Edinburgh leads the way to a children's commissioner

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Young people should be heard and not just seen, Edinburgh has accepted. The city has now agreed to establish Scotland's first children and young people's commissioner.

As youth issues gather momentum, ministers and the Parliament's education committee will investigate in the spring the merits of creating a national children's commissioner and are almost certain to study Edinburgh's lead.

The city is poised in August to launch an independent young people's unit to monitor policies and act as a channel for young people's views.

Paul Williamson, education spokesman, said: "This will be a separate office at arms' length from the council and will have a degree of independence to help raise young people's views more effectively. It will not have policy-making powers but will have a great deal of influence over the policies of the council. It will be able to child-proof policies and make recommendations."

The unit, headed by a commissioner, will comment on any council initiative and speak on behalf of young people, who will be involved in the office.

New ways of communicating with young people will be central to its work.

"There has often been a tendency in the past of attracting young people who are already highly confident and who do not necessarily represent the views of all young people," Mr Williamson said.

The city's schools already have pupil councils and a youth task force advises on youth issues.

Education and social work will be key areas for the commissioner following the rcommendations of the independent inquiry into child abuse at Edinburgh children's homes. The report, published in 1999, proposed a children's commissioner or welfare commission at national level to defend children's interests.

But Mr Williamson believes that young people will have a chance to set the agenda on other issues such as homelessness, drugs and leisure.

A seminar next month will scrutinise proposals and draw on experience in Oxford, London and Wales.

Douglas Hamilton, policy officer at Children in Scotland, welcomed the city's initiative but advocates the creation of a national commissioner.

"There is a role for local commissioners but they should not be a substitute for a national commissioner for Scotland," Mr Hamilton said.

Meanwhile, Glasgow is appointing one of its younger councillors as youth spokesperson. Catriona Renton, aged 26, has pioneered school and street surgeries in her ward and will help develop youth initiatives.

Glasgow has also picked up a share of a pound;1 million Scottish Executive grant to pilot restyled youth information points, in an initiative that involves Angus and Argyll and Bute. Graeme Robertson, general manager of the Young Scot initiative at Community Learning Scotland, said the three authorities would use the latest technology to introduce "super youth information points" over the next 15 months.

Ironically, Glasgow's share has been arranged through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities - with which it is threatening a break.

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