I am delighted to join Nick to introduce this Annual Report. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) promotes and protects children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) ratified by the UK in 1991. Our energies focus especially on both policy and practice where children’s rights are ignored or violated. We concentrate on the vulnerable, marginalised, and those unable to speak for themselves.
This report covers all our work, but here I will highlight three areas where our impact has been profound.
• Positive change has happened in secure settings to improve the emotional and mental health of incarcerated young offenders, as an acknowledged result of our report, “I Think I Must Have Been Born Bad”
• In our “Landing in Dover” investigation, our intervention stopped the Gentleman’s Agreement being used to return unaccompanied children to France
• Following our School Exclusion Inquiry report “They Never Give Up On You”, the Department for Education’s and Ofsted’s early responses confirm they will act on many of our recommendations. Year two will press for proof of how.
Being Children’s Commissioner is a wonderful job, made so by children and young people. Nick, this foreword’s co-author, is part of a lively group aged nine to 18 who hold me to account, advise us all on our work, and know how to have fun. Last November, tens of thousands of England’s children and young people stepped into decision-makers’ shoes on the Children’s Commissioner’s Takeover Day, receiving insights into the adult world and contributing fresh ideas to adults’ thinking and actions. For the day, 90 joined the Royal British Legion to help us to mark Remembrance Day well. We meet children and young people everywhere, some already young leaders, others facing negative odds in their lives, but all marked by the same characteristic: a determination to be proud, positive young citizens.
They talk to us both openly and clearly, whether they are already doing well, or their lives are fraught with problems. In this short foreword, one example must give you a flavour. A 16 year old boy in an inner city comprehensive, when I asked why this school was succeeding with him where others had not, simply said “It’s simple. It’s a bond. This is a family.” This gave his friend the opening to add, “They know you, and we all make it work. The best thing is, my mum’s proud of me now.”
Our work helps us to open the door for children and young people to let the nation know they want to matter to and work with all the adults around them. They want to contribute, and to belong.
Alongside the work planned for 2011-12, other things arose during the year. We were a voice of reason after the August 2011 disturbances, reminding the nation that whilst most perpetrators were over 18, many involved in clean-ups were much younger. We
gave evidence to the Victims and Communities Panel, putting its chair in touch with young people who told him their stories. At the end of March 2012, not captured in this report, we helped ensure the postponement – we hope the cancellation – of dental x-rays’ use when asylum seeking young people claim to be under 18, but are assessed as adults.
2012-13 will be another busy and productive year. Our annual Business Plan, which is part of a two-year strategic plan for 2012-14, contains details all our work. Both are available on our website: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk The staff in OCC are extraordinarily committed to achieving the best for children and work tirelessly to this end. They are nationally recognised experts in
their field, leading ground breaking work to improve the lives of vulnerable children. Our impact on improving the lives of vulnerable children is due to their wonderful efforts and I thank them all.
Dr Maggie Atkinson