11 May 2012
Opportunities and challenges- promoting and protecting children’s rights
As regular readers will know this is my first blog since purdah (when due to imminent elections public sector organisations like mine are not permitted to make announcements or speak in the public domain). There will be a larger round-up of what's been happening at OCC in next week's blog. However two things have stood out so prominently this week that I will concentrate on them in this blog.
The Queen's Speech on Wednesday announced that as part of a forthcoming Children and Families Bill, the Government will be strengthening the powers of the Children's Commissioner. This has, as hoped, followed the Independent Review of our office by Dr John Dunford in 2010, which recommended a new, more independent and strengthened rights-focused Office of the Children's Commissioner for England (OCCE) which will also bring together OCC and the Office of the Children's Rights Director.
OCC, as Ministers requested when the review report was published, is already working within the spirit of Dr Dunford's recommendations. This has included launching our first two formal Inquiries under the Commissioner's powers, for example. As part of OCC's role to promote and protect children's rights, we will now undertake a number of Child Rights Impact Assessments on some of the Bills outlined in the Queen's Speech. Details of which pieces of draft legislation will be examined will follow in future communications.
The Government will now put forward, we understand in early 2013, a Children and Families Bill. It will include more detailed proposals about the new OCCE. As this legislation is likely to take some time before it passes through Parliament - we are led to believe a year or so from its first debate in Parliament - we here at OCC will continue to deliver our Strategic and Business Plans for 2012-14. There is, as ever, work to do!
As you may know OCC is currently carrying out a two year Inquiry without fear or favour into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups (CSEGG) led by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner. Its interim report is due out in September. Early this week, nine men were convicted of being part of a child sexual exploitation ring in Greater Manchester. There has been a lot of media coverage of the case, including Sue's measured and expert contributions to the discussion and analysis. In recent days there has been some unfortunate misinterpretation of what she has said, what we stand for and how we work at the OCC. Sue has been clear at every stage that we do not speak from a position of empty rhetoric. What we say and do is based on evidence, and backed by both research, and the work of people from both the OCC, and the wider community of experts. Our work is also always informed by the evidence we receive from children and young people affected by the issues concerned.
As Sue said in a letter published in today's Times "our sole purpose is to ensure children's best interests are prioritised at all times. For the victims' sake we were pleased that this case was tried in a court of law and helped to shine a light on this mostly hidden issue. Nobody should delude themselves into thinking that the appalling sexual exploitation exposed on the nation's front pages in the last few days is the sum total of what is happening in our midst."
Given this case's clear wider significance and troubling results, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education has asked for an early report of emerging and early findings from the work Sue is leading for the OCC. We have agreed to his request. Sue and the small team working to her will therefore be providing this early report next month, with early recommendations on the specific issues raised by the evidence they are gathering from across England. The Secretary of State has asked particularly for reflections on how to keep children living in care homes safe from this abuse. The full interim report covering a wide range of issues will still be published in September, leading to a second year of work on this Inquiry, looking to form and present advice and recommendations for both policy and practice in the future.
Children's Commissioner for England