The children’s commissioner job will be advertised after the
Children Bill has been given royal assent, probably in the late
autumn. That gives would-be applicants plenty of time to brush up
their CVs and start practising their interview answers. But which
runners will be under starter’s orders and who will make it to the
winning post? There are a few obvious contenders for this
prestigious new role. We take a look at what the line-up is likely
Race: The Commissioner Challenge Stakes.
Distance: Too many years to calculate – the ground
covered makes the Grand National look short and flat.
Going: Hard, but finally yielding after years of
campaigning to get the track in the right condition.
Expected number of runners: Six, although one is
likely to stay in the paddock.
1. Runner: Susanna Cheal.
Form: Chief executive, The Who Cares? Trust.
Fancied, with nine years’ experience as chief executive of The Who
Cares? Trust, a charity working for children and young people in
care. Achievements include setting up a telephone service for young
people and developing CareZone, an online service for those in care
which involves 36 local authorities and independent fostering
Cheal has a wealth of voluntary sector experience, having worked
with 18 organisations. She founded Bliss (Baby Life Support
Systems), a charity for newborn babies, and for five years was a
consultant for the Child Psychotherapy Trust, campaigning for child
psychotherapy posts to become part of NHS services.
From the horse’s mouth: “I will be interested in
seeing how the framework pans out for the role. I wouldn’t discount
it. It’s not wise to say no to anything until you know how it’s
going to be. I think it’s a fantastic role and I’m delighted that
the battle has been won to have it.”
Concerns: “If the commissioner has to report to a
government department then it’s difficult to tell how the role is
going to work. It’s not the case in other countries – it would
limit their freedom of action and would depend on who the secretary
of state is at the time.”
Under starter’s orders: Almost certainly.
Finishing position: A place.
2. Runner: Juliet Lyon.
Form: Director, Prison Reform Trust.
At face value, the Prison Reform Trust may not be the obvious
hunting ground for the future children’s commissioner. However,
Lyon has worked with or represented the needs of children and young
people for more than 30 years. This includes teaching in a
psychiatric hospital and in a comprehensive school.
From 1991-9 Lyon was associate director of the Trust for the Study
of Adolescence. She led research into teenage suicide and self-harm
and also devised specialist training for prison staff working with
children and young people in custody.
She was awarded an honorary research fellowship in the school of
psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1992. She has worked in
an advisory capacity to the Social Exclusion Unit and during the
1970s was a foster carer for short term and emergency
From the horse’s mouth: “The role must not only
establish the right of children to have a say, but must ensure that
people are listening and will act to protect children in a way that
respects them as individuals. The commissioner must be more than a
strong voice for children: she or he must make sure that their
voices are heard directly and that there is wide consultation with
children and young people at every stage.”
Concerns: “The government must start to see
children who offend as children.”
Under starter’s orders: May bolt at the last
minute – currently undecided on whether to apply.
Finishing position: A probable fourth.
Verdict: A rank outsider.
3. Runner: Hilton Dawson.
Form: MP for Lancaster and Wyre.
This fine steed has the required public profile, having been
elected to parliament in 1997 and then re-elected in 2001. But to
his advantage he also has years of social work experience under his
belt. After gaining a Diploma in Social Work he spent 15 years in
the profession, working in a children’s team, as a youth justice
worker and as a residential care manager.
When it comes to knowing how politicians operate, Dawson is the
front runner. He has served on various standing committees
including those for the Adoption and Children Bill, the Leaving
Care Bill and the Sexual Offences Bill. He is chair of the
associate parliamentary group for children and young people in care
and joint chair of the all-party children group. He is an honorary
fellow of Unicef, a parliamentary ambassador for the NSPCC and a
trustee of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
His current plan is to leave politics and return to the front line
of social work.
From the horse’s mouth: “It’s not a job that will bring about
enormous change to children’s lives and services in itself, but
enormous change cannot happen without a children’s commissioner. I
am definitely applying. I expect hundreds of other people to apply
and it is essential that they get the best person for the job. Good
luck to everybody.”
