Commissioner for Wales is up to the challenge

Howard Williamson
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It was an "exceedingly drawn-out" appointments process, according to one Welsh politician. But Keith Towler came through the interviews, both with young people and politicians, to secure the position of children's commissioner for Wales, just under a year after the untimely death of his predecessor Peter Clarke.

The appointment was announced by Jane Hutt, the Welsh Assembly's education minister and an Assembly minister since its start. Hutt, unlike many politicians, can spot someone with knowledge, experience, a sense of independence and a reputation for integrity. She also had the courage to appoint one.

Towler has a background in youth work, youth justice and children's rights. In 1992, he was one of the "ministerial appointments" to the original management board of the Wales Youth Agency. He was a member, then chair of the agency's Advisory Council for Youth Work in Wales. During that time he worked for Nacro Cymru and pioneered the idea of preventing youth offending through extending entitlement - building on the Extending Entitlement youth policy of the then new Welsh Assembly Government. Indeed, Towler was a member of the experts' group that injected the ideas for that youth policy model.

He worked for a while as crime reduction director for Nacro before going on to independent consultancy work. Most recently, he has been the programme director for Save the Children in Wales, which has helped advance the participation agenda, as well as producing Wales' alternative report on compliance with the Uni-ted Nations Convention on Children's Rights.

Towler took up his appointment at the beginning of March. I am delighted he got the job. He has a good eye for detail and a sense of vision. Where necessary he does not shy away from criticism and robust debate.

During his consultancy period he crafted the SoToDo (Something To Do) document on behalf of the curious and powerful alliance of children's commissioner Clarke and South Wales chief constable Barbara Wilding. It merits renewed attention if services for children and young people are to really hit the ground. Now, a few weeks into his post, he will have to address issues such as the teenage suicides in Bridgend, the stress levels of children in school and the continuing concerns about Welsh young people in custody in England.

I am sure many people in Wales wish Keith well. I certainly do. Good luck, mate. Peter would have said that too.

- Howard Williamson is professor of European youth policy at the University of Glamorgan, and a member of the Youth Justice Board. Email howard.williamson@haymarket.com.

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