Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg
Children, Young People and Education Committee09/03/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Buffy Williams MS|
|James Evans MS|
|Jayne Bryant MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Ken Skates MS|
|Laura Anne Jones MS|
|Sioned Williams MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Albert Heaney||Prif Swyddog Gofal Cymdeithasol Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, Welsh Government|
|Alistair Davey||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Galluogi Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director Social Services Enabling, Welsh Government|
|Jan Coles||Pennaeth Gwasanaethau Plant a Theuluoedd Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin a Chadeirydd newydd Penaethiaid Gwasanaethau Plant Cymru Gyfan|
|Head of Children and Families Services at Carmarthenshire County Council and the incoming Chair of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services|
|Jane Dodds MS||Aelod Canolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru|
|Member for Mid and West Wales|
|Julie Morgan MS||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Social Services|
|Sally Jenkins||Cyfarwyddwr Strategol Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol, Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd|
|Strategic Director of Social Services, Newport City Council|
|Taryn Stephens||Pennaeth Gwasanaeth Plant, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful; ac Is-gadeirydd newydd Penaethiaid Gwasanaethau Plant Cymru Gyfan|
|Head of Children’s Service, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council; and Incoming Vice-chair of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Jennifer Cottle||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Tom Lewis-White||Ail Glerc|
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 09:37.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:37.
Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.
Welcome to the meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee today.
Bore da and welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. A 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. Buffy Williams has sent apologies for items 1 to 5. And we're glad to see that Jane Dodds is joining us for some of today's meeting as well. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see no declarations of interest.
So, I'll move on to our main item on the agenda today, which is services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform; it's our thirteenth evidence session. I'd like to welcome the witnesses here this morning. We have Jan Coles, head of children and families services at Carmarthenshire County Council and the incoming chair of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services; Taryn Stephens, head of children’s services, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and incoming vice-chair of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services; and Sally Jenkins, strategic director of social services, Newport City Council.
We've got a number of questions to get through this morning, so I'll make a start. We're interested in your views on the research from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, which showed that the number of very young babies subject to care proceedings doubled in Wales, meaning that 83 per 10,000 newborn infants were subject to care proceedings in 2015, compared to 40 per 10,000 in the three years before that. Do we know if this trend is likely to have continued since 2015, and, if so, what specific approaches are local authorities taking to deal with these rising numbers? Sally.
Shall I start, and then I'm sure that Jan and Taryn will want to jump in? So, I suppose that the first thing is to say that we really welcome the work of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. A number of local authorities have been very involved with that work, and I actually sit on the board to represent Wales. So, it's a really welcome addition to being able to join data and research into practice. And I think, across Wales, what we've already seen on the back of their 'Born into Care' research and their numbers research, in terms of the number of children coming into care, is some really positive and constructive ways of looking forward to address and understand that research, and work with them with the data partnership in Wales and the University of Lancaster.
I think what we would all be very clear about across Wales is that all 22 local authorities' children services are absolutely committed to working to support families, and it's working, first and foremost, to support those families to keep their children safe, well and happy. And that might sound glib, it might sound high level, but I think what we would say is that, for our staff and us, that is our first commitment.
And when we look at data like that, the first thing we want to do is unpick it. I think what we have all done since 2015 is really look at our family services, look at how we can work with families as early as possible, and that's not just about statutory children's services; that's about Families First, Flying Start, and how we in Wales look at that broad swathe of services.
I think, from a statutory perspective, what we are really clear about is that we work in partnership with Care Inspectorate Wales, CAFCASS Cymru, the courts and the statutory framework, but our No. 1 partners are families and children, and those who we work with predominantly. What you will, I suspect, in your 13 evidence sessions already have seen is a number of pieces of work, funded by grant money and by local authorities, looking at how we support early intervention into families, how we support babies with their mums and their dads going forward, and how we create better services.
What we know is that what we struggle with on a daily basis is a workforce to make that a reality. So, I suppose my answer would be that, yes, we do think that services are improved since 2015; I'd like to go back to the data and explore it. The pandemic really got in the way in a lot of the work that we were and still are able to do in terms of the impact on families, and now the cost-of-living crisis. But the will, the commitment, the wish to ensure that, wherever possible, babies remain with their families safely is absolutely our No. 1 priority.
Does anybody want to add anything, or are you happy with that?
Yes, happy with that.
Okay, thank you. And we're also interested in any views you can share with us about the huge variation in the numbers and rates of children going into care in different local authorities across Wales, even when rates of deprivation are accounted for. Would you be able to comment on that?
I'm sure we all, again—. It is a constant challenge in terms of understanding where, even between neighbouring authorities with similar demographics, you can see changes. Now, again, one of the things I would come back to is that what we see is variation in workforce and how social services are arranged. I think what we're all very clear about is what you need to look at is that per 10,000 rate, and, if you look at that per 10,000 rate across all 22 local authorities, there has been some closing of the gap—not as great a closing of the gap as perhaps one would like to see.
I think we are also very clear that it is really important—and I think you've already alluded to that—to compare like with like, and to compare clear demographics so that you've got a similarity. But, nonetheless, we do see differences. We know that, sometimes, differences arise because of changes in that area, so you might see changes in the local authority, you might see that a tragedy has happened—you see the impact of all sorts of things within that area. I would say that I still think that it is an area that we need to understand more about, about why that happens and why that challenge happens.
What we do know from research that Care Inspectorate Wales and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru have undertaken is that, actually, once we come to the point of children being removed, they have never seen—. They do not find instances where children should not have been removed and have been. So, there is a real complication here in terms of the courts are seeing children who clearly should be removed, and yet the data is skewed. So, I think we would feel that, across Wales, we would like to understand that data better, and perhaps to be able to look more closely in each of our local authorities.
Thank you. Diolch. I think that workforce stability is a really, really important feature around this work. So, if we consider, for example, Carmarthenshire, where I work, we've had a really stable workforce with stable leadership, and there are significantly lower numbers and rates of children in care there than in other areas where you'll see that kind of different pattern. So, I think I'd reiterate what Sally was saying earlier, that the key to delivering any of this work, to keeping families together, to making sure that children are properly cared for while they're in care, is making sure we've got a workforce where we don't have gaps. We've got an incredibly committed workforce right now. They'd go to the ends of the earth to support the families. But there are gaps, and I think that can have a real impact on those kinds of numbers that you're describing.
We'll certainly come on to questions around workforce later as well, so there'll be points on that. But before we go on to that, perhaps you can explain why workforce instability means higher rates in care.
I think it's appropriate to consider that within the context of the 'A Healthier Wales' strategy. We know underneath the quadruple aim that, actually, we can't achieve on any of the four themes unless we have a sustainable workforce in Wales, and that is across health and social care. I think that is a key factor for us. It's something that we know we have struggled with, and actually that's going to be something that needs partner agencies, Social Care Wales, Welsh Government, local authorities to all work together in the immediate and longer term to address.
I think coming back to the query around the number of children who are looked after, I think it's very important to say that, again, that needs a partnership approach that is a systemic way of working, and that we need to work alongside education, health, the third sector to look at what's happening in different local authorities that do support safely reducing the number of children looked after.
Thank you. A critique from the British Association of Social Workers of the recent MacAlister independent review in England was that it comes across as simplistic and highly negative. The association says child abuse and neglect are hidden and hard to prove, and that
'social workers are very apprehensive about getting things "wrong”, which...will be extremely hard to change while the media and politicians are so ready to condemn social workers and others when they make "mistakes".'
What are your views on that?
I wouldn't want to comment on Josh MacAlister's care review. I'm thankful I live and work in Wales—very thankful. I think in terms of media criticism, critique, it is a real challenge for social work staff. I think all three of us and all our peers have experienced that, and it is hard. You day-to-day in this job are managing risk and challenge and controversy. It's the best and the worst job in the world. It's never, ever dull, it's fantastic, and what you see is that you have made a difference, and you make positive change possible. But that critique, that criticism, that undermining of social work is really, I think, damaging to us as a workforce, and it comes back to that—why would you want to go into a profession that is seen in that way? You wouldn't. So, I think it does have an impact. I think it has an impact on the morale of the existing workforce, and then I think it also has an impact on those wishing to come into the workforce, in choices that they make. I think it also makes it difficult in terms of management of risk. A key part of what we all do is manage risk. We manage risk that, I think, very often is not understood in terms of that balance of safety for children with their families, be that parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters. And that critique, that fear, is very real. I think it's fair to say we all feel and live with that all of the time.
I think our role as leaders is to make sure that the workforce feels supported, that they're equipped and skilled to do the task that we ask them to do, and that others around them—people like yourselves, elected members and people in communities—understand the work that they do, and how difficult and challenging it is, but that they are supported day to day to do that really difficult but very, very important and rewarding work.
Thank you. Poverty, substance misuse, mental health and learning disabilities are all part of the complex picture of why children in Wales are going into care. However, we have heard that up to 75 per cent of cases can involve domestic violence. What more should the Welsh Government be doing to ensure a more consistent level of support and protection for this group of women and children so that we can reduce entries into care because of domestic violence?
If I make a start, domestic violence, violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence—absolutely, we see those day in, day out. We never see, or very rarely do we see, in isolation one of those elements. What we see are families with a complexity, generally, of what we work with. Specifically, when we're working with domestic abuse, it's a more complex arena because of the non-devolved nature of some elements of that, so that's one of the challenges that we experience. I think the violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence legislation in Wales is very, very welcome, and we work within that. But what we still see are some real challenges in how specialist services in that arena are funded, particularly direct services for children and how we support those children.
