I have been horrified to see the impact the conflict has had on the Ukrainian people especially the hundreds of thousands of children caught up in the crossfire.
Since the conflict started in February 2022, I have made it a priority to focus on the Ukrainian families who have found themselves in the UK. I have tried to ensure that all Ukrainian children living in this country are safe, supported, and receiving a good education.
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Government of Ukraine’s Ministerial delegation, who came to the UK to start thinking about how they can start focusing on child welfare and care reform.
Even before the conflict erupted, Ukraine had one of the highest rates of child institutionalisation in the world, with over 100,000 children in institutions – over half of whom have disabilities. The war in Ukraine has disproportionately affected those residing in, and evacuated from, these residential institutions.
In light of this, the President and First Lady of Ukraine have identified decreasing reliance on institutional care for children as a priority.
Now is a critical opportunity to support the Government of Ukraine’s ambition to ‘build back better’ for all Ukrainians, by moving away from a legacy of institutionalisation and prioritising safe and nurturing family care for all children within inclusive and protective communities.
During our meeting, I outlined my belief that no child should live in an institution and that all children – particularly those with high complex needs – have a loving home that supports them to thrive. We discussed how important it is that Ukraine’s care system be reformed during the recovery, so that provision of care for all children can be strengthened.
It was a privilege to speak with them about my role as Children’s Commissioner for England and the benefits of having an independent Children’s Commissioner who can ensure there is accountability for a country’s approach to upholding children’s rights and voices. I very much look forward to being part of these conversations as they continue.
My work with Ukraine has meant that I have been closely involved with the St Mary’s Ukrainian School in Holland Park which I visited again recently. This has become a sanctuary for Ukrainian children and their families living in the UK.
The school, which was established nearly 70 years ago, is open on Saturdays and Sundays to all Ukrainians between the ages of 3-16 years old. Providing academic and cultural support, it aims to nurture Ukrainian language and culture amongst young people living in London.
It was fantastic to hear from Headteacher, Inna Hryhorovych MBE and her staff – 82% of whom are displaced teachers – about the support they offer to young people. This includes GCSE tuition, ESOL (English for Speakers of a Other Languages) provision and trauma screening for both children and their families.
It’s vitally important that we support all Ukrainian children to receive a good education, care, and support to thrive. They are the future of Ukraine and will play a vital role in its recovery.