Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

08/02/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams
James Evans
Jayne Bryant Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates
Laura Anne Jones
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amy Bainton Uwch-arweinydd Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus Cymru, Barnardo’s Cymru
Senior Policy and Public Affairs Lead for Wales, Barnardos’ Cymru
Daljit Kaur Morris Rheolwr Gweithrediadau, Gwasanaeth Eiriolaeth Ieuenctid Cenedlaethol Cymru, Prosiect Undod
Operations Manager, National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru, Project Unity
David Westlake Uwch Gymrawd Ymchwil, Canolfan Ymchwil a Datblygu Gofal Cymdeithasol Plant, Prifysgol Caerdydd
Senior Research Fellow, Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre, Cardiff University
Helen Perry Rheolwr Gwasanaeth, Gwasanaeth Eiriolaeth Ieuenctid Cenedlaethol Cymru, Prosiect Undod
Service Manager, National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru, Project Unity
Jane Dodds Aelod Canolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member for Mid and West Wales
Mark Carter Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol Gwasanaethau Plant, Gwasanaeth Babi a Fi Barnardo's
Assistant Director of Children’s Services, Barnardo’s Baby and Me Service
Melissa Meindl Cydymaith Ymchwil, Canolfan Ymchwil a Datblygu Gofal Cymdeithasol Plant, Prifysgol Caerdydd
Research Associate, Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre, Cardiff University
Peter Spinner Rheolwr Tîm, Cynllun Peilot Llysoedd Teulu Cyffuriau ac Alcohol
Team Manager, Cardiff and Vale Family Drug and Alcohol Court
Sir Andrew McFarlane Llywydd yr Is-adran Teuluoedd
President of the Family Division
Sir Peter Nicholas Francis Barnwr Cyswllt Is-adran Teuluoedd Cymru
Family Division Liaison Judge for Wales
Vikki Morris Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, y Ganolfan Arloesi ym maes Cyfiawnder
Deputy Director, Centre for Justice Innovation

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Siân Hughes Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.

Welcome to the meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee today.

I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee this morning. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available.

There are no apologies this morning, and we're very pleased that we've been joined by Jane Dodds for items 1 to 6. You're very welcome, Jane; glad to have you here. We'll also be joined later in the meeting, for item 8, by Tom Giffard and Hefin David. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see no declarations.

2. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical - sesiwn dystiolaeth 6
2. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 6

So, we'll move on to our first item on the agenda, which is our evidence session on services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform. This is our sixth evidence session. I'd like to welcome our witnesses who've joined us here this morning. We have Daljit Kaur Morris, operations manager for NYAS Cymru, Project Unity; Helen Perry, service manager for NYAS Cymru, Project Unity; Mark Carter, assistant director of children’s services, Barnardo’s Baby and Me service; and Amy Bainton, senior policy and public affairs lead for Wales, Barnardo's Cymru. We've got lots of questions to get through this morning. You're all very welcome. We'll make a start with those questions, and we're starting with questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, all, for joining us this morning. Can you tell us about the main challenges facing parents at risk of having their children removed, and what more can the system do to mitigate these risk factors that lead to children being removed from their birth parents?

Yes, I'm happy to make a start. Within our Baby and Me service in Newport, which is formed through our Newport partnership, we find that so many parents that we support and are referred to us through health or social care have multiple, complex factors within their life, and those can include—. For example, in Baby and Me, two thirds of the parents who are referred through to us have had identifiable childhood trauma, including adverse childhood experiences, which include sexual harassment, sexual assault, being a victim of domestic abuse when they were children. Nearly two thirds have had a previous child removed also, so where parents have been through recurrent care proceedings. Half report mental health issues, including self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety. Half report, also, domestic abuse, recognising that domestic abuse often goes underreported, so, actually, we would expect that to be even higher than that. This comes at a time also when there is a distinct lack of funding for specialist domestic abuse services as well, which is something that is cause for concern for us.

We've found in Baby and Me that 40 per cent of the parents are care experienced themselves. What we find is, particularly with these parents, that they have intersecting needs, often relating to mental health, domestic abuse and sometimes substance misuse as well. For 40 per cent of these families, this is their first baby. A third have had significant housing issues, including living in night shelters, hostels, refuges, and we've even supported some families who are living on the street. A third of these are young parents as well, who are often particularly isolated and vulnerable. Going back to the care-experienced parents that we support, something that we offer is lifelong links for these parents. What that does is it helps to increase their support networks, it brings together—. It could be extended family, community partners, to really try and help support that.

In terms of what I think could help with supporting these families and improving outcomes for the parents and for the babies, it is absolutely partnership working. Baby and Me has been formed through the Newport strategic partnership with Barnardo's and the local authority, but I think what we find is, for the level of complexity and the level of risk that's being managed within these cases, we need our partners, such as NYAS, drug and alcohol agencies, mental health services, health, we need this collective expertise and specialisms and we need that health and social care integration, which is absolutely fundamental. That's why we've brought in a specialist midwife into Baby and Me, and that is there to really improve the links that we have with the health board and with the dedicated teams to make sure that we're getting those referrals in early. But it's also about, along that journey through that pregnancy and into the infancy of these babies, making sure that we're working together collaboratively.

09:05

Thank you. To what extent would you say that the odds are stacked against some of those parents during the pre-proceedings stage, when social services have set out initial concerns about a child—for example, that there are significant barriers to them getting the right housing, mental health services and support from domestic violence?

Project Unity works with exclusively care-experienced parents. We have parents who are as young as 14 up to the age of 25 and we work across Wales. Unfortunately, one of the very clear things we're hearing from all of our parents is that, as care-experienced parents, they are very vulnerable to the fact that, immediately, their babies are placed on the child protection register. What we feel is that that is already stacked against them. So, the minute they discover that they are pregnant, in whichever local authority, the fact is that it flags up that they are care experienced and their child is perceived to be at risk.

The parents themselves say—. We recently did a survey of all of the parents that we work with, and 51 per cent of them said that social services brought up things that happened to them when they were children themselves as reasons for putting their own child on the child protection register. These are young parents who actually were brought into care for us to protect them, and what we're actually doing is bringing them into a situation where now their own babies are vulnerable to what they perceive to be 'the system'.

The problem is that care-experienced young people face structural discrimination because of their age and because of their care status. What we actually feel is that the young parents actually need to have had work done with them prior to actually getting pregnant. Many of the young parents, when we talk about—. I agree totally with what's been said by Barnardo's. In many of them, we have substance misuse, we have housing issues. But, I think what we need to be very clear about is care-experienced young people should have access to the corporate parent. What these young parents have not experienced is that support from the corporate parent insofar as housing, insofar as services on mental health and substance misuse. When they get to the point that the baby is placed on the child protection register, as part of their paediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome assessment, they’re actually told that they will have to attend so many different types of support. What we’re finding—and, fortunately, Project Unity works across Wales and so I can clearly tell you what across the whole of Wales is happening—is that the services are not available. And therefore, when you’ve got to a situation where a parent is being judged on whether they can keep their baby, they’re actually not receiving the services to enable them to get to the stage where they could be in a position to be very good parents. And what they’re asking for is support from the services to change that.

So, the whole ethos of how the service is run needs to change. I totally agree with Barnardo’s, in that, actually, what we need to do is to be working very much closer together in order to provide those services that actually say to the parents—. All of the parents say to us, ‘We want to be good parents. We don’t want our babies to be in a situation where they come into care’. So, we’re already blocking that happening because we’re not providing that support that they need, and we haven’t provided it when they were living in care. So, already they’ve come from the care system with their own traumas, not all already dealt with, and now they’re pregnant, and the baby—. Unfortunately, in 100 per cent of the cases we’ve dealt with since Project Unity started, all of those babies have been placed on the child protection register, and very much cited in that is the fact that the parent was care experienced and, therefore—and it’s often stated—they may not be able to parent appropriately themselves.

09:10

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Roedd y cwestiwn yn canolbwyntio ar pre-proceedings, y gwaith pre-proceedings. Hynny yw, y gwaith sy’n digwydd cyn—. Ydych chi eisiau i mi ddechrau eto? Fe wnaf i ddechrau eto. Roedd y cwestiwn yn canolbwyntio ar waith pre-proceedings—hynny yw, y gwaith sy’n dechrau cyn bod gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yn mynd i’r llys, y 12 wythnos cyn bod gwasanaethau cyhoeddus yn mynd i’r llys. Beth, dwi’n meddwl, y mae gan y pwyllgor ddiddordeb ynddo fe yw beth sy’n digwydd yn yr amser hynny, a beth sydd ddim yn gweithio? Hynny yw, yn eich barn chi, a’ch profiad chi, beth sy’n gallu newid i wneud yn siŵr bod rhieni yn cael y gefnogaeth y dylen nhw ei chael? Mae ganddyn nhw solicitor a lawyer yn ystod y cyfnod yna, ond beth sydd ddim yn digwydd yn iawn, achos maen nhw’n mynd i’r llys ar ôl hynny? Ydych chi jest yn gallu rhoi un ateb, gan bob un ohonoch chi? Oes gennych chi brofiad o waith pre-proceedings pan fuoch chi’n cefnogi rhieni? Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf? Mark, wyt ti eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?

Thank you very much. The question focused on pre-proceedings work. Would you like me to start again? The question focused on pre-proceedings work—that’s the work that starts before the public services go to court. That’s the 12 weeks before court action proceeds. Now, I think what the committee’s interested in is what happens during that period, and what isn’t working at the moment? So, in your view, and from your experience, what could change in order to ensure that parents receive the support that they should have? The have a solicitor and a lawyer during that period, but what isn’t working properly now, because they subsequently go on to court? Could you just give one example each? Do you have experience of pre-proceedings work when you are supporting parents? Who’d like to go first? Mark, perhaps.

Yes, I can certainly give an example of where we’ve worked with a family who’ve been through pre-proceedings where there were significant concerns around, primarily, a domestic abusive relationship. It transpired that the mother was care experienced herself. She’d also had two children removed previously. There were concerns around mental health, the state of her mental health, and also misusing heroin as well. What we were able to do within that, and I think what had been, perhaps, missing previously, was to identify early the fact that this mother was expecting another child. So, through our work with Baby and Me we were able to work with the midwife teams within the local hospital to make sure that those referrals were coming in early. We were then able to work with the local authority within which we were integrated to make sure that these cases were identified, where support might be needed. So, we were able to get the referral over to us by 14, 15 weeks into the pregnancy, which allowed us time to work with that family to help the family to identify the concerns that existed, to help to get a plan in place to address the needs that existed within that family—

09:15

I'm going to leap in if that's all right, because we haven't got much time. What isn't working? You mentioned parent assessment manual, PAMS, assessments; are they not available? What isn't working? That's what we're interested in, in order to make sure that in that 12 weeks, that parent has access to assessments, et cetera. I'm sorry to rush you but I know we've got lots—. We've got to make sure we've got the right focus. 

For me, it's about that early identification, and it's about that clear and consistent assessment that puts the parent at the heart of that to identify the needs of the parent that's there. And I think ensuring that there are adequate specialist services available and around the table. As NYAS rightly pointed out, those services don't exist. 

So there's a paucity of services. Helen, did you want to talk about PAMS? 

