We must look forward to what 2022 has to bring with huge ambition.
Even as I write, in mid-December 2021, conversations are full of questions about pandemic-related restrictions for the year ahead, and the need to sustain provision across all aspects of children’s services. That is an inevitable part of where we are with the new variant.
But we must also remember how much progress we’ve made since March 2020 in tackling these challenges.
So I have huge hopes for what we can achieve. And the simple reason is that I have met so many staff working in care in England this year, and they – you – are nothing short of inspiring. Your energy and ambition is the perfect model for us as colleagues in the sector: you aren’t content for children simply to muddle through – you want them to really thrive.
That really chimes with the landmark project my office delivered in 2021 – the national survey of children called The Big Ask. The responses – over half a million of them – set out what children need now, as we recover. It presented a unique opportunity to ask a huge number of children in care about all aspects of their lives – about their hopes and aspirations, the importance of community, family, and career.
The results were clear. Children in care should not be thought of as different: they share the hopes and aspirations of their peers. Many assume the pandemic has divided us. In reality, children weren’t divided at all – they were united in what they said.
They value happiness in their home wherever they live. They value community… mental and physical health… a great education… the environment… a secure future… getting on in life.
In the end all of these goals intersect with one another. True thriving tends to happen when we have some sense of purpose – individual and collective –and the ability to contribute to that purpose.
If you listen hard enough to The Big Ask – to the collective voice of England’s children – that’s exactly what they are saying. They want to build a world based on equality of opportunity.
As one 11 year old boy told me, “You can’t help what you are born. Everyone should be treated fairly.”
That’s why we called for investment in residential children’s homes so that more children can get a high-quality domestic life, near to their original home and with good therapeutic provision; for investment in mental health support in the care system; improvements to care‑leavers support. New commitments in the autumn spending review should mean that these improvements start to filter through the system in 2022. I very much look forward to visiting in the new year, to hear the experiences of children and staff in turning these hopes into reality.
Long-term, I hope that across different aspects of provision – health, care, schools, CAMHS – we can achieve even greater, more innovative partnerships which keep children at the very centre of all decisions. This could mean the difference between a child moving into care or staying with their family, moving to a special school, or staying in mainstream education.
So our mission in 2022 is clear. If there is anything holding back a child in care, we must tackle it head on, so we can keep the horizon for opportunity just as broad as it is for any other child. Because when that does happen, and you ask children in care who have had steadfast, lasting support, this is the result.
“I’d say there is no limit. I’ve got all this life in front of me so am going to just do it and not really think about it, just go for it. I’m going to apply to English and drama school, because why not?” Care-leaver, aged 17.
Source: The Big Ask Survey, 2021