I think we would all welcome the campaigns that there have been, both out of the UK Government and the Welsh Government, in relation to this area. I think what we would want to see are more services that are available for that group of women and children, but also a better understanding and evidence base, for example, for perpetrator services and how we work with the whole family to protect children in those environments.
Thank you. Diolch. We've had a snapshot of data from Swansea that suggests that a third of care-experienced parents go on to have a child removed from their care, and even when they're young parents there's data to show that children can be safely returned if the parents are provided with that wraparound support that you've touched on, Sally, if that's intensive. How helpful do you see those wraparound preventative services for care-experienced parents being, in terms of safely keeping children and birth families together?
I think we would absolutely agree. It's been a really positive move across Wales that we've seen the development of more and more of those types of services to work with care-experienced young people. I think what we're very clear about, as a corporate parent, is that our role is to support children and young people in care into adulthood in a way that is safe and happy. Sometimes, that can be ensuring that they've got the tools, the network and the equipment to be able to go on to be good parents, because that's part of your role as a parent. I think some of the challenge in that is building an established network and framework of support for those young people if they become parents early. But we would absolutely welcome the nature of services like Jig-So, Baby in Mind, Born into Care and Baby and Me, which clearly are having an impact on that group of children being able to remain in the care of their families. Yes, absolutely, it's a really welcome development.
Thank you. On the point that you made about politicians criticising and the workforce issues, there is a role for Care Inspectorate Wales in this as well to make sure that local authorities are actually delivering for children. I know, as Jan knows, from my previous role in local government that CIW only do full inspections every four years, which is set out in the code of practice of how they deal with local authorities. Do you think that some of this could be mitigated if CIW inspected more regularly, on children's services in particular, to make sure that things are actually being done right in local authorities, and, actually, that it gives a bit of cover for staff as well to make sure that somebody is there, looking over this all of the time to make sure that we are delivering on what's set out in the code of practice?
I don't, no. We have really regular contact with CIW. As heads of children's services and directors we meet very regularly to go through things. We have annual reviews, which are really important and part of that monitoring. There are also thematic inspections that take place throughout the year. Right now, there's a piece of CIW work going on as well. So, although those full inspections might only take place every four years, there's a lot of activity that takes place in between that, I think, probably provides good assurance. No, I wouldn't be asking for anything more frequent than that.
Picking up on Jan's point, there are assurance checks, the quarterly meetings with inspectors, and the fact that CIW are involved in local authorities for regulation and for placements. It's not just about that one big set piece; it is much, much more than that, the involvement with CIW. I think it's about recognising that they have that and that they can come in at any point that they wish.
I could go into this all day, so I'll come back later, if we've got time.
Thank you, James. We'll go on to some questions now from Ken Skates.
Thanks, Chair. What is local government's view on an approach that would see universal basic advocacy provision for all parents involved in the child protection system, so that, obviously, they can understand the jargon and the process that they're dealing with?
Obviously, there's been some really exciting work going on in Wales about ensuring parental advocacy in child protection processes, and we welcome that. I think there is a great deal of advocacy already within the system. It's about recognising it and naming it, very often. And that's not to say that we always get that right, I would absolutely agree. I sit in meetings where I don't understand the abbreviations, so, as a parent, goodness knows what some of this feels like.
I think we have to be careful about not introducing more layers of people into families' lives. You very often see a social worker, an independent reviewing officer, potentially the chair of the conference, a social work assistant, a family support worker, somebody from education, there'll be someone from health. Just keeping up with that as a family is challenging. So, there is something about ensuring that the professionals who are already in the families are doing the jobs that they should be doing, and ensuring that they establish really good relationships where the understanding is there.
I'm not convinced that universal advocacy in the way that you're perhaps suggesting would necessarily solve that, because what you want is the workforce across across the board, across all agencies, to be able to work effectively with families. That would be what we should be aiming for, rather than another layer of translation, if you like.
Thank you. What are your views on how effectively local authorities and the family court system are working together in a strategic sense, so that systemic working issues can be ironed out if needed?
I have listened to the evidence that you took from Sir Andrew and Mr Justice Francis, which was interesting to be able to listen to. I'm really pleased that they felt able to come here and give evidence. There are structures in place. There is the family justice network in Wales, we have three family justice boards, each of which involve local authority chairs, and the three district family judges sit on them. We're also a part of a number of England and Wales family justice forums, so we're part of the family justice board, the national recovery group, the innovation and efficiency group, and we are active members of all of those structures, both from a local authority and a CAFCASS Cymru perspective. So, there is a great deal of working together. For example, the recent relaunch of the pre-proceedings work from the president was really welcomed, and we are taking that forward in Wales. Jan's already referred to CIW, who have already involved self-assessment of all 22 local authorities in that area of work, and subsequently six in-depth dives to look at our pre-proceedings work. So, I think our working with the judiciary is there.
The judiciary are independent, and I think there is always that tension, isn't there, in terms of local government, Welsh Government, Westminster Government and the judiciary and how those work together. I would say locally I think we have good working relationships with both CAFCASS Cymru and the judiciary. I think there is always more that we can do to bring that together, and always more to do that we can work with the Welsh Government to make those relationships more effective. I look at my English colleagues, however, and I am always grateful that, actually, we have a proximity to our judiciary, senior CAFCASS Cymru colleagues and the Welsh Government, which, often, our English colleagues don't have, and that does bring advantages to it.
I'll bring Jane Dodds in.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am ofyn y cwestiwn yn Gymraeg. Rydych chi'n siarad am gymharu Lloegr efo Cymru, ond mae'n wir, onid ydy, fod gan Gymru y rhifau uchaf ynglŷn â phlant sydd yng ngofal systemau cyhoeddus a gwasanaethau cyhoeddus. Felly, beth sy'n mynd yn anghywir yn eich barn chi? Mae rhywbeth yn digwydd yng Nghymru sydd ddim yn digwydd yn Lloegr i roi y rhifau uchaf yma yng Nghymru. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much. I will be asking my question in Welsh. You talked about comparing England and Wales, but it is true to say, isn't it, that Wales has the highest numbers in terms of children in care in terms of social services. So, what's going wrong, in your view? There's something happening in Wales that isn't happening in England, which means that we have the highest numbers here in Wales. Thank you.
The first thing would be that, in the same way as I wouldn't want to compare each Welsh local authority—. I wouldn't want to compare Newport with Carmarthenshire. We are two very different local authorities in terms of our geography, our demographics, our rurality. In the same way, to just compare Wales with the whole of England—. I'll use my own local authority; I'm really uncomfortable about comparing Newport with Kensington. I am more comfortable with comparing with the relative areas that there are in England with similar demographics to Wales. However, I accept that there is still a challenge. What we have seen is concentrated work in Wales to safely reduce the numbers of children who become looked after, obviously led by the First Minister and led by Welsh Government, and we have seen it across all local authorities and continued.
I suppose, the other thing that I would add to that is that not one of us brings a child into care because it's a positive choice, in a sense. What we do is we bring children into care as a last resort, and I think sometimes, understanding that fully is hugely important. There's not an easy answer to this, because if you look across to many English local authorities, they are struggling, so if, for example, if you look to the north west and you look to Blackpool, you will see very different data to what you see in south-east England. So, I think deep-diving into that data is important, and I can see that you probably don't agree with some of that.
Do I think there's anything going wrong? No, I don't. I think there is a really committed social work workforce out there across local authorities. Do I think there are challenges in terms of poverty, our demographic, our history? Yes, I think there is, but I think children's services alone cannot deal with that. That is a much bigger—as Taryn and Jan have already said, that is a systemic structural issue about how we work across all agencies.
Thanks, Chair. Just one last question from me. What's your view on the potential to roll out a problem-solving family court model here in Wales, which would more widely involve people in looking at substance-use issues and help to resolve those cases? Is it realistic as well, given constraints on the judiciary?
Obviously, I understand you've taken evidence in respect of the family drug and alcohol courts, and the work that's been trialled in Cardiff and the Vale, which is really welcome. There was a prolonged piece of work with Welsh Government to secure the funding for that piece of work. In terms of the judiciary capacity, I think you'd need to ask them that question. I think what we can see in the evidence from the Centre for Justice Innovation is really good evidence for the effectiveness of those courts, for the FDAC in England, and more extensively in terms of the work of a similar approach in relation to domestic abuse. So, absolutely, we would welcome an opportunity to work in that way, a problem-solving court. It's very early days for Cardiff and the Vale, but the early evidence that we see is positive, yes. So, yes, we would.
Okay. Thank you, Ken. Questions now from Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Licien i jest ddod yn ôl yn gyflym iawn. Hoffwn i siarad am leoliadau gyda chi, yn benodol, ond licien i jest ddod nôl yn gyflym iawn i’r pwynt yr oedd Jane Dodds yn ei wneud a'ch ateb chi, Sally, i’r cwestiwn yna. Allaf i jest gadarnhau, felly, rŷch chi'n meddwl bod rhywbeth yn mynd ymlaen o ran gwendidau a bylchau mewn gweithio mewn partneriaeth, yn cyfrif am, efallai, y cyfraddau uwch o blant yn mynd i ofal?
