The below extract is a reflection written by the Most Revd and Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.
Earlier this term, I wrote in the Daily Telegraph backing their Campaign for Children, calling on minsters to put children and young people first as the country recovers from the devastating impact of this pandemic. We know that young people’s mental health, well-being, and educational opportunities have been seriously affected. They have also had to suffer huge disruption because of school bubble policies and enforced periods of self-isolation.
A recent survey completed by Young Minds with just under 2,500 young people aged 13-25, found that 67% of them believed that the pandemic would have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Given that we are now in a different phase of living with Covid, I think the priority should be to our children and young people, ensuring they have the help and support that they need to make up for what has been lost. However, we also need to be mindful when speaking about children and young people that we don’t continually approach them using a deficit language, suggesting that they are a problem to solve or a statistic to update and bring back up to our expected levels.
Young people are full of creativity, immense potential and represent both our present and our future. Often we spend to much time talking about them as opposed to talking to them and asking what they think and how they might be able to play their part in helping us to recover from the pandemic. Over the past year, I have been bowled over by the stories shared through the Archbishop of York Youth Trust, of young people continually taking the initiative, standing in the gap, and serving some of the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities. Yes, we know young people’s mental health is at serious risk and we must attend to this, but we also know that most young people are motivated and want to help our nation recover from the pandemic; they want to have a voice in the debate and practice social action, which in turn, will only help to have a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
For this reason, I endorsed the National Younger Leadership Groups within the Church of England, that have been run by the Archbishop of York Youth Trust and the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership. Over the past year, hundreds of primary and secondary school students have joined termly Zoom calls to meet others, discuss important issues and amplify their voices about the impact of the pandemic. These young people have shared with me their desire to act against racism, combat the climate emergency and create a world where we all have equal chances in life. This is another reason why in the Church of England’s strategy for the 2020s we are putting children and young people at the heart of our vision.
When Jesus walked the earth there was a radical moment in his life when he also put children front and centre. It was a time of political turmoil, significant unrest and much poverty, and whilst others held the children back, thinking of them as less important, Jesus said; “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:15-17). I am reminded afresh of the need to respond in this time of recovery as Jesus did, by prioritising children and young people – including them in debate and letting them play their part in re-building our communities post-pandemic.
The truth is that in all the hardships of the past year, children and young people have responded and led with character. They’ve developed patience and resilience like never before, they’ve grown in kindness and compassion as they sought to respond to those in need and they’ve been encouraged to reflect on what is important; being thankful for the small things that have helped them to keep going.
I believe it’s time that we all now lead with character too, as we seek to re-build our communities post-pandemic, and the best way to do this is to start by putting children and young people front and centre. Let them not be seen as cogs in an economic system that we need to get turning again, but instead as unique and creative individuals whose voices must be heard, and character put into action as they play their role in re-building our society.
This reflection is a part of the Youth Trust's eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World.
Download the full eBook here.