The new Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, said she wanted to hear concerns held by parents and children about the services offered to children and families, in her inaugural speech.
The statement, which was published on 1 March to coincide with de Souza’s first day as commissioner, said, “If you’re reading this, and you can think of an unmet need for a child you know about, the Children’s Commissioner wants to know. If you are a child, and you are thinking about writing to us, don’t hesitate.”
De Souza also called on child welfare organisations to work together to improve children’s outcomes, and said the commission existed “to help set a direction for you all, for us, working together, without fear or favour, in the interests of children and for the rights of children.”
De Souza’s appointment has sparked criticism from Parliament’s education committee. Her professional experience, much like current Children’s Care Review lead Josh MacAlister, stems from the education sector, and she has almost no knowledge of other sectors within the child welfare system.
Committee members raised concerns over de Souza’s ability to take on the role during the recruitment process last year, citing her lack of experience, and a lack of transparency within the recruitment process itself.
In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, Conservative committee chair Robert Halfon — who did not vote on de Souza’s appointment — said that her evidence to the committee “highlighted several deficits in her knowledge and experience and she will need to address these as soon as possible” and “In particular, we were concerned at the candidate’s apparent lack of knowledge of some areas relevant to her new role. Key among these were in the fields of children’s social care and fostering and adoption, youth services, the youth justice system, child and adolescent mental health and the wider immigration system.”
Ofsted had previously criticised de Souza’s handling of Special Educational Needs (SEN) students, which the watchdog said involved a pattern by the Inspiration Trust — where de Souza has been the CEO — of off-rolling and excluding SEN children in order to ‘turn around’ the schools in her care. De Souza has denied the claims.
Despite these concerns, the committee found that de Souza was a “competent candidate”, and she has now taken up her role, which she will hold for five years.
If you’d like to get in touch with the commissioner to raise concerns about the child welfare sector or highlight a child in need, you can do so here.