New Children's Commissioner fears for impact of Covid on Welsh children and young people

Children's Commissioner Face To Face
Rocio Cifuentes will take up her role as Children's Commissioner in April.

Wales' new Children's Commissioner has said she is worried about the effect of the Covid pandemic on children and young people.

In the latest edition of ITV Cymru Wales' Face to Face, Rocio Cifuentes, who takes up the role in April, said she is hoping to use her time in post to help make sure the impact doesn't have a long term effect on a whole generation. 

"I am worried. I think there's been a huge cost to children and young people," she told Adrian Masters.

"The closure of schools, the closure of the play and leisure facilities, the loss of socialisation and seeing friends must have had a huge impact.

"Two years is a significant period of time, particularly in the life of a child. So I think there's a lot of work to be done to make sure that those effects, that impacts aren’t long lasting or life changing."

In the programme, Rocio Cifuentes also detailed her hopes for the new role as well as her own extraordinary personal story.

Rocio thinks there is a "strong argument" for transferring responsibility for the Children's Commissioner post from the Welsh Government, which set it up, to the Senedd itself.

"You can see why that would be seen as more of the natural kind of sponsoring body for what is a non-political appointment."

Rocio Cifuentes joins Adrian Masters for the latest episode of Face to Face

Rocio was born in Chile but was just 13 months old when her parents fled the country's dictator, General Pinochet, and settled in Swansea. 

"I always heard from my parents the story of why they had to leave," she explained.

"I always knew that… it was just an important part of my upbringing. 

"My dad was tortured and imprisoned in Chile by the Pinochet dictatorship and literally we had to flee for our lives. You know, my life was at risk and their life."

The experience of her parents shaped her, she said, "because everything that they stood for has always been about human rights and solidarity."

Rocio Cifuentes as a small child with her parents.

She added: "They were fortunate that, in Swansea, they were given the opportunity to continue with their studies… and were then able to get jobs as teachers, as social workers.

"My dad was an educational psychologist, so they always practiced what they preached in a way in helping other people in their professional lives. And I suppose that's something that I have also tried to do myself and did."

Sally Holland has been Children's Commissioner for Wales since 2015.

When the outgoing commissioner, Sally Holland, appeared on Face to Face a few months ago, she told the programme her successor would need to be "energetic, hard working, prepared to listen and also prepared sometimes to be a bit brave as well."

Rocio said: "I am brave. I will challenge and speak out what I think it's needed to support people who need that support and advocacy."

Prior to becoming Children's Commissioner, Rocio worked as a teacher and founded a charity for disabled young people. 

Her most recent role has been as Chief Executive of the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (EYST). She said she will miss the charity, which she has spent the last 17 years leading.

She added that the idea for it came after meeting a group of young Muslim boys in a pilot project in Swansea. 

"It was just around the same year as the London bombings, in fact. So it was a time in society when Muslim young boys in particular were being vilified as potential terrorists and so on.

"But I could really see the potential in this group of young boys… and I think it's just seeing that spark and seeing what those young people could become in the future with just the right support in the right direction."

  • You can watch the full episode of Face to Face on ITV Cymru Wales at 10:45pm