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Foreword from Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza

On the first anniversary of my appointment as Children’s Commissioner, I am publishing this report to reflect on my office’s work and achievements for children over the last twelve months.

It has been an absolute honour to take on this crucial role, sitting at the heart of Government, delivering for children, and championing their voices and needs.

As an educationalist, working directly with children in schools throughout my career, I have seen first hand how passionate and compassionate children are. This is an ambitious generation who want to succeed in life, but who also want to play their part in improving the world around them. They need us, as adults, to listen to them and ensure they get the right help to fulfil their true potential.

My first task had to be to go out and listen to children across the country, to hear about their lives and the impact of lockdown, to help shape my time as Children’s Commissioner. That’s why I launched The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children in England. I’m incredibly proud and awed by the response we received. Children up and down the country told us about their experiences of the pandemic, their lives today, their dreams for the future and their ideas for how we can help children in this country achieve their ambitions. I am particularly proud that, through the survey, our visits and focus groups we heard about the experiences of children of all ages, including babies and toddlers; children from all local authorities, and children from hard-to-reach groups, including children in care.

The Big Ask showed that this is not a snowflake generation – it is a heroic generation, veterans of the pandemic, determined to get back to school, to enjoy life, to do well and to make a difference for others. I want to spend my six years in office helping them to achieve these dreams and protecting children’s rights.

The Big Ask has helped identify my key priorities for these six years: Family, Community, Education, Health and wellbeing, Jobs and skills, Children in Care, and championing children’s voices on creating a better world, such as protecting the environment. My priorities this year have included keeping children safe online; improving support for children with a mental health need; increasing children’s attendance, in education, and championing an ambitious approach to social care reform.

I am pleased to say that we are already making a difference. In the 2021 Spending Review, I was delighted to see support for families, with investment in Family Hubs and the Supporting Families Programme. It was also good to see additional funding for children’s homes. Alongside this, as part of my commission from Government on representing children’s needs in the Online Safety Bill, I was pleased to see that age assurance for the adult industry will be included. As a member of the Education Secretary of State’s Attendance Action Alliance I am pleased to see the commitment to a register of children who are home educated, which will help local authorities to provide support to children who need it.

I want to be able to share our work with children as much as possible. This is why we have, and will continue, to produce practical materials and guidance to support children and young people. We have produced a guide for parents on what children and young people wish their own parents and carers had known about online harassment and staying safe online. We have also produced guides for children on how to talk about their feelings and where to go for help if they are worried, a back to school guide, and a guide for COP26. Alongside this, we have represented children’s rights internationally on the Gender Equality Advisory Council (GEAC) and in response to the evolving situation in Ukraine.

Looking forward, there are some major reforms underway which need to be joined up to ensure the right support for children and their families. My team continues to feed into the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Review, Schools White Paper, Health and Care Bill and we have published our ambition for the Independent review of Children’s Social Care. It is vital we don’t think of these reforms in isolation, but as part of a wider system and use this opportunity to identify the key outcomes we want to achieve for our children and young people. All these reforms are changing the way children and families are supported – and I will continue to work across Government to ensure that children’s voices, and their needs, are at the centre of these reforms.

As I look to the next year, I am excited to continue delivering for children, ensuring their voices and needs are at the heart of Government.