The newly appointed Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel do Souza, on her vision for children’s social care.
It is one of the privileges of being appointed Children’s Commissioner for England that I hold a special responsibility for children in care. That’s why the first virtual visit I made in my new role was to a children’s home in Blackpool. The children I met told me how school has supported them through the pandemic and spoke about how much they were looking forward to spending time with all their friends, making music and playing football. It was a reminder that many children in care are, of course, no different to any other child in what they expect from us, the adults – love, stability, opportunities for the future and some answers when life gets tough.
Providing that love and stability, and those opportunities and answers, should always be at the heart of children’s social care. Yet we know many children are not receiving the help and support that they need, both in care, and after they leave it. My office’s Help at Hand service hears from children in care every day who are being held back by a system that is not meeting their needs.
The Covid crisis has been a tough time for most children, including those in care. While some children in care were able to go to school during lockdown, many were not able to see their families as they had before. We also know that referrals to children’s services over the last year are around 10 per cent lower than previous years. It is quite possible that as life returns to normal many more children will become known to social services, including being taken into care. There are also children currently in interim care who are delayed by court backlogs, living with uncertainty with no permanent plan in place. These are all new pressures to add to those that already exist in the system.
Improving the lives of these children will be one of my priorities as Children’s Commissioner, and I will be fearless in holding the Government to account as it responds to the independent review of children’s social care, while also working with them to bring about real change. I have called for the welcome ban on unregulated accommodation to go further to include all under-18s, and I will continue to argue that there needs to be enough of the right provision, for the right children, in the right areas, at the right cost. It is a fundamental part of improving children’s experiences of the system, their stability and their outcomes.
It is so important too that we continue to hear the experiences of children. In my first month as Children’s Commissioner, I launched my Childhood Commission – an ambitious, Beveridge style review that will look at how we can pull down the barriers that have held back many children for decades. We will provide the Prime Minister with a blueprint that helps Ministers and others to find answers to some of the toughest generational problems.
This work will be informed by the largest survey ever conducted with children in England – ‘The Big Ask’ – which will include hearing from children in care and care experienced children. What they tell us will help us to see what is working, and how that can be embedded across the social care system, so that we are focussing on outcomes not process and so that there is more permanence and greater stability in the system.
This is the most important year for children’s social care in a generation. The impact of Covid will bring greater challenges, but also opportunities to reform and improve the care we provide to our most vulnerable children. I am optimistic that the independent review and our own Childhood Commission can inspire that change, so that children in care emerge from this pandemic knowing that they weathered a storm and that there is now help on the way. I will do all I can over the next six years to push for full-scale reform of services so that every child in care receives the support they need – and deserve – to live good childhoods which prepare them for adulthood.