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The Children’s Commissioner is now halfway through her term. The coming year will be a critical one for children’s rights, with a General Election and a new government – whichever party or parties form it. They will have a new mandate to set an ambitious vision for what childhood can be, and for putting children’s rights at the heart of policymaking.

That’s why in September 2023, the office launched The Big Ambition to hear directly from children, young people, and parents across the country about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

As a result, the areas of focus for this year’s Business Plan are centred on driving change to make children’s lives better, informed by more than one million children, young people, parents and carers who have shared their views and experiences with the office.

It is grouped into our thematic pillars: Better World, Children’s Social Care, Community, Education, Health, Family and Jobs and Skills, as well as additional sections on Help at Hand, our advocacy service, and our brilliant participation groups that shape so much of our work.

Make sure every child feels listened to by the adults that make decisions about their lives

The Big Ambition showed that children express their perspectives openly, honestly and robustly. They have pragmatic but ambitious visions for what they want to achieve for themselves and for others and want to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Across the pillars in our Business Plan, we will be using their own words to shape our work and deliver their message on the changes they want to see. From ministerial departments and Parliament to local governments and frontline professionals, our Business Plan commitments are designed to increase knowledge and understanding on the issues that matter to children and their solutions to how their lives can be made better.

Each element of our plan will pay particular regard to championing the rights and voices of vulnerable children and those in care or involved with social care services. Our Help at Hand team’s casework will continue to inform this as well as providing the highest standards of support and advocacy, so every child feels listened to.

Empower children to have their say

What sets the Children’s Commissioner apart is our commitment to accountability. We are held to task by the children and young people that we interact with, in representing their interests and amplifying their voice in the world. In The Big Ambition, only 22% of children and young people agreed that people who run the country listened to what they had to say. This was the most negatively answered question in the survey.

This year we will encourage leaders across political parties to address this and make commitments to engaging with their youngest constituents. Our work under our Better World pillar will be integral to this as well as developing new and innovative ways in which we can share the actions we are taking to act on what they have told us and encourage more children and young people to share their views and ideas.

Improve the design and delivery of children’s policy and services

Our work over the past three years has shown that too often, services are working in siloes, working to different objectives based on their work with an individual, rather than the child’s interactions with services as a whole. This can mean too many families and children fall through the gaps in provision and struggle to support each other effectively.

In each part of our Business Plan this year, our work is designed to explore the barriers and most importantly the enablers that can improve the consistency and delivery in service provision to ensure no matter where a child lives or which setting, an integrated system will provide the highest standards of safety, care and where no child’s needs are overlooked or marginalised. Appendix A on page 28 sets out how our objectives for this plan will work across pillars and policy areas.

Drive change that keeps children safe and able to thrive

We know that understanding children’s needs and journeys are essential to delivering a system that focuses on ensuring their safety and supporting their ambitions. Children, and particularly those in care or involved with social care services, have told us about the bureaucratic processes they found frustrating or alienating where they repeatedly have to explain their needs to different services and agencies. Across our Education, Health, and Children’s Social Care pillars this year, our work will drive change to address this including building the case for enhanced data collection and sharing processes, and a unique child identifier. We will be using our powers to convene, engage and influence to drive this change to protect and support children and their families from their earliest years.

Working internationally

The Children’s Commissioner for England also assumes the role of Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on any matter where the UK Government is responsible for non-devolved policy. This year we will be continuing to regularly convene with the offices of the Children’s Commissioner of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and will proactively share research with our 7 British and Irish Network of Ombudsman and Children’s Commissioners (BINOCC) on matters that affect children across the UK.

In line with our statutory duty to protect and promote the rights and needs of children and young people, all our work has been mapped against the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child.