8 July 2011
From strength to strength
Yesterday saw the launch of our business plan to promote and protect children and young people's rights in England and a Government consultation on the new Office of the Children's Commissioner for England.
This business plan aims to realise Dr John Dunford's vision for a Children's Commissioner for England with greater independence, stronger powers and an enhanced focus on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
During the weeks and months to come we will launch - for the first time - two major Inquiries under our Children Act 2004 powers - one examining patterns of school exclusions, and the other investigating the sexual exploitation and related abuse of children and young people. We will continue to work closely with our children and young people's advisory group, Amplify, and establish an Interim Board to provide scrutiny, challenge and advice.
Alongside our business plan we published our Annual Report 2010-11, which includes a foreword from Lysette, the young person who chairs Amplify. The report highlights my office's impact and contributions to achieving positive and lasting change for children. We met and listened to thousands of children of all ages in different settings across the country to find out their worries and aspirations and their views on the systems, services and issues which affect them.
Our focus for the immediate future is to continue working with the Department for Education (DfE) and the Office of the Children's Rights Director to see Dr Dunford's recommendations come to fruition over the next two or three years. To support this process, we will submit a response to the Government consultation on the new Office of the Children's Commissioner for England, which Sarah Teather announced at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) and is available via the DfE website. The closing date for submissions is 29 September and I encourage you all to have your say.
The ADCS conference, which was attended by senior officials, ministers, directors of children's services and many senior staff from their localities, discussed vital future shaping matters on education, health, social care, safeguarding, youth services and justice. A lively event as always and important that as Children's Commissioner I continue to touch base and understand what those who commission and run services are trying to do to help and support children and young people.
Aycliffe secure children's home
This week I also visited Aycliffe secure children's home in County Durham to hear more about a major development programme that has taken the views of young people into account. Aycliffe has done good work for a long time in poor buildings and has now through the Authority's and DfE's support got a brand new, state of the art building: four eight-bed houses, plus a six-bed high dependency section, and two two-bed flats for use in transitions and resettlement work. Staff provide a range of services, including on-site dental and medical treatment; automatic access to mental health services; good health and leisure provision; teaching and learning spaces for both academic and vocational courses plus video conferencing facilities that allow traumatised and vulnerable children to not go to court.
The aim of the setting, through care and education, health and containment, is to change the lives of very vulnerable young offenders and those placed for care and mental health reasons, so that they live more constructive lives, don't re-offend or hurt themselves or others. Young people helped design the space, the decor and the furniture. It opens on 1 August and once settled we will visit so we can see it in action. I was impressed and want to get youngsters' views once the centre is up and running and treating and changing young lives.
I also attended an event organised by Ipsos MORI with guest speaker former prime minister Tony Blair on how tolerant societies and their children can build better places if they understand, whether or not they follow, one of the many faiths that have influenced history, art, wars and peace for centuries. An interesting discussion and something children and young people raise with me about cohesion, tolerance and understanding.
A busy week next week ... keep your eye on Twitter (@childrenscomm) for a big announcement midweek.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England