I can’t quite believe that we are in the last few days of 2023 – a year that has flown by in many ways – and as I look back over the last 12 months I feel incredibly grateful to have had so many highlights and so many opportunities to learn from others, including from children and young people in many different circumstances across Wales.
The start of the year was full of excitement as we put plans in place to give evidence in February to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, along with other UK Children’s Commissioners, third sector organisations and children and young people representing those different jurisdictions. This process only happens every 5 years or so, so I felt very lucky to be able to do it so early in my term as Commissioner.
It was also a month I met with members of my young advisory panel in Llandudno and Merthyr, hearing their views and concerns about a range of issues including identity-based bullying, affordable school meals and public transport.
In March, I was really pleased to be able to publish the ‘No Wrong Door Book of Experiences’ which illustrates the experiences of families with children who are neurodiverse, including the very long waiting times they experience. This is something my office has long worked on, and makes up a large part of the casework which my Advice service supports. Increasing the visibility of this service is something that internally we have worked on for much of the year, with a new way of promoting this service coming soon.
Over the summer months the team worked really hard to analyse and consider the 10,000 + responses to my national survey Ambitions for Wales, published in June, which then informed my new 3 year strategy ‘Making Life Better for Children in Wales’ and priorities. It will come as no surprise to anyone working with children and young people that this work identified poverty and mental health as issues which are becoming more and more critical to children and young people’s lives.
One of the joys and privileges of this job is the unique opportunity I have to meet with and spend time with children and young people in very different settings, and during this year, I’ve been extremely lucky to visit, with members of my participation team, every single local authority in Wales and hear from a really wide range of children and young people, and speak to them about their rights. This includes children and young people in residential settings, in hospitals, in youth clubs and in schools, those with disabilities, from ethnic minority backgrounds, refugee children and young people, and young people who identity as LGBTQ+. The responsibility is then to share their views and voices with those in positions of power, and this is what our report on Education in Healthcare settings, published in September aimed to do. It is also the aim of our Annual Report , published in October and the Policy Recommendations it contains for Government.
Another privilege of the role is its elevated platform, and I was especially gratified in November to not only be able to publish the office’s first report into racism in schools, but also that the report received a significant level of media attention. The hope is that government attention and consideration will follow.
My commentary on child poverty in December has also received considerable attention, and again I only hope it can make a positive difference to decision making in relation to children’s lives.
Really there are so many individual stories of children and young people which have stuck in my mind, that it would be impossible to relay them all. But I know that my privileged access to them is only possible due to the hard work of every single member of my team who provide the behind the scenes support and structure for my own more front facing role – so to them I am very grateful. I am also very grateful to the members of my Young People’s Advisory Panel, my Adult Advisory Panel and Audit and Risk Assurance Committee – all volunteers who selflessly give their time and expertise with me and the office.
As we end the year, like many other public services, with a difficult financial outlook for the coming year – this only serves as a reminder of the even harsher difficulties faced by too many children and families across Wales, and strengthens my resolve to do more to tackle this and the many other challenges facing young people in 2024.
Wishing you all a restful and joyful Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous new year