The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent hosts an annual Gwent Youth Question Time event to enable young people to put their questions to key decision makers.
It is hosted by young people from the Gwent Regional Youth Forum and gives young people the opportunity to ask questions of a panel of professionals who specialise in a wide range of issues that young people have said are important to them.
Gwent Youth Question Time 2023
This year’s event took place at the Torfaen Learning Zone on Wednesday 15 March from 6pm – 8pm, and attracted over 120 young people.
The panel consisted of:
• Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent.
• Pam Kelly, Chief Constable of Gwent Police.
• Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales.
• Dr Jane Dickson, Sexual and Reproductive Health Consultant, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board.
We were pleased to have the support of a range of organisations including, Fearless, Gwent N-gage Drugs and Alcohol Support, Gwent Police Cadets, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board to provide information and advice to young people before the event.
Young people asked 17 questions, focusing on a wide range of themes including the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on policing, anti-social behaviour, how Gwent Police are using the Welsh language within their organisation, county lines, period poverty, access to sexual health services, the environment and mental health. The graphic below shows the areas of discussion and some of the answers from the panel.
A number of questions were left unanswered as we ran out of time, but we are now pleased to share answers from the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Children's Commissioner for Wales:
When me and my friend are in the comp there are two boys in year 9 who annoy us and bully us. What can be done to make my friends and me feel safer walking to and from school often from other young people?
The Police and Crime Commissioner said: "Bullying should never be tolerated, and we would advise you to report this to your parent or guardian, teacher, school police liaison officer, youth worker or another trusted adult."
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "I would suggest speaking to a trusted adult in school who you think would take this issue seriously and work with the pupils involved to try using restorative approaches which means working with individuals to look at why they display this behaviour and how they can work to stop it (many schools in Wales use restorative approaches to dealing with behaviour problems). The school could also do more work with the whole school via assemblies and classroom sessions using the principles of the new curriculum and existing restorative approaches to strengthen the message of caring, tolerance and respect. Remember though, that some behaviour is more than bullying and can be a crime or a hate crime, so if this happens reporting to the school or police is important, and you should be supported to feel safe in making this report."
Meic Cymru offers information, advice and advocacy for children and young people https://www.meiccymru.org/ or call 080880 23456 to talk to someone or text 8400.
Two people on my school bus vape, so how are you going to stop this?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "You need to be 18 and over to purchase vape products and it is illegal to buy vapes for anyone under 18. Gwent Police will investigate any reports of shops selling vapes to children under 18. However, there are no laws which specifically prohibit vaping on public transport. The company operating the school bus will have its own policy on whether this is allowed or not. We would advise that you raise this issue with your teacher or youth worker.
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "This is a super hard question and having teenagers myself, use of e-cigarettes often happens because of peer pressure. There is much research evidence suggesting that teenagers are more likely to take risks when growing up. Efforts to stop ‘vaping’ need to be a collective effort by adults to reduce the exposure to vaping products. Governments can place stricter regulations on vaping products such as product marketing, packaging, and availability. I’ve discussed this with Public Health Wales and am glad to hear that they are working on some guidance to help schools to address the issue when it happens in schools. I will also be raising the issue with the Health Minister in our next meeting and also with the Education Minister. I will also ask the Transport Minister to check what the rules are for bus companies around this, so hopefully that can also help to stop this."
What support is there for trans people and what is being done for poor treatment and crime towards trans people?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "Transphobia is a hate crime. It is taken very seriously by Gwent Police, the force has been recognised with a Trustmark by Victim Support in recognition for the steps it has taken to improve its response and support to victims and witnesses of hate crime. The OPCC also provides funding to Umbrella Cymru to provide specialist support services to trans people who are victims of crime. There is a youth group for LGBTQ+ young people and allies aged between 11-18 in Gwent called #FreeToBe. The group is coordinated by Umbrella Cymru and meets online and in-person fortnightly."
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "In a recent survey of children and young people, those identifying as neither boy nor girl had worse health and wellbeing outcomes across a number of indicators.
"This is really concerning to me. I also know that trans and gender questioning young people are more likely to face bullying and discrimination. While I don’t have power over the police and crime, I can push for changes at school so that trans or gender questioning children are better understood by their peers, teachers and parents. Welsh government is currently working on guidance for schools which will be published for consultation in the summer. You will be able to give your views on this guidance, which is designed to help schools better support trans and gender questioning children in all areas of their school life.
