This week, Tynwald will hold a general debate on the potential appointment of a Children’s Commissioner (CC) after a motion from Daphne Caine MHK, a former Children’s Champion for the island, who has also sought the input of Deborah McMillan, who holds the commissioner position in Jersey.
The idea of a CC has been in the British Isles since 2001 when Wales appointed the first of the region and has since become a position in Scotland, England, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey. However, this is not the first time it has been suggested on the Isle of Man with ‘The Commission of Enquiry into the Care of Young People,’ published in 2006, suggesting that the Manx gov appointed a CC as one of 130 recommendations.
Mrs Caine said: ‘I’ve pondered the idea myself for many years and from my time as Children’s Champion, which I resigned from as the job’s remit narrowed to exclude the vast majority of children and young people on our island. I noticed in Tim Baker’s [Children’s Champion from 2018-2020] report he talks about being approached on all kinds of issues but he has to tell people it’s out of his remit and refer them to the relevant support or their own MHKs, so doing it this way I think we miss picking up on the themes that are coming out from young people.’
Despite the recommendation in 2006, the idea of appointing a CC has never officially been looked into by the gov. Mrs Caine said: ‘I think that there is still a serious amount of work that we could do in this area, young people on the Isle of Man would benefit significantly by having a children’s commissioner, funded by government, on a statutory basis, with the relevant legislation underpinning it, but still able to operate in an independent way and be that advocate and champion for all young people.’
Prior to the debate in Tynwald, Deborah McMillan, who was the first CC in Jersey in 2019, briefed some members on her experience in the role and what it entails. Mrs Caine said: ‘Deborah’s just published her life on the rock report which is case studies of about 20 young people and the stories are really interesting, looking at the pressures and fears and other issues that they’re facing, but I am certain that there are many parallels with our own young people if we bothered to tease those details out. We need to ensure that all children’s voices are heard and that they’re aware of their rights and where they can obtain help and advocacy when they need it.’
With the motion coming in the last Tynwald session of this administration, Mrs Caine said: ‘I suppose the point of doing it now is to raise the profile, potentially make it an election issue and, hopefully, get consideration for something in the next program for government. That could take a select committee, or a working party, to establish how we could achieve it and whether there is merit in extending the office of the children’s commissioner from Jersey and Guernsey to here, or whether to do it independently. It’s partly looking at what serves children and young people best, but also obviously considering what’s the best value for money.’
Aware of the fact that putting money into a new role can often face criticism, Mrs Caine said: ‘Go to the website of Jersey’s Children’s Commissioner or the English Commissioner, see the work they’re doing and see the reports that come out, especially the annual reports that they’ve published. You get a real sense that the young people are being heard and engaging to decide policies and spending for the future of their jurisdictions and I think why shouldn’t we have that here?’