondary schools across the borough and meeting with young people face-to-face to better understand their well-being and identify local priorities to improve their lives.
Labour Councillor Anthony Burns, St Helens Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, Leisure, Libraries and Heritage, said:
“This is one of the biggest exercises of its kind we have ever undertaken, with more than 3,000 children and young people taking part and telling us what it’s like to grow up, live and be educated in St Helens Borough. Gaining this insight directly from young people has been invaluable. I like to put on record our heartfelt thanks to Mark and his terrific team at The Children’s Society for their work on this report and for their enthusiasm and dedication in working with the council and the children of the borough to present their findings to us.
“Key areas for action, such as young people’s aspirations, community safety and opportunities for young people with special and additional needs (SEND) are embedded within strategic plans, such as the Borough Strategy, Community Safety Partnership Plan, Children’s Improvement Plan and the SEND Strategy, with a particular focus on working with vulnerable children and young people.
“The task group will continue to work with The Children’s Society to explore how our work around mental well-being, resilience and addressing the impact of body image and eating disorders can be amplified for children and young people in St Helens Borough. We should aspire for childhood wellbeing in the area to be greater and indeed we do. This will be the task group’s number one aim.”
The research, which was carried out before the outbreak of coronavirus, found that children in St Helens Borough were relatively happy with their lives as a whole and that 9% had low well-being, which is reflective of children’s well-being nationally at this time.
However, the area of life local children were most unhappy with was their appearance, with 18% scoring below five on the scale of nought to ten. This is significantly higher than the national average of 9.7% seen in The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Report 2019.
In response to additional questions about their appearance, nearly a quarter (24.8%) of St Helens Borough children said that they often wished they looked like someone else and nearly a third (30%) said that they often worry about the way they look.
The results were particularly concerning among secondary school girls, who were most likely to agree with both statements, with more than half worrying about the way they look. Secondary school girls also scored the lowest for overall life satisfaction.
In addition, local children were asked how they felt about the local area, including how safe they felt. The majority (66%) reported that they felt safe when out in the local area during the day. However, only a third (33%) agreed that they felt safe at night. Secondary aged girls were found to be particularly unhappy with safety in the borough.
The Children’s Society has recommended that the borough commission a service tailored to supporting teenage girls with their well-being, with a focus on appearance and identity.
Commenting on the findings, Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, who met with young people in St Helens Borough as part of the research, said:
“Throughout the UK, children’s well-being has been in decline over the past decade. Talking and listening to children and young people is essential if we are to turn this around and radically improve their lives. It is hugely encouraging to see St Helens Borough Council take positive action to do just this, by engaging in conversation with thousands of children across the borough about their feelings, ideas and experiences.
“Though childhood well-being in the area is fairly typical of the rest of the UK, the borough should aspire for it to be greater. Addressing how children and young people, especially young girls, feel about their appearance would be a good place to start as this has a significant impact on well-being. We look forward to working with the council to shape positive changes in schools and the community over the coming months, to build a brighter future for all St Helens children.”
The Children’s Society is calling on the council, as well as schools, the police, healthcare services and other local organisations, to prioritise children’s well-being across their work, with changes to their policy and practice that will lead directly to improvements.
The St Helens Borough Good Childhood Inquiry provides a number of specific recommendations, including involving children more in local decision-making, expanding the provision of youth services in the borough and creating a sustainable long-term strategy to promote children’s mental health and well-being.
In recent months the local Youth Council received funding from the Violence Reduction Partnership and with support from St Helens Borough Council’s Youth Service designed and launched Grow Your Happy – an online mental health and well-being toolkit that provides young people with supportive resources, education about self-care and options to empower and ‘help themselves’ should they need it.
The Youth Service also provides one-to-one support and group work sessions aimed at supporting young people with various issues that affect their self- confidence and self -esteem while helping them to reduce their levels of anxiety and improve their overall well-being.
Ben Lomas, aged 15, is the Member of the UK Youth Parliament for St Helens Borough, as well as being part of the St Helens Youth Council. He is part of a panel created to address the issues raised by the report.
Ben said: “I am delighted that I have recently been selected to be St Helens Borough’s young person representative on the Good Childhood Inquiry Panel, as representing the views of the young people of St Helens Borough is a deep-rooted passion of mine. I believe it’s imperative that the inquiry is fed into every level of decision making so that young people have a truly represented voice in the area, and the fact that St Helens People’s Board, Council and other partners have given their backing to this inquiry is a large step forward in the right direction.
“This inquiry is intrinsically linked with the Children’s Charter for St Helens that was initiated a few years ago, because of a poem I wrote, focused on the importance of young people having their voices listened to and respected. The Good Childhood Inquiry will be a fantastic vehicle to drive grassroots democracy in our town and hence, I cannot wait to get to work in this exciting new role.”