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On 1 March 2021 Dame Rachel de Souza took up her appointments as the new Children’s Commissioner for England and she replaces Anne Longfield OBE who held the post since 2015.

The role of the Children’s Commissioner was created by the Children Act 2004, which placed on the Commissioner a duty to promote and protect the rights of all children in England. This includes understanding the views of children and young people and encouraging decision makers to take their best interests into consideration. The Children and Families Act 2014 strengthened the powers of the Children’s Commissioner and gave her the responsibility of focussing particularly on those children and young people who were receiving social care services, living away from home or leaving care.

Dame Rachel de Souza has recently given her first message upon commencing her role where she pledges to “improve the chances of every single child” and “hear previously unheard voices from… the child whose identify may fall between the definitions which might confer a particular need or disadvantage”. It is a powerful first message and it can be read in full here.

The role of the Commissioner will always be a challenging one, however even more so now given the detrimental impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have on children and young people.

School closures have affected not only educational development but also mental wellbeing and has inhibited the ability of children to build upon their social skills. In a Barnardo’s poll of 4,000 8-24 year olds, 68% said that not seeing friends was the most difficult thing. In addition a review of 63 studies suggests that the length of time that children felt lonely predicted mental health problems up to 9 years later, particularly depression.

Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is a service designed to specifically assess and treat young people with emotional, behaviour or mental health difficulties. However, during the pandemic the service has been reduced it has been suggested that they are likely to be under strain to meet the increased demand of referrals. The average wait time for a young person to receive mental health treatment is 53 days, although the impact of COVID-19 risks this being further delayed.

Further, schools formed a safety net for the most vulnerable children by ensuring that they were visible to professionals who could raise any concerns that they observed or were brought to their attention and they were provided with school meals. Our most recent blog considered hidden child abuse during the pandemic and the risks posed to children.

Above are only a few examples of the issues that the Children Commissioner has to contend with. It is clear that she has a lot of work to do, she must ask the difficult questions, seek the challenging answers and be bold in standing up for the rights of children.


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