Supporting our children and young people to fulfil their potential and be aware of their rights is something that we’ve taken to a new level here in Wales.
More than 20 years ago, the UK Government signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) - which is a list of rights that children and young people are entitled to, to help make sure they are given the opportunity to have the best life possible. We’ve taken this a step further in Wales by agreeing to base all our policies for children and young people on the UNCRC. Some examples of these rights are a right to education, a safe home, opportunities to take part in things or places to play.
This year we are working to make a new Welsh law to make our commitment to the UNCRC even stronger.
One very successful example of a service that supports the children’s rights agenda head on is already being accessed by our children and young people in great numbers.
In May this year, I proudly launched our new advocacy and advice helpline for children and young people in Wales – meic - with the help of Radio 1’s Aled Haydn Jones and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler.
Meic is short for ‘Meicroffon’ in Welsh. The thinking is that a microphone amplifies the voice so that adults and people who make key decisions affecting children and young people’s lives hear what they have to say.
We felt this was a much needed service and the Welsh Assembly Government has supported meic with more than £450,000 of funding in its first year of operation.
Less than three months since the official launch, I’ve received details on the number of children and young people accessing meic, and 2,258 calls have been made to the helpline in the first ten weeks alone.
Whilst I’m really pleased on the one hand that we were absolutely right to fund this helpline, as there is a clear need for the service, the high volume of calls is a stark reminder that children and young people here in Wales experience very real concerns or problems in life and don’t always know where to turn or who to talk to.
For young people, it’s sometimes really difficult, confusing or perhaps even embarrassing to talk to friends and family about whatever is going through their minds. Having a trained, trusted and yet unrelated person at the end of the line or text message or online is a really accessible way of allowing young people to reach out.
The most common issues raised so far include mental health anxieties, exam stress, unemployment and housing worries. Meic advisors have received a significant number of calls relating to sexuality, relationship problems and bullying in schools.
The service acts as a signpost for information and advice to other organisations such as Family Information Services, Housing Associations or NHS Direct. Most importantly, it gives them access to someone, an advocate, who can then help them get others to listen to what they have to say.
If children and young people are in a situation where they want something stopped, started or changed and nobody is listening, meic can help get their voices heard.
Any child or young person under 25 years old, wherever they are in Wales, can contact meic about any issue. Meic is fully bilingual and available 7 days a week between 12 and 8pm at the moment but will become a 24-hour helpline later in the year.
It’s important that we continue to spread the message about the existence of meic. This way we can make sure that children and young people don’t live with things that are worrying them and that someone at meic can help them to change things, can make adults listen and take into account their point of view to make life better.
You can contact meic by calling freephone 080 8802 3456, free text to 84001 or instant message via the 'meic' website (see related links on right).