‘The government did not always acknowledge me’

THE government failed to ‘acknowledge me when they should have done’ in supporting and protecting children’s rights at times during the pandemic, the children’s commissioner has said.

Jersey Government press conference about the closure of schools due to Coronavirus. Deborah McMillan, children's commissioner for Jersey asks a question                                                          Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30640798)
Jersey Government press conference about the closure of schools due to Coronavirus. Deborah McMillan, children's commissioner for Jersey asks a question Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30640798)

Deborah McMillan said that her focus for 2021 was to continue to ‘make children’s rights a reality’ in the wake of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today her office released its annual report which highlights the issues children’s rights faced last year and lays out a framework for 2021.

And in a column published on page 14 of today’s JEP, the children’s commissioner has called for a ‘co-ordinated and achievable action plan for children and families who are continuing to struggle with the after-effects of last year’s upheaval’.

When asked how her work had been impacted by the pandemic, Mrs McMillan said the past year had been ‘really difficult for all of us’.

‘What was really important was that everyone worked together because the government was working at pace,’ she said. ‘Children’s rights are even more important in a pandemic.’

She said that despite disruption to some areas – particularly education-based projects – she was ‘really proud’ that two major pieces of work, the Legislative Gap Analysis and a children’s rights ‘report card’, had been carried out.

The LGA was a large report examining a number of Jersey’s laws and regulations which analysed where the Island was upholding and fulfilling children’s rights, and where more work needed to be done.

Mrs McMillan said that such reports ‘really set the scene in helping the government to move forward’ and that new policies and legislation were being developed as a result.

The ‘report card’ was written by the children’s commissioner as part of periodic reporting to the United Nations, and involved a range of different workshops with charities and groups outside government who work with children and young people in the Island. Its purpose is to help inform the United Nations of the Island’s progress in its commitment to protect and fulfil children’s rights.

‘The report card talks about everything,’ she said. ‘Poverty, mental health – a wide range of issues. We hope that these issues are reflected in any future government plans.’

Mrs McMillan added that her office had played an important advisory role throughout the pandemic and that she maintained a strong working relationship with ministers and civil servants, but that there were times when the government ‘didn’t perhaps acknowledge me when they should have done’.

One of the areas she said would be revisited this year was the Children Outside the Classroom Project, adding that the ‘loss of learning’ as a result of Covid would need to be examined.

‘It’s not something that’s going to be fixed in a month,’ she said.

Outlining her office’s objectives for 2021, Mrs McMillan said: ‘We will continue to make children’s rights a reality.

‘We do that by publishing major studies, by providing advice and supporting young people to become engaged.’

She added that the Life on the Rock project – which looks at 18 case studies of children and young people in Jersey – was completed and that she hoped it would be published this year.

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