The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE reminds us of the importance of the children’s voice and their right to play.
Subject Specialist Janet Scott
Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, places children’s play as central to health and well-being and urges policy makers to take notice.
Anne Longfield explains, “Play is important for children. Not only is it great fun but it also benefits their health and wellbeing. By playing, children try out new things, test themselves and learn new skills. Play is also a way of developing social and emotional skills: by playing with others children learn to share, take turns, negotiate and make friends – the exact opposite of the kind of worrying behaviour seen in violent gangs where supremacy, provocation and retaliation are all. Play fuels children’s imagination, creativity and expression”.
The role of Children’s Commissioner was created following a recommendation made by Lord Laming in the Victoria Climbié Inquiry. The role was initially established under the Children Act 2004 which gave the Commissioner responsibility for promoting awareness of the views and interests of children and protecting their rights.
The Commissioner’s statutory remit includes understanding what children and young people think about things that affect them and encouraging decision makers to always consider their best interests, listening to, valuing and respecting the child’s voice.
The Children’s Commissioner is independent of the Government and Parliament and has powers to help bring about long-term change and improvements for all children, especially the most vulnerable.
Anne Longfield speaks up for children and young people so that policy makers take their views and interests into account when making decisions about them. She does this by gathering evidence, talking to children and young people, requesting information from public institutions and then carrying out research about a wide range of things that affect children’s lives.
She is the ‘eyes and ears’ of children in the system and the country as a whole and is expected to carry out her duties ‘without fear or favour’ of the Government, children’s agencies, and the voluntary and private sectors.
She also provides advice to children who are in or leaving care, living away from home or working with social services through her advice line, Help at Hand.
On 28th August 2018 the Commissioner released her report on children’s play titled ‘Playing Out’, where she calls on the Government to “put out-of-school activity at the heart of its obesity strategy”, pointing out it currently focuses almost exclusively on “nutrition, advertising and in-school physical activity”.
From the report we learn that today’s children are the least active generation ever. Just 1 in 4 boys and 1 in 5 girls in England do the recommended 60 minutes of activity each day.
At the same time, figures from Ofcom tell us that children between the ages of 5 and 15 spend nearly 2 hours a day online during the week and nearly 3 hours a day at the weekend.2
Playing out used to be a feature of every child’s day, children now spend just four hours a week playing out.3
This is part of a wider trend. The area around the home where children are allowed to go unsupervised has shrunk by 90% since the 70s4, and the problem now gets worse during school holidays.
You can read the findings and recommendations made in the report for improvements to access and funding for Holiday and out of school clubs, as well as diverse play provisions like Street Play Zones Youth Zones, parks and playgrounds here.
Play England has welcomed recommendations in the report for increased investment in play provision and has consistently argued that there needs to be a national strategy backed up by national and local funding.
In 2010 the coalition government dropped the national play strategy and cancelled funding for play. In their response to The Children’s Commissioners report, Play England believe that “publicly funded, staffed play provision, such as Adventure Playgrounds, can help deliver the joined-up, community-driven play programmes called for in this report.” And that “trained playworkers are uniquely placed to support children and families to help them build confidence about playing together”.
You can read Play England’s full response here.
Other recent studies carried out by The Children’s Commissioner include research work on children growing up in a digital age which exposed the gulf between children’s experiences online and the protections and preparation in place for them and the Commissioner continues to work with the Government and the Information Commissioner to design an effective digital resilience curriculum and enforce children’s rights online.
Furthermore, in October 2018, Anne Longfield responded to the publication of the joint Health and Education Select Committee Report into the Government’s Green Paper on Children’s Mental Health, calling for more urgent action and implementation of support for children’s mental health.
You can read all reports in more detail on the Children’s Commissioner for England website.
At CACHE we fully support and advocate the importance of Children’s Play. You can find out more about how our qualifications support and strengthen the workforce on the CACHE website.
 NHS, Health Survey for England 2015 Physical activity in children, 2016
2 OFCOM, Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report, 2017 [ONLINE: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/108182/children-parents-media-use-attitudes-2017.pdf]
3 THE GUARDIAN, Children spend only half as much time playing outside as their parents did, 2016 [ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/27/children-spend-only-half-the-time-playing-outside-as-their-parents-did]
4 BBC, Children denied joy of nature, says National Trust, 2012 [ONLINE: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-17257562 ]