MSs call for more to be done to protect children’s rights
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
More must be done to protect children’s rights and improve access to advocacy in Wales, the Senedd heard.
Jayne Bryant, who chairs the children’s committee, highlighted the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concluding observations which were published in June.
She welcomed the UN’s finding that some progress has been made in Wales such as the smacking ban and lowering the voting age in Welsh elections to 16.
However, she warned: “I do also note with concern where the report concludes that the Welsh Government should do more to protect children’s rights.”
Ms Bryant raised concerns about the worrying prevalence of gender-based violence, long mental health waiting times and the large number of children in care.
Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for social services, stressed that the Welsh Government is doing its utmost to bring down the number of children in care.
She said: “One of our major commitments is to try and bring down the number of children in care to keep children at home where it is safe to do so and also to try … to place them locally so that they can continue to have contact with family and friends.”
Gareth Davies, the Conservatives’ shadow social services minister, raised concerns that the Welsh Government has yet to respond to the UN’s committee findings.
Ms Morgan said ministers will be responding to the committee’s 200 recommendations in full by summer 2024.
Ms Bryant also highlighted the UN committee’s calls for an opt-out model of advocacy for children in care.
Jane Dodds, leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, who was a child protection social worker for nearly 30 years, focused her contribution on statutory advocacy.
The Mid and West Wales MS quoted one young person in care who said: “It can feel like you have to fight for an advocate at the moment.
“It feels, because the process was really difficult and not straightforward, that having an advocate was something I wasn’t meant to have.”
Ms Dodds highlighted concerns raised in the children’s committee’s report on care-experienced children.
She said: “We learnt that the active offer in practice really is just a social worker hastily handing a child a leaflet during a very stressful transition.”
Ms Morgan said nobody should be fighting for advocacy: “If advocacy is a bit of paper handed over, that is of no use – and so I absolutely am with her that that is not advocacy.
“We want to make sure that there is meaningful advocacy.
“As you know, we do fund independent bodies to provide advocacy and it’s an area that we are actively engaging in.”
Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, argued that the poverty strategy has not been drafted in accordance with children’s rights.
She told MSs: “Children have the right to live free from poverty, and the Welsh Government has a clear duty under Welsh legislation and the convention to safeguard and extend this right to the children of Wales.
“With 28% of children currently living in poverty, it’s an urgent issue.
“We’ve reached crisis point.”
The South Wales West MS agreed with the children’s commissioner’s calls for greater clarity and ambition as well as targets to ensure focus and accountability.
Ms Morgan told members: “I do think it’s important to remember that many of the levers of alleviating child poverty don’t lie with us here.”
During a statement to the Senedd on Tuesday November 14, Ms Morgan said: “I am proud of the collective progress we have made in upholding and embedding children’s rights.”
However, she cautioned that the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and inflationary pressures mean that “now, more than ever, we must do everything within our powers”.
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