Concerns: He says it is “essential” that the
commissioner can investigate individual cases as they see fit. In
addition, they must have access to children and young people,
wherever they may be.
Under starter’s orders: Unquestion-ably – he will
be chomping at the bit.
Finishing position: A place.
4. Non-Runner: Roger Singleton.
Form: Chief executive, Barnardo’s.
Odds: None offered, but would have been strongly
A strong contender for the title, had he decided to run, as his
racing style would have suited the course. Singleton joined
Barnardo’s in 1974 as deputy director of child care and became
chief executive in 1984. Before that he worked in residential
schools with young offenders and was also an assistant director of
social services. He is a former chair of the National Council of
Voluntary Child Care Organisations, and has served on public
inquiries into child abuse in children’s homes. In 2001 he became a
trustee of the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
From the horse’s mouth: “I’ll be retiring in the next couple of
years and therefore won’t be applying for the job. If I had been 20
years younger I would have been very interested. The role offers a
wonderful opportunity to find out what children and young people
regard as things that should be improved and developed.”
Concerns: “Young people have to believe that this person
understands where young people are coming from. They have to be
able to say things that may be unpopular, and be familiar with the
way politicians and civil servants can avoid doing things they have
agreed to do.”
Under starter’s orders: Sadly not – this fine
thoroughbred is to be retired.
Finishing position: The paddock.
Verdict: He will be sorely missed.
5. Runner: Esther Rantzen.
Form: Chair, ChildLine.
The nearest we get to a celebrity runner, but some would say that
this mare should be put out to pasture. Often paraded in the
enclosure, she is best known for her role as producer and presenter
of consumer affairs TV programme, That’s Life, which was on BBC1
for 21 years. In 1986 while preparing a programme on child abuse
she came up with the idea for ChildLine, a phone helpline for
children in trouble or danger. ChildLine now has 10 counselling
centres in the UK and answers more than 1.5 million calls a year.
She also helped to set up the Association of Young People with ME,
of which she is president.
Few would dispute that she has the communication skills vital to
the commissioner role – she has been awarded the Royal Television
Society’s Special Judge’s Award for Journalism and has been TV
Personality of the Year.
From the horse’s mouth: “When the post is created
I think I will have to rely on other people’s views on whether I’m
qualified to apply. I’m sure there are a million better qualified
people than myself. I think any commissioner for children has to be
familiar with the real stuff of children’s lives and must be a
Concerns: “Although the commissioner will be
prohibited from taking up individual cases he or she can certainly
take up issues arising from them.”
Under starter’s orders: Possibly.
Finishing position: Probably last.
Verdict: One that punters are likely to
6. Runner: Paul Ennals.
Form: Chief executive of the National Children’s
An obvious contender for the job – if only he had not recently
taken the role of interim chair of the government’s Children, Young
People and Families Workforce Council for England.
Ennals has been chief executive of NCB since 1998. Before that he
was director of education and employment for the RNIB. Other posts
have included vice-chair of the government’s national advisory
group on special educational needs and chair of the Council for
He is a member of the stakeholder board for the new children, young
people’s and families directorate at the Department for Education
and Skills and a member of the Department of Health’s children’s
task force and the children’s national service framework strategy
From the horse’s mouth: Not all horses can speak,
and this one declined.
Under starter’s orders: Difficult to tell – many
will be hoping to see him in the starting gates.
Finishing position: Will depend how tired he
Verdict: A strong runner but a horse can only run
one complicated course at a time. CC
Hurdles to jump
- A panel of children and young people will be involved in the
sorting of applications, the selection interviews and the drawing
up of the commissioner’s job spec.
- Work is likely to be done through a youth board of up to 25
- The interview process is likely to include a practical
demonstration devised by young people to show the applicant’s
ability to work with children.
- The commissioner is likely to be appointed early next