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Isherwood: Protecting vulnerable children in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"We thank Peter Clarke for another characteristically robust annual report. Following last year's annual report, we learned that almost all of the cases referred to the children's commissioner had been resolved.

However, a small number had been outstanding for many years. In answer to my question at that time, the deputy children's commissioner confirmed that additional legal powers were needed in certain circumstances.

One of these cases concerned the Finnegan family in Flintshire—a family that I have to refer to again in the Chamber because the children are still, another year down the road, being forced to live in atrocious conditions.

The county council continues to deny them their rights to social justice. As the years go by, each day is 'Groundhog Day' for this family, with another set of costly reasons given for further delay, additional requests made for information already provided, and denial of the housing standards required by legislation.

If this can happen to these children, it can happen to any children. Hence, I propose amendment 9, which calls for a review of the commissioner's legal powers in circumstances where the failure of another agency to co-operate leaves the rights and welfare of children unaddressed.

Despite Sir Ronald Waterhouse's identification of the importance of independent advocacy for children, the children's commissioner has highlighted concerns about the lack of strategic vision in this area, and about the degree of real independence enjoyed by advocates when they are directly beholden to their paymasters.

He stated that not one of the younger people leaving care who contacted his office felt that their personal advisers had represented their views or negotiated on their behalf.

As the children's commissioner states, the risks of not acting are likely to be great. He says that he is at a loss to understand why the Welsh Assembly Government has not pursued these matters more vigorously. That is why we have tabled amendment 10.

In the context of school nurses, the children's commissioner states that it is of considerable concern that the policy rhetoric is not being made a reality simply because of a lack of strategic lead and funding.

In the context of the national service framework for children, the children's commissioner also expresses concern that there has been no indication of the level of funding that may be expected to begin the process of implementation. This is why I propose amendment 11.

Referring to the Clywch report recommendation on the conduct of staff at disciplinary investigations, the children's commissioner highlights Assembly Government proposals for establishing an independent investigation agency, and for independent and legally qualified members of school disciplinary committees.

In this context, I propose amendment 12, noting again the need for real independence in areas where conflicts of interest may arise.

The children's commissioner records his disappointment with the rate of progress since the publication of the Assembly Government's strategy to tackle child poverty, noting that an action plan is yet to be developed, and expressing his concern about the lack of urgency on an issue that he described in 2002 as a national disgrace.

We know that the Institute for Public Policy Research states that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened since 1997. We also know that research by the Child Poverty Action Group stated that children are more likely to come from families on low incomes in Wales than in other parts of the UK: a third of Welsh children live in homes with less than half the UK average income.

One in five Welsh working-age households now has no-one in employment, and 16 per cent of Welsh children are being brought up in households where no-one works—hence the concern expressed in amendment 13.

The children's commissioner details concerns about the continuing failure in Wales of child and adolescent mental health services to provide an adequate response. He also highlights the gap in mental health services for many 16 to 18-year-olds.

I am well aware of these concerns in the context of young people on the autistic spectrum, who, I believe, are excluded from the CAMHS criteria—hence amendment 14.

Amendment 15 supports the statement by the children's commissioner that bullying has continued to be an issue raised by children and young people, and his conclusion that fixed-term projects should focus not only on direct work with children and young people, but also on building capacity and establishing structures within schools, youth groups and communities to ensure that the lessons learned are not lost and a sustainable legacy remains—those are his words.

Amendment 16 reflects the children's commissioner's goal of ensuring that all those responsible for raising children and young people in Wales are able to access support, information and advice when they need it.

I note, in particular, the parents of children with additional learning needs who have come to me for help, unaware of the existence even of parent partnerships. We must now await the outcome of consultation on the parenting action plan, in the hope that the rhetoric, in this instance, becomes a reality.

I am pleased that the Minister states that she will support amendments 10, 12, 15 and 16, but all our amendments, apart from amendment 9, are taken directly from this report. I therefore point out to Members that they cannot vote against those other amendments without also appearing to vote against this report.

With reference to amendment 9, your vote today will be a judgment on your real commitment to social justice and to the wellbeing of two young children who have already suffered more than we should ask of any child in Wales today."

