Runners and riders jockey for position

    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
    to be.

    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.

    Age: 56.

    Form: Chief executive, The Who Cares? Trust.

    Odds: 8-1.

    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
    agencies.

    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.

    Verdict: Co-favourite.

    2. Runner: Juliet Lyon.

    Age: 54.

    Form: Director, Prison Reform Trust.

    Odds: 100-1.

    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
    placements.

    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.

    Age: 50.

    Form: MP for Lancaster and Wyre.

    Odds: 8-1.

    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.

    Verdict: Co-favourite.

    4. Non-Runner: Roger Singleton.

    Age: 61.

    Form: Chief executive, Barnardo’s.

    Odds: None offered, but would have been strongly
    fancied.

    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.

    Age: 63.

    Form: Chair, ChildLine.

    Odds: 300-1.

    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
    visible champion.”

    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
    avoid.

    6. Runner: Paul Ennals.

    Age: 47.

    Form: Chief executive of the National Children’s
    Bureau.

    Odds: 25-1.

    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
    Disabled Children.

    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
    group.

    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
    is.

    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
      under-19s.
    • 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
      year.

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