Children’s commissioner spared the axe

The Children’s Rights Director’s role is set to be dissolved into the role of the Children’s Commissioner, following an independent report approved by the government today.

The review by John Dunford was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to look at the impact and future of the Children’s Commissioner.

Dunford concluded that the overall impact of the Children’s Commissioner has been “disappointing” because of its current limited remit, but that the role should remain. Dissolving the Children’s Rights Commissioner’s role into that of the Children’s Commissioner would enhance its remit and also save money, he concluded.

The role should have greater power and independence and report direct to parliament rather than to the DfE. The report adds the Commissioner should not have to consult the secretary of state before undertaking an enquiry, as is currently the case.

While Dunford said the enhanced role itself should be no more expensive than it is at the moment, he said there may be extra costs in the long-term.

“What I’m anxious about in the current climate is that the government will look to cut the budget of this body as it has done with all the other quangos,” he told Community Care.

“While I’m certain there are ways in which economies can be made, including the merger with the Children’s Rights Director, the new remit will inevitably require people with different skills to be working with the Children’s Commissioner and that may cost money.”

Children and families minister Sarah Teather said the government had yet to work out the details of carrying out Dunford’s recommendations.

“Realistically, it’s going to be a couple of years before we can look at implementing the new role,” she told Community Care. “We need to consult on the recommendations and any new legislation and it’s going to take awhile to work through all of that.

“But we respect the overall principle of all of John’s recommendations and in the meantime we will look at enacting some of the spirit of them.”

Dunford’s report said that while current Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson will remain in post pending legislative changes, new legislation is likely to change the role significantly and the government may need to re-advertise the post once new legislation takes effect.

Neither Dunford nor Teather could give a timeframe for this.

Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson said she was glad the government had demonstrated its commitment to children and young people and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in its acceptance in principle of all of Dr Dunford’s recommendations.
“I am delighted that much of what Dr  Dunford has concluded reinforces our direction of travel – and builds upon the significant impact we have already had on protecting children and promoting their rights most notably those seeking asylum, in prison and requiring the protection of the family courts,” she said.

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