09 November 2016
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On Tuesday 15 November 2016 in Plenary, Assembly Members will debate the Children Commissioner for Wales’ most recent Annual Report (2015-16). This gives AMs an opportunity to discuss the latest issues and challenges affecting children and young people in Wales and hear how the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant, responds to the report’s findings. The Welsh Government’s written response is due to be published following the debate. Last month, the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee heard directly from the Commissioner about the issues she raises in her report. You can see what was discussed on Senedd TV here.
The Commissioner and her role
Sally Holland is the third person to undertake the role of Children’s Commissioner, taking up her post in April 2015. The principal aim of the Commissioner in exercising her functions is to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children and to have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in everything she and her team do. The Research Service blog Children’s rights in Wales: an update 2016 provides further detail on the UNCRC and the position in Wales.
The Commissioner can:
- Review the effects of policies, proposed policies and the delivery of services to children;
- Examine the case of a particular child or children if it involves an issue that has a more general application to the lives of children in Wales;
- Require information from agencies or persons acting on their behalf, and require witnesses to give evidence on oath;
- Provide advice and assistance to children and young people, and others;
- Consider and make representations to the National Assembly for Wales about any matter affecting the rights and welfare of children in Wales.
The Commissioner’s remit covers all areas of the devolved powers of the National Assembly for Wales relevant to children’s rights and welfare. Her remit covers children and young people up to the age of 18 living in Wales, or who normally live in Wales. It also includes those up to the age of 25 if they have previously been ‘looked after’. Her office undertakes direct casework on behalf of children and young people.
Which does the latest Annual Report focus on?
The Annual Report identifies a wide range of issues facing children and young people in Wales and categorises them under the following headings:
- Provision: Mental Health; Education (including ‘Additional Learning Needs’ and ‘elective home education’); Social Care (including advocacy, adoption, and short breaks for disabled children).
- Poverty: The Commissioner says ‘Too many children in Wales are being denied a decent childhood due to the limiting effects of child poverty.[…] Welsh Government urgently needs to intensify its efforts to tackle child poverty.’ (The most recent statistics, published in June 2016, show that 29% of children in Wales are living in poverty, the same as England and higher than Northern Ireland (25%) and Scotland (22%).)
- Protection: Child Sexual Exploitation and historic abuse; Equal protection; Travel to school; Privacy in youth courts.
- Participation: The Commissioner says ‘Whilst I have no legislative remit to make recommendations to the National Assembly for Wales, I want to reaffirm my intention to press for a reinstated national democratic space for young people, in the form of a Youth Assembly.’ (See the Llywydd’s recent announcement here).
What are the Commissioner’s priorities?
Following her ‘Beth Nesa’/ ‘What Next’ consultation undertaken to inform her priorities, the Commissioner published her Plan for all Children and Young People 2016-19. Sally Holland says that ‘by 2019 I hope that Welsh Government and public services will have made significant progress towards delivering the following improvements for children:
- Children and young people will have access to the mental health services they need in a timely manner. There will be stronger programmes for promoting emotional health and wellbeing in place in our health and social services, schools and youth services.
- Children’s contemporary experiences of bullying will be better understood and more schools will prevent and tackle bullying effectively.
- There will be better access to play, culture and leisure activities by children who are most likely to miss out on these, particularly those living in poverty and disabled children.
- Care leavers will have better access to safe and secure housing options and an active offer of a job, education or training place.
- All young people requiring continuing health and social support will have improved transitions to adult services.
- Children will have the same legal protection as adults from physical assault.
- Children and young people will be better involved in public services, including my own organisation.’
Setting out some of the work she herself intends to undertake, the Commissioner says:
- ‘Under 7s asked me to prioritise play opportunities during the next three years. I will promote children’s rights to play and access leisure and cultural activities, whatever their circumstances.
- Children from 7-18 have identified bullying as their top priority. I will work with children and others to identify and promote effective ways of tackling bullying. The issue of bullying is also connected to mental health and wellbeing – the overwhelming concerns of professionals and parents.
- In 2016-17, I will launch a three year project to improve the transition from childhood to adulthood for those who need support and services – this includes care leavers and those with chronic health conditions and disabilities.
- I will work with children and young people throughout Wales and through both English and Welsh languages. I will ensure that I listen to children and young people who may have most difficulty in accessing their rights, including disabled children, looked after children and those from ethnic, linguistic and sexual minorities. I will measure how I engage with different groups throughout Wales so that I can be held accountable for this by children and young people.’
The debate is scheduled for 4pm Tuesday 15 November and can be watched on Senedd TV here.