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.
I feel a personal responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children in care. I want every part of the system to feel safe and nurturing to the children and families that come into contact with it.
I recently published my Business Plan for the year ahead which sets out how I plan to continue to champion the voices and needs of children who interact with the children’s social care system. In this plan I’ve set out my concerns for the safety and welfare of unaccompanied children seeking asylum who are placed in temporary hotel accommodation while awaiting transfer to longer term placements in local authorities. My independent assistance and advice service, Help at Hand, has been supporting many of these children to make sure their voices are heard and their rights upheld.
I have written to the Home Secretary on several occasions to express these concerns, in particular over cases of children going missing from the hotels, the length of time they are staying there, and to seek information about the safeguarding measures in place to protect these children. Since the introduction of the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill more than one month ago, I have written again – including most recently to request data under my statutory powers from the Home Office about all children aged 17 of younger seeking asylum in the UK who have been housed in hotels at least for one night.
I’m grateful to the Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick for meeting with me to discuss some of these details. However, my concerns about the treatment of children under this Bill remain. I look forward to receiving further assurances from my letter, ahead of the Bill’s return to Parliament next week, and to be given the proper opportunity for scrutiny.
I want everything I do this year to be directly informed by the voices of young people that have lived experience of the care system. That’s why I have set up a Care Experienced Advisory Board which will help to shape all of my proposals for how the children’s social care system can feel more loving and supportive for children in care. Through my IMO website I will also continue to provide an online platform for care experienced children and care leavers to make have their voices heard.
I will also be conducting regular visits to a range of settings where young people are living to ensure that every looked after child has the care and support, they need to feel safe and loved.
Crucially, as a member National Implementation Board I will continue to push the Government to ensure that the implementation of the children’s social care strategy delivers the best for children and their families.
Over the past year , my Help at Hand have observed a concerning trend showing that some vulnerable some children and young people are being housed in temporary, overcrowded or emergency accommodation. Fundamentally I believe that children aged 16-18 should be in familial environments where they can access care until they are 18. I want to examine this issue in detail and set out my plan for how to ensure that every child receives the care and stability they need well into adulthood.
As Children’s Commissioner a central part of my role is making sure that children have their voices heard. Every child in care should have their voices heard and their rights upheld but right now the quality and accessibility of advocacy services is somewhat unknown. This year I plan to assess where the gaps in provision are and drive improvement in these services where needed for vulnerable children.
I also want to shed a light on some issues across the system that I believe are underexplored. For example, I will be looking at the children who are on Child in Need plans to examine the level of support they receive. I will aim to highlight the consistency and quality of planning and support for these vulnerable children.
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. I am really looking forward to the year ahead and to meet many more brilliant and ambitious children and young people.