"Diolchwn i Peter Clarke am adroddiad blynyddol arall sy'n nodweddiadol gadarn. Yn dilyn adroddiad blynyddol y llynedd, bu inni ddysgu bod bron pob un o'r achosion a atgyfeiriwyd at y comisiynydd plant wedi'u datrys.

Fodd bynnag, yr oedd nifer fach nad aethpwyd i'r afael â hwy am lawer o flynyddoedd. Mewn ymateb i'm cwestiwn ar yr adeg honno, cadarnhaodd y dirprwy gomisiynydd plant fod angen pwerau cyfreithiol ychwanegol mewn rhai amgylchiadau.

Yr oedd un o'r achosion yn ymwneud â'r teulu Finnegan yn Sir y Fflint—teulu y mae'n rhaid imi gyfeirio atynt eto yn y Siambr oherwydd bod y plant, flwyddyn yn ddiweddarach, yn parhau i gael eu gorfodi i fyw mewn amodau erchyll.

Mae'r cyngor sir yn parhau i wrthod iddynt eu hawliau i gyfiawnder cymdeithasol. Wrth i'r blynyddoedd fynd yn eu blaen, mae pob dydd yn 'Ddiwrnod Groundhog' i'r teulu hwn, gyda chyfres arall o resymau costus yn cael eu rhoi ar gyfer oedi pellach, ceisiadau ychwanegol yn cael eu gwneud am wybodaeth a ddarparwyd eisoes, a'r safonau tai sy'n ofynnol gan ddeddfwriaeth yn cael eu gwadu.

Os gall hyn ddigwydd i'r plant hyn, gall ddigwydd i unrhyw blant. Felly, cynigiaf welliant 9, sy'n galw am adolygiad o bwerau cyfreithiol y comisiynydd mewn amgylchiadau lle y mae methiant asiantaeth arall i gydweithredu yn golygu nad eir i'r afael â hawliau a lles plant.

Er i Syr Ronald Waterhouse nodi pwysigrwydd eiriolaeth annibynnol i blant, mae'r comisiynydd plant wedi amlygu pryderon ynglyn â diffyg gweledigaeth strategol yn y maes hwn, a'r lefel o annibyniaeth go iawn sydd gan eiriolwyr pan fônt yn uniongyrchol ddyledus i'r sawl sy'n talu eu cyflogau.

Dywedodd nad oedd un o'r bobl ifanc a oedd yn gadael gofal a oedd wedi cysylltu â'i swyddfa o'r farn bod eu hymgynghorwyr personol wedi cynrychioli eu safbwyntiau neu wedi negodi ar eu rhan. Fel y noda'r comisiynydd plant, mae'r risgiau o beidio â gweithredu yn debygol o fod yn sylweddol.

Dywed nad yw'n gallu deall pam nad yw Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru wedi mynd i'r afael â'r materion hyn yn fwy trylwyr. Dyna'r rheswm inni gyflwyno gwelliant 10.

Yng nghyd-destun nyrsys ysgol, noda'r comisiynydd plant y ceir cryn bryder nad yw'r rhethreg polisi yn cael ei gwneud yn realiti dim ond oherwydd diffyg arweiniad strategol ac arian. Yng nghyd-destun y fframwaith gwasanaeth cenedlaethol ar gyfer plant, mae'r comisiynydd plant hefyd yn mynegi pryder na chafwyd unrhyw arwydd o faint o arian y gellir ei ddisgwyl er mwyn dechrau'r broses weithredu. Dyma'r rheswm imi gynnig gwelliant 11.

Gan gyfeirio at argymhelliad adroddiad Clywch ar ymddygiad staff mewn ymchwiliadau disgyblu, amlyga'r comisiynydd plant gynigion Llywodraeth y Cynulliad ar gyfer sefydlu asiantaeth ymchwilio annibynnol, ac ar gyfer aelodau annibynnol a chyfreithiol gymwysedig o bwyllgorau disgyblu ysgolion.

Yn y cyd-destun hwn, cynigiaf welliant 12, gan nodi unwaith eto'r angen am annibyniaeth go iawn mewn meysydd lle y gallai achosion o wrthdaro o ran buddiannau godi.

