I was honoured 2 weeks ago to be appointed the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing by the Prime Minister.
While it is an honour for anyone to be made a Minister, it's particularly special for me to be placed in the Department for Education given my pre-politics career was spent running organisations for children and young people. It often surprises people when I tell them that, before I became an MP, I had never been in politics before, whether as a councillor, advisor or candidate.
Instead, I spent 16 years running 3 organisations that focused on disadvantaged children and young people, helping them to have better education and employment outcomes. Part of the reason I came into politics was because - while my organisations were helping several thousand young people each year - I knew that I was only helping a fraction of the young people in the country and that politics was the place you could change the landscape for them all.
In my new role I have responsibility for a wide range of areas. One big area is the early years and childcare – including the single biggest investment in childcare that any Government has made and which, once rolled out, will give parents 30 hours free childcare from when their child is 9 months old until they start school.
Another area is Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), where the Government is making a number of changes to try and ensure that children with SEND get the support that they need.
I also have responsibility for areas such as children’s social care, children in care, adoption and kinship care – vital areas that help support some of our most vulnerable young people. While the organisations I ran did not directly target groups like children in care, a number of the young people we helped had experience of being in care, or were cared for by family members other than their parents, or indeed were young carers for family members.
So, although it is not what the organisations I ran were directly focused on, I have some experience in a number of the areas that I am now responsible for.
I am also responsible for children and young people’s mental health, which is incredibly important – even more so after the well-documented impact that the pandemic has had. The Department for Education is doing a huge amount of work on this, including putting mental health support teams into schools, offering schools and colleges a grant to train a senior mental health lead (7 in 10 English state secondary schools have already received this), reviewing the RHSE curriculum to look at how best schools can teach pupils about mental health, and rolling out Family Hubs across the country.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to work on giving children across the country the best start in life.