Garff MHK Daphne Caine is calling for the establishment of a children’s commissioner role, as exists in Jersey and across the UK.
Mrs Caine, the former children’s champion, described that role as being not fit for purpose, and said that a ’non-political’ commissioner could be more effective as an ’independent human rights monitor’.
The champion role should be replaced with a children’s commissioner who could be ’more effective than any single backbencher could ever be’.
After initiating the debate on the issue, Mrs Caine received support from members such as current children’s champion and Onchan MHK Rob Callister, Peel & Glenfaba’s Kate-Lord Brennan, and MLC Kerry Sharpe.
Mrs Caine referred to the conclusions of the 2006 Everall inquiry, which was carried out in the wake of the 2003 murder of Samatha Barton and George Green in a Douglas children’s home.
The inquiry recommended that the government appoint a Children’s Commissioners among 132 other recommendations.
Mrs Caine spoke about how as children’s champion from 2016, she compiled her first required annual report which contained feedback from young people, parents, youth workers and probation officers on how services and legislation for young people could be improved.
After conferring with the education, health and home affairs departments over this Mrs Caine said: ’I had the very strong sense, that I as a political appointment, and as a non-health, non-education professional, I had no business criticising or highlighting perceived faults or lack of service provision for children.’
She said that all these parties’ feedback was removed from her report when it was ’published quietly’.
Mrs Caine resigned from the role in 2018 because the government slashed her remit, which she said happened because CoMin wanted to reflect its primary purpose – ’to protect the rights of looked-after children [in care of the government] and those who are carers’.
Mrs Caine pointed out that looked-after children had a children’s rights champion based in the Department of Health and Social care, and this could lead to the public perception that looked-after children ’have two champions, and other children none’.
’Unlike the safeguarding board or the children’s champion, the remit of the children’s commissioner is all children – and not just those in need of care or protection,’ she added.
She said that at the time she asked former Chief Minister Howard Quayle to compare the narrowing of the children’s champion remit to the ’expansive’ role of the Children’s Commissioner in Jersey.
Mrs Caine noted that her successor in the role, Tim Baker, would often have to re-direct inquiries that were out of the new reduced remit, and how current champion Mr Callister found the remit ’too restrictive’.
It was following ’several months’ of correspondence with Jersey’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan that she was inspired to start this recent Tynwald debate, Mrs Caine said.
She explained: ’The Jersey commissioner has seven staff and 25 worldwide experts to call on.
Mrs Caine concluded: ’A children’s commissioner for the Isle of Man would be the first dedicated and independent role in the island charged with promoting and protecting children’s rights’.
’How often do we say that we struggle to engage with sections of our community?
’This is a role that ensures that engagement with young people and children.’
Speaking in support of Mrs Caine’s recommendation, MLC Mrs Sharpe said: ’These 15,000 [young people] can’t seek out their MHK if they have a problem, they can’t phone up an advocate for advice.
’If they’re in trouble, and they can’t talk to their parents or a teacher, there simply isn’t anyone else they can go to.
’They could call Childline, if they know about it – but there isn’t a single adult in the Isle of Man with responsibility for children who they can contact.
’This is what a children’s commissioner would do, they would be that single personal point of contact’.
Appointment of the next children’s champion, the role currently held by Mr Callister, is under review by CoMin among other political appointments as part of forming the new administration.