Yes. I totally agree. What we're finding is the PAMS assessment is outdated, 100 per cent. The PAMS assessment needs looking at. There is another assessment in place that has been used by some of the local authorities. However, what we're finding is that people are not trained up in the new assessment. The new assessment is much better, from what I've been told. We actually sit in on the PAMS assessment, or our advocates sit in with them, and what the advocates tell us is that new assessment is working much better. So, the PAMS assessment needs changing; that definitely needs looking at.

The second thing that is falling down is the fact that we don't have enough places for young parents to go within Wales to gain support. So, for instance, once a parent is pregnant and it's identified that they're going to need a parent assessment or a parent placement, we're sometimes having to move them outside Wales. First of all, that's not working because we're moving them away from their communities and away from any contact. While the assessment is going on previous to the baby being born, we're in a situation where—I totally agree with Barnardo's—the services are not available. On the mental health services, I have to say that a lot of young parents are afraid to say they need or require mental health services, because unfortunately that has gone against them in their PAMS assessment. So, even though we identify need for mental health services, what we're finding is that some of the young parents will not say that they need those services.

What we also find is that drug and alcohol services are also very stretched, and therefore the support that the parents need. We actually—and I can identify—had one parent who did state that she wanted mental health support. When we required it from the NHS, we were told that she did not meet the threshold. And actually, what happened was that the only way we were able to co-ordinate and advocate support was to link her in with Mind Cymru. The problem we've got is that you've got a lot of parents out there that are going through the PAMS assessment that haven't got access to an advocate or to support. What we find is that the parents do not understand the PAMS assessment, the information from the court, the information from the solicitors. It's very difficult to understand, and unless you've got someone sitting by the side of you—. We need to change the language.    

Just to quickly add, an active offer of advocacy as well, I think, is imperative. 

Thank you. Sorry, but we're going to have keep everything as brief as we can. A question from James Evans now. 

I've got one question. I had some questions on the previous point but I think we need to move on in the interest of time. We've been told by birth parents aged 18 and under that as soon as they have their child, even if they're on a care order, the local authority seems to wash their hands of them and they move on to the safeguarding issue of that child. So, do you think the dual role of social services actually works in practice, and do you have any good practice across Wales where local authorities are doing this well and how this can be improved? Because this is an issue that's been brought up time and time again in front of us.

Unfortunately, we haven't identified any real good practice. The only place where there is good practice is in Newport with Baby and Me, where you already have the service that is linked to the local authority, but is run by the charity, where you have that link with the local authority. Everywhere else in Wales, there is a definite issue. What we find is that—I totally agree with you, James—when a young parent who is already subject to a care order themselves becomes pregnant, suddenly the baby becomes the priority, and the young parent disappears, and they will clearly tell us that.

09:20

Are there any other comments on that? If not, it's fine. I'm done. Thank you.

Thank you. That's great. Questions now from Sioned Williams. 

Diolch. Byddaf i'n siarad yn Gymraeg. Rŷm ni wedi clywed tystiolaeth rymus iawn, a dweud y gwir, gan rieni geni am sut maen nhw'n gwerthfawrogi eiriolaeth geni, ac roeddech chi'n cyffwrdd ar sut mae hynny yn gallu eu helpu nhw i fynd trwy'r prosesau cymhleth a chaled yma. Felly, beth mae'r data yn ei ddweud wrthym ni am beth yw effaith cael eiriolaeth ar ganlyniadau llys teulu? Roeddech chi'n sôn am yr active offer; a ddylai pob rhiant gael hawl gyfreithiol i eiriolaeth ar ôl i orchymyn gael ei wneud i lys teulu ar gyfer y plentyn cyntaf, yn hytrach nag unwaith y bydd y plentyn wedi cael ei gymryd oddi wrthyn nhw? I ba raddau ydych chi'n meddwl y byddai'r math yna o ddarpariaeth yn realistig?

Thank you. I'll be speaking in Welsh. We have heard very powerful evidence, really, from birth parents regarding how they value parental advocacy, and you touched on how that can help them to go through these complex and difficult processes. So, what does the data tell us about what the impact is of having advocacy on family court outcomes? You mentioned the active offer; should all parents have a legal right to advocacy once an order has been made to the family court for the first child, rather than once a child has been permanently removed? To what extent would this level of provision be realistic, in your view?

Thank you for that question, because something that NYAS would really welcome is having that active offer, especially parent advocacy roll-out. We know that it's part of the Government agenda as well. I think that it's imperative for parents to have that offer, because it supports them when they're most in need. Early intervention is key, so to have it right from the onset, and to support and to show them clarity of support, and also to ensure that the balance of power is addressed when it comes to family rights as well. That's integral for the work that we want to do. We want to see support available for both sets of parents there, across Wales.

Felly, jest i fod yn glir—hawl gyfreithiol i eiriolaeth.

So, just to be clear—a legal right to advocacy.

Yes, a legal right.

Can I pick up on something that you said? You said to have it prior to the baby being adopted. This needs to be early intervention advocacy—even prior to getting to court. This needs to be at the point where the baby is considered to be looking to be on the child protection register, prior to the PAMS assessment.

I would just echo that independent advocacy is absolutely fundamental to positive outcomes. We have found, over many, many years, that—. The point that Helen from NYAS made particularly was about how parents often do not understand the process they are going through. Actually I've got quotes here—I won't read them—outlining that parents find the whole process traumatising and scary, and it fills them with fear. So, I think that we need to do more to overcome that and to support parents far better, and to let parents understand the situation that they're going through better, but also to feel heard and to have their voice really maximised.

Yes, 100 per cent. What we hear a lot is that you will often be told that parents disengage; they don't actually disengage, they move away because they're afraid, they're fearful, they're not sure what's expected of them, and so they actually move away and decide that it's better that way. What we're not doing is giving them that opportunity to say, 'Let's hold your hand, let's take you forward, let's show you how this works', and giving them the opportunity to change the way that they're moving forward. We totally, all of us, take on board the need to be safeguarding all of the children and putting the children at the heart of this, but what we actually need to do is to support the parents, in order to grow, to develop, and become better parents.

If I could add on to that, it's really about the role of an independent support worker in enabling a parent to build those bridges back with social workers, social services, which, for lots of different reasons, they could have historically had a really difficult relationship with and don't feel able to build a relationship with a social worker, either as a care-experienced person in their own right, or because of previous experiences with their children. What we hear a lot in Baby and Me is that having that independent support worker who can build a very trusting relationship with them means that actually they can build a bridge back to social workers, back to statutory services that might have actually never really been practically possible before.

09:25

Yn ystod yr adeg pre-proceedings, dylai rhieni gael solicitor, lawyer neu beth bynnag. Oes yna broblem cael hynny, yn eich profiad chi? Jest ie neu na—dyna i gyd dwi eisiau gwybod, yn eich profiad chi.

During the pre-proceedings period, parents should have a solicitor or a lawyer. Is there a problem in providing that, in your experience? Just a yes or a no—that's all I'm looking for, in your experience.

I would say there can be; we don't often see that in Baby and Me because of the local authority support.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. O ran y broses cyn achosion, rydym ni'n gwybod bod oedi wrth sicrhau parhad yn gallu bod yn niweidiol iawn i blant yn y tymor hir, felly i ba raddau mae awdurdodau lleol yn gwneud defnydd llawn o'r broses cyn achosion? Oes ganddyn nhw yr adnoddau i gynhyrchu asesiadau rhianta o safon, mewn modd amserol, i lywio penderfyniad terfynol y llys teulu?

Thank you, Chair. Going on to the pre-proceedings process, we know that delays in securing permanency can be very harmful for children in the long term. To what extent do local authorities make full use of the pre-proceedings process? Do they have the resources to produce quality parenting assessments in a timely way, to inform the final decision of the family court?

In our experience, no. What we're actually finding is that the advocates actually attend court with the parents to give them support, because they've been that constant support, and what is coming up time and time again is that judges are actually saying, 'Why isn't the assessment completed? Why aren't reports completed in a timely manner?' Unfortunately, we're hearing that everywhere.

I think I could probably let Mark give you some examples of where we do have some good decisions, particularly in Newport, where we've been able to do that. But I think what I'd really like to point out is that we can't really divorce that question from the social work crisis and the pressure that local authorities are under to try and deliver on this work. That would be something that would be a real priority for us, to really see that—. One of the things that's always been pointed out in Baby and Me's independent evaluation, for example, is our low caseloads and the impact that has, how important that could be. We know that this is a luxury for a statutory social worker that they just don't have at this time, and I think until we can really accept the social work crisis in terms of recruitment, retention, the demonisation of social work staff within our media, until we can really work to tackle that to support local authorities, this is endemic, really. We can give some good examples of how we've come to those quality decisions in Newport, but we know that that's part of a particular partnership arrangement that doesn't exist everywhere else.

Just based on time, perhaps you could send those in. That would be useful. We're just conscious of time. We'll now move on to some questions from Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. I just wanted to talk about—[Inaudible.]

Ken, I think—. There you go. We were struggling to hear you at the start. If you'd like to start again.

Sorry, Chair. Just a quick question while it's on my mind. I don't know whether anyone's going to be able to answer this, but if they are, it'd be really helpful. Are you aware of whether data is collected in relation to the percentage of care-experienced parents who receive all postnatal health visits?

We can answer that one immediately. CASCADE, who are the independent researchers in the university—. Actually, the data analyst was there last time, and she was very clearly pulling up this as an issue, that the data is not available.

Right. Thank you. That's incredibly helpful. We've heard pretty extensive evidence during the course of this inquiry about the huge disruption and upset that families experience when they have frequent changes of social workers. Is there any evidence available to show that this has an impact on pre-proceedings work and the quality of parenting assessments?

Just to jump in on this, as Helen mentioned, we've recently had our Project Unity survey with our service users and young women, and of those, 60 per cent of the young women said they were not treated with respect by their social worker. I think it's just the disruption it can cause when you will find some young women have several social workers enter their life, and that cascading and passing down of their notes is not done eloquently, and in the sense that there's that inconsistency to the young women as well. More needs to be done with the retention level of social workers. I know Project Unity are really keen to work with universities to ensure that undergraduates are aware of partner services and collaborative approaches of what is out there when they're training to become social workers, because it's imperative to the care that they will offer as well. Thank you.

09:30

Thanks. And just finally, what are the reasons behind the pretty significant variations between Welsh local authorities in the rates of children in their care, even when deprivation is accounted for? Also, there are significantly higher case rates in Wales than in England. Are there any reasons that you can point to for this?

I'll quickly jump in and say that what we have found working across many different local authority areas in Wales, certainly, is that there is a large differentiation between the levels of support that is available in terms of those specialist services. I think that's for many reasons, whether it be down to any sustainable funding within that area. But, I think what we need to recognise is that there's a real opportunity here to really learn from best practice and to really do what's best for these families and for these babies, and to make the maximum impact.

Yes. There's not parity of support for parents, unfortunately—Newport being an example of a place that regularly gets calls from other local authorities looking for support for a family or for a mum and asking if Baby and Me can step in, and they can't because they're based in Newport only. We have midwives saying that they really want support for this particular case, and, again, Baby and Me can't provide it. I think, for us, when we're thinking about radical reform, it is actually being ambitious enough to say, 'This is the standard of support that any family should be able to access across Wales, not just based on their postcode', and, 'How do we get to a point where we can really deliver that, not just in terms of services, but in terms of partnership working that develops the culture that we need behind that?'.

