Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
A year ago today, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published its 2016 report on the United Kingdom’s progress in implementing children’s rights since it last reported in 2008.
The report was informed by evidence from all parts of the UK. At the time, the Committee took note of Wales’ progress in relation to children’s rights, for example, our Together for Children and Young People programme to support improved mental health for children and young people, and efforts on coordinating a better response to child sexual exploitation. The Committee also praised how the right to play is promoted in Wales.
Our work on children’s rights continues.
The Welsh Government is committed to putting the rights of children at the centre of our policy making here in Wales. The UN Committee’s recommendations and concluding observations have given us another opportunity to review our work on children’s rights and consider how we can continue to improve.
The Committee’s recommendations cover a number of areas, including general principles such as respect for the views of the child; violence against children; family environment and alternative care; disability, basic health and welfare; and education, leisure and cultural activities.
Some of the recommendations sit in non-devolved areas, and of course we will work with and seek to influence the UK Government as it considers those.
In Wales momentum is building in a number of the areas where we have the powers to make a difference. I have highlighted below some of the key areas where progress has been, or is being made.
Both the Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission are taking forward the objective of showing respect for the views of the child, through providing greater opportunities to participate in decisions which affect them.
Following a unanimous vote of support from Assembly Members on 19 October 2016, the Llywydd announced her intention to establish a Welsh Youth Parliament. Since then the Assembly Commission has worked with a Youth Parliament Steering Group to develop and consult on a proposal for a Youth Parliament. We await the outcome of that consultation.
This will complement the work of Young Wales which engages with children and young people through youth groups, forums and councils, and through social media, enabling them to tell Welsh Government their views on issues of their own choice . Welsh Government will also consult young people on the issues around Brexit.
Giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote is a key issue for young people who want to have a say in what happens in local area and their nation. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government intends to consult shortly on proposals to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. The Presiding Officer has established an expert panel to examine the voting age in relation to Assembly elections, following provisions in the Wales Act 2017 which, on commencement, will pass responsibility for the franchise of Welsh elections to the Assembly. It is my hope that we will see 16 and 17 year olds participating fully in the democratic process within the next few years.
We all agree that violence, abuse and neglect should not feature in any child’s life. That is why Welsh Government remains fully committed to introducing legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment. Our “Parenting – Give It Time” campaign promotes positive parenting behaviours, providing advice, guidance and signposting to support. Our early intervention programmes continue to work proactively with children and families to highlight and tackle issues, such as potential neglect, before they become a problem.
In relation to basic health and welfare, the Welsh Government recognises the importance of promoting emotional, mental and physical well-being for our children and young people.
That is why we are working across government to co-ordinate policies and programmes which can have a positive impact on children and young people’s well-being, particularly across the Health. Wellbeing and Sport, Education, and Children and Communities portfolios. For example, the Healthy Child Wales Programme (HCWP) launched last October, is a service-led universal health programme for all families with 0-7 year old children. It includes a consistent range of evidence based preventative and early intervention measures, and advice and guidance to support parenting and healthy lifestyle choices.
In Flying Start areas, we have aligned the health elements of the programme with the HCWP so there is consistency in the timing of health visitor contacts. We are also learning from the Flying Start approach, where professionals are often co-located and work closely together to deliver holistic support services and interventions for local families.
Wales led research is providing a focus on the potential impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and I am considering how we can best help to reduce the incidence of adverse experiences for children, and help children to build resilience. As part of this focus, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, the Minister for Social Services and Public Health, and I are supporting the work of the ACE Support Hub to enable professionals and organisations, across sectors as diverse as education and housing and the police to become ACE informed. I have recently announced the five Children First pioneer areas. Reducing the impact of ACEs will form part of their approach, working with and listening to children and young people in an area, to make a positive difference to their life courses.
In relation to mental health, the Cabinet Secretaries for Health, Well-being and Sport and for Education are working together so that good mental health support can be provided to children and young people in schools. The aim is to help and support teachers in responding to children and young people who are experiencing difficulties such as anxiety, low mood, and compulsive, self-harm or conduct disorders and to build relationships which extend from the classroom to specialist mental health services.
Together 4 Children and Young People, alongside its work to improve access to clinical service when required, is mapping and evaluating programmes for prevention and early intervention through its Early Intervention and Enhanced Support to Vulnerable Groups work stream. This includes the role of Local Primary Mental Health Support Services to ensure that children and young people in need of targeted support receive this in a co-ordinated fashion.
We are also investing in quality childcare, both to support families with employment choices, and to ensure children receive the care and help they need to develop the skills needed in later life.
A key commitment for this government term is the delivery of our childcare offer, which will provide 30 hours of government-funded childcare and early education to the working parents of three and four year olds for 48 weeks of the year. Bringing together early education and childcare, we are supporting children with the transition to full time school whilst simultaneously enabling parents to access employment and improve families’ prospects.
The Welsh Government will continue to take every opportunity to reinforce and strengthen our commitment to ensuring children and young people are able to live their lives in a way that allows them to flourish in a safe and nurturing environment. This will inevitably include all parts of government working closely together and with partners outside government, and I look forward to us making further progress in the coming years.
The UN Committee’s report is available on the Welsh Government’s website, a link is provided below. I ask everyone, especially those with an interest in children, young people and their families to take some time to consider the recommendations made and the ways in which every one of us can help make these rights part of the fabric of our society.