Keith Towler: The Q&A
Keith Towler is the Children's Commissioner for Wales and last Thursday (19th April) theSprout descended upon Cardiff Central Library for a Q&A with him. The event itself was organised by avid Sprouter DeadAngelLover22, so many thanks to her for this great opportunity!
What Is A Children's Commissioner And Why Was The Role Created?
Apparently, anyone can be a Children's Commissioner! There's no particular qualification you have to get - it's all about passion and experience. Towler himself got involved in community projects after taking an art course. He explained that a report produced after a long inquiry into child abuse in children's homes in North Wales made it clear that one of the key reasons such atrocities occurred was simply that no one listened. Thus the role of Children's Commissioner was created: one person whose whole job was to look after young people and listen to young people.
Towler bases all his work on the direct experiences of young people and promoting and safeguarding a set of rights called the UNCRC (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which can be found here).
What Can And Can't He (Or She) Do?
The Children's Commissioner can review anything to do with health, education, children and young people's services and anything else that directly affects them.
What they can't do is things like intervene on criminal matters, change the decision of a judge or get directly involved with issues like asylum seeking.
What Experience Does Towler Have?
Towler meets two or three times a week with children and young people in various settings, such as schools, hospitals, hospices and jails. He also works hard to listen to the voices of minorities, such as Gypsy and Roma travellers. As well as listening directly to young people, Towler works regularly with people who are directly involved with them, such as youth workers and carers.
What Are Some Of The Top Issues Children And Young People Talk To Towler About?
Towler told us that children in primary schools tend to talk about wanting to be and feeling safe and discuss issues such as bullying, being safe at home, not being able to go into parks and how they feel about older young people. In comparison, young people in high schools and colleges tend to talk to him about social media, not having their voice heard, being portrayed in a negative way, transport issues and safety in their local area.
How Does The Children's Commissioner Make Change?
To make change, Towler collects evidence on the issue in question, in particular by listening to the direct views of young people. He tries to get the kind of people who can make a difference on his side, and, failing that, would publish a report about the issues and offers recommendations of how things could be changed for the better.
We also asked him about a few specific issues...
Why Is The Voting Age 18?
Towler thinks it would be a good idea to reduce the minimum voting age to 16 because he has seen so many young people campaign for it to be reduced and because they make up such a significant percentage of the demographic. He strongly recommends a big national debate about voting age and feels that the power balance is too in favour of adults. He is confused why so many adults argued that giving young people power is dangerous, for example teachers who didn't want to hear positive or negative criticism from their classes.
With Regards To Young People, How Is Such A Diverse, Multicultural Society Kept Safe From Prejudice And Violence?
Towler explained that every human being on this planet is protected by a rights-based approach. He believes that fundamental beliefs that promote negativity and hatred towards one type of people need serious addressing.
Although Freedom Of Speech Is Really Important, Should Children And Young People Be Exposed To Radical Views?
Towler agreed that this was a pressing issue and that as a society we needed to be very careful, because although freedom of speech is indeed a human right, what happens when those views are extreme or attempt to brainwash people?
He also linked this in with the idea that secondary schools could be seen as too pro-exams and not 'pro-real' enough, perhaps not preparing them to absorb or respond to issues such as prejudice in the future, and perhaps not equipping them to deal with the influx of primary school kids who will grow up expecting to have their voice automatically heard and opinions taken into consideration. He reinforced the idea that a balance needed to be found between protecting children and allowing them to enjoy their childhood whilst also making them aware of issues like these that might arise.
How Can I Get In Contact With Him?
Keith Towler has a team of 26 people helping him. You can get in touch with them in the following ways:
- Freephone 0808 801 1000
- Text 80800 (start your message with COM)
- Email email@example.com
- Twitter @childcomwales
Towler also said that he's like to stay in contact with us and would be happy to comment on or receive any articles from theSprout or any other CLIC website, so if you think there's an article of ours he should see, leave a comment below!