Fe glywon ni dystiolaeth hynod o gryf, cofiadwy, â dweud y gwir, am un fenyw ifanc oedd wedi cael ei chymryd i ofal ei hunain, nawr yn poeni bod ei phlant hi yn mynd i ofal. Roedd hi wedi colli ei golwg, ac o’r herwydd, roedd hi’n anodd iddi gael y plant yn barod i fynd i'r ysgol yn y bore, er enghraifft. Roedd hynny’n cael ei weld fel arwydd o esgeulustod. Ond, roedd ei galw hi am gefnogaeth yn cwympo rhwng dwy stôl, mae’n debyg, yn ôl ei gweithiwr cymorth hi. Roedd hi'n ffeindio fe’n anodd i ffeindio pwy oedd yn gyfrifol am ddarparu’r gefnogaeth yna iddi hi i gael y plant yn barod yn y bore, er enghraifft. Felly, jest eisiau gwneud yn siŵr fy mod i’n deall yn iawn taw hynny rŷch chi'n meddwl sy'n rhan o'r darlun yn ymwneud â’r cyfraddau yma.
Thank you, Chair. I'd just like to come back very quickly. I'd like to talk to you about placements, specifically, but just to go back to the point that Jane Dodds was making and your response, Sally, to that. Can I just confirm, therefore that you think there's something going on in terms of gaps and weaknesses in partnership working that means that there are higher rates of children going into care?
We heard very strong evidence, very memorable, really, about a young woman who'd been taken into care herself, now concerned that her children were going into care. She had lost her sight, and as a result, she couldn't get the children ready to go to school. There were difficulties with that, and that was seen as a sign of neglect. But her demand for support fell between two stools, apparently, according to her support worker. She found it difficult to find out who was responsible for providing her with that support to get the children ready in the morning, for example. So, I just wanted to make sure that I understood correctly that that's what you think is part of the picture with regard to this.
Whenever you hear about those direct experiences, they hit, and they're really sad and I suppose all of us would like to understand, if that was our local authority, we'd like to know and understand and be able to support with that. That would be the first thing for that young woman.
I think, overall, what we see is we see local authorities, education, health, the police and the third sector trying really hard to bring structures together to work together. Obviously, the social services and well-being Act is there for us. We work closely with those colleagues, but often, we're all working in a really quite pressurised and difficult environment. Three years' worth of a backdrop of COVID has not assisted in any of that in terms of where our focus has had to be in providing direct services. I think in lots of ways, we have some real positives in Wales: Flying Start, we have some great examples of really good recent funding from Welsh Government for radical reform and the eliminate agenda. Do I think people could work better together? Always. It is the key. In the same way that we want to form those relationships with families, with children, those relationships with our partner agencies in terms of a shared understanding of risk—an approach to the management of care—are hugely important. And, I guess—. Do we always get it right? No, we don't. So, it is a constant work. Do I think there are particular gaps compared to England? No, I don't. I think that these are solutions that we can find in Wales with the agencies that we have. We have fantastic examples across Wales of people working together. We could, all three of us, cite examples from our current local authorities, from our neighbouring local authorities.
Ac fe wnaethoch chi sôn, er enghraifft, am y problemau o ran cyllido ar gyfer rhai asiantaethau trydydd sector, efallai fod hwnna, yn benodol, yn broblem.
And you mentioned, for example, the problems in terms of funding for some of the third sector agencies, perhaps that is specifically a problem.
I'm not sure that it's specifically a problem in terms of funding for third sector agencies. I would say that, in the current environment of funding for all of us, how we best use the resources that we have is a challenge, in the most effective way, to support those who are most vulnerable in our communities. I don't think it's a—. It's not just about social services; it's not just about education; it's not just about health; it's not the police; it's not the third sector. All of us are struggling to make the best use of the resources that we have. And continuing to do that and continuing to try to build on those relationships is key. Is it hard? Yes, it is.
Diolch. Gwnaf i symud ymlaen i'r cwestiynau ynglŷn â lleoliadau. Gallaf i ofyn i chi beth rŷch chi'n teimlo yw'r heriau mwyaf ar hyn o bryd i awdurdodau lleol o ran sicrhau lleoliadau o ansawdd i blant yn agos i'w cartrefi nhw? Oes gyda chi unrhyw sylwadau ar y mater ar wahân i hynny sy'n ymwneud ag argaeledd lleoliadau mam a baban yng Nghymru? Ac a allai nod y Llywodraeth o ddileu elw o ofal plant gael unrhyw ganlyniadau anfwriadol, ŷch chi'n meddwl?
Thank you. I'll move on to the questions regarding placements. Could I ask you what you feel are the biggest challenges right now for local authorities in securing quality placements for children close to home? Do you have any comments on the separate issue of the availability of mother and baby placements in Wales? And could the Government's aim to eliminate profit from childcare have any unintended consequences, do you think?
Shall I talk about the challenges? I suppose the biggest challenge around finding suitable placements I think comes back to workforce. So, the difficulty around workforce is impacting on services right across the board for children's services. It is really difficult to access the right kind of placement to meet all the needs of children and young people. And we really welcome the investment—Sally's already mentioned that—from Welsh Government around helping us to increase our capacity around the elimination of profit agenda. So, that's really welcome and we all have our plans right across Wales to deliver that.
Children need to be kept in their communities close to home, near to their families, so that we can promote them moving back home, sustaining and nurturing those relationships, so that they can improve over time, rather than them being broken down. They can maintain relationships with their peers, their schools and their activities. There's not one children's services department across Wales that will say that that isn't an absolute priority. Finding those placements is difficult, but there is a huge amount of work—a great programme—under way to make sure that each local authority can manage those deficits that are currently there.
You mentioned the elimination of profit agenda, I think that there are some—. I think that that agenda is welcomed broadly by heads of children's services in Wales. We're having to manage the 'meanwhile risks' at a time of great disruption post COVID, workforce difficulties, people retiring, people not coming into the profession, we can't fill our university spots. So, it's at a time when there's already a degree of disruption, but we welcome it and we're working really hard to make sure that we welcome the financial packages that have been provided to enable us to do that as well. I don't know if somebody else wants to—
I think it's important to add, just to echo, really, Jan's views on the eliminate-for-profit agenda, the value base of that, actually, all head of services I'm sure would agree, is sound in terms of making sure that the money that we spend in supporting our young people is projected towards the most positive outcomes for them. We are, however, in a transitional phase, where we've launched eliminate-for-profit and that has created some differences in our market, currently. And local authorities very much welcome the capital support that they are having to expand our residential care provision, but, naturally, building residential care provisions and the staffing that that requires and taking that through regulation is a time-intensive programme. And, actually, at the moment, some of the complexities in that system are around the pace at which we can do that against the context in which we're working.
I regularly have discussed with my own local authority scrutiny, and my first answer is always, 'Would any of you like to be a foster carer, because if so, talk to me afterwards?' That's my first thing: that plea for how all of us respond to the need for really good care for our children is incumbent on all of us, and to think about our neighbours, our friends, who else can be part of that network of people in terms of fostering for children, but also looking at, as Jan and Taryn say, how we fulfil that need for workforce in our residential settings and that capital build. To get a children's home from nought to built is really two years, and that's going it, by the time you look at building materials and everything that goes through that. So, it is a challenge—perhaps a welcome challenge, given where we would like to be some years hence in relation to our placements, but it is a transitional period.
A jest y cwestiwn arall oedd gen i: oes sylwadau penodol gennych chi am argaeledd lleoliadau mam a baban yng Nghymru?
And just another question that I had: do you have any specific comments about the availability of mother and baby placements in Wales?
There are some really interesting questions about mother and baby placements, because they come into fashion and they go out of fashion in terms of how we use them. And obviously the two different areas would be residential care and fostering specifically. I think there are and can be—you see very different use of mother and baby placements across England and Wales, and often, in the same way Jan has already referred to about how we ensure that children are kept near to their communities, sometimes, taking people out of their community is not always a good answer in terms of how you provide long-term support. And very often, perhaps providing more intensive support in someone's home can sometimes be a better option. That would be the first element.
I think, again, how we develop some of those services in a way that is, perhaps, aligned to things like Jig-So's Baby and Me is probably the way forward in relation to that. So, we've got parallel services with community support and placement support. I think it is an area that we need to consider more. I don't think we should see it as a panacea to that particular challenge that we have in our settings.
Diolch. Gallwch chi amlinellu'r heriau neu faint yr heriau rŷch chi'n eu hwynebu o ran defnyddio lleoliadau anghofrestredig, a'ch barn chi chi am yr her rŷch chi'n ei hwynebu o Arolygiaeth Gofal Cymru yn hynny o beth?
Thank you. Can you outline the scale of the challenges you face with regarding to using unregistered placements, and your views on the challenges you face from Care Inspectorate Wales in this regard?
I think we're facing unprecedented challenges around the use of unregistered placements. I've never known anything like it in my career and it's a challenge for—. I'm not sure if, currently, every local authority is in that situation, but I don't know of a head of children's services who hasn't been in this situation. We need to balance, all the while, the needs of children and young people to have a safe place to live that meets their needs with the availability of placements, and those two things aren't meeting up at the minute. And what that means is that we have to use placements that are not registered. But, as heads of children's services, our priority will always be the well-being and the welfare of each individual child. So, we'll go to the ends of the earth to make sure that children are cared for in the best way possible.
We work really closely with CIW when we have to enter into an unregistered arrangement. We make sure that we notify CIW and we work with them, we let them know our plans and what our intentions are and what we're doing to solve the problem. But, it is unprecedented in the use of those types of arrangements, in my experience. I don't know if anybody else wants to come in.
I would echo that. In 35 years in social care, I've never seen a position like this, and it's frightening. It's frightening for all of us because of where this sits within the regulatory framework. I think Jan's absolutely right that what you're trying to do is create the best environment for a child. I think what I would say is that, within the eliminate work stream, the local authority work stream, we have a specific piece of work looking at working with the heads of children's services and CIW to look at how we can better manage this. Nobody wants to do this, it is a last resort. The alternative is driving around with the child in the social worker's car. Now, that is not a good option. So, there is work ongoing to try to look at how we improve the outcomes and how we understand it, but I think that we are going to continue to be in this position while we go through the transition period with eliminate, and it's working safely with it that is key.
