Ministers look at ombudsman for children plan

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CAMPAIGNERS ON children's rights have urged the Government to appoint a high-profile children's ombudsman with powers to investigate claims of sexual and other forms of abuse.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children argued that there was an urgent need for a children's champion with statutory investigative powers. The appointment of a commissioner is thought to be among the key recommendations of the forthcoming report, by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, of the inquiry into allegations of abuse in children's homes in North Wales.

Phillip Noyes, the NSPCC's director of public policy, said he would welcome such an appointment. "There's an urgent need for a UK children's commissioner to act as a child protection and welfare watchdog for all children, especially those in care," he said. "The Welsh Assembly are already pressing ahead with a commissioner for Wales, and the time is right for the UK Government to act.

"A UK commissioner for children would come to the rescue of children whenever their rights are trampled on. He or she would fight to put children's needs at the heart of government thinking.

"A commissioner should have statutory powers to right wrongs against children. He or she should investigate where organisations have failed children, such as large-scale abuse in institutions. A commissioner should also ensure that children have proper channels of complaints." He added that many other countries already had commissioners.

There was speculation that the name of the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth, had been linked to the job in Whitehall circles. But Ms Booth, a QC with a keen interest in children's issues, is thought to have been ruled out because of the Government's sensitivity to accusations of cronyism.

Other possibles are said to include Baroness Kennedy QC, Denise Platt, the head of the social services inspectorate, and the leading female judge, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said she could not comment on the contents of the Waterhouse report.