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Sunday, 26 December, 1999, 15:47 GMT
Pressure mounts for children's commissioner

Bryn Estyn The Bryn Estyn home in Wrexham where children were abused


Children's rights campaigners stepped up the pressure on the government to appoint a high-profile children's ombudsman armed with powers to investigate claims of sexual and other forms of abuse.

The call came after reports that the appointment of a children's commissioner is among the key recommendations of the report of the inquiry into allegations of abuse in children's homes in north Wales.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children argued that there was an urgent need for a children's champion with statutory investigative powers.

The 800-page report, written by Sir Ronald Waterhouse QC after a long-running inquiry, is said to have identified the recruitment of a 100,000-a-year plus commissioner as a priority.

'Urgent need'

Phillip Noyes, the NSPCC's director of public policy, said he would welcome such an appointment.

"There's an urgent need for a UK children's commissioner to act as a child protection and welfare watchdog for all children, especially those in care," said Mr Noyes.

"The Welsh Assembly is already pressing ahead with a commissioner for Wales, and the time is right for the UK government to act.


Cherie Blair Cherie Blair - a candidate for children's commissioner
"A UK commissioner for children would come to the rescue of children whenever their rights are trampled on.

"He or she would fight to put children's needs at the heart of government thinking.

"A commissioner should have statutory powers to right wrongs against children. He or she should investigate where organisations have failed children, such as large-scale abuse in institutions.

"A commissioner should also ensure that children have proper channels of complaints and where appropriate take legal or other action on their behalf.

"Norway, New Zealand and many other countries have successfully introduced children's commissioners. The UK should not get left behind. Children need a high-profile champion with real clout."

Cronyism

There was speculation that those whose names have been linked to the job in Whitehall circles include the Prime Minister's wife Cherie Blair, a QC with a keen interest in children's issues.

Mrs Blair is thought to have been ruled out because of the government's sensitivity to accusations of cronyism.

Other possibles are said to include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, and Denise Platt, head of the social services inspectorate. Another candidate could be the leading woman judge, Lord Justice Butler-Sloss.

The commissioner's responsibilities could include overseeing a vetting system designed to exclude paedophiles from getting work in children's homes, investigating complaints about school punishments, and ensuring that teenagers get a fair deal in court.

A Department of Health spokeswoman pointed out that the government's Care Standards Bill provided for the creation of regional children's rights officers, who would be dedicated to looking after children's needs.

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See also:
01 Jul 99 |  UK
Child abuse report delayed
17 Sep 99 |  Wales
Calls for 'child power' in Assembly
12 Oct 99 |  Wales
Child abuse inquiry report due to reach Murphy
06 Oct 99 |  Wales
Child abuse inquiry report completed

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