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I am delighted to publish the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s (OCC’s) 2014−15 Business Plan. It is an ambitious programme of work for the year ahead, which seeks to promote and protect children’s rights, in particular those of the most vulnerable, marginalised and otherwise unheard.

I and all those working for the OCC are looking forward to a newly strengthened statutory remit and role, taking on additional responsibilities outlined in the Children and Families Act 2014.

This plan represents the work to be done at this milestone moment in the OCC’s development. We have been anticipating and planning for the changes to come for many months. We are excited by the opportunities the reforms present to enable the Children’s Commissioner for England, from this year onwards, to promote and protect children’s rights in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other vital instruments, and to highlight where we may fail to realise those rights for our children. As 2015 will mark the tenth anniversary of this Office, it is fitting that this plan shows both what we already achieve and our ambitions for children and young people in the coming year.

The Plan has been written more collaboratively than any of our previous Business Plans. We have involved many children, adults and organisations in its development, consulting widely on its content and focus both before it was written, and during its production. As a
result, we are confident that the work it sets out harnesses my statutory powers as Children’s Commissioner to their fullest, focusing OCC’s attention on areas and issues where our presence is necessary, and where what we do is likely to be the most impactful. We are also confident that from the 1 April 2014, we will have the people, structures and processes in place to fulfil our new remit.

Much of the work proposed in the plan will be delivered in partnership with others. Although we are the only national statutory body that is specifically tasked with promoting and protecting children’s rights and for this reason, must retain a degree of independence, there are many organisations doing important work to ensure children enjoy their rights and wherever possible, we work with others to pursue shared aims whilst maintaining our independence.

Some of the projects included in this Plan continue the work we have been doing so effectively for a number of years. In it, you will see that we will continue to work on children’s rights to: education; access to health services; protection from all forms of harm; to have an
adequate standard of living to lead a dignified and purposeful life; and to be listened to and have their views taken seriously, including through complaints systems. We are also continuing to promote the rights of children in the asylum and immigration system, and those
in conflict with the law.

A strong focus of the OCC’s work in 2014−15 will be on children and young people who will fall within the new Section 8A of the Children Act 2004 (as inserted by clause 105 of the Children and Families Act 2014). This group includes those who are in or leaving care or living away from home, and those receiving social care services. We will create a new Care and Protection team to support our work in this area, which will include the provision of advice and assistance to individual children who fall within this category. This will build on and further develop the Office of the Children’s Rights Director’s work over the past 13 years, as well as our own considerable work to date with these children and young people.

This plan expresses, in concrete terms, our unswerving determination to help improve children’s lives through the promotion and protection of their rights. In doing this, we are acutely aware that we must use every penny of the public money we are allocated wisely,
and in accordance with regulations governing public expenditure. In past years we have met the challenge of continuously decreasing budgets by refocusing resources into project and policy work and reducing our back office expenditure. We plan to continue along this path, and are strengthening the ways in which we measure the impact of our work to help ensure better value for money. You will find this determination is a feature of this Plan.

We are a comparatively small team, especially given that England’s population of under-18 year olds is 25% of the whole nation, and that if they have been in care or are disabled, we have them in our remit until they are 25. We are as effective as we are because we are an able and committed team, as well as being tenacious in pursuing our common goal: the realisation of children’s rights. I am privileged to lead such a dedicated staff team, and I thank them for all they do, through the OCC and in support of my remit, for England’s children and young people.

Inevitably, the Plan cannot capture in detail every area in which I or members of the OCC team will be involved in the year ahead. We regularly address gatherings of professionals, academics and policymakers and meet children and young people and those who work with them. We sit on a number of policy fora, including Ministerial groups, bringing to them the rights and perspectives of children and young people. Such work is vital to the fulfilment of my remit, whether or not it is related to specific projects in the plan. During the course of my work I meet many children and young people and I never cease to be amazed by their achievements nor moved by some of the stories I hear. It remains a privilege to be able to champion their rights and work on their behalf.

Dr Maggie Atkinson