Interview With Keith Towler
Monday 21 March was a warm and sunny day.
For those who don’t know Keith Towler is the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and it is his job to work with children for children. When asked what his job entitles he replied “To promote the welfare for children and young people”.
Now Keith Towler is a down-to-earth and laid back man and when you meet him he’s very open about his work and happy to listen to your point of view as well as talk about his work. I have been lucky to meet him twice now and I still have a very strong feeling that this man will continue to make good changes for children and young people all over Wales.
When I met him for the interview I was a bit nervous as anyone would be for their first one-to-one interview, but after making a joke to break the ice I got straight into the questions.
I got to ask him a few about what he does as the Children’s Commissioner and even on a more personal level asked him for some guidance for children who have or are being bullied. Below is what he said.
As the Children’s Commissioner for Wales what does your job entitle?
As the Children’s Commissioner for Wales my job is to promote the welfare for children and young people, I’m a voice for children in Wales when something is wrong or if there is something they don’t like.
From this question we briefly discussed how the government and other adults in Wales have now begun to realise how big an impact bullying has on children especially later on in life. Keith Towler explained how dedicated he is about helping children feel more happy and safe in the school environment.
Also he mentioned how level headed he really is, he knows that bullying may never fully come to an end but there are other ways of dealing with it than saying things like “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”.
Do you deal with bullying, if so how?
Originally the Children’s Commissioner’s job was to help children with bullying and make sure the schools were taking note of the situations and abiding by their rules and regulations. Now the Children’s Commissioner’s job is to help children and young people feel happy and safe in their environment.
From this question we briefly discussed how important this job is and on a basic level how the Children’s Commissioner really does help. Keith Towler talks not only with the government but also the children themselves and the staff in schools.
If you heard about a child who was being bullied how would you help?
Of course it depends on the circumstances of the child but firstly I would give some advice lines out like Childline, Meic and even Your Choice which are advice and support lines which you can now text as well as call so the child could get in contact with people who can offer advice. Then the Children’s Commissioner would bring in a support group for the child and would help by speaking on their behalf and using the evidence gained from the support groups and obviously from looking into the circumstances surrounding the child.
We briefly discussed the worst case scenario with bullying and Keith Towler mentioned that if needed the child services would be contacted and in some cases the child could be taken out of the environment that is causing them distress. Also he mentioned that children even at a young age can show how they feel and can understand joy, sorrow and much more.
Have you set up any anti-bullying groups?
Not personally but I have been encouraging better behaviour and even some systems in primary and secondary schools such as Children’s Ambassador’s in schools around Wales, which means that when I visit schools I meet with the Ambassador who is a student and who is told about any problems the other students have by the other students. They will then tell me if any bullying has been happening and if there is something they want to change. No groups as such have been made yet but the Welsh Assembly Government look at the guidelines and the Annual Reports I make so changes can be made.
Keith Towler also mentioned that in secondary schools all across Wales there are now two councillors always at the school, so anyone who needs some advice or someone to talk to about problems they may be having with other classmates or even problems at home, now have someone to turn to.
Also in some primary schools there is now something set up called the Buddy group. Say if a child is sitting on the side-lines of the playground looking upset or lonely then other children will go to them and play. This has been set up by the staff in the schools and with the children.
Have you got any advice for children and others who are being bullied?
Schools now have councillors which can listen to any problems and will help out by talking to the teachers and even get in touch with the Children’s Commissioner. Also there are the Buddy stops in primary schools and some contact numbers like Meic which you can text as sometimes children feel more confident over the internet or via text instead of a one-to-one phone call or contact.
Keith Towler and I went onto discuss how integration is being brought into discussion for children who have special educational needs as in some schools these pupils are kept away from the others, some for obvious reasons like having to take certain extra classes but others you may have seen and not really known why they are classed as this.
Personally I think it would be better to have children mixed all together with the exception of age restrictions for obvious reasons. We also discussed how schools have changed from being all girl and all boy schools and how that integration has helped the schooling environment.
I've heard you visit schools, whilst there what do you do?
Depending on the school and what the children want I meet with the school council which is mostly students and then meet with the teachers, I have personal conversations sometimes in classes and others in assemblies where I ask the student’s what they like and don’t like about their school. One time whilst speaking with the staff and students I heard similar reactions about school toilets and how sometimes that can be the base area for bullying, I’m sure you’ve heard some of the stories. I take on the personal feelings from the staff and students and then hope to make a change and after leaving I write a personal blog about my visit which is available for all to read. Also it is only recently that as the Children’s Commissioner I have been able to make a start on helping children with disabilities and obviously making sure they are happy in their surroundings.
This is where we ended the interview and I promised to send a copy of this write up to Keith Towler and not to hesitate in getting in touch again, we also talked about how the day was going for each other and left on very good terms.
Comment below if you have any more questions or would like to know more as I am happy to ask any questions to Keith Towler when I am in contact with him again or I can forward the questions onto his secretary. Thanks for reading and I hope this helped answer any questions you may have had about who the Children’s Commissioner is and what he does.