When I was appointed Children’s Commissioner in 2015, I published “Ambitious for Children” which set out my priorities for my term in office – building the aspirations of children, particularly those who have a difficult start in life, and shining a light on the hidden issues affecting the vulnerable in order to change their lives for the better.
In the past year, my office has continued that mission. We have examined how services are supporting vulnerable children through a series of data-gathering ‘lightning reviews’ which have revealed gaps in child mental health provision and school nurses, and the identification of young carers by local councils. A strengthened focus on data and evidence has enabled us to create a new measure of stability of children in care – the very thing that they say is most important to them. We have made bold challenges to policy-makers and social media companies to put resilience, power and information at the heart of the digital world in which children now live, and we launched a new landmark Growing up North project, which examines opportunities and gaps for children growing up in the north of England and challenges the new northern mayors and City regions to put children at the heart of plans for devolution and regeneration.
I am extremely proud of this work. It has shone a light on children’s aspirations, resilience and shortfalls in provision at every level. We have also been able to provide in depth advice and representation for hundreds of children in care through our newly extended Help at Hand service. For many of these children, it was the call to Help at Hand that meant that they were able to stay in the foster home they loved, get help to overcome the anxiety and depression that troubled them or apply for a place on the course they hoped for. Our visits to children who are behind the closed doors of youth custody, secure children’s homes or secure hospital accommodation have revealed much about their experiences – and the changes that are needed if they are to develop and flourish as the children and adults of their potential.
Our ambition and aspiration for children is at the heart of all that we do and is driven itself by the experiences and priorities that children tell us about. From children’s hopes and dreams for their lives now and in the future, to their concerns about friends and family and the challenges of children who need help but are struggling to get it. Growing up can be a complicated business, and in 2017 it can often feel more complicated than ever.
I am grateful to the fine team that has been built to deliver this work, now with a strengthened focus on enacting my unique powers for data gathering and on digital engagement. We will continue to deliver our ambitions for improving the lives of children within an operational budget of £2.562m in 2017-18, a 7.3 percent reduction on our 2016-17 budget of £2.764m.
I will build on these achievements as I move into my third year in office with a new focus on children who are ‘invisible’ or overlooked by policy makers, planners or providers. Children’s mental health and children who fall between the cracks in education are just two of the groups of vulnerable children I will be focusing on, alongside gangs, vulnerable babies and those children who have come to this country alone for refuge.
I want all children to have the brightest future possible. I am determined to bring about real change for those that need help to get there.