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Looking to a new business year, I have been reflecting on children and young people’s lives over the last couple of years and thinking about everything they have told me since I have become Children’s Commissioner.

When I started in role, the impact of Covid and children’s lives returning to normal was at the forefront of my mind. It was right at this time that we focused on Covid recovery and listened to children’s needs. That is why, The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children, was such a powerful moment. With more than half a million responses I was able to gather the voice of a generation, hearing everything they cared about, wanted to achieve, and things they were worried about too. This survey shaped the seven pillars of work that my office has focused on over the last couple of years. These pillars are school, family, community, children’s social care, health, jobs and skills and a better world.

Across all the pillars, we have worked to make children’s lives better and represent the needs of all children, particularly the most vulnerable. I am incredibly proud of everything the office has achieved. Highlights include the Independent Family Review, representing children’s needs in the online world, and my ongoing work on school attendance.

Alongside this, there have been some tough times. The case of Child Q stirred me and my office to look at the number of children being strip searched by the Met, and then extended this search to England and Wales – with some truly shocking findings. And, visiting unaccompanied children seeking asylum after their difficult and perilous journeys has made it clear to me that we need to do more to protect them, especially with the proposals in the Illegal Migration Bill. I am clear we must continue to strive to make sure that the rights and needs of children are protected and have outlined an ambitious programme of work in this year’s Business Plan.

This Business Plan comes at a particularly critical time for children and young people. We are going to start hearing more and more from Government and officials about what their plans and commitments are for the future as we get closer to the next General Election. I want to make sure children and young people’s needs and voices are at the heart of policy makers’ thinking.

Across all the work outlined below, I will make sure to seek out children and young people’s voices and views.  I am canvassing voices far and wide, including surveys, focus groups, visiting children and young people across the country, and taking what they say back to policy makers. Alongside this, I will be working with my newly established Children and Young People’s Advisory Board and Care Experienced Advisory Board. I am incredibly proud of how many children and young people we have heard from, and I am looking forward to hearing from even more.

My advocacy service Help at Hand will continue to assist children in care and IMO will continue to provide a unique offering for care experienced children to make their voices heard. This past year, Help at Hand has seen a significant growth in number of children coming to the service but our aim is that every child in need of help is aware of service so we will continue to reach as many children and young people as possible, making our services as accessible as possible for every child.

IMO, our digital platform for teenagers in care and care leavers, has a great community of care experienced contributors and followers, both of which have increased over the past year including downloads of our award-winning podcast, sharing open and honest conversations with care leavers, as well as the wide range of blog posts and resources which have been shared. We will continue to attract and promote new peer-led content to the site and social media channels, ensuring we are offering relevant and useful content for the young care experienced community.

Across every piece of work and every output the office produces, children’s voices will be at the heart. By putting children and young people’s views at the centre of thinking for policy makers, there is an opportunity to look to the future and what we can all do to make the UK the best place in the world to grow up as a child. By the end of this Business Plan year, therefore, I will create a Children’s Manifesto to represent the things that children, young people, parents, and families are calling for.