18 June 2015

You may recall on my first day in this role I was advised to make the first 100 days count. As I approach the 100 day mark I have reflected whether the days have been used wisely, and whether our work during the time ahead will make sure that NICCY can achieve the change needed for children and young people.

Holy Rosary visit - June 15 - thumbnail.jpgDuring the past three months I have met many decision makers, parents and, of course children and young people. I have never been in any doubt our children need a Commissioner but I have been overwhelmed by the breadth of the challenges that our children and their families are facing on a daily basis, some of which affect a small number of children, others many thousands.

The importance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is that it applies to each and every child regardless of their situation or their numbers. As the Commissioner for Children and Young People I will work to make sure that the promises made in the Convention become reality. 

We teach our children the importance of keeping their promises, and so the question posed by a young person as to why our government is not keeping the promises to its children will stay with me for a long time.

The issues our society is facing have never been more worrying. Regardless of the outcome of the current budget discussions and debate, our government has to take some major decisions about how the approximately £20bn Northern Ireland budget is spent. I am deeply concerned that “expedient” savings will be made without any consideration given to the impact on the lives of children. I am calling on government and their agencies to make sure they fully understand the outworking of each and every expenditure decision, and they make every effort to minimise any adverse impact.

It is therefore imperative that I can demonstrate that the £1.3m that NICCY has this financial year is also spent with the maximum impact. It is my intention to take what I have learnt in the first 100 days, and work with the NICCY team to review and revise priorities, methodologies and structures of the organisation. During the next three months I will continue to engage with NGO colleagues, politicians, government officials and of course children, young people and their parents to make sure we make the right decisions.

I shall be formalising the processes by which we take forward NICCY’s core priorities, referencing the 2003 Legislation which provides the mechanism and direction for this. In essence it is my intention to use the powers of the Order that set up NICCY in every way possible. However Government must now formally respond to the two reviews undertaken in 2007 and 2013.  Aside from asking for the Commissioner not to require ‘victim status’ in relation to court proceedings, neither review suggested an extension of powers but instead the removal unnecessary limitations. 

It is my intention to be as transparent as possible, and in the coming weeks the NICCY website will include more detail on my work, and outline the clear positions I am taking on a variety of children’s rights issues. 

I believe we can all do much better for our children and young people, and the current consultation processes for proposed legislation provide such an opportunity. These include: Children Services Co-operation; Special Education Needs and Disability; and Youth Justice Bills.

Also there is the work about to start on a new Children and Young People’s Strategy and Programme for Government. Children and young people must be visible in these, with articulated outcomes that are explicit and costed. 

So while spending the next three months formalising structures and processes, we will continue to work on specific issues, particularly the imminent consultation on legislation to ban discrimination of goods, facilities and services on the grounds of age. Despite the provision of incontrovertible evidence from NICCY, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and a range of others including the older people’s sector, that such legislation should be inclusive of all ages, our government has not provided any reasonable rationale why this legislation will not apply to young people aged 15 and under.

Finally on the 1st of July the four UK Children’s Commissioners will be submitting our analysis on the UK’s performance on the implementation of the UNCRC. I remain concerned that while some progress has been made in some areas, such as youth justice, in others the situation is worse, particularly poverty and the impact of “austerity”.  

I am also frustrated with the inaction in regard to recommendations to the UN committee made in 2008, on areas such as the physical punishment of children and specifically in Northern Ireland on the issues of segregated education and academic selection. 

After all a promise is a promise...