Just on that, how do you—? What extra—? Oh, God, I can hear myself. What extra safeguards are you putting in place to ensure that those children are safe in those environments if that is the last resort and there is nothing else that can be done?
Jan's already alluded to that, if you do that, you notify CIW, and then you have oversight from CIW in terms of a weekly reporting mechanism into them and they have their own structure of panel for how that goes through the regulatory system. From a local authority perspective, what we put in place is a really strong web around that child, around that placement: the social worker, the reviewing officer, your placement team, trying to ensure that, for example, you've got a mix of your own staff and, potentially, agency staff and how you match it. So, there is a really strong web around it. It's still not registered, and that's where the challenge arises.
What about—? We've heard a lot about training for people who have those responsibilities. Would you offer training to those unregistered carers, if they're willing to accept it, on how to deal with things like mental health and all that sort of thing that the children might have?
So, largely, in the sorts of placements that we're talking about, those staff will be having some training, but, again, many of us are now trying to use our own staff so that you've got that as a given, and yes there will be training available where we can.
Okay, thanks, Sally.
An example of the kind of oversight might be where, although the placement arrangement isn't registered, I give responsibility for oversight of that to our registered individual, our responsible individual, for our other children's homes, for example, so that that person will act as though that is a registered environment and will undertake all of the quality assurance checks and the robust oversight that's required. I oversee them personally myself as head of children's services. I know that there are very similar arrangements elsewhere. We manage them really tightly. We try and make sure that our own staff are managing those arrangements, co-ordinating the workforce that are in there, and of course you've got the independent reviewing officer, you've got the social worker, you'll have other practitioners involved—an advocate, often, will be involved with the child or young person. So, we make sure there are really tight regulatory arrangements. But they're not registered.
And I think that's a really important key message, actually, that operating-without-regulation placements are, within local authorities, the placements that are under the most scrutiny from our quality assurance process and managers. I could echo Jan's sentiment in terms of, when my local authority needs to make such arrangements, there is a registered manager in there. There is a responsible individual. So, you'll see the staffing structure that you would expect to see in a general placement, but it has not gone through the regulation process.
Okay, thank you. Thanks, all.
And you've talked about your own local authorities; is that something you're aware is happening across every local authority, then, that those same sorts of safeguards are put in?
Yes. What we know from all 22 local authorities is that it couldn't be higher on anyone's agenda, and all the heads of children's services are very well aware of the personal risk in terms of the threat to them, in terms of where the regulatory system sits. So, to the best of our knowledge, but I think we would be confident, in the knowledge, and the number of discussions that go on, that 'yes'.
Can I—? Oh, sorry, Taryn. Go on.
We have the All Wales Heads of Children's Services network that meets frequently and is frequently in communication, but what I would say is that all heads of children's services are very passionate about learning and sharing that learning, so we will frequently consult with each other and sense check our own mechanisms against what other local authorities are doing, just to make sure that we're operating those provisions as robustly as we feasibly can.
Okay. I'll just bring Jane Dodds in quickly.
Jest un cwestiwn ar frys ar gyfer unregulated placements, os gwelwch yn dda. Ydy'r Gweinidog yn cael gwybod y rhifau bob mis neu rywbeth fel yna? Oes yna system i'r Gweinidog wybod yn union faint o blant sydd mewn unregulated placements, os gwelwch yn dda?
Just one question on unregulated placements, if I may. Does the Minister receive the figures on a monthly basis or something like that? Is there a system in place so that the Minister knows exactly how many children are in unregulated placements, please?
We wouldn't have that information for unregistered placements. That would have to come from Care Inspectorate Wales. I'm not aware of that. I'm assuming that the Deputy Minister or Care Inspectorate Wales would be able to answer that for you.
Na—sori. Ydych chi fel awdurdod lleol yn rhoi gwybodaeth i'r Gweinidog? Ydych chi'n rhoi'r gwybodaeth yna neu ddim? Sori.
No—sorry. Do you as local authorities provide information to the Minister? Do you provide that information or not? Sorry.
We provide it to CIW, so that information goes through CIW for us, and they collate it. And I know that they do produce regular reports, and those reports have gone up through different structures. But we don't produce it directly to the Minister.
Okay. James Evans.
Just really quickly about the unregistered placements and the people who are going in to make sure that they're safe, and you said, if they're overnight, you're putting people in them to look after the children—are some of these people agency workers that are going in there, because how do you guarantee consistency and safety, then, with people in unregistered placements, when somebody could be on agency and changing all the time?
It's one of the challenges. And yes, we do need to use an agency workforce at times, and it is one of the challenges. I think what most people try and do is make sure that we have our own permanent workforce having oversight and some co-ordination and cohesion around that, but there will be times when we need to use agency workforce, and it's one of the enormous challenges.
What I would say, in relation to registered placements—so, in terms of residential care—they will also be using agency placements, agency staff, because of the challenges of getting residential workforce across the board. So, any registered placement, I would be astonished if there was one that wasn't using agency staff currently. That's not peculiar to unregistered versus registered placements.
Laura, very quickly.
Yes, just really quickly, sorry. We all don't want it to happen, but if something bad happened in those situations—we've heard of cases where people are feeling unsafe in certain surroundings, with other people sharing those places that they're staying—where does the buck stop?
Currently, it stops with the head of children's services.
Back to Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Jest un cwestiwn—dwi'n ymwybodol o amser, felly os allwch chi jest gadw'r ateb yn gryno. Rŷn ni'n ymwybodol o sylwadau a wnaed gan farnwr sy'n eistedd yng ngogledd Cymru, ac, fel Aelodau, rŷn ni wedi clywed pryderon am y defnydd cynyddol o orchmynion amddifadu rhyddid yng Nghymru, am nad oes lleoliadau diogel addas ar gael ar gyfer rhai plant sydd eu hangen nhw. Felly, beth yw'ch barn chi am y nifer o orchmynion amddifadu rhyddid o ran plant Cymru?
Thank you, Chair. Just one question—I'm aware of time, so if you could keep the answers brief. We are aware of comments made by a judge sitting in north Wales, and, as Members, we've also heard concerns about the increasing use of deprivation of liberty orders in Wales because there are no suitable secure placements for some children who need them. What is your view regarding the number of deprivation of liberty orders in Wales?
So, the Family Justice Observatory is currently reviewing the deprivation of liberty work, because all the work has been moved into the Royal Courts of Justice for a period. And interestingly, actually, the Welsh local authorities, if you look at that data, are applying for fewer DoLs than our English equivalents, which is interesting.
I think that this is a kind of double question, in terms of deprivation of liberty and secure accommodation. And we know the challenges for secure accommodation. Again, all of us, all local authorities in Wales, struggle whenever we hit the threshold in terms of requiring secure accommodation, and there are such strict criteria through the court process. And yet, we know that, at any one time, there will be another 30, 40, 50 children looking for secure placements, and it is a huge challenge for us. So, I think the deprivation of liberties and the growth in that across the piste has arisen, so there's a mismatch between those two.
I think there is a real issue here in terms of value based, because none of us want secure accommodation for children. Again, it's a last resort. I think that that growth of deprivation of liberties and how we effectively use it, may, on occasion, be because we're better informed and we're better at using that in an effective way. At least using deprivation of liberties, you will keep children local, and you will keep them in an environment that possibly is more protected, rather than potentially going to secure accommodation in Durham. So, there are swings and roundabouts in this in terms of understanding what are we using the DoLs for, the challenges over secure.
I would say that we would be really interested in seeing the outcome of the Nuffield research into this, and then understanding where Wales fits in that bigger picture with the use of deprivation of liberty orders and how we're using them.
Diolch. A wedyn, un cwestiwn i orffen gen i ar gynlluniau llwybr a chynghorwyr personol. Er gwaethaf y cod ymarfer ar gyfer plant sy'n derbyn gofal a phlant sy'n cael eu lletya yn nodi'n fanwl, ac yn glir iawn, y dylai gadael gofal fod yn broses wedi ei chynllunio, mae gweithwyr proffesiynol wedi dweud wrthym ni fod cynlluniau llwybr yn anghyson, yn adweithiol, wedi'u lliwio gan argyfwng. Mae pobl ifanc wedi dweud yn gyson wrthym ni hefyd allan nhw ddim cael gafael ar eu cynghorwyr personol, a bod nifer mewn ofn ac yn teimlo fel hynny pan fyddan nhw'n gadael gofal. Mae'n ymddangos taw barn gweithwyr proffesiynol a'r arolygiaeth yw nad yw'r system yn gweithio. Felly, beth sydd angen ei wneud, gan bwy, er mwyn mynd i'r afael â'r bylchau gweithredu mor sylweddol yma rhwng deddfwriaeth ac ymarfer?
Thank you. And then one question to end from myself regarding pathway plans and personal advisers. Despite the code of practice for looked-after and accommodated children, which sets out in detail, and very clearly, that leaving care should be a planned process, professionals have told us that pathway plans are inconsistent, reactive and crisis-driven. Young people have consistently said that they can't get hold of their personal advisers, and that many are terrified and feel like that when they leave care. It appears that the view of professionals and the inspectorate is that the system isn't working. So, what needs to be done, and by whom, to address such significant implementation gaps between legislation and practice?