What are you doing to keep us safe on the streets?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "Gwent Police works in communities every day to keep people safe. This includes maintaining a ‘visible’ presence of patrols in key areas, but also work that might not be so visible, such as tackling serious and organised crime, which in turn helps to reduce street crime such as drug dealing and theft."
Substance misuse is an increasing problem in our society. What steps are being taken to tackle the issue as unfortunately they are available widely?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "Tackling substance misuse requires a partnership approach. From a policing perspective, Gwent Police works hard to tackle serious and organised crime to disrupt the supply and availability of illegal substances in our communities.
"The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner also provides annual funding to the Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service to support those whose offending is linked to their addiction and has a specialist service, Gwent N Gage that provide help and support for young people and their families."
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "Welsh Government have recently closed a consultation on a document that looked at a joint framework across Wales for children and young people that require support with substance misuse. This framework talks about connecting with other services like mental health. It also spoke about the importance of education in school to help prevent problems developing with substances. I will be keeping an eye on this work now that the consultation has closed to see how services develop to support children and young people.
"I have also recently met with Public Health Wales where we spoke about substance use, in particular smoking. They have a stop smoking programme of work that includes working with stop smoking youth ambassadors. We also talked about the issue of vaping/e-cigarettes and how work needs to be done to help reduce the impact of this on children and young people. They are looking at giving some guidance to schools to help with the issue of vaping."
For more information: https://barod.cymru/where-to-get-help/service-2/gwent-n-gage/
It is encouraging to know that the community can receive services from the police through the medium of Welsh. How much demand is there for services, and do you believe that enough is being done to promote its use?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "Demand for Welsh language services is reviewed and monitored by both Gwent Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Gwent Police does not receive many requests or calls in Welsh however the force understands that it could do more to promote its services in Welsh to communities across Gwent. Officers and staff are encouraged to develop their Welsh language skills and promote their use in the workplace and with residents in communities. Both Gwent Police and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner strive to develop an inclusive culture that uses Welsh as an everyday part of business."
Is enough being done to try and reduce crime rates in the area especially in relation to young people?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "The police continually work to address crime and antisocial behaviour in communities. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner has a specific fund that is targeted towards projects that support children and young people to help them stay away from crime and antisocial behaviour. Gwent Police also work with schools and community groups to educate and inform young people, and work diligently to tackle serious and organised crime which specifically targets vulnerable children and young people."
Unfortunately abuse occurs in our society and numbers of rape cases continues to raise concerns. Is there enough support available for victims?
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent said: "In Gwent we have established a dedicated Victim’s Care Unit to ensure that victims benefit from regular contact with a dedicated victim care officer, ensuring that they are fully supported and kept up to date throughout the criminal justice process. We also have dedicated staff to support victims of rape and sexual assault, and a survivor engagement coordinator who works with survivors to ensure their experiences help shape the way officers respond to victims, and the services Gwent Police offer."
There are many organisations in Gwent that provide help and support for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. If you are worried about someone or experiencing abuse, contact Live Fear Free, the 24/7 national help and support service. https://www.gov.wales/live-fear-free
Peer pressure is a big thing in today’s life, how do people stop it?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "Peer pressure isn’t a new phenomenon in young people`s life. Every generation of children would have experienced peer pressure of some kind. However, young people are perhaps under greater pressure to conform to certain social standards today than in past. There is a greater exposure to social media which has become an integral part of young people`s lives. Social media can make young people more vulnerable to making risky decisions or choices. The need to feel accepted and valued by peers, can make young people feel pressured to do something they wouldn`t otherwise do such as doing risky things and breaking rules. Peer pressure and influence can also be positive, and may influence a young person to be more assertive, try new activities or get involved in school activities. Getting the right balance between being themselves and fitting in your friendship group can be very hard, especially in the age of social media. Research suggests that social media influence can create additional challenges to coping well with peer influence as young people feel more pressurised to confirm to the behaviours of their peers in an attempt to be accepted and appreciated.
