Page last updated at 06:54 GMT, Friday, 14 March 2008

Children 'let down' on complaints

The man who presided over the north Wales child abuse inquiry has attacked a failure to set up an independent body to deal with young people's complaints.

Sir Ronald Waterhouse said it was a "remarkable" decision by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Helen Mary Jones, chair of the assembly children's committee, said the most vulnerable young were being let down.

But Children's Minister Jane Hutt insisted services provided by local authorities can be just as independent.

Campaigners have argued for more than a decade that local authorities should not be responsible for investigating complaints by children in their care.

That view was also backed by the first Children's Commissioner for Wales Peter Clarke, and an assembly committee.

Sir Ronald Waterhouse
I simply don't know why they have done this and I find it remarkable
Sir Ronald Waterhouse

Plaid AM Ms Jones said she was "profoundly disappointed" by the move.

"Of course it's not me and the committee that they're letting down, it is the most vulnerable children in this country. They deserve better," she said.

The assembly government has set up an independent advisory board as well what is being called a "national advocacy and advice service".

However, while the advocacy service promises to be a national single point of contact for children and young people in Wales, it will also be referring cases to local counselling services.

In a statement, Ms Hutt said: "It is not clear how a service that was funded directly by the assembly government would intrinsically be any more independent than one commissioned locally."

'Red herring'

But setting out his objection to the decision, former High Court Judge Sir Ronald claimed that under local counselling and advocacy services, a child "would not have confidence that what he or she says to the advocate is going to be treated in confidence".

Backing a centrally-funded all-Wales service, he told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye: "I simply don't know why they have done this and I find it remarkable that there is no explanation as to why they have rejected the proposal."

The charity Voices from Care was also critical of the decision.

"The advocacy board put forward by [the] Welsh assembly government is a red herring and falls way short of being an independent body, as it will continue to allow local authorities to fund the people who are meant to speak out against them," said chief executive Deborah Jones.

"Only a truly independent and centrally funded advocacy unit with its own commissioning powers will provide the safeguards that could help prevent future exploitation as evidenced in the north Wales child abuse inquiry."

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