Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green: You Ask The Questions
The Children's Commissioner for England answers your questions, such as 'Is there a crisis of discipline?' And, 'Can you recommend a good children's book?'
Monday 03 March 2008
Sorry, but I don't know what the children's commissioner is. What do you do?
I was appointed in 2005 as the first independent Children's Commissioner for England. My post was created by Parliament as part of the 2004 Children Act.
My role is to always be on the side of children and to speak up for them, especially the most vulnerable in our society. I listen to what they have to say is important in their lives and then take their views to the Government to ensure that children's voices are central to policies that affect their lives. My organisation, 11 MILLION, is named after the number of children and young people in England. Find out more on www.11MILLION.org.uk.
Has the government listened to you, or just used you as a token figure?
The Government is listening to what children and young people are telling me. But we are campaigning for them to do more. We have succeeded in changing the law so that children with mental health problems receive age-appropriate services. We have also influenced policy to improve the treatment of young asylum-seekers.
Why do you think studies find that children get such a bad deal in Britain? And do you agree?
Our society's record on the treatment of disabled children, young asylum-seekers and children in trouble with the law is poor. What is heartening though, is the renewed interest in the way we view our children. The Government's recent creation of a Children's Minster in Cabinet and the publication of strategies like the Children's Plan are a step in the right direction.
Do you think teenagers are demonised in Britain, blamed for everything?
I do think there is an increasing demonisation of children and young people in this country and the way that the media label them. We need to celebrate the contribution they make to our society instead of focusing on the bad behaviour of a small minority.
Do you realise that the Mosquito [a deterrent device that emits a sound that can be heard only by the young] is needed as many shops and premises are surrounded by gangs of hooded youths who intimidate ordinary people?
I have deep sympathy with those people whose lives are affected by anti-social behaviour – it's unacceptable. But by using short-term fixes like Mosquitoes we are not tackling the root cause of the problem, merely moving bad behaviour on and penalising innocent children and young people, including babies.
Young people in Corby recently successfully campaigned to get the devices in their locality switched off. They worked with the police, their local MP and adults to do this and to find others ways to deal with anti-social behaviour, and there are now fewer incidents where they live.
Find out more about our campaign to ban the Mosquito device on: www.buzzoffcampaign.com.
Should more people working on behalf of children, such as teachers, be interviewed by children, like you were?
Yes I think they should. Children's panels are a crucial part of the interview process for everyone who comes to work at 11 MILLION. I am encouraged that greater numbers of schools are getting pupils involved in the interviewing process of prospective teachers. I think it sends out a very positive message that we really do value the views of children and young people.
Eight years after Victoria Climbié, do you think a case like that could happen again?
Sadly, some children are still dying because of poor communication between the agencies that are supposed to look out for them. The recent review of the most serious cases of abuse and neglect showed that lessons had not been learned. Lord Laming, who led the Climbié review, said it was unrealistic to imagine we could ever eliminate all cases of child death or harm. But it is critical we make every effort to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Would you support a ban on smacking?
Yes, I want smacking banned. It is not right that children are the only people who can be lawfully hit in our society. We are continuing to pressure Government to change the law so that children are given the same protection against common assault as adults. Children themselves told the Government that smacking was "out of kilter with many of the messages they hear at school, at home and in the media, regarding respect and acceptable behaviour".
Is there a crisis of discipline in this country?
I don't think so. I have talked about there being a crisis at the heart of our society, but I was not talking about discipline. I was commenting on the fact that out of 21 developed countries, the UK comes 21st in terms of outcomes for children and young people. This Unicef report, published last year, shows that we need to make some fundamental changes to how we relate to children.
Is sending parents to prison because their children play truant really an effective tool?
It's unlikely to be the answer to the underlying problem. Focusing on the adult will not resolve the key issue of why a child doesn't want to go to school. The child, teachers and their parents all need to be on hand to understand what's causing the problem and find effective ways to deal with it.
I'm 16 and believe I am informed enough to vote. Do you think I should be allowed to?
If you want the right to vote, you should not be afraid to campaign for it.
Is allowing your child to become overweight a form of child abuse?
No, but obesity is an unprecedented threat to the happiness and health of our children. Here's another question for you – is selling high-fat junk foods to children a form of child abuse?
Do you think the systematic closure of special schools has been a disaster for all children, both with and without special needs?
I don't think it's been a complete disaster but I am seriously concerned about education provision for some children with special needs. We need to recognise that children have different needs and there should be a range of educational facilities and services for them to access. I have taken these concerns forward with the Government.
Do you support the legalisation of cannabis, and have you ever used it or other illegal drugs?
No and no. In my previous role as a children's doctor I have seen the damage that illegal drugs can have on families.
The internet has become a new way for companies to advertise inappropriate foods etc to children. Will you encourage Government to regulate it?
Yes, this is something I am already doing. As well as reducing children's exposure to junk food advertising on TV we all need to keep a close eye on what's happening on the web, especially as many children are spending an increased amount of time online. Advertising of junk foods and alcohol is not adequately regulated and I am pressing for the Government to introduce tighter controls.
Can you recommend a good children's book to read to my six and seven-year-olds?
My grandchildren of that age like to read the Lemony Snicket series of books, Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree, and Horrid Henry is also a favourite.
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