Diolch yn fawr iawn. The pathway planning process is planned, because we know when children reach the age at which we begin preparation for them leaving care. Sally already spoke about this—part of our role as parents of these children is to prepare them to be thriving adults who contribute to their communities, and that's what we always aim to do, and many, many of the young people leaving care do that. For example, one of our care leavers is just going to be off to study in America for a semester next year, and we're incredibly proud of her, and it's great that she's able to do that and we'll financially support her and we'll practically support her to do that. And that's the story for lots of young people who leave care, and that will all be mapped out in her pathway plan. Now, that wouldn't have been in her pathway plan at the point that it was set, when she turned 16. That's evolved over time, and so it is a dynamic, working, changing document. Pathway plans will also reflect changes that happen in young people's lives when they're not positive, when they're negative. So, we do need to respond to crisis, and we absolutely then need to reflect that in the pathway planning process.
I can speak for my local authority and the local authority I recently left. Personal advisers were allocated to all young people. We support them right up until 25, and young people have largely good relationships with them. And if you look at something like the Bright Spots—. I don't know if you're aware of the Coram Bright Sports work that is done—it's being done in a number of local authorities across Wales, including Powys—and that gives a really balanced review, or balanced analysis, of the well-being of children in care and children leaving care.
So, Sally already said that those experiences of young people, individuals, when they describe them, they do stick with you and they're really incredibly powerful, and it's also important to look at those voices that you might not hear—for example, the young woman who's off to America next year—and to have a balanced view of what that picture looks like. But if there's an example of a young person in my local authority, or any local authority, we'd want to hear if they're saying they can't reach their PAs, because my experience of PAs is that they are some of the most committed people, individuals. They're frequently banging down my door making sure that there's money or some kind of other provision for the young people that they support.
Felly, dŷch chi ddim yn adnabod y darlun yna yn eich awdurdodau lleol chi? Dyw e ddim yn ymwneud â faint o bobl ifanc mae un cynorthwyydd personol yn gorfod eu cefnogi.
And therefore you don't recognise that picture in your local authorities? It doesn't relate to the number of young people that a personal adviser has to support.
I recognise that supporting young people leaving care can be a challenge for some young people who have a more tricky pathway to adulthood than others, but there is a dedicated workforce to support them. And if there are individual cases where we get that wrong, we absolutely want to hear about that.
I think what will also be interesting is looking at the outcomes of the basic income pilot, and looking at what impact that has in terms of that investment, on behalf of the Government, in our children and young people—really interesting in terms of how that works through the system for this group of children. Obviously, it's a first in the world, but I think it will be really interesting in terms of how that pans out. Yes, there are challenges, but I think, as Jan says, there are also some very good stories as part of this system.
Ocê. Diolch, Cadeirydd.
Okay. Thank you, Chair.
I'm going to bring Jane Dodds in. I know we're pushed on time, and I wonder if you'd be able to stay a few more minutes after as well, if that's okay. Great. I'll bring Jane Dodds in.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Cwestiwn pwysig iawn, os yw hynny'n iawn, i ddilyn ar ôl Sioned. Dyna beth roedden ni'n ei glywed yn gryf: y trosiant mewn gweithwyr cymdeithasol, a personal advisers hefyd, efo plant oedd yn dal i gael gofal yn y system. Dyna fy mhrofiad i hefyd—pobl yn gadael, pobl yn cyrraedd, jest yn aros am wythnosau neu fisoedd neu jest blwyddyn. Beth, yn eich barn chi, ddylem ni ei wneud? Ai'r rheswm ydy mwy o arian, mwy o dâl? Neu rywbeth arall? Jest yn fyr, beth fydd yr ateb i'r sefyllfa yma? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much. A very important question, following on from Sioned's question. That's we heard strongly: that turnover in social workers, and personal advisers too, working with children who are receiving care. That's also my experience—people leave the profession, people arrive, and just stay for a matter of months, even weeks, maybe a year. So, in your view, what should we do? Is it an issue of pay? Or is it something else? Just briefly, what do you think the solution to this situation is? Thank you.
I think there's a combination of solutions. I think pay is one. I think pay and recognition, and going back to the earlier question in terms of the view of social care and is it a good profession to be in. I mean, if you look at adult social care, you see domiciliary care in exactly the same position. I think that churn is really worrying, and it's something we all worry about in terms of social care. I think the solutions are multifactorial. I think they are about promoting social care, I think they are about pay, I think they are about looking at our structure of qualifications. I think they are about recognising that, at this point in time, there are a number of public sector professions that are really challenged in terms of workforce, so how do we look at that more broadly. Social Care Wales have obviously done a great deal of work around, for example, the WeCare Wales campaign, and looking at how we drive it. I think promoting social work, promoting good stories about children's social care, is really important, emphasising—I mean, I've said it already—that it is the best; it is an opportunity to change people's lives in a really good way. We need to keep saying that and getting that message out, at the same time as having in place a pay and career structure that matches the positiveness that you can get from it, and the difference it can make to your life.
Questions now from Laura Jones.
Thank you. Jayne started my questioning off nicely there. But following on from what Jayne said already, one of the biggest and most fundamental things that we've heard from people so far is that disruption that constant changes and frequent changes in social workers has. It's very concerning. Do you think that that is in part due to what you've just said, that the pay and career structure is not there that complements the important work that they do, considering you could get more stacking shelves in Sainsbury's, for example? It's just not right; more focus needs to be put on the value of the work that they do.
The concerning picture is that vacancies have risen 38 per cent in the year from 2021 to 2022, meaning that we have 639 vacancies in children's social work teams across Wales. Social Care Wales also explained that 30 per cent of current vacancies are 'held', meaning that they're not looking to be filled at the current time. Can you explain why that is, and your views on—further expanding on what Jayne said—how we change this?
Social work isn't the easiest job in the world. We've talked about the risks that we're managing; we're talking about driving around with children in a car while somebody at the office is trying to find a placement, making decisions within 24 hours when they come through the front door, working with partners, balancing competing demands of children, parents and siblings. It's an enormously difficult job, but it's also really rewarding. It's been an absolute privilege for me to work as a social worker for the last 25-odd years, and I wouldn't have had it any differently, but it's really tough for people right now. All of those reasons that have already been said, I completely agree with.
I don't recognise the idea of holding vacancies. If I can speak for, perhaps, what we're doing in my local authority, we can't recruit permanent social workers to some teams. So, rather than keep flogging a dead horse, and keep putting out an advert to try and get a social worker that's not going to come, we're making different arrangements: traineeships, sponsoring people to do their social work training. So, we're not holding the vacancy as in, 'We're not going to recruit to this vacancy'; we're having to recruit in a different way to a social work vacancy. That might be some part of an explanation for those figures.
I agree on holding vacancies; that's not something I recognise for social work roles—it's not something I see. Like Jan, my local authority, and I know others locally would be doing the same, is looking at possibly recruiting a social work assistant for a period and then going through a traineeship process with them. I think doing that is probably one of the ways forward in this, in how we do this.
I think there's also something interesting in terms of career pathways in terms of practice. I was in practice for a number of years, but I haven't been in practice for a number of years. Is there some way to extend that practice pathway for staff and perhaps combine some of it? I don't have an answer to that; I sometimes wonder whether or not that might be quite attractive in terms of a career pathway. That's probably quite complex in terms of our current structures, but is interesting in terms of exploration. If somebody's going to offer me a half practice, half senior management job, I might jump at it. I think that's an interesting dynamic interesting in terms of pathway. But I don't recognise held vacancies.
Thank you. I'm just going on the data that we've got, obviously. The latest data on the use of agency social workers is from 2018 and showed that 32.4 per cent of whole-time equivalent vacancies in children's services were filled by agency workers. Care Inspectorate Wales told us it was concerned about the use of managed teams in which all staff are agency workers. What should be done, and by whom, to tackle the reliance on agency staff?
In terms of managed teams, I think that they're a relatively rare phenomenon in Wales; they're not used widely. Agency staff are used, and there are, on occasion, managed teams, but it's it's not a common use—that's the first thing. The second thing is in relation to that wider challenge around agency staff for qualified social workers. There is currently an extensive piece of work being undertaken by the Association of Directors of Social Services to look specifically at how we in Wales, across all 22 local authorities, can address some of the challenges for agency staff. Some of that is about rates and some of it is about, for example, local authority staff leaving to go to work for agencies for better pay. There is ongoing extensive work that is almost at the point of reaching realisation, which we know, from a pilot that was done in London, is likely to be effective in helping us in terms of managing that market a little better.
Good. Thank you.
Before we move on to some questions from James, perhaps just a point on the personal advisers and pathway plans. You might be interested to read the breadth of written evidence that we've received from professionals. It's not just extensive evidence from young people on that; it's from some professionals. So, just to point you to our written evidence that you might want to have a look at. Questions now from James Evans.
Thank you. I just want to touch on the corporate parenting role, if that's all right. Do you think that education, health and housing are fulfilling their roles in regard to corporate parenting? Because we've heard, from evidence, that some people think that they're not fulfilling the corporate parenting role. Do you think that social services are subsidising other areas in terms of mental health support, because you can't get it elsewhere?
I can only speak for myself. We'll always try and make sure the needs of a child in our care are met, and we'll always try and access that support, through whatever organisation. But we won't delay in meeting those needs if there's some kind of discussion about whose responsibility it is, who should pay for it. We'll always try and make sure that that need is met at the point that it is established or assessed. I think that the corporate parenting arrangements will work best when all of those organisations really come to the table and do everything they can to recognise what they ought to be doing. I think that's probably patchy; it can depend on individuals and different areas. In some areas, it works better than others, but that absolutely has to be the way that corporate parenting works best, because children's services can't do it on our own.
