Wales

Children's commissioner's dignity call amid cuts

As public sector budget cuts loom the children's commissioner for Wales has warned of the need to "get the basics right" to protect children's dignity.

In his annual report, Keith Towler said school pupils still putting up with poor toilet facilities should be shown more respect.

"Regrettably, children and young people continue to raise issues around the state of school toilets," he said.

The assembly government is preparing guidance for schools and councils.

Mr Towler said his third annual report was being published against a background of shrinking public budgets.

He said he wanted to highlight areas fundamental to a child's development where progress has been lacking.

"It seems to me that in a time of financial uncertainty we should be focusing efforts and budgets on getting the basics right for children," he said.

Mr Towler said this involved making sure there were systems in place to protect children from harm and abuse, as well as ensuring that school pupils' dignity and respect were preserved by providing them with adequate toilet facilities.

The commissioner said he had hoped last year's report would be the last time that he would have to speak out about the state of school toilets.

Mr Towler said he was beginning to "sound like a broken record" on the subject but pupils were still raising the issue, which was a matter of dignity, as well as health and hygiene.

He added that there was continued evidence of inequality across the country, with pupils in new schools benefiting from good facilities and others still having to use inadequate toilet facilities.

Mr Towler added: "It's really not good enough that we find ourselves in 2010 where children are forced to use toilets with no seats or doors on the cubicles, with inadequate washing facilities, and feel so strongly about it that they avoid using the toilet during the school day.

"It's about dignity and respect. Surely, a fair society for children would show more respect."

'Needs'

Despite this issue, Mr Towler's report said it had been "a significant year" for children's rights in Wales.

He welcomed new action to address child trafficking, and new guidance requiring local authorities to seek and take account of children's views on school reorganisation.

Ahead of the UK government's announcement of public sector cuts in October, his report said resources needed to be examined at a national and local level to make sure services adequately reflected the needs of children and young people.

"The current budgets and forthcoming spending review and settlements mean that it is more important than ever that accurate and detailed budgeting for children is carried out on a rights-based approach," he said.

"Only in this way can we ensure the most vulnerable children are protected.

"There has been a commitment by Welsh government to develop a system which should improve budget forecasting but I'm fearful of the loss of momentum."

The report also covers the main areas of work for the office of the children's commissioner over the last 12 months.

This included the publication of a report about the learning experience of children and young people, Listening and Learning, and the handling of individual cases ranging from issues within the youth justice system to the environment.

The commissioner has been running regular surgeries at various young offenders' institutions, where issues such as accommodation and training were raised.

The Welsh Assembly Government welcomed the report, saying children's and young people's rights remained one of its top priorities.

With regard to the issue of inadequate school toilets, a spokesman said: "Responsibility for the provision of adequate school toilet facilities rests wholly with local authorities.

"We are however aware of concerns and are in the process of preparing best practice guidance to assist school governing bodies, headteachers and local authorities."

Mr Towler will be scrutinised later by assembly members on the content of the report and accounts.

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