At the core of our work is the promotion and protection of children’s rights, under both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) ratified by the UK in 1991, and UK and international laws and conventions where children’s lives are affected for good or ill. We do that vital work for all 12 million under-18 year olds in England, and the thousands aged up to 21 who have been in care, or who have a disability. We focus especially on issues that arise when children’s rights are denied, disputed, ignored or violated. They are the country’s vulnerable and marginalised children and young people, whose voices otherwise go unheard.
This report covers all our work and you will read, and I hope be encouraged by, the progress we have been part of in this country’s need to see children and young people for what they are: citizens now not citizens in waiting; rights holders on their own behalf; bestowed those rights, and supported in their fulfillment, by adults in every walk of life. They are, after all, one in four of the population. So they count. You will read about much of what we achieved in 2012-13 in the body of the report, and I do want you to go on from this foreword into the main text and find the achievements there, so I will not spoil your enjoyment here.
We visit places of incarceration, whatever the reasons children and young people are held, and reflect to policymakers on what we find. We are called on by Ministers in all parts of Government for views from the child’s perspective, on policy and practice. We are often quoted in debates in both Houses of Parliament, and in all branches of the media. We regularly give formal ‘in session’ evidence, and less formal ‘thinking time’ advice, to parliamentary committees and allparty groups, and to individual MPs and Peers regardless of Party. We work with sector leadership groups, from the medical Royal Colleges to family and criminal justice bodies, and English local government’s leaders in elected member and officer roles. We sit on and sometimes host policy round tables, forums and deliberation groups that lead directly to changes made for children and young people by those with the power to make decisions about their lives. I and members of my staff regularly address national and regional events and conferences where leading professionals and interest groups deliberate, set their own directions, and go on to practise what we have spoken to them about. We meet and partner with organisations from the EHRC to the UN’s committees on areas of direct interest: charities and think tanks concerned with the same things as we are; the UK’s other three Commissioners and their offices, and those across Europe; and a growing community of academic experts whose work helps us give weight to the evidence that supports all we do and say.
Even in straitened times and after several years of shrinking budgets, being Children’s Commissioner is a wonderful job, made more so by a fantastic team of staff at the OCC, but especially by the work we do directly with children and young people throughout the country.
Josh, who wrote the first foreword you have read, is part of Amplify: a group of children and young people from all over England. They are key advisers on all on our work. They have been joined in 2012-13 by a growing number of specialist advisory groups of children and young people who have direct personal experience of the issues we tackle. Our work on poverty, school exclusion, safeguarding, asylum and refugee issues, all have advisory groups of young people who bring an extra dimension of realism and focus to what we do. Some are Amplify members too. Our work helps open the door for children and young people to work positively with adults and contribute to their society. Whoever they are, whatever has happened in their lives for good or ill, we are always struck by a shared sense of wanting to make a difference, and a determination to be positive young citizens. Without their voices we could not make calls on policymakers and practitioners to support children and young people, honour the promises we make to them and listen to what they have to say.
2013-14 will be another busy and productive year. Our annual Business Plan for the final year of a two year strategic plan for 2012-14, contains details all our work. It is available on our website: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk. A major part of what we will do in 2013-14 turns our eyes towards the reformed OCC which we hope will follow the passage of the Children and Families Bill 2013, uniting our work with that of the current Office of the Children’s Rights Director (OCRD) at Ofsted from April 2014. The change is subject to the will of Parliament, but informal work has already begun.
The staff in OCC are 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 for children. Our impact is due to their terrific efforts in the face of tight finances and continued pressure and change in the systems that work with and support children and young people in England. I thank them all.
Dr Maggie Atkinson