'It's Time to Turn Talk into Action for Needy Children'

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Byline: By David Williamson Western Mail

The National Assembly was yesterday confronted with the stark challenges children across Wales face daily and urged to turn well-meaning rhetoric into concrete reality. A hard-hitting report from the office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales warning that mental health provision is in a state of crisis and that more than a quarter of young people experience poverty was on the table for AMs to debate.

Lynne Neagle, the Labour AM for Torfaen, said the failings identified in the study could no longer be tolerated.

She said, "The figures provided in the report are stark and make uncomfortable reading - not only in themselves, but also because they are familiar to us. It is how little that has changed over the last 12 to18 months that must be a cause for concern for the Government.

"The lack of support available, coupled with that dreadful and unpalatable figure of having five times the number of child suicides than they do in England, which must be a clarion call for action - and for funding - for improved mental health services."

She added, "Services for disabled children and young people are the worst performing in Wales. They are failing."

Tory AM Alun Cairns agreed that the report's assessment of mental health services was "pretty damning".

Plaid Cymru's Helen Mary Jones said tackling this issue had long been a priority, but the time had now come for action.

She said, "It's the delivery and implementation on the ground which is still problematic."

The Assembly Government is seeking the power to make laws concerning vulnerable children and young people to be transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, will today make the case before MPs in the House of Commons. She told AMs, "[It] will give us further powers for action on child poverty."

Ms Hutt responded to concerns by Plaid's Ms Jones that the children of asylum seekers are forced to pay overseas rates to attend a Welsh university by hinting that a change in policy is imminent.

She also said she was considering how to respond to consultations on a national strategy for school-based counselling and advocacy services.

The minister restated the goal of eliminating child poverty by 2020.

The review cites evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that states around 28% of Welsh children experience poverty.

Commenting on this, Lib-Dem Eleanor Burnham said, "Quite frankly it is a disgrace."

The Conservatives' Angela Burns said the review highlighted ways the Government could address the needs of a society that was "crumbling around the edges".

She said, "This malaise that children and young people don't have real rights has spread throughout our culture."

She said children who were the main carers in a household had no one to stand up for them they when they were chastised in school for not finishing homework. …