Kirsty Williams: “We Need a Single Port of Call for Children in Wales.”

January 25, 2011 2:52 PM

The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams AM, has today launched a bid to give the Childrens Commissioner for Wales powers to do more to stand-up for children across Wales.

Kirsty Williams has written to the Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather MP, to ask that she give the Childrens Commissioner powers to investigate and speak up on non-devolved matters. Currently, the Commissioner is only allowed to work on devolved matters.

Commenting, Kirsty Williams said:

"This year sees ten years since the establishment of a Childrens Commissioner for Wales, and they have done a fantastic job speaking up for children in Wales. But they are often frustrated because they are limited in what they can do. I want there to be a single port-of-call for children in Wales.

"I've written to the Westminster Government to ask them to give these powers to the Welsh Commissioner. They are currently reviewing how the English Commissioner should work now is the perfect time to make these changes. Now is the time for us in Wales to have a strong an independent Commissioner."

The Welsh Liberal Democrats also believe that the Childrens Commissioner should be appointed by the National Assembly, rather than the First Minister, to ensure they are independent from Government.

ENDS

Notes to Editors: The text of Kirsty Williams letter follows:

Sarah Teather MP
Minister of State for Children and Families

Dear Sarah,

The Childrens Commissioner for Wales

I am writing to you with regards the recently published review of Childrens Commissioner in England. I understand that you have recently committed to reform the functions and powers of the Childrens Commissioner in England.

You will be aware that the review has concluded that:

"The childrens commissioners in devolved administrations should in principle be responsible for all relevant matters in respect of children and young people who normally reside in their countries. All UK governments should consider the legal and practical implications of putting this recommendation into practice and implement the option that best captures it in spirit." (Recommendation 2.19)

I believe this presents the UK Government with an opportunity to improve the role of the Childrens Commissioner for Wales by expanding the functions of the office to include non-devolved matters.

The Childrens Commissioner for Wales was established ten years ago and has received cross-party political support and plaudits for its work here in Wales. However, it has always been the case, since the Commissioner was established, that its work has been constrained to matters that are the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales.

This presents an enormous challenge to the Commissioner in terms of day-to-day handling of issues. As I am sure you are aware, many issues faced by children are cross-departmental and cross boundaries of Government. Many children, particularly the children of asylum seekers, may receive services from a number of government departments. This has the effect, I believe, of frustrating the Commissioner from undertaking the best possibly body of work in order to ensure that children are presented at all levels of Government.

I also believe that the current arrangements make it difficult for children, the most important people in this process, to know who to contact and that having a single port of call for children in Wales would make this service easier and better to use.

I know that that you have already acknowledged the difficulties facing the Childrens Commissioners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Like you, I am keen to achieve progress on this issue.

There are a number of possible solutions to this problem. One option, having spoken with experts in the field, would be for the Childrens Commissioner for Wales to act as the Commissioner on devolved and reserved matters in Wales. However, it may also be possible for the Childrens Commissioner for Wales to act as an agent for the English Commissioner in Wales. I hope that you, in consultation with the Childrens Commissioner for Wales, will be able to develop a suitable model to ensure that the voice representing children in Wales can be strengthened. I will support any mechanism that I believe will ensure that children in Wales, including some of the most disadvantaged in Wales, are represented by a strong, quality and independent Commissioner.

I am also asking you to publish a timetable as soon as possible for this as possible.

I look forward to your response on this matter. I have also copied this letter to Keith Towler, the Childrens Commissioner for Wales.

Yours sincerely,

Kirsty Williams
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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