16 March 2015

On Monday the 2nd March, as I was leaving home to start my first day as Commissioner for Children and Young People, I received a text from a friend who stated quite clearly that I had to make the first 100 days “count”.

That’s my first goal. 

At the end of my first week I tweeted the following -  ‘Plans for ensuring impact cooking nicely, nothing will be half baked’ and continuing with that cooking analogy I would say that these plans are now coming nicely to the boil.

So far I have completed 10 days and have tried to make them count by getting to grips with the role, the office (the importance of finding the kettle can not be under-estimated) and getting to know my colleagues. I have had 23 individual meetings with staff, 5 other internal meetings, 2 external meetings on child poverty, 1 children’s rights lecture, 2 dinners (food poverty and the arts, and children’s rights), speeches at events celebrating young people’s volunteering, domestic abuse helpline, inter-generational work and policing. 

In order to make the whole 1,461 days count, I and the whole NICCY team need to be clear about what we are doing and be properly prepared to deliver. I plan to be very transparent in how I do my job.  Our social media and website will soon have information about my daily work and will be more interactive. 

Two of the events I participated in (Millennium Volunteers and Youth Safety Network) involved young people all of whom had taken time to volunteer directly in local services and to engage with local decision makers to make their communities safer.  Both were clear reminders that contrary to prevailing negative perceptions, young people are active participants in their communities, working hard to make them healthier, happier and safer.  It’s a real shame that all these endeavours remain hidden and there appears to be little appetite in the media to celebrate it in any meaningful way. 

It is my intention to focus on 3-4 key issues in my four years as Commissioner, as well as ensuring that government implements the structures needed to realise children’s rights as outlined in the UN Committee’s General Comment (GC) Number 5 (e.g. children’s strategy, child’s rights impact assessments, participation etc.). 

Government can start to implement the UN’s GC by alleviating Age Discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. This is the first area which I will focus on over the coming months. I have seen no credible reason at all why this should not include all ages and am baffled as to why our government would consider the introduction of such legislation that excludes our youngest people.  A society must be judged by how it protects its children and proposals to exclude them from this important legislation will most definitely find NI wanting in this regard.

I will, of course, involve myself in issues as they arise, but it is likely that some of you will be disappointed that your area of interest will not be one of my key priorities.  Please don’t let that stop you talking to me or my colleagues about them and if there is any advice or support that I feel I can give, of course I will.

So far, some of the issues causing me concern are:

  • Reducing child poverty - It is not acceptable that there are 96,000 children in NI living in absolute poverty. Nor is it acceptable that they will be joined by approximately another 31,000 in the next 5 years.
  • Education – NI has intolerable educational inequalities and gaps which need to be closed.  It is well documented that our poorest and most vulnerable children and young people are fairing the worst.
  • Mental health and well-being – It is also well known that children’s mental health services have, at just under 8%, a disproportionally low spend when compared to adults.  Additionally, I have considerable concerns with regards to how we serve the needs of our most unwell children and young people and am very worried about how these young people are cared for securely i.e. in juvenile justice centres, secure accommodation and secure mental health facilities.

There are other issues I shall also be keeping a close eye on, such as child protection, criminal justice and children’s participation in schools.

Everything that we do in NICCY will be informed by children’s rights, best evidence, and of course the experience of children and young people, and where appropriate their parents, carers and families.  I am really looking forward to talking with and listening to children and young people of all ages from across Northern Ireland.  This aspect of my work will be what keeps me focussed and will maintain my commitment as Commissioner.

It is a privilege to be Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland and I will work tirelessly to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of all our children and young people.

I value any views and suggestions you have on my role and the work of the office. Please feel free to express these by contacting the office on 02890 311 616, email info@niccy.org  or twitter @nichildcom.