Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
On 4 October 2016, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales published her Annual Report which reviews the work undertaken by her office from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016 and reflects on the Commissioner’s first year in post. The report sets out several recommendations for the Government on key issues affecting children and young people in Wales and also looks ahead to key pieces of work for the year to come.
We debated this Report in plenary on 15 November, where I welcomed recommendations like those on promoting positive mental health for children and strengthening provision for statutory advocacy. I informed Members of my intention to respond in full on behalf of the Welsh Government.
The report is an important contribution to continuing dialogue between the Commissioner, Welsh Government, the Assembly, all those working with children, parents and, of course, children themselves.
The Commissioner has raised issues which touch on the responsibilities of several Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, all of whom contributed to the full response I am publishing today.
My response sets out the Welsh Government’s position on each recommendation, and what we are doing or plan to do about the issues highlighted by the Commissioner.
We are already making progress on the issues the Commissioner raises in her report. The First Minister has announced his intention to introduce legislation to give children equal protection, by removing the defence of “reasonable punishment”. The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language expects to introduce the Additional Learning Needs Bill in the Assembly before the Christmas recess and we have revisited and strengthened our Elective Home Education guidance which will be published in the coming weeks.
We are conscious of the pressures in the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services system, but we strive to deliver on that. We are investing almost £8 million of new funding annually to recruit specialist staff and develop early intervention mental health services for children and young people.
I recognise that early intervention is key to long term health and well-being. As Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children I have outlined my priorities around tackling Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and building resilient communities and I think these align with many of the issues which concern the Commissioner. I am in no doubt this is a long term challenge and the benefits of this approach are equally long term.
Tackling child poverty remains a priority for this Government and I am working with all Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers to deliver the objectives of our Child Poverty Strategy. Our ongoing investment in the early years and our focus on increasing employability (supporting people to enter, remain and progress in work) are fundamental – and are supported by a number of commitments in Taking Wales Forward.
Over the coming months, we will look afresh at how this Government can support resilient communities – those that are empowered and engaged, and able to offer children the best start in life.
I also fully support the Children’s Commissioner’s focus on promoting children’s and young people’s participation in public services and as citizens of Wales. I am pleased, therefore, that following a successful all-party motion resolving that the National Assembly for Wales should establish a permanent youth parliament for Wales, the Presiding Officer has announced her intention to take this forward early in the fifth Assembly term.
I thank the Commissioner for the work she and her staff have put into the report. I am confident our response, which can be accessed via the link below, will assure her of our commitment to our younger citizens.