And just to quickly say in answer to your question, poverty is a huge element of why you will find that disparity across it. There are higher rates of poverty across Wales, and sometimes it's a postcode lottery of what services and provisions are offered to young women across Wales. And, as we mentioned, Project Unity covers all of Wales, but, in an ideal world, we'd love to have a project worker based in every single local authority to be able to provide that care.

I think we have to be very honest. Project Unity only has five project workers working across the whole of Wales, and we've managed to work with over 300 young women in the process of doing that, but we're only touching the surface. What we're hearing here, the same as them, is we get phone calls, 'Can you take a young woman in this area?', and we will cover any area, but to talk about five project workers across Wales, the financial viability, if anything, to actually provide that service needs to be really looked at. I would totally agree that it needs to be sustainable and long term, because I think what we're doing is we're trying to build up relationships in local authorities to ensure that all of these young parents get the support they need, but that doesn't give you the time if you've only got short-term funding. 

We'll just move, finally, to some questions from Laura Jones. Laura.

Thank you, and apologies for being late. Thank you for your evidence today. Baby and Me is clearly, from evidence we've heard previously as well, a shining light and an example of best practice. So, well done you, and I hope that it's something that is taken on by the Government. You've mentioned the importance of building relationships and that continuity of care and support being important; you've mentioned that there's a social work crisis and we've got to develop social work into a proper job, proper careers; and that there's no parity of support and there's a lack of data—all these things. Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us now? And, on top of that, to what extent are you aware of and involved in current Welsh Government plans to explore radical reform for care-experienced children? Thank you.

So, if I start with the end of your question, we're aware of the radical reform plans; it was something that we were very excited to see in the programme for government 18 months or so ago. We've also been asked to sit on the ministerial delivery group for that work. It does mean that we've also seen where it's been more challenging to deliver on this work, and we've had concerns that we've shared directly with the Deputy Minister as well as we've also had our big ambitions for this piece of work, and we really want to be part of helping to deliver on that. So, we really hope to see, now that we're sitting on the new group again, that there's going to be a lot of progress on that this year.

In terms of additional priorities, yes, when you put it like that, we've packed quite a lot in quite quickly, haven't we, in terms of our to-do list. I think the final thing for us would be addressing investment in early intervention and really understanding what early intervention needs to look like. In Wales, there are lots of services that feel that they've been forced to drift towards edge-of-care work because of increasing complexity in cases and the pressure on social services, and so, real strategic investment in terms of what we want early intervention to look like and what we need it to achieve would be really welcome, as well as a very long-term and strategic vision around the sustainability of funding of services.

09:35

Just to say, in answer to your question, yes, we are aware of the radical reform. Our chief executive officer sits on the transformational group. And I think, just final words from us, in the words of the young women themselves, just to share some experiences directly from them: 'Stop using care experience against young women'. I think it's imperative to say not to use their previous past experiences against their own skill set of parenting now, and give pregnant women time. I think it's really important to allow them to nurture and to become a parent and to have those support mechanisms in place to learn how to parent, which is really key. And to help teach effective parenting, which is really key.

Thank you. I know I did say 'finally', but I think we've got a quick question from James before we do finish. But I'll just say thank you for sharing those voices; I think it's incredibly powerful. Very appreciative. James.

It's just on the disparity of the care and level of service across Wales. Whose job do you think it is to try and get more uniformity? Do you think Care Inspectorate Wales have got a role to play here? The Welsh Local Government Association—have they got a role to play here to make sure that every local authority is providing that standard level of care? As you said, you get better service in Newport, perhaps not so much in Powys. Do you think that some local authorities tend to be more caring about inspection reports and having good inspection reports rather than actually doing what's best for the parents and children? Thank you.

Yes, I think it needs to come from Welsh Government. There needs to be an insistence on a level of quality across all of Wales. I don't think it's going to happen if you just leave it to the local authorities individually. I think then there needs to be a quality assurance on that that says, 'Has this been happening?' And I want to end by saying, as an advocacy organisation, I think it's really important, if you're going to be rolling that out and having that quality assurance, that you actually work with parents and have parents sitting on that board who actually say, 'Is this working?’. Because what I'm hearing is that parents are never asked, 'Why did that not work for you?’

Gaf i ofyn cwestiwn byr? 

Could I ask a brief question? 

Oes yna riant ar y board? Ydyn ni'n gwybod os oes yna rieni ar y bwrdd sy'n edrych ar y rhaglen yma? Ydyn ni'n gwybod? Na, does yna ddim. Reit. Diolch.

Are there parents on the board? Do we know if there are parents on the board looking at this programme? No, there aren't. Okay. Thank you for clarifying.

Thank you very much for joining us. I know we've had to finish very promptly, but we really appreciate your evidence here this morning. Thank you for coming, and I'm sure that you'll be following our work closely as well. You will be sent a transcript to check for accuracy in due course. But diolch yn fawr. Thank you for your evidence this morning. 

Thank you so much.

We'll now take a very short break just to change the witnesses over.

09:45

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:38 ac 09:47.

The meeting adjourned between 09:38 and 09:47.

3. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical - sesiwn dystiolaeth 7
3. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 7

Okay. Welcome back to Members. We will move on to the next item on our agenda, which is item 3, which is on services for care experienced children and exploring radical reform, and this is our seventh evidence session. And, we're very pleased to have our witnesses here this morning—the Right Honourable Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, and the Honourable Mr Justice Francis, family division liaison judge for Wales. You're very welcome this morning; thank you for joining us. Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning, and we'll make a start with questions from Laura Jones. Laura. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us today. What are the main things you think this committee should be considering when looking at the big changes needed to secure better outcomes for care-experienced children? I know that, Sir Andrew, you've mentioned previously the need to return to a strict application of the 26-week limit for the family court proceedings, and lack of residential placements. I just wonder if you could expand on that. Thank you. 

Yes. Well, if I go first, I think, from our point of view, we only see these young people when they're in the court process, and so, our focus is not the whole journey, which you are obviously considering. But, when they are with us—if I can put it that way—we are taking far too long to deal with the cases, not because we want to take a long time, but simply because they are now far more extended.

The experience of a young person going through a process, which isn't a case of sudden emergency, serious harm, but is a growing understanding of neglect and parents who are failing to cope for whatever reason, will be quite an extended—and properly so—pre-proceedings process, where the decision is made as to whether they are going to come to court, and then, they come to us—and Mr Justice Francis may know the precise figures, but the national figures in England and Wales are that we currently take something like 44 or 45 weeks, on average, to get to a decision. So, many of the cases will take significantly longer than that, getting on for a year or more, and that's simply far too long for a young person, typically, if they've been removed from their parents at the beginning of the court process, to be sitting in limbo in temporary foster care, waiting for a decision to be made about whether they're going to go home again, if not to home, to someone in the family, or off to adoption or some other form of permanent care.

We got into this position, and I'm not going to give you the whole lecture of how we got there, long before COVID. We did very well with the 26 weeks when it first came in in 2015, but then the volume of cases went up by 25 per cent unexpectedly, and that put us on the back foot, and we were beginning to lag behind, and then COVID came, and despite the heroic efforts that all people in the court service—I think, particularly in Wales; I think the staff of the court in Wales are to be singled out, and the judges and the magistrates—despite those efforts, we've just got behind and delay has become normalised now. I think that's the most significant aspect of a young person's experience, that we just simply take too long, and often, nothing is happening during that period. We're waiting for the expert to do an assessment, or we're waiting for the social workers to do an assessment, and there are lots of reasons why it takes a long time. But addressing that, I think, is the principal feature that I want to highlight.

09:50

I don't know if Mr Justice Francis has any more particular observations.

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 09:51:15

If I can just add a couple of things. I've been the liaison judge for Wales for five and a half years now, and throughout that time the good news story is that Wales has had a better track record of completing its care cases within a given time than any region of England, so that's very happy news. Although, yes, the president is completely right; we've taken longer because of COVID and because of the pandemic than we were before. The average case time in Wales is actually about 32 weeks. It's a great deal less than any of the English regions.

The reasons for that—. I mean, I won't say anything about the pandemic—that's obvious—but I've liaised very closely with Nigel Brown, head of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru, in my five and a half years, and the constant problem for him is not enough staff, not enough guardians, and recently I understand, when they advertised for more people in north Wales, they actually had fewer applicants than there were jobs to fill, and I think that's a massive problem. As I understand it, although I don't have the figures, social workers can walk from public employment to working for an agency and get a significant increase in pay. So, the delay caused by the lack of guardians is a big problem, and that, at the end of the day, is not even just money; it's actually people, people who we need to do the jobs.

And the other massive contributor to delay, as the president said, is experts. There aren't enough experts in a great deal of the areas where we need them, and so there is a delay built in, which we as the judges can do almost nothing about.

Can I just add? It's obvious, but it needs saying. The more cases we have open, the more thinly the resources that are servicing them are spread, and so CAFCASS have to have more officers than they would otherwise need, and because there are more cases to cover, the experts are involved in more cases, and so the delay feeds on itself, simply because we're not closing the cases down soon enough and reducing the stock of open cases.

Thank you. That's very useful. If I could just ask you, what are the biggest challenges facing children and families that you are seeing in the family courts? Are there any issues that are specific to Wales? Do you have any comments on the scale of the changes needed, and how deep rooted any of those systematic issues are? Thank you.

How long have you got? [Laughter.] I'll leave the Welsh-specific answer to Sir Nicholas, but generally, the cases, and particularly the 25 per cent increase in cases that we've had, are not top-end, awful, child abuse cases; they're cases of people simply failing to cope adequately or safely with their children. Learning disability is a pretty major factor, but that on its own shouldn't be a reason. Often, that comes as part of a cocktail with domestic abuse, with drugs and alcohol abuse, unstable family set-ups, people changing partners—all of these things, which we're familiar with. I think, drug use, certainly in my experience outside Wales—. I heard a case recently in the north of England where the couple, a pretty straightforward couple, were doing crack cocaine on a regular basis, and we saw the text messages on the phone, which of course, with modern technology, the court gets to see now, and it was like Deliveroo. It was just an ordinary part of life. And I think life is more complicated in that way now, for families. So, it's that mix of features.

And those are harder for social services and for the court to cope with. It's awful to say so, but one single appalling injury is obviously likely to lead to a change in the care arrangements for the child, because it's easier for the court to evaluate as you're just looking at evidence for one day, typically, whereas a long, chronic failure to meet the child's needs involves looking at evidence from the midwives, the health visitors, the school, whoever it might be. No single issue will tip the case, you've got to look at the whole picture, and that's harder. And then the welfare decision at the end is not so clear cut as an awful case. Happily, there are other options. But, where there are more options, it involves more assessment before you get to the conclusion. So, I think that would be my take. I don't know if there's anything particular from the Welsh perspective. 

09:55
Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 09:56:02

I don't think there's anything specifically about Wales that makes it different in terms of the issues that the president has just referred to. My single word, I suppose, in answer to your question is 'poverty'. It's pretty obvious, but it's also a fact. I know from talking to people involved at the coalface, as it were—that's probably not the best expression to use in Wales now—is that they're dealing with more cases than they can handle and, as poverty is increasing with the cost-of-living crisis at the moment, they are expecting more people to fall into the care system. So, it is a vicious circle. 

