Children's commissioner should be merged with children's rights director, Dunford recommends

By Janaki Mahadevan

| 06 December 2010

The role of children's commissioner for England should be merged with the Office of the Children's Rights Director, John Dunford, the former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has recommended in his review published today.

Children's commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson: Dunford review calls for the role to be merged with the Office of the Children's Rights Director

Dunford’s review of the Office of the Children's Commissioner also calls for the role of children’s commissioner to be strengthened and have greater independence from government by reporting directly to parliament rather than just the Department for Education.

According to Dunford, the commissioner should hold their post for a single seven-year term.

Reacting to the report, children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson said: "I am delighted that much of what Dr Dunford has concluded reinforces our direction of travel – and builds upon the significant impact we have already had on protecting children and promoting their rights, most notably those seeking asylum, in prison and requiring the protection of the family courts.

"I feel sure that by building on our solid foundation and significant achievements, particularly for children and young people, who are vulnerable, that these recommendations will undoubtedly create a stronger, more independent advocate for children and young people in England."

Responding to the news that the new children’s commissioner for England should incorporate the functions and responsibilities of the children’s rights director, Ofsted, which hosts the director, said it will work closely with the implementation team and the children’s commissioner to create the new post.

"Both Ofsted and the Children's Rights Director himself welcome the Dunford review and its recommendations for a new children's rights-based Office of the Children's Commissioner for England," a statement read. "It is particularly gratifying that the review has so strongly endorsed the functions, approach and efficiency of the Office of the Children's Rights Director in its work with and for children in the care system or in residential education, and that he has so clearly recommended that this work should continue.

"We will now work closely with the implementation team and with the children's commissioner towards achievement of the new rights-based organisation."

Dunford also said the children’s commissioner should not have to consult with the Secretary of State for Education before undertaking an inquiry and should be given the power of advising government on new policies and assessing the impact of new policies on children’s rights.

He has also advised that there should be a duty on government and local services to issue a formal response to concerns raised by the children’s commissioner.

"The days of children being seen and not heard are long gone," he said. "The new strengthened role I propose for the children’s commissioner should help to ensure that children play a positive role in society, as many do now, and are protected from harm. This can only happen if the children’s commissioner is legally responsible for promoting and protecting children’s rights, and is given greater independence from government. 

"The role I propose for the children’s commissioner will have an increased impact on children’s lives, thereby providing much better value for money. And while I am convinced that the children’s commissioner should act on behalf of all children, the Office should focus most on vulnerable children."

Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said Dunford’s report makes the case for making changes to the role of children’s commissioner.

She said: "We want to raise the profile and credibility of the role among children, young people and parents. There is an important message here for government, to take seriously the evidence and advice presented to us by the commissioner. I shall personally welcome any advice from the children’s commissioner that will help us to improve the lives of children and protect their rights."

Atkinson added: "The coalition government and Secretary of State for Education have clearly demonstrated their vision and commitment to children, young people and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by the acceptance in principle of all of Dr Dunford’s recommendations.

 "I am heartened, therefore, in the light of our firm focus on youth justice, safeguarding and the asylum process, that a legislative mandate to promote and safeguard children’s rights will now be sought."


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