Behind the headlines

Publication of the government’s green paper on the future of
children’s services, expected imminently, is eagerly anticipated
not just for what it will contain, but also for what it won’t
contain. The House of Commons health select committee, which
produced its own report on the Victoria Climbie Inquiry last week,
said the green paper should recommend that smacking be outlawed and
a fully independent children’s commissioner introduced. The
indications are that the government will recommend neither, but
with the new children’s minister Margaret Hodge still putting the
final touches to the green paper the health committee hoped that it
was not too late to influence events.

In appointing an independent children’s commissioner for England,
the government would be bringing itself into line with policy in
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But Number 10 and the
Department for Education and Skills, in which Hodge is based, seem
unlikely to propose the creation of a post which may be yet another
irritant to the government. If so, the children’s lobby won’t rest
until it changes its mind.

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Children and young people are at risk if the green paper does not
advance their rights to protection and advocacy. They have urged
governments repeatedly to ‘stop parents hitting us’ and ‘give us
someone powerful to speak up for us’. Yet, within two weeks of her
appointment, children’s minister Margaret Hodge has been scathing
about the first and cool about the second. The green paper must
outlaw the despicable offence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ and
establish an independent children’s rights commissioner in England.
The two go together.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The House of Commons health select committee must be applauded for
its independent critique of the lessons from the Laming inquiry
into Victoria Climbie’s death. The case for a children’s
commissioner is overwhelming and anything less will leave
children’s policy too sensitive to the influence of public opinion
and what is politically acceptable. The suggestion that the
government might give a free vote on smacking rather than taking a
children’s rights approach is clear evidence of this. The green
paper must now deliver.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute
for Health, University of Leeds
“The issue is no longer whether or not to have a
children’s commissioner for England, but rather about the form such
an office might take. Lord Laming believes someone ‘inside’ the
system is better placed to influence events, while many others wish
to see a wholly independent role. He also wants to see a wider
‘children and families’ remit rather than a focus just upon
children. He is wrong on both counts. What is needed is a purely
children’s commissioner who is given the clout to influence

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“A children’s commissioner should be accompanied by a commission
for children. The Disability Rights Commission and the Commission
for Racial Equality have a significant number of their client
groups on board as members of staff. The green paper should bring
proposals on how young people would populate a children’s
commission in a meaningful way. There are models around which could
be followed.”

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social care,
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“I welcome the health committee’s report, especially the
recommendation of a truly independent children’s commissioner. Our
children have waited too long already for an independent critical
voice on so many important issues, like the age of criminal
responsibility, smacking and children and young people in prison.
The commissioner would be able to embarrass us all with the need
for urgent action on all these fronts.”

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