Today is Care Day – a day dedicated to celebrating all children and young people who are in care or who have left care. Every child that interacts with the care system should feel loved and supported, so they can develop the confidence to pursue their ambitions.
Over my first two years as Children’s Commissioner, I have had the chance to meet so many brilliant children and young people who have had experience of the care system. I want their voices to be central to all of my work which is why I have recently launched my Care Experienced Advisory board. You can apply here to be a member of the board, the applications close on Sunday 19th February at 23:59.
As Children’s Commissioner for England, I feel a huge sense of responsibility for supporting care experienced children and young people to thrive in every aspect of their lives. This year I believe we have the opportunity to create significant and lasting change to the lives of children who interact with the care system. The recent implementation strategy, ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ is a starting point for achieving much-needed reform across the system. But we must not forget that at the moment we are still considering ideas on paper. As I have said, the real work of implementation starts now. We need a steadfast dedication to system improvement, with a commitment to achieving excellence for every child in every area of the country.
I want to see more stable and loving homes across the country, with every child, regardless of geography or setting, receiving care not just up to their 18th birthday but far beyond it, and with no child living in an institution. Right now, there are too many very vulnerable children living in unsuitable environment that are unable to meet their needs. This is not good enough.
For children in care, siblings will so often be the source of that stability and love. We must do all we can to maintain those sibling relationships. But, as I set out in my recent Siblings in Care report, an estimated 37% of children with a sibling – that is 20,000 children – are separated from a sibling when placed in care. I want to see this change and will be advocating for reform in my formal consultation response to the strategy.
And when children in care do leave home, I want all care leavers to feel that they have corporate parents that are there to provide them with care and support when they need it. Last year I set out my vision for care leavers and have been encouraged to see some of my proposal reflected in the strategy. But there is still a lot of work to do, including widening access to mental health support and expanding the financial support that care leavers are entitled to.
In order to ensure that the rights of children in care, and care leavers, are upheld in practice, strong and reliable advocacy is essential. Every child should feel that their voice is heard and that the adults in their lives are committed to upholding their rights. I will maintain a clear focus on pushing for urgent action to ensure that every child – particularly unaccompanied children seeking asylum – have access to high quality, independent advocacy.
Throughout the year my team, and my independent advice and advocacy service ‘Help at Hand’, have visited some of the most vulnerable children, including unaccompanied children who are housed in hotels and those living in institutions, including Youth Offending Institutions and Secure Children’s Homes. I have observed many issues across these settings that I want to see addressed. It is essential that the care system provides better support for these groups of children.
I want to say thank you to all of the children in care and care leavers that I have spoken to and who have helped shape my work so far. This year is a year to create tangible and lasting change. I can’t wait to welcome children and young people onto my Care Experienced Advisory board and have their voices underpin all of my work.