I think there are challenges, and I think Jan's right: I think it's patchy. In my own area of Gwent, we've currently got this wonderful development of Windmill Farm, which everybody keeps talking about and I live in fear of, really, because I just think, 'Ooh'. But we have now opened. That is very much a joint relationship between Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the five local authorities. That is a really welcome development, and that is a real attempt to address that perennial challenge about how we effectively support that group of children with real issues for their emotional well-being and social care needs. It's a really welcome development, and I would advise to keep looking at that to see, if that works, if that's a model that we could look at across Wales.
As local authorities, we have strong corporate parenting forums, so that members for education and social services and housing are engaged. That's really important. I think there are great examples, but there are still gaps and there are patchy areas. And when it comes to mental health and the challenges that we have there, what we also know for children's mental health is how that can be supported. Probably if you were to ask our health colleagues in that world, that could do with strengthening in its own right.
Sally, would it be possible if you could send us, perhaps, the Windmill Farm example as a case study? That would be helpful to committee members.
Of course. Yes, we can do that.
Thank you. James.
I think Taryn was—
Oh, sorry. Taryn.
I just wanted to touch on practice in the local authority where I am, and I think it would be practice across many others. Our corporate parenting body is chaired by a care-experienced young person, and he is very diligent in making sure that people are held to account for their corporate parenting duties. As part of that, we were asked to undertake an activity around the level of need of our care-experienced young people, and how we were meeting that across the board as corporate parents. Actually, what was really resounding from that information—and, actually, you would expect it, but seeing it was very important for us—was that our care-experienced young people disproportionately go into services that are under immense pressure, such as child and adolescent mental health services, such as needing specific educational placements. That means that those with the most complex needs are being filtered into multiple systems that are undercapacity, and that can really impact the cohesion of corporate parenting that young people are afforded. So, I suppose it's about how those agencies fulfil their duties and then come together as corporate parents.
Thank you. I just want to touch on the radical reform that's needed. Local government has been very clear that radical reform is needed, but it's going to need a lot of resource to deliver that. As Jan knows from my time in local government, children's services always overspent every year that I was in the council. Children's services almost overspent most years, and other local authorities now always predict overspend in children's services. And one thing that I worry about is that if additional resources were required and given, how would you spend that, rather than plugging the current pressures that are there with regard to paying agency staff, the really difficult, complex cases that can cost thousands and thousands of pounds a week. How would you be able to deliver this if that money was coming forward?
We've already said we really welcome the money that we've already had in grant form across Wales for radical reform. Yes, resources are a challenge. It would be completely foolish to say otherwise. I do think we—and I think we can speak for all 22 local authorities—are absolutely determined to use that money in a way that's effective to drive change. But what we also know is that if we had that fully staffed workforce of qualified social workers with good morale, we actually would be in a significantly better position in relation to how we deliver our current services.
The radicalism of this almost needs to be attached to that drive for workforce and stability in current social services. We keep saying it: we have fantastic staff who do a great job; we just do not have enough of them to deliver against an aspirational agenda from the Welsh Government and our own local authorities. There is a mismatch between what we've got. What we don't want is a load of shiny, bright project baubles; what we want is solidity in existing provision to make that work within local authority structures. I think, above all else, that feels for us as radical, and that sounds quite simple, in a way. But using the funding that we've got, it's not about propping up—it is about finding different ways to make that happen. I think that's really important.
Workforce is the single most important thing that we can do to make sure that we can deliver the expectations.
I recognise that, because agency staff was always the reason it did cost an awful lot of money. Anything we can do to try and get more people into the service I think is very encouraging. But I've got the million-dollar question, I'm afraid, which isn't a nice question. We have been told by a lot of people who've given evidence to us that there is quite a bleak picture out there with regard to children who are currently in care, children who have just left care. We all around this table recognise the pressure on workforce, placements, foster carers and everything else that comes with that. But do you accept that things are not very good out there at the moment, and that things really do need to change if we are going to start to really improve the lives of the people who are in care, and who leave care in the future?
It is a million-dollar question. I don't wholly accept it. I think that there are individuals who really struggle, who have struggled and who've had very poor experiences of being in care, of coming into care. But, like Jan, like everybody else, I could also reel off a list of the child who's about to start an apprenticeship with the Office for National Statistics, the child whose twins remained with her despite only having them at 15. We've all got those good stories—the children who remain in foster care with the same social worker for 15 years. I don't think the system is irretrievably broken, and I think that there are families and there are children and there are young people who have good experiences within the system. Is it good enough? No, it isn't. Is a full-scale trouncing of the system going to help? No. It is something about supporting that workforce, growing that workforce, ensuring that workforce can deliver what they are able to deliver that will make the difference, not full-scale change, would be my view.
I completely agree with that. I know I'm coming back to workforce, but, if you take Carmarthenshire, for example, Carmarthenshire has benefited from a really stable workforce for many, many, many years—decades. Stable leadership, stable workforce, with social workers, personal advisers, family support workers, foster carers who've stuck with children and young people over time—foster carers who have all of the children they've ever had placed with them back for dinner on a Thursday evening, that kind of thing. And Carmarthenshire's really benefited from that. So, when we talk about high numbers of children in care, that doesn't relate to Carmarthenshire. When we talk about high churn of social workers, that doesn't relate to Carmarthenshire, and the reason, I think, one of the main reasons, is that stability of workforce. If we could replicate that stability of workforce right across the 22 local authorities, I suspect we'd see the same benefits that Carmarthenshire has been able to see for children and young people in our care.
And I really would commend to you the Bright Spots work that was done in Powys just recently, which looked at the experiences of children in care and children leaving care in Powys, and you'll be able to see a really balanced, independent analysis of their experiences done in really qualitative and quantitative research.
Sorry—. That's fine. Sorry, there are lots of people indicating in different directions here. Carry on.
No, that's it.
Yes, that's fine. Thank you, Jan. Just before James comes in, I'm going to bring Sioned in and I think Jane; we've got lots of questions now based on what you've both just said. But perhaps I can just point you to the research paper that was done by the team here as well, which is a statistical briefing, bringing everything together. I don't know if you've seen that document, but those are some of the stats that we've based the evidence on. So, we've heard from the experiences of young people, but there are also some statistics to back that up. So, I don't know if there are any comments you want to make on that statistical paper, if you have seen it.
I have seen it, but I haven't got the details with me to comment now.
But just to say that some of the information that James asked the question on was based on some statistical evidence as well as the—
I suppose one of my comments is that children's services are not easy. These are the most vulnerable children, the most vulnerable families, the most traumatised. It is never going to be easy and it is never going to be okay. I always say if you stop crying when you work in children's services, it's time to go. Because, for me, there is something about there will always be trouble within this arena of work, given the nature of what we're doing, sadly.
And we do very much appreciate the work that goes on, so just to put that on record—the hard work that goes on. Sioned wants to come in, and then I'll bring Jane Dodds in.
Jest i ddilyn lan yn rili gyflym ar beth roedd Jan yn ei ddweud ynglŷn â'r darlun yna rŷch chi wedi'i ddisgrifio o sefydlogrwydd a chanlyniadau hynny o ran y cyfraddau, sut gallen ni, felly, gwneud hynny'n rhywbeth sy'n gyson dros Gymru? Rŷn ni wedi gweld yn y ddogfen briffio rydym ni wedi'i chael, a'r dystiolaeth rydym ni wedi'i chael, taw'r diwylliant ar y top sy'n creu hynny. Allech chi awgrymu sut gallen ni—? Beth yw e? Cytundebu yn hirach? Arweinyddiaeth? Tal ac amodau? Beth sy'n mynd i'n galluogi ni i gael y darlun yna sy'n digwydd yn eich awdurdodau lleol chi dros bob awdurdod lleol? Achos dyna'r nod, yntefe?
Just to follow up really quickly on what Jan was saying about that picture that you've described of stability and the outcomes of that in terms of the rates, how can we therefore ensure that that is something that's consistent across Wales? We've seen in the briefing document that we've received, and the evidence that we've received, that it's the culture at the top that creates that. Can you suggest how we can do this? What is it? Is it longer contracts? Leadership? Pay and conditions? What is going to enable us to ensure we have that picture that's in your local authorities right across Wales? Because that's the aim, isn't it?
Taryn. I thought Taryn was going to say something. Taryn.
I think there's a really important point there that goes back to capacity. Across Wales we have pockets of workforce that are stable—in Merthyr Tydfil we have a very stable workforce over the last three years, and that's caused such a stark contrast in our ways of working and outcomes that we've achieved for young people. Prior to 2019, a very unstable workforce, increasing children-looked-after numbers; last three years, that's reduced significantly under a very stable workforce. It is about leadership, but, equally, we need the people to be able to lead, I suppose; we don't have the capacity there. So, Merthyr can have a really good leadership base and really solid foundations, but then that might mean that people are coming from other local authorities, and we're creating instability there.
We need to start by looking at our reputation in social care, about how we celebrate our success better. I don't dispute any of the material before committee today, but I think what's really important is that we have a balanced celebration. Last night, we had care-experienced young people attend awards in London because of some fantastic pathways to work about those young people accessing education opportunities. So, I think, for me, it is about that reputation of social care and how we work together as agencies and partners, not just as local authorities, to support that.
It's back to how we create those pathways that Sally described, about people having—. People will want different things from their role and their job, and people need different career pathways to allow them to feel fulfilled and impassioned and that they're doing what they feel proud about and they want to do every day. So, actually, I think that's something that I would really like to see continuing to be championed by Social Care Wales, but with a clear partnership and multi-agency focus on how we create stability across the health and social care workforce, so that, when we have the leadership and mechanisms in local authorities, we have the staffing sufficiency then that we can create stability once that through flow is within the system.