There are other things as well. I think the consequences of the pandemic have been enormous. The case yesterday that was all over the papers, that awful case where a child had died and where the parents were both convicted of gross negligence manslaughter, I know quite a lot about that case from the family law perspective, and the fact that social workers weren't visiting during the pandemic, in cases like that, I'm sure have added to the problem, because they couldn't go into people's houses for quite a long time and, of course, the children weren't going to school either, and so they weren't being watched by the school, which is often a very important conduit into social services. But I don't think any of those are specifically relating to Wales, I think that the problems are the same in all sorts of areas. But I think the collapse in the standard of living, combined with the issues like drugs and alcohol that the president mentioned, make a pretty noxious cocktail.

Thank you. That's really helpful. Thank you, Laura. We've got a couple of questions now from James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Sir Andrew, you've mentioned previously and today about making cases smaller. So, to what extent do you think that local authorities are making full use of pre-proceedings work to divert cases that should really not be reaching the family court?

Well, there are—looking at England and Wales—152 different local authorities, and I think therefore there are probably 152 answers I could give. There's very good practice. I think you will all know about the public law working group, which was tasked to look at this problem we had of the volume of cases that had gone up in the system and what we could do. And the solution, primarily, was to emphasise the need for time to be spent in reconnaissance, in pre-proceedings assessment, in non-urgent cases, before a local authority either decided to come to court or decided that there was, in fact, something else they could do to support the children without coming to court. And that was a win-win—either the case doesn't come or, when it does come, the assessments have been performed already, they're good enough for the court process and so the case is match-fit, as it were, for the court proceedings.

We picked up that as good practice from the local authority—I think it was in Swansea; it was certainly one of the authorities that serves the court centre in Swansea. And so, in that regard, Wales was leading the way. Other authorities, for all sorts of reasons, weren't operating that sort of pre-proceedings process. The hope now is that all of them are getting there. It's really hard running a local authority at the moment, partly because of the churn in social workers that is, I think, a common feature of all of them. We've had the public law working group recommendations out for nearly two years now, and my feeling is now that everyone gets it and they want to work in that way and that we are getting there. So, I think it's work in progress, but I think it's going very much in the right direction.

10:00
Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:00:05

Sorry, so sorry—I was just going to add that it's quite interesting to compare the number of care orders made in Wales with England in the sense of the percentage of cases where care orders are made, and in Wales, care orders are made in far more cases in percentage terms than in England. And the principle reason for that, I think, is what the president just identified, which is the pre-proceedings protocol that we've had in Wales, which is now part of the public law working group recommendations—[Inaudible.]—England. And what I think it shows is that the work is being done before the cases get to court, and so the cases that get to court are the ones that need to get there. I think that that's going to have an impact as these recommendations come through, and has had an impact already in Wales, and a good one.

Yes, thank you; diolch. I'm just going to bring Jane Dodds in very briefly.

Ie, diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am siarad yn Gymraeg. Dwi'n gobeithio eich bod chi'n clywed y cyfieithiad. Gaf i ofyn, rydych chi wedi sôn am Abertawe lle mae yna arfer da: oes yna awdurdodau lleol eraill dros Gymru neu Loegr lle mae yna arfer gorau y gall y pwyllgor efallai glywed amdano neu gael tystiolaeth ganddyn nhw ynglŷn â gwaith pre-proceedings? Rydyn ni i gyd yn clywed bod hyn yn bwysig, bwysig iawn, ond mae yna wahaniaeth ar draws Cymru lle rydyn ni'n edrych. Felly, oes yna lefydd lle mae yna arfer da, arfer gorau y gall y pwyllgor edrych arno ynglŷn â gwaith pre-proceedings? Diolch.

Yes, thank you very much. I will be asking my questions in Welsh. I hope you can hear the interpretation. Can I return to Swansea, which you have mentioned, where there is good practice? Are there other local authorities in Wales or England where there is best practice that the committee could seek evidence from, particularly on pre-proceedings work? We all hear how very important this is, but there is great variation across Wales in terms of the evidence that we've seen. So, are there examples of good practice or best practice that the committee could look at in terms of pre-proceedings work? Thank you.

I'll leave it to Mr Justice Francis to talk about Wales. When I picked Swansea out, that was obviously before the public law working group produced its recommendations, and so, we're looking at what was seen to be pockets of good practice three years ago now. And then, at that time, my feeling was—and we can check this in my office—that Leeds would be put forward and two or three of the local authorities in Greater Manchester. I think it was about 15 that served the court in Manchester, but two or three of those in particular showed the way.

But now, I don't think I could answer the question because my feeling is that the practice has been taken up across the board and most places will be striving to have this practice. What I've described is not rocket science really; it's just the social workers having the confidence to do the work themselves, and having the confidence borne by experience that, if they do, the court will respect that and treat them as professionals as, rightly, they should be treated, and treat the assessments that they've commissioned as being what would have happened in the court process if the court had been left to do it on its own, and that the court won't redo the work—double-dipping as it were—by starting the process again.

Getting that message across, it's—. I was at a conference yesterday in the south-west about learning disabled cases, and social workers there were saying that it's difficult to get some local authorities to spend the money on having a psychological assessment in an intellectual deficiency case, and I just don't understand that, because if they don't, the first thing the court will do, where that's a potential issue, is order an assessment. So, money spent upfront, beforehand is what's got to happen. But my feeling is that we've moved on from being able to identify particular pockets, but for heaven's sake, yes, do contact Leeds and others in the north. But my hope is that now they don't stick out because everybody's doing it.

Thank you, that's really helpful. We'll go back to James.

Yes, thank you, Chair. My question now is specifically to Mr Justice Francis about the application of family law here in Wales. So, how do you ensure that the family division works constructively with devolved public services in Wales to make sure there is an understanding of the differences in the law here within Wales compared to England?

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:04:38

That's a really important question. First of all, as soon as I started being the liaison judge for Wales, I familiarised myself with the changes. The family court practice has got a really excellent section in it, written by, or principally written by, Ruth Henke KC. That's the sort of essential starting point for anybody. I've made it my practice that whenever anybody goes to sit in Wales who practises in England, or who mainly sits in England, they contact me so I have that conduit, as it were, from the listing office, His Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service in Cardiff, who I get on very well with, and I always message the person who is going from England to Wales, first of all to make sure that they are aware that a lot of family law is now devolved and that there are many different regulations and so forth. Sometimes, it's as simple as having a conversion table from what was part through the Children Act and is now elsewhere. So, I think, from my perspective, liaising with the judges and the barristers and solicitors who are going to sit in Wales is the key thing. But, on another level, I make sure that I liaise personally with the various agencies in Wales—I say 'I'; I am about to step down as the family division liaison judge for Wales in fact, sadly for me, so we're passing on to somebody else. But I think, more than anything, the important thing is speaking to people and informing people.

10:05

Diolch, Cadeirydd, a bore da. Hoffwn i ddod nôl yn sydyn jest at waith y gweithgor cyfraith gyhoeddus. Rŷn ni wedi clywed y bore yma gan wasanaethau eiriolaeth nad oes gan weithwyr cymdeithasol yr amser na'r adnoddau i ddarparu'r asesiadau sydd eu hangen—yr hyn rŷch chi wedi dweud sy'n hollol angenrheidiol ar gyfer y llysoedd—a bod hynny'n amlwg yn arwain at yr oedi rŷch chi wedi cyfeirio ato, felly allwch chi jest sôn tipyn bach ynglŷn ag effaith hyn? Ydych chi'n teimlo bod yr adnoddau allan yna i gynhyrchu'r asesiadau rhianta mewn modd amserol er mwyn sicrhau, fel dywedodd Sir Andrew, fod pob gwrandawiad yn cyfrif?

Thank you, Chair, and good morning. I'd like to come back quickly to the work of the public law working group. We have heard this morning from advocacy services that social workers don't have the time or the resources to provide the assessments required—and which you've said are absolutely necessary for the courts—and that that clearly leads to the delays that you've referred to, therefore, can you just talk a little bit about the impact of this? Do you feel that the resources are out there to produce the parenting assessments in a timely manner in order to ensure that, as Sir Andrew said, every hearing counts?

Yes. I don't know if Mr Justice Francis wants to go first on this, because he'll have more knowledge of whether this is a problem in Wales or not.

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:07:13

Well, I think it is a problem, and, at the end of the day, the problem is there's not enough money. And that's so easy for us as judges to sit here and say, and it's so difficult for anyone in the world of politics to achieve, because, obviously, there's less money going around and the amount of work that needs to be done is growing.

I think the best example I can give of the mushrooming of the evidence that we have to deal with—I went to a lecture not very long ago where it started with saying that, when J.K. Rowling wrote her first novel, social media didn't exist; no-one had heard of things like FaceTime. And we get now police having to trawl through, in one case, I heard over a million pages—I didn't have, but the police had over a million pages of exchanges between young people. And what was crucial to the findings that I eventually made wasn't the stuff that stares at you off the page in a statement, it's the almost inconsequential remarks that are said between two people as they're walking back from school or as they're messaging about something, which happens to drop in some key evidence about what somebody did. And coming to grips with all of that paperwork or electronic documentation is overwhelming, and I find my experience with the police, particularly in north Wales, has been that they've been utterly overwhelmed. And we had one case where the Thursday before the four-week case was due to start on the Monday we were dumped with hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and it had to be adjourned.

And so I think—. And I'm not blaming the police for that; they've probably got no more resources now than they had before social media was invented, in adjusted-for-inflation terms, and yet they've got so much more to do, and I think that's one of the biggest difficulties. But, at the end of the day, as I said before in an answer to another question, 'poverty'—the answer to this one is 'funding', and those are, really, two different sides of the same coin, I suppose.

Yes, I'd endorse that as the more general experience. And we are swamped, as the police are, with these electronic messages, but they're often, as Sir Nicholas indicated, a real eye-opener as to what's going on. You've got, effectively, a fly-on-the-wall position, with the people's lives being lived out, and, in the case I did up in the north, nobody knew anybody was taking any drugs until the messages came, and it was an indication of just how life was being lived. So, hopefully, the ability to access this electronic material will become quicker, and more easily obtained as the software systems get more adept at dealing with it. But, at the moment, it cuts across.

But, going back to your original question, it's a basic need for the social services to have sufficient resources to do these assessments, because you really can't work as a social worker until you've got a baseline understanding of what the problems are that need to be addressed, and so assessments are an absolutely crucial element in any social work analysis, I would think.

10:10

Diolch yn fawr, ac efallai ochr arall eto i'r geiniog yna yw'r broblem eto dŷn ni wedi clywed llawer iawn amdani hi yn y dystiolaeth dŷn ni wedi ei chymryd hyd yma, sef y gofid a'r aflonyddwch mae plant a theuluoedd yn eu hwynebu oherwydd bod gweithwyr cymdeithasol yn newid yn aml. Felly, oes unrhyw dystiolaeth gyda chi bod hyn yn cael effaith ar waith cyn achosion ac ansawdd yr asesiadau rhianta? Oes unrhyw sylwadau gyda chi am hynny?

Thank you very much, and perhaps the other side to that coin is the problem that we have already heard about in the evidence that we've taken so far, namely the disruption and concern that children and families experience when they have frequent changes of social workers. Is there any evidence that this has an impact on pre-proceedings work and the quality of parenting assessments? Do you have any comments on this?

