Esther: Wales is world leader in child wellbeing

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Childline founder praises record in rights and welfare and flags up teachers' key role

Wales is leading the UK in promoting children's rights and welfare, according to TV personality and campaigner Esther Rantzen.

The former That's Life host and founder of Childline said Welsh initiatives such as the National Advocacy and Advice Service, known as meic, and the school-based counselling service set an example which other countries should follow.

Speaking at a conference promoting children's social and emotional wellbeing in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, she said Wales had also led the way by appointing the UK's first Children's Commissioner and by embracing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"The meic helpline is an example of the Welsh attitude to children," she said. "Good-quality advocacy and advice is so important and it's lovely that meic is here for children who need that independent service.

"I'm hoping that where Wales leads, the rest of the UK will follow. I envy the Welsh attitude to and investment in children, and wish you every success."

The nationwide helpline, which was launched in May with more than pound;450,000 of funding from the Assembly government, offers children impartial advice on a number of issues, including education.

New figures show more than 2,000 children and young people contacted the service via phone, text message and instant messaging in the first 12 weeks. Exam stress and bullying at school were among the callers' main concerns.

The conference also heard there had been "glowing" praise from children about the Assembly government's school-based counselling services, launched in 2008.

There are now between 130 and 200 qualified counsellors working in schools across Wales, and during the summer and autumn terms 2009 and the spring term 2010, more than 4,100 children and young people received counselling through the scheme.

The Assembly government, which has invested pound;8 million over three years to set up and and expand the service, has recently commissioned a review of its effectiveness.

But Ms Rantzen warned that teachers are often the only people who can help children and urged them to look out for signs of trouble.

"Teachers build strong connections with children and sometimes that becomes a lifeline for them," she said. "Even if the teacher may not feel they have the time or skills, they may be the first point of contact for a child with problems or the only person they can talk to."

In her address to the conference Maxine Pittaway, head of St Christopher's special school in Wrexham, told teachers that they should smile to help improve their pupils' wellbeing. She said: "If you learn one thing from me, it's that children respond to a happy face."

Ms Pittaway, whose school has won numerous accolades, including a TES Schools Award for Special School of the Year 2010, said: "If you have a happy staff, children feel happy. Even when things go wrong, there's always something you can be positive and encouraging about."

  • Original headline: Esther says Wales is world leader in child wellbeing

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