A champion they can chat with

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Scotland has come relatively late to embracing the idea of a children's commissioner. Now we can be numbered among the 22 countries in Europe to have one. Inevitably an office with a budget of just over pound;1 million and a lean staff, not to mention one that has to cope with the high-profile issues surrounding children's rights, could rapidly become inundated. So Kathleen Marshall is right on grounds of principle and pragmatism to prioritise her work. Making contact with the nation's children is surely the overriding priority - "just chatting", as the Children's Commissioner for Wales put it on Monday (page six).

Professor Marshall has already faced the expected low-level questions. Will she be a busybody? Does she already have enough powers? Will anyone pay her the slightest attention? As far as the last point is concerned, she has shown she is no slouch at commanding the headlines, even if not always in the way she would wish.

The new commissioner's major challenge, which was underlined only too clearly by the conference delegates, will be the prevailing climate that surrounds her responsibilities. She will have to make clear that promoting and safeguarding the rights of children strengthens, rather than weakens, family life. The two are not inimical.

Commissioners in other countries will also be quick to warn Professor Marshall not to become overloaded with issues of child protection and disadvantage. There are wider interests to consider, as the UN's Professor Jacob Doek pointed out. The new commissioner plans to be inclusive: her constituency should be as well.

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