It plainly does, because, if you have to change the social worker in the middle of a process of assessment, it either has to start again, or the new social worker has to form relationships with the people who are being assessed and certainly go back a stage or two, and it's much less satisfactory. It draws the process out, and, for the family and the young people, it's a presumably profoundly unwelcome thing to have to have this change. It is the way life seems to be, and it's not a problem that's particular to Wales; it happens everywhere, unfortunately. We've just got to try and avoid it as much as we can. But it's grown and grown.

I think it's really tough being a social worker in the current world. There are pressures, because of just the number of cases in the system, and people leave one authority maybe to go to work for another, or maybe because they are suffering from stress and they simply want to walk away from social work or are ill, and one has great professional sympathy with those people in that position. But it's commonplace, I'm afraid, and it's unwelcome. The members of the committee may have heard on Radio 4—probably three or four weeks ago now, there was a whole piece in their news on the day about the fluid nature of the workforce in local authority social services across England and Wales, and so it is a major problem.

Thank you. Okay, thank you, Sioned. Questions now from Ken Skates.

Thank you, Chair. And I'm really grateful for your attendance today. I know how busy you are. Without attaching any criticism to individual local authorities or social workers, do you have any comment on the really significant variation in the rates of children in care between Welsh local authorities, and that's even when poverty and deprivation are accounted for, and also significantly higher rates of children in care in Wales compared to England? Is there, do you think, any variation in the interpretation of the threshold criteria of significant harm?

Thank you. I don't know, it's probably better for Mr Justice Francis with his more acute local knowledge to go first.

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:13:35

Yes, there is variation, I know, between local authorities within Wales. You won't need me to tell you how different some areas of Wales are from others, but your question said that you'd taken that kind of thing into account. There is some anecdotal evidence that some local authorities, some children's services, are expecting different standards from others, and that some judges do. I don't know whether that anecdotal evidence has led into firm evidence.

But, in terms of the number of cases in Wales compared with England, I think that's quite an awkward discussion, and an awkward statistic. It's something that I've been looking at on and off now for quite a long time. We are adjusting our figures, and I don't want you to think that we're adjusting them just to make them look good, but it became obvious to me, when I started looking at this with a number of other people, that quite a lot of cases in Wales hadn't been, as it were, removed from the system when they should have been. There were quite a lot of cases also where, for example, if there were three siblings, there were three separate cases, and so you've got to compare that with, if it's another local authority, would it just be one case? That may sound a bit ridiculous, but I think you've got to get the data right before you start analysing what the reasons are for variations, and we haven't yet got, I'm afraid, clarity on the data to compare between local authorities in Wales or between Wales and England. I know that's not a complete answer to your question. What we have to do, of course, is take a child into care if we think it needs to be done. We don't say, 'We're in this part of Wales or that, so we've had our quota this month', we do it because we have to do it. But I think—your question—it's very much a work in progress and it's been very interesting to be involved in it.

10:15

In terms of there being any difference in the approach to the threshold by the court, I haven't heard any evidence about that. I'm struck by the fact that, as it happens, one of the main care judges in Wales has strong Welsh origins but she spent her entire professional career as a barrister in Sheffield, and so she would be very familiar with the way the cases are done in Sheffield and not in Wales, and then she's appointed as a judge in Wales, and she hasn't indicated there's any change in approach. Then there was another judge who'd been a district judge in Wales and our great empire appointed him to be a circuit judge but put him in the east midlands, and he has served his time for three years or so in the east midlands and has now come back to Wales as a circuit judge, and he too doesn't report that there's a different approach. I trust both of those people as being very sound and they would say if there was. And so I'm quite reassured that there isn't some systemic problem that's peculiar to Wales that might account for any difference in figures.

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:16:34

If I can just, sorry, very quickly add something to that—forgive me—I completely agree with all of that. I think it could be worth speaking to the children's services generally across Wales, because I know from speaking to children's services, for example, in Gwent, that they perceive that things there might be a bit different. It wouldn't be appropriate for me now to say why I think that might be, but I would recommend that you might want to speak to the heads of the children's services there for their perspective on that question in that region.

Great, thank you. Rates of children on care orders have risen in Wales over the past decade. We understand that some of these remain placed at home with their birth families. Is this something that you think merits our attention?

I think it does, and I know the First Minister's interested in this. Mr Justice Francis and I had a very useful meeting with him six months or so ago. It's a proper question to ask. Again, Mr Justice Francis will know more. I think it was the case that children in those circumstances—back at home but under a care order—had probably needed to have the care order terminated at a much earlier stage. There's been quite an exercise, I think, across Wales in bringing those cases to court now, and the courts in Wales have developed a fast-track method of assessing them. If everyone agrees and the guardian agrees, then they're dealt with, I think, at one hearing. So, there's been a clearing of the stock, as it were, to keep just the children who still need a live care order in place while they're at home, which is probably in the early months or year of a placement, and getting rid of those who, really, they don't need to be under a care order. So, one hopes that, if the statistics are being kept up to date, that figure is going down now. But I don't know if Sir Nicholas has any observations to make about that.

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:18:38

I think that's actually a very important point, because, when we started work on this probably about three or even more years ago now—I know it was pre pandemic when we first started looking at this, and obviously things got slightly interrupted—we did then create this system for the fast discharge of care orders in the circumstances that the president just referred to, and that's going to work its way through into the statistics. So, you may find, when you look at them again, say in six months, it's going to have a different look about it. 

I do get the impression there are more children living at home under care orders in Wales in percentage terms than there are in England. I think it's quite an interesting question, maybe for another day, but, if we start on the basis that children are mostly better off at home than in a care home, how can you keep them at home and still make sure they're properly looked after? Well, one answer is a care order, because the supervision order doesn't go on for very long, so what do you do after the year? I've certainly done a number of cases in Wales where we've been able to keep the children at home because the care order keeps the pressure on the parents to get their act together, if I can put it that way. Of course, that's been catastrophically interrupted by the pandemic, because of the social workers being unable to get into people's houses, and I referred earlier to a particular case in that context.

Can I add? I think it would help the committee to know that there's quite a stark distinction in England between those parts of the country who would never send a child home under a care order—either the child's going home and it's safe enough and you don't need a care order, or, if you need a care order, the child's not going home—. If you drew a line from Hull across to Cardiff, everything south of that would take that view. Anything north of that line, including Wales, would be quite comfortable with making a care order and the child going home. What they do in Stoke, I don't know, which must sit on the line. And I think that helps the statistics in Wales, because if, in England, the case is that they don't send them home under a care order, they probably hold onto them in the care proceedings for a bit longer under interim care orders to make sure it's all right before they pull out and don't make a care order, whereas if you're sending the child home under a care order you can probably come to that conclusion more quickly, and that may be partly why the turnover in cases, happily, is at a smarter rate in Wales. But this is an issue that we have had for a long time, and those who think that one way of doing it is right are very much behind that, and the others are very much behind what they do. 

10:20

Thank you. Just one quick enquiry for myself, Chair. Do you have any views on the extent to which care-experienced children are given a genuine voice in making the big decisions about their lives, obviously where it's proportionate to their age and understanding of the situation that they're in?

Well, I think CAFCASS Cymru, and CAFCASS in England, the primary focus that they have is to make sure that the child's voice is heard by the court, and so I do have some confidence that we're getting it right. I'm sure we can always do more, and I think we're not so good at seeing children, young people—particularly the older teenagers. I think they may want to come and meet the judge, or see the court, or talk directly to the court, and I don't think we do that as much as we should, or offer that as much as we should. So, that could be improved. I think if I was a young person, I would feel what you've just described was the case, because they're out of the room—they're not in the courtroom. But I think, in terms of the judges being the recipient of information about the child's wishes and feelings, that we do get a pretty clear message from them.

Thank you, Ken. And just for information as well, we will be hearing from heads of children's services in Wales on 9 March, and we have already written to them as well. So, hopefully we'll get that information from them. So, thank you for that as well. 

Finally, now, a question from Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, both, for joining us. Sir Andrew, you have very recently made a judgment in which you refer to the

‘very substantial deficit that exists nationally in the provision of facilities for the secure accommodation of children’

and that the situation faced by the local authority in the case is

‘one that can be, and is, faced by every other local authority in England and Wales on a regular basis; it is, tragically, the norm.’

Is there anything further you would like to draw our attention to in this regard? 

I have to tread carefully because I'm a judge and I was speaking in that case on my own behalf, but also on behalf of the judges in the High Court as it is, or sitting at High Court level, who hear these really very taxing cases and are aware of the lack, by a country mile, of provision for secure accommodation for young people. But the provision of that accommodation is a matter for policy, it's a matter for government, it's a matter for local authorities, and I was doing all I possibly could to shout as loudly as I could to flag up the existence of the problem. I deliberately chose to give quite a bit of graphic detail in the judgment whilst being über-careful to maintain the confidentiality of the young person, just to give you and the public more generally an idea of just what we're dealing with.

But I don't think I ought to say more than I have. I was very pleased that, in that case, counsel for the Secretary of State for Education in England indicated an acceptance that there was a problem and, although under the law it's the responsibility of individual local authorities to provide accommodation, this was a problem that now should be taken up across Government; it wasn't just the Department for Education. So, that was very welcome. And I think, in the response to the care review under Josh MacAlister, there are proposals aimed at pooling the resources of a local group of local authorities in various consortia arrangements, which might assist. But I think more than that I shouldn't say. 

10:25
Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:25:42

Can I add something Wales specific to that, very briefly? 

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:25:46

I believe the only secure accommodation place in Wales is Hillside. Hillside is excellent; I've been to see it. I've had three Welsh cases in recent months that I've listed in open court, but obviously with a reporting restriction order in terms of identifying anybody in the case, because there is nowhere to put these children, who are at the extreme end of suffering, either at very serious risk to their own lives or possibly to the lives of others, and there hasn't been anywhere for them to go. And I had one case recently where one of the Welsh Ministers attended court and the Children's Commissioner for Wales attended court. The Welsh Minister's view, as a matter of law is absolutely right, was this was for the local authorities to resolve. The local authorities were saying, 'We don't have any place to put them and we don't have the money to get the places'. And the children's commissioner says, 'If you put them in unregistered places, we're going to prosecute you', and Ofsted say, 'If you put them in unregistered places, we're going to prosecute you'.

So, I had one particular case, which is still going on now, where this very troubled young woman—I think she's just 17 now—is moved every week from one secure placement to another secure placement, because there isn't anywhere that's registered to put her. And she's moved every week because if she stays in an unregistered place for more than a week, they're going to be prosecuted by either or both Ofsted and the children's commissioner. I identified in a recent case that I dealt with this problem, which is, as I say, in Wales, but I don't think it's actually that different from what Sir Andrew has just been talking about in England. And I think, for me, doing the job that I've been doing in Wales in recent years, this is the single biggest crisis point. It is absolutely desperate. You don't put somebody under a deprivation of liberty order unless you are absolutely at the extreme end of trouble, and I think it's a terrible problem. 

Thank you. Is there any other information you would like to share with us relevant to this inquiry into services for care-experienced children in Wales?

I'm sure there is. I can't think of a specific response, but what I would say is I think we both are very pleased that you're having this inquiry. It seems exactly the right thing to be doing. These are really important issues that have, for the young people that are involved, a life-changing impact upon them. So, if, as you carry on with your deliberations, you spot any further matters you want to raise with us, I hope you will not feel shy about getting back in touch, and we can either come back again or probably more easily deal with any answers on paper. So, we are very keen to support you in your endeavour.  

