Children's Commissioner for Wales
Role and function
The Children's Commissioner for Wales is an independent children’s rights institution established in 2001. The organisation’s principal aim is to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children and young people in Wales. Peter Clarke became the first Children’s Commissioner to be appointed in the UK and Keith Towler took over in 2008. He will remain in post until 2015.
The Children’s Commissioner post was established in two stages, under Part V of the Care Standards Act 2000 and under the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Act 2001. Under the Care Standards Act 2000, the Commissioner’s functions include:
- providing advice and information to children, young people as well as to professionals and other adults who are concerned about the rights and welfare of a child or of children in general;
- offering advice and support to children and young people, helping them to express their views and wishes;
- examining cases where services could have potentially failed a child or children; and
- assisting children and young people – including providing financial assistance and representation in legal proceedings – whose rights have not been respected.
He works with and for children and young people up to the age of 18 living in Wales, or who normally live in Wales. His team can also act on behalf of older young people (up to the age of 25) if they have been looked after by a local authority.
Having regard to the UNCRC
In exercising his functions, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales must have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Northern Ireland and Scottish Children’s Commissioners also have a statutory requirement to have regard to the UNCRC in all of their work. However the requirement for the Children’s Commissioner in England (who also maintains a role in law in respect of non-devolved matters for children) is simply to refer to the UNCRC as an aid to interpretation of ‘children’s interests’. This establishes a much weaker link with the UNCRC on non-devolved matters affecting children in Wales.
The Commissioner’s remit covers all areas of the devolved powers of the National Assembly for Wales insofar as they affect children’s rights and welfare and the Commissioner may also make representations to the National Assembly for Wales about any matter affecting the rights and welfare of children in Wales. Under the legislation, the Commissioner can:
- review the effects of policies, proposed policies and the delivery of services to children;
- examine in more depth the case of a particular child or children if it involves an issue that has a general application to the lives of children in Wales; and
- require information from agencies or persons acting on their behalf, and require witnesses to give evidence on oath.
Reports, enquiries and reviews
There are three types of report produced by the Children’s Commissioner:
- the Annual Report & Accounts, under Part VI, regulation 15 of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Regulations 2001
- reports of formal examinations (e.g. Clywch), UNDER Part VI, regulations 13 and 14 of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Regulations 2001
- reports on particular subjects (e.g. school toilets, school transport, young carers), under Part VI, regulation 13 (2) of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Regulations 2001.
The Children’s Commissioner’s annual reports have served to highlight particular concerns to government and civil society and set in train some distinct improvements to policy and practice developments as they affect children in Wales. In 2005, Peter Clarke published Clywch. This was the culmination of an examination of a particular case concerning allegations of abuse against children in a school setting. The report included many recommendations for improvement to procedures around the safeguarding of children in school settings. His reports Telling Concerns on the operation of local authority social services complaints and whistle-blowing procedures and the provision of advocacy services and Children don’t Complain, a report on the mirror arrangements within local education authorities were very influential in terms of focusing attention on the relevant duty bearers on the need to improve policy and practice.
Reporting on the UNCRC
Keith Towler, who came into post in March 2008, was the first Children’s Commissioner for Wales to attend the pre-sessional hearing of non-governmental organisations, young people and independent human rights institutions in June 2008, and the first Children’s Commissioner for Wales to attend as an observer at the UN Committee’s cross examination of the UK State party in September 2008. He also played a key role in the development of the four UK Children’s Commissioners’ joint report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child:
Current programme of work
Keith Towler has placed children’s rights at the centre of his programme of work. In his five year corporate plan he identifies children and young people who are looked-after, those with disabilities, Gypsy Traveller children and young people and those caught up in the youth justice system as groups of most concern.
Priorities for the Commissioner’s team include:
- Increase understanding of children and young people’s rights and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, so that children, young people and adults have a better understanding of their rights and how the Commissioner can help if people don’t get their rights
- Reduce inequality and discrimination, so that children and young people have a fair chance
- Continue to be a high-performing organisation, providing inspirational leadership to others, so that they can work in partnership to introduce positive and lasting differences to children and young people’s lives and experiences
- Ensure effective service delivery by all for children and young people, so that children and young people are protected, are provided with services and support and are able to take part in decisions about their lives
- Improve attitudes towards children and young people, so that children and young people are valued by everyone
- Build a strong, confident, inspiring and resilient organisation, so that staff work effectively as a team to help make children and young people a national priority.
Please contact the team either at the Swansea office, on 01792 765600, or in Colwyn Bay on 01492 523333.
Freephone: 0808 801 1000 or you can send the team a
Text on 80800 (start your message with COM).
For more information on the work of the Children’s Commissioner and to access all his publications see www.childcomwales.org.uk/