I'm tasked in law with working in the interests of all of England's 11.5 million children, listening to what they say and championing their views to people who make decisions that affect them, so I have been considering what lies ahead for this nation's kids in 2016 and these are my predictions.
1) The digital world
Children reaching their teenage years in 2016 will not recall life before the mobile internet, smartphones and Snapchat. They learn and think differently from the generations that preceded them and have other priorities in life. The adult world still struggles to catch up with children's digital lives. The use of social media will continue its exponential growth among children and young people despite increased age restrictions from pending EU guidance. However, concerns about data on children collected online and held by commercial companies, and also the availability online of materials which are damaging to children's health, including pornography, advice, dietary supplements and psychoactive substances, will lead to greater regulation and control.
2) Lessons for life
Concerns about the increasingly complex choices children are faced with as they navigate the world will lead to renewed emphasis on the importance of lessons for life - taught by specialists on kids' terms. After long consideration, Government will make lessons for life compulsory for all children and young people in all schools. The curriculum will cover the broad range of issues that concern many children and young people and adults alike including: developing healthy and respectful relationships; addressing childhood and adolescent mental health concerns; tackling bullying and discrimination and safe use of digital technology.
3) Children who are in or leaving care
The wellbeing and outcomes for children in care and the state's responsibilities as parents toward them continue to be a major hot topic. Following extensive campaigns to improve provision to children in care and the review into residential care, during 2016 we should expect to see the extension of greater support to all children who are leaving care up to the age of 25 and also a commitment to the provision of therapeutic support to children in care to help them to overcome childhood trauma.
4) Kids take over
The co-creation and crowd-sourcing of products increasingly becomes the norm for innovative industries and begins to move into public services as local government and agencies recognise the ability of digital technology to engage children and encourage their participation in the improvement and reshaping of services to ensure that, against a backdrop of fiscal restraint, they are child-centred.
5) Child sexual exploitation and abuse
Tackling child sexual exploitation remains a national priority for the Government and local agencies alike, and is joined by an increased focus on sexual abuse within families. Local government becomes increasingly vocal over the 'stark choices' to be made over non-statutory services and child protection thresholds as funding continues to reduce. A renewed interest in early intervention as a key preventative measure - both nationally and local - emerges.
6) Gender and sexuality
Increasing public awareness of children identifying as transgender or gender fluid prompts greater public debate about how gender is constructed and what it means to be male, female or genderless. Awareness of the poor mental and physical health outcomes of young transgender, lesbian or gay people prompts calls for greater investment in support.
7) Mental health
The nation finally acknowledges the paucity of provision for children and young people's mental health conditions and agrees urgent action to address this. Plans are put in place to take counselling to kids by locating mental health support in schools as a statutory requirement. There is also agreement to locate social workers in schools to better tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation.
8) Poverty in the early years
The Government comes under increased pressure to announce plans to tackle child poverty as a Life Chances Bill progresses through Parliament. As a result, a new programme of investment and development is announced focused on poor children in the early years. This new early years' service puts into place recommendations made by the Social Mobility Commission and the Children's Commissioner. Pressure for additional help for older children living in poverty remains unanswered.
9) Radicalisation and disengagement
The debate about the immediate concerns posed by the engagement of small numbers of children and young people in extremism and terrorist activity broadens to a wider discussion about the more general disengagement of larger numbers of young people. Whilst children's services departments and schools are issued with new guidance on addressing the radicalisation of small numbers of children and young people, there is renewed focus on the best ways in which local authorities engage whole communities, including children and young people, in democracy.
10) Unaccompanied asylum seekers
The number of unaccompanied children fleeing war zones and seeking asylum in the UK continues to increase throughout the year. The Government bows to public pressure and agrees greater investment to protect from harm, greater numbers of child asylum seekers who have entered Europe or who are accommodated in refugee camps at its borders. This will include the resettlement of more unaccompanied children in the UK with the provision of more funding to local authorities to care for them.
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