That's very kind of you. Thank you for that offer, and I'm sure we'll take you up on that. 

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:28:38

Can I just add one thing very quickly to that? As soon as I started working again in Wales, I was very impressed by, for example, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and I think it's magnificent that Wales is taking these sorts of initiatives. And one of the ideas I had for raising money was that Wales should sell its devolved legislation back to England at a very big price. [Laughter.

But, of course, as a judge, Mr Justice Francis couldn't possibly say that. [Laughter.]

Brilliant. Thank you very much. Thank you so much for both your time this morning and your insight and expertise on this. We really do appreciate it, and, as I said, we will be in touch if there's anything further that we can raise with you, and, likewise, if you feel that there's any more information you can supply to us, we'd be very grateful. We see this as a very important inquiry, as you can imagine, and what we've heard already has touched all members of the committee very deeply. So, just to say thank you again for the evidence that you've given us this morning and for your time. And I'd just like to say to Mr Justice Francis, thank you for your work in Wales as well, and best wishes for the future. Diolch yn fawr. 

Sir Peter Nicholas Francis 10:29:52

Thank you very much. I've enjoyed it. 

Diolch yn fawr. 

You will receive a transcript just to check for accuracy as well. Diolch. 

We'll move on to the next item on the agenda. We're going to into private for a few minutes, just to bring in the next witnesses. So, we'll move into private. 

10:30

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:30 a 10:44.

The meeting adjourned between 10:30 and 10:44.

10:40
4. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical - sesiwn dystiolaeth 8
4. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 8

Croeso nôl.

Welcome back.

We're now moving on to item 4, which is services for care-experienced children and exploring radical reform, and our eighth evidence session. We've got our witnesses here who've joined us. Thank you for coming in this morning. We have Vikki Morris, deputy director, Centre for Justice Innovation; Peter Spinner, team manager, Cardiff and Vale Family Drug and Alcohol Court; Melissa Meindl, research associate, CASCADE, Cardiff University; and David Westlake, senior research fellow, CASCADE, Cardiff University. You're all very welcome. We've got a number of questions from Members this morning to you, so we'll go straight into those, and the first set of questions is from Sioned Williams. Sioned.

10:45

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da. Allwch chi egluro i ni, i ddechrau, y model llys teulu, cyffuriau ac alcohol, a sut y mae'n wahanol i achosion yn y llys teulu arferol, rheolaidd? Ac allwch chi nodi pam y dewiswyd yn benodol y defnydd o alcohol a chyffuriau ymhlith rhieni ar gyfer y model peilot ar gyfer y llys, yn hytrach na ffactorau risg eraill—er enghraifft, rŷn ni'n gwybod bod trais domestig yn un o'r prif ffactorau, onid yw e? Felly, os allwch chi roi rhai sylwadau i ni ar hynny hefyd. Diolch.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning. Could you explain to us, to start, the family drug and alcohol court model and how it differs from proceedings in the usual, regular family court? And can you set out why parental drug and alcohol use in particular was selected for the pilot court model as opposed to other risk factors—for example, we know that domestic violence is one of the main factors, isn't it? So, if you could give us some comments on that too. Thank you.

Sure. So, in terms of the FDAC model and how that differs from standard care proceedings, there's a lot of the FDAC model that follows the exact same process of standard care proceedings—so, all of the same court hearings happen as they would do in standard care proceedings, but there are some key additions that really set the model apart. So, namely, they are that there is a specialist multidisciplinary team that is independent from the local authority children's social care team. So, the child that are subject to the care proceedings still has their own social worker, as they would do in normal non-FDAC care proceedings, but, in addition, there is this specialist expert team, made up of practitioners from a range of backgrounds, and they provide intense support and assessment, particularly with the parents. So, they're an expert to the court, they undertake an assessment with the parents, they co-ordinate all of the other different services that parents can access, they come up with an intervention plan of what needs to happen and what changes parents need to make, and they support parents throughout that process. So, they're offering intervention work themselves as well, and working really closely, and then regularly reporting back to the courts and all of the other professionals that are involved on progress that is or isn't being made by parents.

And then another key difference is the way that the court is used. Like I say, all of the same lawyer hearings happen as they would do, but, in addition, there are a couple of differences with the courts. So, namely, the judge is specially trained in the FDAC model, and it's that same judge that parents and the family will have throughout the care proceedings. And whilst that is an ambition for all care proceedings, it's certainly not the norm necessarily, whereas within FDAC proceedings it is that same judge. So, they build a relationship with the family, and, in addition to the normal court hearings that happen with the judge and the lawyers and everyone there, parents meet on a fortnightly basis with the judge, in what are called non-lawyer reviews. So, these are more informal meetings that happen between the parents, the judge, the person from the specialist team that's working with them, the child's guardian and the child's social worker. And they come together with the judge for a short, informal meeting, which isn't about the legal matters and progressing that; it's where—and this is where the judge is specially trained—the judge can speak directly with parents, understand what's gone well over the past fortnight and be motivational around that, as well as reminding parents of timescales and consequences, and problem solve some of the other issues that are happening with the professionals there. So, they're the key different elements of it.

Pete, I don't know if you want to talk a little bit around how that works in practice.

Yes, of course. So, in terms of when parents are in the FDAC process, they first of all undergo an assessment with the FDAC team. And then, from that assessment, we formulate what we call the intervention plan, and the intervention plan is what is reviewed regularly, then, at the non-lawyer reviews. Yes, parents are seen twice a week by the FDAC team. Part of that, which makes a difference to normal care proceedings, is that there'll be regular ongoing testing for substance and alcohol. So, that happens weekly, and we start to build that evidential base about how parents are doing in terms of being able to make any changes in relation to substance and alcohol-use difficulties. Also, with the regular review, we're really able to report to the really key professionals involved, as well as the judiciary—so social worker, guardian—and those non-lawyer reviews are a really good opportunity for any problem solving to happen, to reinforce any positive progress made. But also, everybody who's a crucial part of that intervention plan and for the child as well; everybody's in the room to be able to support that parent making those changes in time. So, just that increased accountability for everybody involved, not just for parents, because they're there speaking to the judge about how things are going and maybe what's not going so well. But then also, we've got the guardian and the social worker in the room at the same time as well to support with anything that needs to be done. So, it means that problem solving can happen, as we're supporting families through the process. Yes, I think that's all I'll say on that. Thank you.

10:50

Jest i ofyn yn gyflym, te, pam dewiswyd—? Dwi'n gallu gweld roeddech chi'n siarad am yr ymyriadau concrit yna sy'n gallu digwydd o gwmpas camddefnydd cyffuriau ac alcohol. Ai dyna pam dewiswyd hynny ar gyfer y peilot yn hytrach na risg arall fel trais domestig, felly? Jest ateb yn benodol ar hynny.

Just to ask quickly, then, why—? I can see that you were talking about those concrete interventions that can happen around drug and alcohol misuse. Is that why that was selected for the pilot rather than another risk, such as domestic violence? Just an answer specifically on that.

Yes, sure. So, when the FDAC model was first piloted, it was around parental substance misuse as one of the factors. It's probably—. It's not helpful, necessarily, that the name is 'drugs and alcohol', because, unsurprisingly, those issues that you've talked about—domestic abuse, mental health—are prevalent in mostly all cases. And the purpose of the multidisciplinary team is moving away from a model where you might silo parents off to go over there for the substance misuse and go over there for the domestic abuse and over there for the mental health, and it's having that wider picture of everything that's going on and really seeing those issues as the presenting manifestations, the bits that are causing everybody the concern, but really, it's the underneath of that, the underlying trauma that the team are working with. So, whilst drugs and alcohol are typically always an issue, they're never the only issue, and it's evaluated on cases where there are drugs and alcohol. But there is appetite, in other FDACs in England, for trying cases without substance misuse but where neglect or mental health, domestic abuse are concerned. So, I do think that this problem-solving approach—it already is working more widely with those other issues, and I think it could do more of that.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae'r model yma wedi bod yn gweithio dros Loegr am flynyddoedd—am ddegawdau, i ddweud y gwir. Pam, yn eich barn chi, ydy'r model yma jest yn beilot yng Nghymru? Pam mae o jest yn beilot, achos mae wedi gweithio yn Lloegr am flynyddoedd? Felly, dwi eisiau clywed yn union pam mae o'n beilot yma yng Nghymru. Diolch.

Thank you very much. This model has been working in England for years, for decades. Why, in your view, is this model only a pilot here in Wales? Why is it just a pilot, because it's worked in England for years? So, I want to hear exactly why it's still in pilot form here in Wales. Thank you.

So, when the pilot was first being established by Welsh Government, I think the idea was that we wanted to test it in an area of Wales—Cardiff and Vale. We went through an expression-of-interest process and Cardiff and Vale was chosen from that. I mean, personally, I want to see it everywhere, so I'm in agreement; it would be great if we could. I think the idea is that it's being tested. So, there is an evaluation that's attached to the pilot as well, but we definitely share that ambition that we'd like to see it grown in Cardiff and Vale, even with the amount of cases that it can see, and then spread more widely to other areas too.

Just to add to that. It's also quite common for interventions to work in one place but not in another. So, you can't necessarily just take something that works in England and put it in Wales and expect it to work in the same way. So, I think that's part of the rationale behind starting small in Wales, trying to work out how it operates, whether it works, and then scaling up from there.

Jest un cwestiwn ychwanegol. Mae o wedi gweithio yn Lloegr—rydyn ni wedi'i weld o. Dwi dal ddim yn glir, heblaw efallai arian, pam ein bod ni jest ddim yn gweld o dros Gymru, achos mae o wedi gweithio ynglŷn â beth sy'n dda i blant ac i deuluoedd. Felly, ydy o'n arian? Dwi eisiau i chi fod yn onest, os mae hynny'n iawn, efo'r pwyllgor. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Peter, rydych chi'n gwenu.

Just one follow-up question. It has worked in England, we've seen that. I'm still not quite clear, apart from funding issues, why we're not seeing it rolled out across Wales, because it has worked in terms of what's good for children and families. So, I'd like you to be honest with the committee. Peter, you're smiling. 

10:55

No, I mean, just to echo Vikki's point, really. We see the benefits of FDAC already in our pilot prototype, maybe, if we can call it that, just within the first 12 months of it. We're halfway through a two-year funding agreement, but we would really like to see that then rolled out across local authorities, and really maybe the learning and experiences that we have developed within our small pilot, that's what we can share rolling out to wider local authorities in Wales. And to also increase the offer to families in Cardiff and the Vale, because, really, we're currently only able to work with quite a small sample of families, so we'd really like to increase the ability of the team to do that.

And just to add to what Dave was saying, part of the evaluation that we're doing of the Welsh FDAC pilot will be understanding if it's effective in a Welsh context because, like you've mentioned, we know from England and other similar models internationally that it is effective, but in a Welsh context, we're still learning about if it's going to be producing outcomes in the same way that we've seen in other contexts. So, hopefully, at the end of this evaluation, we will have a better understanding of how it's working for families in Wales, and what kind of resources are really needed to help to increase the opportunity for successful outcomes as well.

Great, thank you. Questions now from James Evans. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Can you elaborate on your written evidence in which you say that FDAC aim to deliver,

'a more procedurally fair court process, in which parents are treated with respect, where they feel the court is acting as a neutral, independent arbiter, where they understand the court process clearly and participate in a process in which they have a voice'?