Cofnoda'r comisiynydd plant ei siom ynglyn â'r cynnydd a gafwyd ers cyhoeddi strategaeth Llywodraeth y Cynulliad i fynd i'r afael â thlodi plant, gan nodi nad oes cynllun gweithredu wedi'i ddatblygu eto, a chan fynegi ei bryder ynglyn â'r diffyg brys ar fater y bu iddo ei ddisgrifio yn 2002 fel gwarth cenedlaethol.

Gwyddom fod y Sefydliad Ymchwil Polisi Cyhoeddus yn datgan bod y bwlch rhwng y cyfoethog a'r tlawd wedi ehangu ers 1997. Gwyddom hefyd fod ymchwil gan y Grwp Gweithredu ar Dlodi Plant wedi datgan bod plant yn fwy tebygol o ddod o deuluoedd ar incymau isel yng Nghymru na mewn rhannau eraill o'r DU: mae traean o blant Cymru yn byw mewn cartrefi sydd â llai na hanner yr incwm cyfartalog yn y DU.

Mae un o bum cartref o oedran gweithio yng Nghymru bellach â neb mewn cyflogaeth, ac mae 16 y cant o blant yng Nghymru yn cael eu magu mewn cartrefi lle nad oes unrhyw un yn gweithio—sy'n egluro'r pryder a fynegir yng ngwelliant 13.

Mae'r comisiynydd plant yn nodi pryderon ynglyn â methiant parhaus gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl plant a phobl ifanc yng Nghymru i roi ymateb digonol. Amlyga hefyd y bwlch mewn gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl ar gyfer llawer o blant 16 i 18 oed. Yr wyf yn gwbl ymwybodol o'r pryderon hyn yng nghyd-destun pobl ifanc ar y sbectrwm awtistig, sydd, fe gredaf, yn cael eu heithrio o'r meini prawf CAMHS—felly gwelliant 14.

Mae gwelliant 15 yn cefnogi'r datganiad gan y comisiynydd plant bod bwlio wedi parhau i fod yn fater a godir gan blant a phobl ifanc, a'i gasgliad y dylai prosiectau tymor sefydlog ganolbwyntio nid yn unig ar waith uniongyrchol gyda phlant a phobl ifanc, ond hefyd ar gynyddu gallu ac adnoddau a sefydlu strwythurau o fewn ysgolion, grwpiau ieuenctid a chymunedau i sicrhau nad yw'r gwersi a ddysgwyd yn mynd yn angof a bod etifeddiaeth gynaliadwy yn parhau—dyna ei eiriau ef.

Mae gwelliant 16 yn adlewyrchu nod y comisiynydd plant sef sicrhau bod pawb sy'n gyfrifol am fagu plant a phobl ifanc yng Nghymru yn gallu cael gafael ar gymorth, gwybodaeth a chyngor pan fydd eu hangen arnynt. Nodaf, yn arbennig, rhieni plant sydd ag anghenion dysgu ychwanegol sydd wedi gofyn imi am help, am nad ydynt yn ymwybodol o fodolaeth partneriaethau rhieni hyd yn oed.

Rhaid inni yn awr aros am ganlyniad ymgynghoriad ar y cynllun gweithredu rhianta, gan obeithio y daw'r rhethreg, yn yr achos hwn, yn realiti. Yr wyf yn falch bod y Gweinidog yn datgan y bydd yn cefnogi gwelliannau 10, 12, 15 ac 16, ond daw pob un o'n gwelliannau, ar wahân i welliant 9, yn uniongyrchol o'r adroddiad hwn.

Dywedaf wrth Aelodau felly na allant bleidleisio yn erbyn y gwelliannau eraill hynny heb ymddangos fel eu bod yn pleidleisio yn erbyn yr adroddiad hwn hefyd. Gan gyfeirio at welliant 9, bydd eich pleidlais heddiw yn arwydd o'ch ymrwymiad go iawn i gyfiawnder cymdeithasol ac i les dau blentyn ifanc sydd eisoes wedi dioddef mwy nag y dylem ddisgwyl i unrhyw blentyn ei wneud yng Nghymru heddiw."

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