Nearly three years have passed since I took the reins as the third Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Now seems like the perfect time to pause and look back at the team’s successes; and also to look to the future as I prepare our next three year plan.
When I stepped into the Commissioner’s role in 2015, I asked a fairly straightforward question of the children, young people and their carers across Wales, and that question was: ‘What’s Next?’ I intended that the question would help me to plan my first three years’ work; making sure that everything I did was driven by the voice of children and young people. I heard from more than 6000 young people and 1000 adults. Their responses were wide-ranging, but I decided upon six priorities:
- Mental health, wellbeing and tackling bullying
- Poverty and social inequalities
- Play and leisure
- Safety (in the community, in school and at home)
- Raising awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and promoting its adoption across public services
- Transitions to adulthood for all young people requiring continuing support and care
One of the things I set out specifically to achieve during this consultation was to give a voice to the youngest members of our community. I have come to realise that although babies and children have small voices, when we talk to and listen to them, they very often have big things to say to us. With the support of Mudiad Meithrin, consultation questionnaires were distributed to Cylchoedd Meithrin and nurseries across Wales in order to collect the opinions of our youngest children. For children between 3 and 7 years old, it became clear that ‘more places to play’ and ‘more money for families’ were at the forefront of their list of priorities.
My office has responded, and this year I published the ‘Spotlight’ report on the child’s right to have rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities, and to participate in cultural life and the arts.
In addition, we are also consulting with young people, their families and with professional workers about the experiences of children who live in poverty or are experiencing financial difficulties. We hope to publish a series of practical suggestions for local authority and Local Government, to support children and families from less affluent backgrounds.
To me, it is also essential to ensure that children are given the best possible start in life – it is one of their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 29). Integral to this is ensuring that more children from less affluent backgrounds have the right to receive free standard childcare, in English or Welsh. At this point in time the Welsh Government only intends to extend its offering of 30 hours’ free childcare to working families. Here, I believe, the Government is missing an opportunity to lessen the achievement gap that exists between our most and least affluent children. Research has demonstrated the effect childcare can have on a child’s academic achievement and social development, not only as they start nursery, but when they attend school. When research shows that 3 year olds from poorer backgrounds will be 10 months behind their more affluent peers, it makes sense to seize this opportunity to level the playing field. I will continue to speak out on behalf of the children who need our support.
Until then, I look forward to the future, and to planning for the remaining three years of my time as the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. Over the following months I will be asking, ‘What Now?’ of children, young people, of those working on their behalf and those caring for them. This work will be shared with the Mudiad’s Cylchoedd and nurseries, through a workshop pack that will enable me to hear what your children (and yourselves!) have to say. Remember, often the smallest voices have the biggest ideas!
Sally Holland is the Children's Commissioner for Wales.
More information can be found about the Commissioner’s work here: