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Introduction by Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England

This is my second Annual Report as Children’s Commissioner. This reports on my first full year in office. I am proud and delighted to have taken on this role at such a critical time for our nation’s children. As the tidal wave of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, we have a chance to take stock and look at how this has affected children, and how they have bravely faced this unprecedented time.

There has finally been a return to something like normality: walking through the school gates each morning; the birthday parties, clubs, sports matches, and school trips. Extended families have gathered again, and have been able to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and religious festivals together. Children have been able to hug their grandparents. And amidst all this joy, we have also been able to grieve together – after so much sorrow, an opportunity to heal and move forward as individuals, as families, and as a community.

To reflect on what we have overcome, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the role played by so many people in this great national effort: teachers, nurses, doctors, hospital porters, vaccine scientists, policymakers, logistics experts, and volunteers. People who have worked tirelessly to nurture, educate, and protect our children and wider communities. The list is endless.

I have been blown away by the resilience of children and young people. On my visits to schools, youth centres, children’s homes, and other settings, they have been nothing short of inspirational. In particular, I want to thank them for their enormous contribution to the success of The Big Ask, the results of which we published in September 2021. It is the largest survey of its kind completed anywhere in the world: 557,077 responses, spanning every local authority in the country. I heard from children from every ethnic group, age, gender, and from the most deprived neighbourhoods as well as the most affluent. And it captured the voices of thousands of children from specific vulnerable groups, including those in mental health hospitals, youth custody settings, children’s homes, fostering organisations, children in care, young carers, groups working with disabled children, and other community-based groups.

At a critical time, children told us about all aspects of their lives, the impact of the pandemic and what they needed for recovery. Despite the sacrifices they made, the vast majority of children – 80% – said they were happy or okay. Across all identity groups, they stand united on the things they value: families and happy homes; a safe community with activities and things to do; mental and physical health; a great education; the environment; a secure future; fairness; getting on in life. These seven pillars will steer my work. It is my mission to support them in these goals and bring their voices to the heart of Government.

Last year, I wrote that my ambition for my tenure as Children’s Commissioner was a great age of delivery for young people in England. I am proud that this Annual Report shows that in 12 short months, there is much that this office can do to make that happen. I will continue to represent children’s needs and wishes. As Children’s Commissioner, I have a particular responsibility towards children who rely on the state for their safety or protection. Over the past year, my team and I have supported hundreds of children and families in the most complex and serious situations, through my Help at Hand service.

It is my responsibility to work on and address issues facing children across the whole of the United Kingdom. I will continue to convene and discuss things that matter to children with fellow BINOCC colleagues.