Any new Government has choices about the priority it gives to improving the lives of children and young people and the Queen’s Speech included a number of measures which make a positive start.
One of the key priorities for Government which I set out when I became Children’s Commissioner was early intervention and prevention. We know that good quality child care is an important part of this – it supports children in their development at this crucial stage, prepares them for school and develops skills, confidence and self-esteem. Importantly, it also provides the peace of mind and support parents need to be able to work and improve their family income. The Child Care Bill, which will give working parents 30 hours free childcare per week for three and four year olds, will undoubtedly make a positive contribution to early intervention. As 31% of the average family with children’s disposable income is taken up by childcare costs, this is also a welcome announcement.
I have highlighted reforming the child protection system as an important priority and have urged the Government to fully commit to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse urgently. The announcement of a review of child protection as part of the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill is a positive step towards this and has the potential to improve protection for these vulnerable children. We will continue our ground breaking work in this area, taking forward our inquiry into child sexual abuse in the family environment and ensuring that key recommendations from this will feed into any reforms to sure all children are fully protected.
The Policing and Criminal Justice Bill will also ensure 17 year olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes – something the Children’s Commissioner has long pushed for. We will continue our important work in this area, exercising our right of entry across all parts of the children’s secure estate and using our unique perspective and direct feedback from children and young people to achieve positive change for individuals and as a whole.
I have called on Government to make sure the education system is fair for all children and was pleased that the Education and Adoption Bill will seek to improve schools. Every child should have the best start in life and education is key to this.
The Education and Adoption Bill will also seek to increase the scale at which adoption services are delivered and speed up services for children and young people – a positive commitment to improving the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people. Part of my role gives special attention to children care and I’ll be doing more over coming months to set out why I think a more ambitious approach is needed including for care leavers.
Although there are positives for children and young people in the Queen’s Speech, there are also areas of concern, notably the impact of austerity and welfare measures on the poorest children. Over a quarter of children in the country already live in poverty – a figure that rises to an astounding and unacceptable 70% in some areas. A Government commitment to protect children from the impact of austerity and welfare changes must be made.
I will be watching developments around the proposals for a British Bill of Rights with interest. As I have a legal duty to promote and protect children’s rights I will passionately defend any changes to the Human Rights Act that may damage children’s rights and believe that any reform to our human rights legal framework must make sure that children’s interests are fully protected.
Looking forward from the Queen’s Speech and into the future I and my team will continue to work with Government to make the lives of children and young people better as well as holding them to account to make sure that they put children first. But bold ambitions and decisions are needed. Government has the opportunity of make positive change for children part of its lasting legacy. It must take it.