Tam Baillie

9th December 2011 at 00:00
Scotland's controversial commissioner for children and young people answers the critics, talks about his achievements and sets out his future priorities. Photography Cate Gillon

What do you think your greatest achievement has been since becoming Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People?

I would say it's been about raising awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but there is still very far to go.

What is your biggest priority for the six years ahead?

Improving Scottish legislation to enforce the UNCRC. The forthcoming bill is missing things, like giving the Government a duty to raise awareness and understanding.

You have come in for harsh criticism since becoming children's commissioner, notably over the cartoon version of yourself for the SCCYP website which some felt smacked of self-promotion. Were you surprised?

(Not entirely because) you can't please everyone. You have to think beyond what's been alleged as self-promotion and think about how children see the commissioner.

So how have children themselves responded to the cartoon Tam character?

The feedback overall was really positive.

How do you respond to critics who attacked the `obvious' questions in your flagship children's consultation exercise, A Right Blether?

The questions may seem obvious to adults but they are not quite so obvious when seen through the eyes of a child. When we asked (children to choose) a "loving, caring" home or a "safe and secure" home, more than half of children in Scotland chose safe and secure over loving and caring. It was a really decisive result. I think there's something really important about the word "safe".

If you could do the consultation again, would you do it any differently?

Yes, I would make sure we had sufficient capacity to cope with the enormous response. We were totally overwhelmed, with 74,059 responses. Some of the older kids said we should have asked more adult questions but that would have affected the time for counting votes, which was really laborious, I don't know quite what to do differently.

How much has it cost to date?

Over a three-year period it cost pound;283,000.

Do you believe it is value for money?

Absolutely. We're sitting on top of the biggest consultation ever undertaken in Scotland, which provides the platform for me in terms of my strategic plan.

Has your day-to-day work changed as a result of A Right Blether?

Everybody's work has changed or is changing as a result of it. When I go to meet some people in schools, they have the findings in front of them. The message from A Right Blether is that children and young people want a Scotland that's safe, fair, respectful and inclusive. We have gone big with the consultation and now we're drilling down to try and get some results.

What shocks you most about the lives of children in Scotland today?

I'm disturbed by the mismatch between the rhetoric about children and young people and how we actually treat them. although most children grow up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults.

You have asked councils to assess the impact of all the budget cuts on children's rights? Is that happening?

I don't have the resources to check whether it's happening or not. Historically, children and young people suffer disproportionately in times of austerity and I hear about people struggling with budgets, but I also hear encouraging work on preventative spend. I still think that needs a national lead to ensure our early years ambitions happen.

You were among those who called for the controversial Mosquito device, used to break up groups of youths, to be banned. What are you doing to ensure that it is outlawed in Scotland?

There are so many pressure points and I can't possibly lead on all of them. I gave evidence to the pressure group working on that one and I may get called again to lend weight to that (campaign). I'm not doing anything pro-active on it.

Do you think it's right for Scottish teachers to strike?

Teachers have got a right to strike. It's up to them as a profession how they see the best way to safeguard that profession.

Do you think it is helpful or not to make a distinction between children's rights and human rights? Is there any difference between the two?

I don't see a conflict between them. Children are human beings, so they are covered by human rights, but the UN recognises that there are specific considerations for children and young people.

Do you have children yourself? Have they given you any good advice on your role?

I have two daughters, aged 28 and 26, and a son aged 22, who still lives with me. They keep me grounded and remind me that I'm a dad first and foremost, which is helpful.

What was your childhood like?

I had a happy childhood. John Wayne was on the telly so we played cowboys and Indians, and if you were an Indian you got to make a tomahawk from a stick and a tin can. I remember I thought everyone aged 12 went to discos. I only found out later that they were part of a police initiative in Glasgow to keep young people occupied.

Personal profile

Born: Lennoxtown, 1957

Education: Queen Mary Primary, Glasgow; Linwood High, and John Neilson High, Paisley; BA psychology, then youth work training, Strathclyde University

Career: Various UK community youth worker posts; director of policy, Barnardo's Scotland. Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People since 2009.

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