Welsh way forward

12th September 2003 at 01:00
A Children's Commissioner is not a substitute for well-run and adequately resourced front-line services for protecting children. He or she can help ensure such services are in place and can bring many other benefits for children as well.

My role is unique in that I am both independent of government agencies, and yet do have statutory powers. My fundamental aim is to promote and safeguard the rights and welfare of children. The powers that I have are primarily concerned with getting information from agencies providing services for children and young people.

I can do this to review policies or services and I can also hold public inquiries where witnesses must attend and give evidence on oath when requested. I then make recommendations to the agencies concerned. If they do not comply within a reasonable period, I can publicise their non-compliance in any media of my choice.

What am I doing in practice? Well, two years into the job I have 17 staff based in offices in Swansea and Colwyn Bay. We are dealing with more than 400 cases brought to us by (or on behalf of) individual children. Last year we reviewed systems for children to make complaints in our 22 local authority social services departments.

I made more than 60 recommendations, the majority of which are being implemented. My first annual report concentrated on the issue of child poverty. The Assembly is now drawing up a strategy in response. We have nearly completed a major public inquiry into issues surrounding a teacher accused of serious abuse.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my job is listening directly to children, finding out what they think are the important issues, and representing them to the public and to decision makers.

Last year this led to the First Minister in Wales having to answer detailed questions in the Assembly about the state of school toilets. I look forward to bringing similar concerns of children into public debate, and to having a colleague in England, as well as Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Peter Clarke is Children's Commissioner for Wales

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