The Children’s Commissioner for England has a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all children in England. Throughout the year we gather evidence and data to shine a light on a wide range of issues affecting children’s lives – from children’s mental health to stability in the care system, from digital wellbeing to keeping children safe from gangs, from the state of the youth justice system to growing up in the North of England.
Every year we visit children in custody and hear first hand their experiences within the system. We have published a series of reports shining a light on the problems we see and hear in the youth justice system, such as the unacceptable use of restraint and isolation in prisons, as well as making the case for the number of children in custody to be reduced as part of a transformation of secure care that puts rehabilitation at its heart.
The Children’s Commissioner is arguing for a radical approach to preventing children becoming involved in crime, urging national and local government and agencies to put more resource into protecting those children most at risk from criminal gangs or sexual exploitation. No child should ever end up becoming a headline in a newspaper simply because nobody thought it was their job to keep them safe.
Our annual childhood vulnerability framework estimates the number of vulnerable children in England by mapping by local authority the full range of difficulties a child might be living with, from physical or mental illness, to going hungry; being homeless or excluded from school; being at risk of neglect; or living with parents with health problems. This data also provides a framework for government to target additional resources at the areas most in need, and to support national policies.
The Children’s Commissioner shines a light on child poverty, reporting on the experiences of thousands of children growing up in temporary accommodation, and the impact of the Covid crisis on children living in low income households.
The Children’s Commissioner has a particular responsibility to children in the care system. Our Help at Hand service responds to some 1000 enquiries a year. We also run a digital platform, IMO, which serves as a meeting point for children in the care system and care leavers and a way for them to make themselves heard.
The Children’s Commissioner keeps a close eye on areas of concern within the children’s social care system, and recent work has included reports on the use of unregulated accommodation in the care system, the way many children in care are moved hundreds of miles from family and friends, and the use of private provision in the care sector. Our annual Stability Index looks at the number of times children in care change foster homes, schools and social workers.
We hear from children all the time who tell us they are having difficulties accessing mental health services, with referrals only made when a child is at crisis point. Our annual briefings on children’s mental health shine a light on spending and access to services for children and argued for children’s mental health to be a priority locally and nationally. We also monitor and report on the experiences of children living in mental health wards, in particular how Covid-19 and lockdown has affected their hospital experience.
Our work on children growing up in a digital world exposes the gulf between children’s experiences online and the protections in place for them. We conduct extensive research on children’s digital lives from children’s use of social media platforms for ‘likes’, to the use of children’s data by the social media giants, online gaming, and the use of encrypted messaging. Our ‘Digital Five A Day’ has been used by thousands of teachers, parents and children to help build resilience online.
All children have a right to a good education, and school plays such a key part in children’s lives. Our reports look at how the education system supports children, particularly the most vulnerable. We have examined how some children are falling through gaps in the education system, focussing on the use of exclusions and off-rolling, and the effect this can have on children’s life prospects. We are shining a light on the increase in home-schooling, on the growing attainment gap that is leaving some children languishing behind many of their peers, and the considerable impact that the Covid crisis has had on children’s education.