As Children’s Commissioner for England, I have a statutory duty as set out in the Children Act 2004 to promote and protect the rights of all children, with particular regard to children who are living away from home or receiving social care services. First, I want to thank all of the children in care and those who have left care for sharing their stories and perspective with me
As the year comes to an end, I want to reflect on all of the work my office has done this year to support children in care. Ultimately, I want all children in care and leaving care to feel supported to achieve their ambitions and thrive. Every child should have access to a loving and stable home and be supported to pursue their dreams. I want every child to feel the way this child does:
‘They took me into their family home and were like we’re going to treat you as a normal kid, so you don’t need to kick off. It’s a normal family home, I don’t see it as my foster home. I see it as my home, my parents’ – Girl, age not given.
Over the past year I have sought to highlight the areas of the care system which I think need urgent reform. At the beginning of the year, I published my vision paper for social care reform, with four ambitions for the sector. I have made it clear that:
- I want all children to be listened and responded to, so that they can be confident that they can shape their own care plan;
- I want all children to have relationships that are trusting and stable, with the social care system that has the flexibility to support children and families to develop relationships and strong community networks;
- I want all children to feel loved, supported and stable. Children must experience fewer placement moves and have an increased sense of support and stability; and finally
- I want all children to be able to access practical help and support they need. The social care system must be equipped to respond to families underlying concerns.
We know that children leaving the care system experience worse outcomes that their peers who have not been in contact with the system. That’s why, during Care Leavers week in October, I published my Vision for Care Leavers which outlined the role that local and national Government can play in supporting care leavers. The report includes proposals for improving access to suitable housing, health and wellbeing support and advice, educational and professional opportunities and financial help.i
During the week I also published a blog summarising the practical support that is available for care leavers, a call to action for business and organisations to pledge support to care leavers and a summary of the care leavers my Help at Hand team has supported.
The Family Review: Part 1, found that most families choose to access protection and support from their own networks, parents, grandparents, and in some cases, friends. These findings demonstrate the unique importance of kinship care arrangements as families may turn to their wider network for support first and foremost. I recently presented these findings to the Kinship Care All Party Parliamentary Group as I wanted to highlight the unique and central role that kinship carers play in the lives of so many children.
During National Kinship Week this year I wanted to raise awareness about the value of kinship care which is why I published a resource that my office developed with Kinship Carers Liverpool to help raise awareness about kinship care. I also posted a blog post that highlighted some of the reflections we heard from kinship carers at a support group that my team attended for the Family Review.
As Children’s Commissioner, under Section 2D of the Children’ Act, I have the power to intervene on behalf of children in care and those living away from their families in institutions (such as Youth Offending Institutions). This responsibility is fulfilled by my Help at Hand service which supports children, their families, and professionals to address some of the barriers they are facing to receiving the care and support they need. In November, I published my Help at Hand team’s review. An important part of the review was considering how Help at Hand works with advocates and fits into the current advocacy landscape.
In May 2022 the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (Care Review) was published and a response from the Government is expected early next year. I am a member of the National Implementation Board alongside other experts from across the sector. As a member of the board, I want to make sure that all children that have interacted with the care system feel, safe, loved and stable. I believe that central to this is ensuring that children in care have access to long-lasting relationship relationships and can maintain their sibling relationships. That’s why in the new year I will be examining how to strengthen sibling relationships across the care system.
It’s vital that we now turn our focus to implementation. we need to focus relentlessly on striving for excellence across every local area and for every child that interacts with the care system.