Thank you. Jane Dodds wanted to come in.
Ie. Diolch yn fawr iawn, a diolch yn fawr iawn am y gwaith dŷch chi'n ei wneud. Fel dŷch chi'n gwybod, dwi wedi bod yn weithiwr cymdeithasol dros 20 mlynedd a dwi'n gwybod yn union beth dŷch chi'n sôn amdano. Mae o'n anodd ac mae yna amseroedd pan fydd o'n gweithio, ac mae hynny'n wych. Ond, yn fy marn i, mae'r system wedi bod yn mynd yn—wel, ddim yn waeth ond mae yna wedi bod sialens dros flynyddoedd. Os dŷch chi'n edrych ar y rhifau, er enghraifft, o bobl ifanc mewn carchar sydd wedi cael profiad yn y system gofal, mae'n rhif uchel. Felly, dyma beth mae'r pwyllgor yn trio ei wneud: edrych ar beth sy'n gweithio a beth sy'n gallu newid. Dwi'n poeni tipyn bach dŷn ni ddim yn clywed digon am beth sy'n gorfod newid i wneud gwahaniaeth, i ddod â'r rhifau yna i lawr a rhoi profiad gwell i bobl ifanc sydd o fewn y system gofal. A dyna beth oeddwn i jest eisiau ei ofyn ichi, jest i ganolbwyntio ar hynny, os gwelwch chi'n dda.
Yes. Thank you very much, and thank you very much for the work that you do. As you know, I was a social worker for 20 years, and I know exactly what you're talking about. It is difficult, and there are times when it works, and that's wonderful, of course. But, in my view, the system has been—well, not deteriorating, but there have been challenges over a period of years. If you look at the number of young people who are incarcerated and have experience of care, it's very high. So, this is what the committee is trying to do: to look at what is working and what needs to change. I am slightly concerned that we're not hearing enough about what needs to change in order to make a real difference to bring those numbers down and to provide better experiences to young people who are in the care system. And that's what I wanted to ask you, just to focus on that, if you would.
A simple thing, for me, would be to have lower case loads, a strong workforce who can manage those case loads over long periods of time. I think that, in of itself—so, if I were to go back to Newport this afternoon and say, 'You've all suddenly got case loads of 12,' we would be in a wholly different place in terms of the relational social work that we then build with children, young people and families. And that for me—
Ond beth am yr ateb?
But what about the answer?
Sorry, what's the answer? Sorry to cut across you. We want to hear answers; we want to hear your suggestions for what can work. Thank you.
What we're saying is that what we—. What I can't say to you is, 'I want an extra £1 trillion for children's social care across Wales,' because I know that that's unachievable. I know that that is. So, there is something about looking across all of our local authorities, looking at how we grow our workforce, how we emphasise—. I don't have a magic project, pill, answer for this. What we're saying is to build on the strengths of the existing system, the quality, the calibre, the enthusiasm of the staff that we have, and to really look at that core of relational social work, case load and how we work together across agencies to make that happen. And that's not easy, and I accept that.
Go on, Jan.
Diolch. I can speak here about Carmarthenshire and a little bit about Powys where I've recently worked—no, we say 'no'. The focus in those places is on prevention, supporting children and young people in their families at the time—the right support at the right time, so focusing on early intervention and prevention, wraparound support for families, listening to what they have to say about the changes that they need to make to make their families' lives better. I can only say the success in Carmarthenshire is based on that fundamental value of working with families and keeping families together. Now, I know that that is a value base that is shared across Wales, and there have been huge improvements in recent years, or investment, or changes in that kind of work, where there's been a greater focus placed on that kind of work, and I think we need to let that take its course, because, in places like Powys, where it was introduced, in Carmarthenshire, where it's been established for many years, that impact on bringing down those children-looked-after numbers, that is having that impact. So, we've got to let that take its course, but we've got to have the right workforce to be able to keep doing that, to build relationships with families, to be able to go out when they pick up the phone and say, 'Look, I need a chat now.' If you've got 20 other families in crisis, you can't necessarily do that.
So, yes, we do need solutions. I think the solution is a workforce that's trained, so let's financially support people to train as qualified social workers. Let's fill those vacancies, so we don't have to spend the money on agency staff and on all kinds of hotchpotch things to fill gaps. Let's speak proudly about the work that children's social workers, foster carers, support workers do within our children's services departments, so that they can feel recognised and valued by society for the work that they do, and let's make sure that there are opportunities for experienced social workers to progress and remain in practice, so we don't lose that experience to management roles. So, I think those are some of the solutions. But it is workforce; that is the answer.
Thank you. Thanks, Jan. And just to say, just for you to be aware, case loads are very much on our agenda. So, we might write to you about some things, because I'm very conscious of time and I just want to bring James just back in for a last question, because then we will have to stop. I'm very grateful to you for—.
It's just a comment, really. I just want to thank everyone for coming, especially Jan; I know Powys County Council and Neath Port Talbot were invited today to give that balanced picture. I don't think it's fair on Jan to comment on Powys, considering she's now the head of children's services in a different local authority, but I just want to say it's disappointing that those other local authorities couldn't send representatives today, because I think it is important that we do get a balanced view of things right across Wales. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. Thanks, James. And I very much just want to put on record my grateful thanks as well to you all for joining us, and we really appreciate you coming in, because we've gone way over time and I'm really thankful to you for answering all our questions. Hopefully, you can see the committee's very passionate about this, and we've taken our time to look into this, so we're very keen and glad that you've come into join us this morning.
We're really grateful for the opportunity.
We'll stay here all day, if you'll have us. [Laughter.] We really, really would.
If we didn't have the Deputy Minister after you, we would have talked to you all day, so—.
Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd.
Thank you very much, all of you.
Thank you for joining us. You will receive a transcript following this evidence session to check for accuracy. So, thank you once again for joining us.
Diolch. Diolch yn fawr.
We would appreciate if you could send us that case study, and also we will perhaps put something in writing asking a particular question that we didn't get time to do so. So, diolch yn fawr iawn.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 5, eitem 8 ac eitem 9 y cyfarfod hwn, ac o’r cyfarfodydd cyfan ar 14 Mawrth a 22 Mawrth yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5, 8 and 9 of the meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 14 March and 22 March, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
And now we'll go into item 4, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 5, 8 and 9 of the meeting and for the whole of the meetings on 14 and 22 March. Is everybody happy to do that? Okay. So, we will now proceed to meet in private.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:58.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:58.
Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:03.
The committee reconvened in public at 11:03.
We are meeting for item 6, which is our fourteenth evidence session on services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform. I'd like to welcome this morning Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Social Services; Albert Heaney, chief social care officer for Wales, Welsh Government; and Alistair Davey, deputy director, social services enabling, Welsh Government. Nice to see you all, and you're all very welcome.
So, Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning. We will be as concise in our questioning as possible. We do have a lot to get through this morning, so I'll make a start. Without attaching judgment to individual local authority workers, what is the Welsh Government’s explanation of the huge variation in the rates of children going into care in different Welsh local authorities, even when rates of deprivation are accounted for?
Diolch yn fawr iawn am y gwahoddiad.
Thank you very much for the invitation.
Thank you very much for the invitation to come here today. We're very pleased to come to answer your questions. And this is a matter of concern that there is such a huge variation, because you've probably been told the differing numbers in different local authorities. And, as you say, it doesn't relate to deprivation necessarily. And I think there are varied reasons why this happens. I think we have seen outstanding examples of local authorities that have been leaders, really, in trying to promote the policies, and I think that is shown in the local authorities that have very good rates in their own authorities. And so, I think it is to do with leadership.
But one of the things we're doing to try to address this is to have a national practice framework, so that there will be some consistency throughout all of Wales, and we are actually working on that now. The framework will set out how we're going to work in Wales in a strength-based way, so that we can have some standards throughout all the different local authorities, so that, hopefully, we will have more of a consistent output in the local authorities, because, you're absolutely right: there is a great deal of variation and lots of reasons why that happens.
Social Care Wales have actually had a review of practice frameworks to look at their strengths and limitations because it is a way of getting consistency, and work is now being undertaken to develop the national practice framework in collaboration with the sector. And work began on this at the beginning of September 2022 in co-production with key stakeholders and practitioners, and we anticipate that this will be finished before 2023. So, that will be an opportunity to get greater uniformity and better outcomes.
Okay, thank you, Deputy Minister, that's really helpful. We know that, in terms of risk factors, poverty, substance misuse, mental health and learning disabilities are all part of the complex picture of why children in Wales are going into care. However, we've heard that up to 75 per cent of cases can involve domestic violence. What specifically is the Welsh Government doing to support this significant group of women and children to safely reduce the entries into care because of domestic violence?
Yes, thank you very much for that very important question, and I acknowledge that violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence can have a huge impact on children and young people and, of course, can be a factor in them coming into care because it can affect their well-being and their educational attainment—everything about their lives.
So, the Welsh Government has had a very proactive strategy on violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. And we fund regional and specialist services to provide support to all victims of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. That includes early intervention, prevention, educational support and perpetrator intervention programmes, and independent domestic violence advocates, who are for high-risk victims, as well as therapeutic interventions—we also fund them—and that is for ongoing support for families who are affected by these issues.
