Children’s commissioner to gain greater independence

    The children’s commissioner for England is to be given
    greater independence under a government amendment to the Children
    Bill to be debated in the House of Lords this week,
    writes Clare Jerrom.

    Concerns had been raised that the commissioner, who will also
    represent children elsewhere in the UK in relation to non-devolved
    issues, would have less powers and independence than the
    children’s commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern
    Ireland.

    The amendment, tabled by Sure Start minister Baroness Ashton,
    states that where the commissioner is concerned that a
    child’s case raises issues of public policy of relevance to
    other children, he may initiate an inquiry.

    However, he or she must still consult the secretary of state
    beforehand and ensure the inquiry would not duplicate work carried
    out elsewhere.

    Children’s minister Margaret Hodge told the education and
    skills committee last week that the amendment was proof the
    government was listening to concerns raised during House of Lords
    debates about whether the commissioner post was sufficiently
    independent. However, she stressed that the commissioner would
    still be prohibited from getting involved in individual complaints
    as there was already a structured set of ombudsmen, tribunals and
    courts to deal with that.

    Andrew Cozens, president of the Association of Directors of
    Social Services, welcomed the move but said there were still
    further discussions to be had around the commissioner’s
    role.

    Government amendments to bring youth offending teams into the
    heart of the proposed children’s services reforms were also
    tabled for debate.

    These include adding Yots to the list of “relevant
    partners” with which children’s services authorities
    must co-operate to improve the well-being of children, and naming
    them as members of the proposed Local Safeguarding Children’s
    Boards.

    Although Hodge had not hidden the government’s desire for
    Yots to be involved with children’s trusts, the original
    draft of the bill did not include them as relevant partners and the
    document published alongside the bill had suggested that their
    inclusion in children’s trusts would be down to local
    discretion.

    The Department for Education and Skills is also believed to have
    accepted the argument for a single children’s services plan
    covering all services in an area, rather than a plan covering just
    education services.

     

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