That's a lovely statement. That's a fantastic statement on paper, but what does that actually mean in practical terms?

Yes, absolutely. This isn't that we're saying that non-FDAC court proceedings are not fair, but this concept of procedural fairness, which Dave can definitely talk around as well, is that it's how people perceive that. So, it's not just enough for the process to be fair, but the person going through that process themselves has to experience it and perceive that to be fair.

In previous research around care proceedings, and certainly through some of the FDAC research of parents who have experience of both FDAC and non-FDAC, what commonly comes across from non-FDAC care proceedings is that parents will say that the process was really adversarial, that they went to court but they didn't get to speak directly to the judge, and this is about their children, and that they didn't have that opportunity to have their voice heard, didn't necessarily understand everything that was happening, didn't feel like they'd been given all of the possible opportunities to make the changes that they need to.

So, through some of the aspects of the FDAC model, those fortnightly review meetings with the judge means that that parent has that space and that forum to be able to discuss what's happening with them and with their children, to speak directly with the judge. So, some of the four aspects of procedural fairness, which is around neutrality, respect, understanding and voice, particularly understanding what's happening and why decisions are being made, and having your voice heard and being part of that, is something that the FDAC process really fosters and allows to happen. And, in feedback from parents and qualitative research about it, often what comes across very strongly is that they feel heard, that they felt empowered that they've been part of this process.

And, we get very few contested hearings. So, even when the outcome might be that children are not returned to parents' care at the end of proceedings, rarely that is contested by parents. So, even when the outcome isn't something that they ultimately might have wanted, they still understand how that decision has been made, why it's happened, and I've seen parents come to that understanding themselves as well and say, 'I just can't make the changes I need to in time for my children', and it's done in that compassionate and empathetic and relational way, removing some of the shame and stigma around the situations. But, Dave and Mel, I don't know if you want to come in. 

Yes. I would just say that that's supported by some of our previous research as well. Parents who have previous experience of ordinary care proceedings and then have gone through FDAC have reported feeling that the process is more fair. So, this is specifically in relation to feeling like they has been given a fair chance to change their lifestyle and behaviour, a fair chance to address their substance misuse, and a fair chance to learn how to parent their children well. And that was largely coming from the way that the FDAC processes allow judges and the FDAC team to work with families. So, like Vikki was saying, they're able to have these opportunities to provide encouragement and hope to families, families have the opportunity to speak directly to judges and to communicate with them and let them know if they're not understanding something about the process and get clarity on that, and they're given feedback on how they're going through the FDAC process. So, in these ways, parents are feeling like the process is more fair.

11:00

Yes, absolutely. The other thing I would say is that some of that stuff—we think it leads to outcomes. So, for example, if a parent feels like they're having their voice heard, they may feel more motivated to change and therefore it might end up that that might lead to those outcomes in the end.

But, actually, the other aspect of this is that we talk about outcomes a lot and they're obviously important, but in a situation like this where the state is intervening in family life in quite a significant way, it's important that the process is done in a respectful and transparent manner and in a way that works with families and gives them a chance to change. So, there's an aspect of it that isn't just about outcomes, it's about the process.

Okay. As I say, funding’s going to run out for this, I think, in January 2024, and further funding does depend on what outcomes come out of this and reports back to Government to make sure that that funding goes forward. You've mentioned a few of things in the previous question that I asked you about what you think the successes have been. But how do you evaluate those and put them back to Government so that, actually, Government will think, 'Right, this is something worth investing in'? And how do you put that down on paper as such to go to Government and say, 'We're delivering on A, B, X and Y'?

That sounds like one for us. So, the evaluation is an evaluation of quite a small pilot, so, obviously, we're limited in terms of the scale of what we can do. But we're focusing on three areas, really. So, firstly, the feasibility of doing it in Wales—so, is it possible to implement FDAC in Wales? Does it operate as we expect, et cetera? Is it implemented in line with the model?

The second part is experiences and potential. So, how do people experience it? The procedural fairness stuff that we just talked about. But also, what signs of potential do people identify and what signs of potential are identifiable in the quantitative data as well. So, we're going to be comparing the FDAC in Wales to FDACs in England to see whether the outcomes are comparable. Obviously, we've got small numbers, so there's a limit to how confident we can be from that, but, more or less, it will give us an indication of the potential.

And then, finally, in relation to Jane's point about scaling it up more widely, we're looking at whether it's well defined and coherent enough to be able to scale it up more widely into different parts of Wales.

In terms of establishing those outcomes, it will be a mixture from quantitative data that we get from the FDAC site and we're also going to be doing interviews and observations with families, members of the FDAC team and the judiciary as well, to be getting a better understanding on outcomes that are relevant for the families who are going through FDAC in Wales, and any kind of key contexts and mechanisms that are important for producing those outcomes.

Thank you, James. Just to clarify something, you've just referred to Welsh Government funding for the pilots and hoping that it could be rolled out. Can you just clarify what else you think needs to happen for this to roll out across Wales? And, do you think that there's enough capacity and willingness at a UK Government level?

One good thing as well is that we've just—. I think it's around trying to diversify some of the funding. So, it's fantastic that Welsh Government have provided that seed funding. Of course, we would like to see more central Welsh Government funding for FDACs to just keep—. It takes a while to be able to demonstrate some of the outcomes, because care proceedings, at the very shortest, are going to take six months in time, and if we're looking at children returning home, likely, over the 26-week period. So, it's fantastic that Welsh Government have provided that seed funding, but, of course, some more central funding would be fantastic.

I think some of the work is around trying to diversify the funding. So, that's something that we work quite hard to do with FDACs in England. As we've talked about at the start, this is around bringing together this multidisciplinary approach, so, therefore, I think, ideally, you should be having funding coming from not just children's social care, but from health, from police and crime commissioners, because we know that the benefits are wide-ranging. We have just secured some National Lottery Wales funding as well, to support with them the pilot and expand the team, so that's really exciting; that's something that they're interested in. 

I think it's right to touch on funding; that is always a difficult issue. And the main outgoing, the main cost, for an FDAC is this specialist team, and some of the drug testing, which is a much smaller cost, but that is a significant upfront cost. So, I think there's some more that we can do around understanding the financial benefits of the model in Wales.

11:05

And is there enough capacity in the family courts, such as with specialist judges?

Yes. So, they need to be trained, but, again, that's something that we can do. But, yes, there is, in terms of capacity—I wouldn't want to speak on behalf of the judiciary, but there's certainly willingness. You had Sir Andrew before, he's very supportive, would like to see FDACs rolled out across England and Wales during his term. So, that's an ambition that we share as well. And certainly, we've had nothing but support from local judiciary as well. 

Diolch yn fawr. Jest cwestiwn arall ynglŷn ag arian—fel dwi'n cofio, roedd hwn yn dechrau yn Llundain, ac roedd y llysoedd yn rhoi'r arian i fewn pan oedd yn dechrau; yn Westminster, dwi'n meddwl oedd e'n dechrau. Ydy'r llysoedd yn rhoi arian i fewn i'r peilot yma yng Nghymru hefyd? 

Thank you. Just another question on funding—as I recall, this began in London, and the courts provided funding at the outset; in Westminster, I think that's where it was established. Do the courts provide funding for this pilot too in Wales?

Not in terms of actual funding. They do in terms of the additional judge time and court space and things like that. So, they are contributing towards that through—like I say, they provide the judges to do the additional non-lawyer review meetings and things. But, in terms of actually providing funding, no, that isn't something that happens. 

A jest cwestiwn byr arall. Mae hyn yn edrych ar, dwi'n meddwl, 15 o deuluoedd. Ydy hynny'n iawn—yr ymchwil yn edrych ar 15 o deuluoedd? Ydy hynny'n ddigon, yn eich barn chi, i wneud yn siŵr fod o am gael yr effaith, a gwneud yn siŵr bod pobl yn gwrando ac yn clywed, fod o'n gweithio, ac mae o'n mynd dros Gymru? Ydy hynny'n ddigon? Ac efallai fod hynny'n gwestiwn i'r bobl sydd yn gwneud yr ymchwil; dwi ddim yn siŵr am y threshold.

And another brief question. I think this is focusing on 15 families. The research is looking at 15 families—is that right? Is that sufficient in your view to ensure that it will have the impact, and to ensure that people listen and hear, that it is working, and it's effective and that it could be rolled out across Wales? Is that sufficient? That's perhaps a question for those who are involved in the research; I'm not sure what the threshold should be. 

Yes, it is a good question. So, in terms of the qualitative work—so, the observations and the interviews that Mel mentioned—we are looking at a small sample of families, but we're actually going to be interviewing them several times. We're also, in the quantitative comparisons, going to be using all of the data from the FDAC in Cardiff and Wales, so we'll compare that with FDAC in England. Do you want to—?

Just that the target for the pilot is 30 families, so 15 per year. I think we've gone through roughly 15 in the first year. Yes. So, we would be hoping to get another 15 in the next year. And just to add, to your question, Jane, as part of the evaluation we have looked at barriers and enablers for implementation of FDAC in Wales, and comparing that with some data that we have from previous research. We can provide a written copy of that to the committee as well, but the main things from the national level were buy-in and funding in terms of being a real enabler for FDAC being rolled out in Wales wider than just the pilot. 

Brilliant, and we would really appreciate that information as well. Quickly, Sioned Williams. 

Ie, jest cwestiwn cyflym am y gwerthusiad. A fyddwch chi yn edrych ar fuddion ariannol i'r peilot, hynny yw yr arian fydd e siŵr o fod yn arbed yn y tymor hir?

Just a quick question on the evaluation. Will you be looking at the financial benefits of the pilot, namely the money that, probably, it will save in the long term?

We're not able to do a cost-effectiveness analysis or an economic analysis, because of the scope of the evaluation. 

Thank you, Chair. It's great that you seem to already have all this support, judicial support and everything that you've mentioned already, and we've already touched on this, but what are the biggest challenges facing the operation of the FDAC model itself, and to what extent have you identified already those Wales-specific challenges?

Do you want to talk to that one, Mel, with your—?

From an evaluation point of view, because FDAC is made up of so many components, it really is a challenge to establish the relative importance of each of the elements of FDAC, and which ones, or whether all of them, are essential for producing the successful outcomes. That's obviously important for ensuring that it's delivered cost effectively and at an optimal efficiency in Wales.

In terms of delivering the intervention itself, that's probably best for Pete.

11:10

Yes. In terms of operationally for the FDAC team, some of the biggest challenges are around just co-ordinating and making sure that those families are able to access those services that are vital to their ongoing treatment and recovery from reducing substances. We're really fortunate that within the strategic governance of our FDAC pilot in Cardiff and the Vale that we have some really good buy-in from existing services in Cardiff and the Vale, and how they're set up in terms of health, third sector, social care as well. But everybody has been incredibly supportive of the FDAC pilots, which has enabled—. A potential challenge we hear from other FDAC sites is struggling to get people into treatment services within the timescales of the court. We've only got 26 weeks in court, so it's not long enough, but then if you're having to wait 15 weeks for somebody to access treatment or to start medication, whether that's in terms of prescription for opiate dependency or for mental health, or to get those services in place—. We're just really fortunate that the make-up of the services in Cardiff and the Vale has really supported the FDAC being able to—. A potential real challenge would be if we were unable to get people into those other services.