"Coping well with peer pressure today can be difficult, but adults can support young people to strike a better balance between being themselves and fitting in the social group. In Wales, children and young people have a new curriculum that helps young people to develop a better confidence to resist negative peer influence. The health and wellbeing aspect of the new curriculum offers opportunities for young people to explore and critically evaluate how and why they choose to engage with particular social influences and how these can affect behaviour. Young people will be supported to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the benefits of healthy relationships, including aspects of relationships that may not always be safe and healthy. Young people will be supported to learn skills they need in order to build healthy relationships, such as the importance of empathy, acceptance of difference, empathy, respecting other`s views, compassion, problem solving, conflict management and so on. Young people are also encouraged to develop their understanding of the increasing influence of technology on their daily lives and the implications this may have for their health and well-being, in particular the possible impact on physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. Decision-making, risk assessment and safe and unsafe situations and interactions should all be considered in digital contexts. This includes relationships with others, online safety, legal implications and social influences
online (including social media)."
As young people, we are surprised that a decision has been made to turn off the streetlights in our community. Isn’t the decision one that endangers our safety more and shouldn’t our safety be more important than saving money?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "The safety of children and young people should always be a priority for local councils, and their considerations should never just be about saving money. We would like all local authorities to undertake ‘children’s rights impact assessments’ which meant they have to show how they have thought about how decisions affect children’s rights. All local councils should hear the views of children on matters which affect them. This is set out in law under section 12 of the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010. We have come up with some tools which we have designed to help young people take action to get their voices heard in their local community, including taking issues up with their local council: https://www.childcomwales.org.uk/make-a-difference/ "
Facing the future is something that worries young people. The current situation with high living costs concerns us, with many reconsidering continuing with higher education. As our commissioner, can you outline your vision for the future?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "My vision for the future is one where children don’t face the barriers, they face today to become the best they can be. If young people need extra support to be able to attend university or whatever it, is they wish to do next, this should be something governments can step in to support with. Here in Wales, more support is given to university students than in other parts of the UK, but the cost of living does make costs like rent and food much more difficult to manage for many.
"There are things Welsh Government and UK Government can do now – they can put more money in the pockets of young people and their families who need it to meet their ambitions. For Welsh Government this could be through reducing the costs of the school day or college day, making sure rent is affordable; or the UK Government changing the benefits system to make it fairer for young people and families. I’m really pleased for example that the Education Maintenance Allowance has gone up by £10 a week, but I still think it should go up further in line with inflation."
Is enough being done to promote equality in Wales today?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "I think we could do a lot more. There have been some welcome recent developments with Welsh Government publishing their Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan, and the LGBTQ+ Action Plan. There is also a new disability rights taskforce which has been set up to try to tackle discrimination against disabled people and promote their human rights. These are all welcome but much, much more is needed to make change in reality and in practice. I am also really worried about the current way some politicians are talking about asylum seekers and refugees and the suggested changes to restrict their human rights. We must face these challenges head on and I will continue to speak up against discrimination against children in all its forms, working to make sure Welsh Government keeps to its commitments."
As young people, many of us work part-time to cover travel costs to school. Do you believe that it is fair that we are paid less than adults for doing the same work as them?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "I believe it is unfair that young people are paid less than adults for the same work. The minimum wage should be the minimum wage for all. Unfortunately, this is something which the UK Government is in control of and I have no power to make them change this. In relation to travel costs to get to school, I think it’s very unfair that children have to pay travel costs at all, and I am asking government to make public transport free for all children up to the age of 18. This is a formal recommendation I have made through my annual report to Welsh Government. They haven’t accepted it completely or done it yet, but I will keep pushing for this, as it would make such a fundamental difference to poorer children and young people, families, and to the climate emergency."
An increasing number of young people are dealing with mental health problems. Do you think that the Curriculum for Wales will help our young people to cope better in the future?
Rocio Cifuentes, Children’s Commissioner for Wales said: "I do think the new curriculum will do more to help young people dealing with mental health problems and with wider wellbeing – this is because there is more of a focus in the new curriculum on health and wellbeing, and on exploring issues facing young people. The new curriculum has been carefully developed to provide schools with the framework to have safe, supportive learning on these topics. However, the curriculum alone won’t change things enough. That is why schools must have good links with mental health and wellbeing support services, as set out in the ‘Whole School Approach framework’ which all schools should be adopting."