When I published Ambitious for Children on taking office in 2015, I set out my priorities for my term in office. These were to build the aspirations and resilience of children, particularly those with a less than easy start to life; and to shine a light on hidden issues affecting the vulnerable, in order to change their lives for the better.
In the past year we have conducted data gathering ‘lightning reviews’ which revealed gaps in child mental health provision and the identification of young carers by local councils; challenged policy-makers and social media companies to put resilience and agency at the heart of a new digital settlement for children; created a new measure of stability to identify where children in care are being ‘pinged’ around the system; and began a landmark Growing up North project, to challenge the new City regions to put the highest aspiration and ambitions for children at the heart of plans for devolution.
I am proud of this work and also of the practical help my office has given hundreds of children in care through our advice service, Help at Hand. With a restructured office focusing on strength of evidence and the demonstration of real impact, we have consulted widely
about the groups of children who will be the focus of this year’s business plan – those who are under-represented, unheard or ‘invisible’
to policy makers, planners or service providers. Overwhelmingly, children as well as adults told us that mental health – particularly, among primary school children, issues of anxiety and self-esteem – were their top concern.
We will use the Children’s Commissioner’s data collection powers this year to highlight the real level of need among children and teenagers for mental health services, in order to help build resilience and address the shortfall in provision at every level. Our aspiration for children drives everything we do. From those in care, to those behind the closed doors of young offender institutions or secure children’s homes; those with hidden needs or all those grappling with childhood and young adulthood in a complex and often disempowering digital environment, our focus will be on the children’s viewpoint. Services and authorities and policy and regulatory frameworks are essential for the protection of children, but these are not what a child sees. The child sees the baffling rules, the closed door, the silence where they need support.
Two years ago I committed myself to promoting the highest aspirations for all children; believing they are all capable of greatness and should be given the support they need to succeed. Today, I recommit my office to using the full range of its powers to shine a light on the hidden issues which can prevent children fulfilling the highest ambitions we must encourage in all of them.