Other operational issues: funding is always one, and culture change, I think, is a big thing. You're trying to bring together a lot of different partners as well, which is why it works, but it also can make things challenging, and this is culture change, which can feel scary for professionals and others that are involved in that as well, so I think that's often something. And then when we've done some mapping work in particular around all of the FDACs—this was prior to when your pilot started—there was a particular dearth around perpetrator programmes and having that availability within the community as well. We have introduced an intervention programme that FDACs can use, but I do think some of the—. And the difficulty around—. It's much easier—. And it speaks to that question around some of the, 'Why drugs and alcohol?' that it is much easier to be able to do tests and to say much more definitively whether or not somebody has or hasn't been using substances in the recent time, whereas with issues like domestic abuse and mental health it's much more difficult to do that and they're a more finer balance and judgment. So, those are some operational challenges.

And I think—just adding to that—from research, we know that substance misuse and behaviour change is really complex. From other FDACs that we've spoken with, determining any predictive factors that might determine a parent's ability to succeed in FDAC is really challenging. A lot of FDACs that we've spoken with have said that there is no single predictive factor, so deciding which families are going into FDAC and where those resources should be going is a real challenge for FDAC sites as well.

That's interesting. Thank you. In terms of its success, you've given us an idea of that already, and you want to see it rolled out over Wales—you obviously think it's working. But I'm just wondering if we could delve into a bit more detail. You've said that parents feel that they've got a fair chance now and they feel they've got a voice. Obviously, that's a good outcome. But can you give us more details about the research you referred to in your written paper, which you say shows that FDACs significantly increase safe, stable family reunification and end parental substance misuse, and decrease the likelihood of future child neglect and abuse, and decrease recurrent care proceedings? Could you expand on that? Thank you.

Do you want to speak on that from a national perspective?

Yes. So, FDAC has been subject to a number of outcomes evaluations, and so, within those, the outcomes evaluations have looked at things—. They've taken families that have gone through FDAC—this is obviously based in England—and had a matched comparison group of families who are similar who have gone through non-FDAC care proceedings. Across those evaluations, they've seen significantly better rates of reunification—so, children have remained with or returned to the carer or the parents at the end of proceedings—much higher rates of parental substance misuse cessation in a five-year follow-up study, and then that there has been much less further disruption, that those children, then, haven't been subject to care proceedings, or future children that the parents have had have been much less likely to be involved in future care proceedings. And the FDACs in England, because this was through Department for Education in England funding, are currently going through another national outcomes evaluation, which is due to report at the end of March. But, again, we know from the early indications around that data—again, a similar sort of set-up—that those outcomes will be similar, in terms of that those outcomes hold true still in the additional follow-up stuff. So, yes, there are those aspects. And we also then know things around, like I say, contested hearings, so, whether or not things have been contested, and, like I say, recurrent care proceedings is quite a big one.  

11:15

Just in terms of some of our previous research, we've developed theories about how those outcomes are achieved. And in the process of doing that—. We know that those outcomes are really important, but there have been other outcomes that are identified for families that also feel really important for them—so, things like improving their relationships with other family members, increasing their attachment or feelings of attachment to their children, improving their self-confidence and motivation to be making a behaviour change. And those are equally as important for families, in addition to the other outcomes that we're aware of more nationally. 

And just with things like relationships, again, I was with an FDAC parent just last week, and it's obviously anecdotal, but she was saying—. She did end up having her children returned to her care at the end of the proceedings—like I say, not all do, but she did. But she was saying, 'My children no longer are scared of social workers. They don't fear social workers. We want to work together.' So, I think those relationships with children's social care, social workers, is another area that can be greatly improved. Parents have a perception that—. The court is set up in an 'us versus them', adversarial process, whereas FDAC is about trying to remove that and it's about collaborating and everybody coming together around this family—the judge, the child's social worker, guardian. And whilst that is what social workers are trying to do, the parents don't necessarily—it comes to that procedural fairness—feel that that's what's happening, and it can change those dynamics. Having that arena, particularly with those non-lawyer review meetings, where the child's social worker and the child's guardian are there, and parents can see that everybody is really rooting for (a) helping parents, but also about what's best for the children in this as well. And I think that can be really powerful, and those relationships. So, that's not necessarily captured in, like I say, some of the outcome evaluations, but they're really key, important softer outcomes that are achieved as well. 

Thank you, Laura. And just quickly, if FDACs are rolled out across Wales, to what extent do you think it's realistic that the goodwill from other services will still be there, such as mental health services, for example?

Pete, do you want to talk about how it has been working with them locally?

Yes, if I could just talk about how it has been within Cardiff and the Vale, and then maybe how it might be—the challenges and potential enablers for the longer term. So, in terms of the goodwill of other services to be really accommodating of the FDAC pilot and supportive of it, it has been very positive from existing services. Our multi-disciplinary team in Cardiff and the Vale has members seconded from health, which has been really key in the success of the pilot so far in being able to have that experience and expertise from health in a social care setting and to work as a multi-disciplinary team. There's also real buy-in from services and that goodwill is absolutely valued and necessary for the success of the pilot for families. I think what enables that success is really clear co-ordination from the FDAC team with those other services about what their role is and what they're able to do to support that parent within the time frame, but also longer term as well. We think that that's really helped with wider services as well. Also the set-up of the existing services within the integrated family support services that already exist in Cardiff and the Vale—we've been able to build on that established relationship, and that's been a really good foundation for our FDAC pilot here in Cardiff and the Vale also. 

Brilliant. Thank you. Questions now from Ken Skates. 

Thank you, Chair. In what specific ways does the FDAC model successfully engage with families in a way that the normal family courts are not able to?

11:20

Do you want me to answer?

Yes, sure. So, one of the things to say about the FDAC team, and when parents sign up to work with our service, is that it is voluntary. Parents have to want to do it. After it's fully explained, and we are very clear at the start of the process as to what the expectations of parents would be, what they can get from us, but also what we're expecting from them through this. It is indeed not the easy route through care proceedings. We're asking an awful lot of our parents, to seriously start to address their substance and alcohol use difficulties, but then also look at the much wider issues involved as to why they have that problematic relationship with substances. Often, we see that it's developed from negative childhood experiences and we see a lot of our parents in FDAC—often we see they're yesterday's children who've come from some really difficult circumstances, and substance and alcohol have developed as a real coping strategy for dealing with some of their experiences. So, we have to be really clear in terms of expectations from the start. But then that clarity seems to assist with parents being able to sign up to that or not. Mostly parents do want to engage with us and want to accept the offer, because they do want to make the changes for their child and we believe that every parent wants that as well.

In terms of working with the team, the team are very good at building that relationship with parents in a kind of strengths-based approach, looking at what's going well for parents, as well as recognising the difficulties as to the circumstances that have led to them coming into the care proceedings. Yes, the team then also—. I think that real clarity about the intervention plan, as we've learnt throughout the pilot, is really critical to be clear with families about the work we're going to be doing. Parents are involved in the planning of that intervention plan, looking at key worker sessions as to what—. Because as well as evidencing the reduction of substance use, we're also considering the underlying reasons for the use of those substances. And for parents, it is very challenging and we recognise they've got to see us and the team twice a week, and there are fortnightly non-lawyer reviews, but also there are other services they might be working with, and also usually family time, which is an absolute priority during the care proceedings, especially if children are not living with them during that time. So, it is a big ask for parents, but we know that the successes in FDAC are evidenced from wider research and that the potential outcome for children being returned home are a significant motivation for parents wanting to engage with the team.

There are certainly challenges in FDAC and sometimes we have to have some quite difficult and direct conversations with parents, because if the changes are not made within the timescale of the child, then it's not going to be possible to recommend a successful reunification. But I think parents seem to really respond well to the clarity and the clear intervention plan reviewed by the judge, and I know that a lot of parents, through FDAC, talk about going and speaking to the judge, and having that direct discussion with them really makes them feel that they have a voice and that enables them, that support for the engagement as well then.

Thank you, yes. And to what extent do you think the odds are stacked against some parents in terms of access to quality services, such as housing and mental health, given that, in your evidence, you point to the fact that 50 per cent of parents are living in either supported housing, a hostel or a refuge, at the start of proceedings?

Yes, within our pilot, the challenges for parents are absolutely huge. Often there are a lot of financial difficulties and housing—whether housing may not be a safe and stable tenancy that they have. Often, it's quite precarious financially as well, and being able to access appointments. So, we have to do everything we can to get them—. And then we're asking them to turn away from the one thing that's given them comfort and stability and perceived safety throughout their lives, which is to stop using substances and alcohol. So, we're asking them to step away from that. So, yes, the challenges are absolutely incredible for families, but that's why the support is so intensive and that's why I think they're regularly reviewed and why the fortnightly non-lawyer reviews are quite so imperative. The intensity of the model is also its strength in being able to support families at the most critical period when the stakes are the children either come home to their care or they don't, so we need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make sure we give parents the best opportunity for that.

But the challenges that parents face are great, and we hope that the FDAC process and how that works—that more kind of, you know, 'perceived fairness'—helps professionals and families understand the wider context as to what may be preventing any positive progress, and what we can do to address that.

11:25

And I think having the judge involved throughout the case is really helpful around that as well, and the problem-solving approach. So, I've certainly seen examples where if, for example, housing is a concern, and it's around unsafe housing and needing to sort that out, because the judge is involved in that case throughout and then regularly reviewing every two weeks, and they hold a lot of sway, suddenly the judge can say, 'Well, get housing here. I want this sorted.' So, they can be problem solving some of that, rather than it waiting until the end and delays happening, and children not being able to return home because housing's not quite sorted. So, some of those issues that can be resolved maybe outside of the court, but that could have the potential to cause delays, can be problem solved in a way that can be much more effective and efficient as well in the process.

We do also have updated statistics on the challenges that families in the Welsh FDAC pilot have been experiencing and we can send those on as well.

I'm conscious of time, Chair. That's fine as far as I'm concerned.

Lovely. Thank you, Ken. Finally, questions from Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. Without attaching criticism to individual local authorities or social workers, do you have any comment on the huge variation in the rates of children in care between Welsh local authorities, even when rates of deprivation are accounted for?

I'm going to have a go at this one. I say 'have a go', because the simple answer is that no-one really knows. So, we know that there is a huge variation between authorities and we know that that isn't explained by deprivation—or it isn't adequately explained by deprivation—so there must be something else going on. And I say that we don't know, so I can't—. This isn't based on evidence; it's based on my impressions from working in several local authorities, mostly in England, I should say.

There are stark differences in the way that local authorities operate in things like their culture, the way they practice. And when I say 'the way they practice', I mean the way they make decisions and judgments about risk, but also decisions about responses to risk. So, variations in practice—how they judge risk, how they respond to risk, what they decide is the best course of action for a particular child—I think is likely to explain some of those differences, and that's shaped quite a lot by organisational culture. So, for example, an organisation that has a leadership team that has a very strong position about a threshold decision, for example, or where a threshold should be for certain levels of intervention, that can permeate the organisation and it can create a culture where they make certain decisions that are based on understandings of risk, and that might differ from a neighbouring organisation that has a different sort of culture or a different attitude.

On that point, there is no national definition or in legislation or regulation where the risk threshold actually sits, though.

It's interpreted differently, I think. I think there are definitions, but they are open to interpretation at individual practitioner level, but also at organisational level.