I am delighted to introduce my Annual Report for 2009-10, which includes a flavour of our achievements during the year and information about how we used our resources. As a new Commissioner, in post since 1 March, and therefore here for only the final month of the period the report covers, I am pleased to reflect on the year just ended and to look forward to an active and productive
year to come. In the Office of the Children’s Commissioner I am proud to inherit an effective organisation from Sir Al Aynsley Green, and to take it into the future.
Advised by others in the children’s services world and most importantly by children and young people, I have returned the name of the organisation that supports me to “the Office of the Children’s Commissioner,” the name we were given when we were set up in 2005 and one that is understood by adults and children alike.
In the first half of this report you will read about our work over the last 12 months, and in the second a transparent account of how we have spent our budget. In 2009-2010, as in every year since 2005, we continued to receive a budget of £3 million, around 25 pence per child in England. This meant that we continued to make savings in line with inflation.
Since a successful restructuring in 2009-10, we are spending more on projects undertaken on behalf of children and young people and less on administration and “the back office”. We are a small team – 25 in all – but productive, ever more partnership minded, and determined to do all we can with and for children and young people within the limits of our resources. Over the 12 months that this report covers we were in contact with more than 30,000 children and young people through our activities.
There are around 11.8 million children and young people aged 0 to 19 in England. As my daily work shows me time and again, the vast majority are active citizens and are upset that they should be portrayed otherwise. Most are well parented, happy, achieving their potential in schools and colleges, already productive members of local communities and society at large. Many use their time and energy for the good of others. With good guidance, children and young people understand from an early age that there is a balance to be struck between exercising their rights, having their voices heard, and learning to take on responsibility as citizens. They do not want, and should not be given, rights without limits, or without matching responsibilities.
A minority of our children are troubled, in need of extra support or supervision, sometimes in need of challenge. There are about 60,000 in public care rather than living in their birth families. Small numbers in any community have emotional or mental health problems and need support and treatment. Around 5% – and falling – are involved, or in danger of being involved, in crime. As children, they need both appropriate sanctions and help to change their lives. The law that governs my work, and that of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, insists that I focus on those whose voices are least likely to be heard and who most need a champion.
The staff who work tirelessly and with great expertise to support me, in partnership with others wherever possible, have undertaken the work reported in the first half of this report. From Takeover Day to work on youth justice, asylum-seeking to participation, safeguarding to mental health, they bring our business plan to life. They have completed the detail of, and had their work audited against, the contents of the second half of this report. I would like to thank them publicly for all their hard work.
I am determined to continue to present the issues, concerns, dreams and wishes of children and young people, so as to influence those who make decisions about their lives. It is in this spirit that I commend both parts of this report to all its readers. I look forward to reporting, this time next year, on my first full financial year as Commissioner. I look forward also to another 12 months of hard work, both by me and the team in the Office, in ways that get the very most out of our limited resources in the name, and in support, of England’s children and young people.
Dr Maggie Atkinson