The Welsh Government published its five-year strategy on 24 May last year and this was developed along with a group of key partner organisations, and those included the police, the specialist sector and survivors. And those set the objectives that we will aim to achieve. We did actually work during this period with a number of partners to ensure that the voices of children and young people were heard during the consultation period. So, we included publishing a young person's guide on the consultation to document along with an online survey. And these were used during the engagement with children and young people and our partners in the specialist sector, as well as being promoted by the Children's Commissioner for Wales and Children in Wales. So, certainly, in response to this very important issue, we are responding in a very specific way with our legislation and our strategy now for the next five years. I think we have to look at, really, the impact of violence against women over a whole lifespan.
Also I think it may be worthwhile talking about the pathfinder project in north Wales. I don't know whether you were given any evidence about that, but the Welsh Government is working alongside UK Government on proposals for private law reform, and they are addressing that through the family justice network. And that's to promote a problem-solving approach to court proceedings. It's really good that north Wales has been chosen as one of the two pathfinder sites to test and evaluate a revised child arrangements programme. The pathfinder aims to improve information sharing between agencies, such as police, local authorities and the courts, and this could include local domestic abuse professionals sharing risk assessments with the court to spare victims and parties in the case from the trauma of having to unnecessarily always repeat their awful experiences. Crucially, it will also boost the voice of children at every stage of the process, ensuring that they are listened to and their views are taken into account. So, it will see children given more opportunity to explain how they feel and, following a court order, to say whether it's working for them.
So, there have been developed lots of ways of listening to children's voices about the situations that they find themselves in where domestic abuse does happen. And certainly we know the very detrimental effect on children. But we do have these wider systems in place in Wales.
Thank you. So, we've had snapshot data from Swansea, which suggests that a third of care-experienced parents go on to have a child removed from their care. Does that figure, firstly, surprise you, and would you consider legislating to ensure care-experienced parents have a right to wraparound intensive support to try to prevent children going into care, where it's safe to do so? We've had evidence and we've seen evidence and models such as Project Unity and the Barnado's projects as well.
Well, I know that Project Unity plays a really valuable part in promoting emotional and practical help to care-experienced mothers, and I'm really pleased that the Welsh Government has been able to provide annual funding of £340,000 for that programme until 2025, because I think it is absolutely invaluable. And I also commend Baby and Me, and I was really pleased to visit Newport and to see Baby and Me in action, which was so impressive and just the sort of support I think we need to give to parents, so that they can have the support they need to keep their children and work with their children and be given all the support. And Baby and Me, I think, is an absolutely terrific example. Both of those services align with our commitment to see greater earlier intervention and greater help, and especially for care-experienced children and young people.
It does seem to me that there are often very positive outcomes from care-experienced children, and it's really important that we don't forget the great achievements that care-experienced young people do have, and also that they make very good parents. We have to make sure that they get the support that they need, because of the experiences that they have had. And of course we have the commitment, and there is a statutory entitlement to support up until the age of 25. And I really think that we should be giving that support. We don't need legislation to make that happen; we should be giving support to young people until they're 25, and we do not want young care-experienced people to be stigmatised by the fact that they have been in care.
Absolutely. I'll just bring Laura Jones in on this.
Thank you, Minister. Good to see you today. I would agree with your last comment on the support being available until 25. Actually, I'd prefer it to be until they're ready to let go and feel ready to go into the real world. The question I wanted to ask you was just really quickly on the Baby and Me thing. It is an example of best practice and there are positive outcomes, so what are you doing as a Minister to help share that best practice across local authorities, because obviously outcomes and practices differ so greatly between the 22?
Yes, well we certainly have been looking at how Baby and Me has developed, and we would like to see Baby and Me repeated throughout Wales because we think it is such an outstanding example. So, we're certainly aware of its success, and in our plans moving forward, we would want to see that sort of project continued.
And just to comment on—. You were saying that you'd like the support to continue past 25. You may be aware that we had a care-experienced young people's summit—in December, it was, actually—and one of the things that young people said to us was that they don't want the support to finish at 25. They want the support to be there, and what they said really was for the rest of their lives. But they want the support to be—. They just said that they would be happy if it was just a telephone number of even a website—just somewhere that, after they're 25, they've got somewhere to go. I think that's a really valid point, and as a result of the care summit, we are looking at what we can do to do that.
Brilliant, thank you.
Thank you. A question from Sioned Williams.
Ie. Da eich clywed chi'n canmol y prosiect Unity a hefyd prosiectau Barnardo's, achos rŷm ni'n amlwg wedi gweld â'n llygaid ein hunain gwerth y prosiectau yma a'r gwahaniaeth maen nhw'n gallu gwneud, ond mae Unity—prosiect Unity NYAS—er enghraifft, wedi tynnu ein sylw ni at y ffaith taw dim ond pump o weithwyr sydd gyda nhw ar draws Cymru i gynorthwyo 300 o rieni. Maen nhw hefyd wedi tynnu ein sylw ni at y ffaith bod ariannu yn flynyddol, a dyw e ddim yn caniatáu iddyn nhw gynllunio na datblygu gwasanaethau ar draws Cymru. Ac yn atodol i beth ddywedodd Laura Anne Jones ynglŷn â lledaenu arfer da a'r hyn y gwnaethoch chi sôn yn eich ymateb chi, beth ydych chi fel Llywodraeth, felly, yn mynd i'w wneud i fynd i'r afael â hynny, achos, yn amlwg, ar hyn o bryd, does dim cydraddoldeb ar draws Cymru i gael mynediad at brosiectau mor werthfawr â hyn?
Yes. It's good to hear you praise the Unity project and also Barnardo's projects, because clearly we have seen with our own eyes the value of these projects and the difference they can make, but the Unity project—the NYAS Unity project—for example, drew our attention to the fact that they only have five workers to assist 300 parents across Wales. They've also drawn our attention to the fact that annual funding doesn't allow them to plan or develop services across Wales. And supplementary to what Laura Anne Jones said and in terms of good practice and sharing that, what are you as a Government, therefore, going to do to address that, because clearly, now, there is no equity across Wales to access projects that are so valuable such as these?
Yes. Well, certainly, I agree that we need more of these projects and we need them more across Wales. And in the same way as we want to bring in the practice framework, which we hope will consistently provide better response to people's needs, we want to see that they have this type of project that can help support them. There are a number of other projects as well, as well as those two, and I'd just like to refer to the Reflect project. I've been very impressed with the Reflect project, because that does look at care-experienced young parents who have actually lost a child to care, and intensive work is done with them in order to try and prevent that happening again, with, I think, weekly visits and group work. So, there are other projects that are reflected throughout Wales, and it's how, really, we make sure that it reaches everywhere. I don't know whether, Alistair, you'd like to comment on that, because obviously, you are closer to the ground on that.
Certainly, Minister. Obviously, one of the things that we're planning is a best practice conference later on this year, probably sometime in May or June, because obviously, on recent visits around Wales to local authorities, we've picked up on a number of initiatives that we'd like to share, and obviously we work very closely with heads of service and with directors. This is about investment from local authorities as well, about the difference that these are making and the evaluation. So, I think we've got a real opportunity now to build on what are some very strong programmes across Wales, particularly Reflect, and how we expand those going forward.
Diolch. Oes gyda chi ddata? Ydych chi'n casglu data ar y nifer o rieni sydd â phrofiad o ofal? A fyddai gwerth cael y darlun yna, felly, ar draws Cymru, os ydych chi'n ymwneud â'r gwaith yma nawr?
Thank you. Do you have data? Do you collect data on the number of parents who have experience of care? Would it be valuable to have that picture across Wales, if you're involved in this work now?
I think we have some data in this space, but I think it's something that we do need to think about, and that's something that we will take away from today, because I think it's really important, obviously. When I was looking at some of those figures, about a third—. I was surprised. We've seen other figures. So, I think it is about making sure that we have a good picture across Wales, because it's really important, because obviously, now, we've got a group there that really need our support.
I think, as well, our work on the national practice framework is very much around strengths based. I think one of the things that we picked up very strongly from the recent care summit was the stigma of being in care and the fact that we've got to make sure that the services that we provide to care-experienced parents look like support and not assessment, in terms of the language that's used as well. So, there's something there that we've really got to make sure we get the balance right on, and I think the national practice framework gives us a real opportunity to do that.
Alistair, you just mentioned about local authorities putting investment into this as well. We know these are really difficult times for local authorities. Do you see that as something—I've raised it with the Minister—about how, for local authorities, that's still going to perhaps cause a differentiation between local authorities and how much they're willing to invest or able to invest?
Obviously, we've invested heavily, with £68 million, in terms of not just the eliminate agenda, but also, on change, and supporting local authorities on a whole range of initiatives. And I think the best practice conference, again, will give us some real good examples of the difference that investment can make. And I think this is obviously an area for local authorities as well to look at how their funding best supports their parents and young care-experienced children.
Just to go back to what Alistair said about what the young people said at the summit, they do really feel that, because they're care experienced, they will not be treated the same as everybody else when they do have children themselves. And this came over very strongly, this issue of stigma, and that's one of the things they want us to address. And we will be making a declaration as a result of the summit, which the First Minister will sign, and we will pledge to do our utmost as a Government to do what the young people want. And this figured very highly in what they were saying.
I'm going to bring Albert in, but, then, I am going to move straight on to Ken, because we're really tight on time.
Okay, thank you. Thank you, Chair. Just to add to that, I do think it's really important that local authorities consider how they can invest around children's services. We have been adding additional funding, both through the usual local government settlements, and you will have seen some of the prioritisation over the last couple of years for social care. But, alongside that, major funding initiatives really enable local authorities to be able to develop much more prevention, and proactive and responsive care that, ultimately, I believe, for local government, will reduce some of the costs, lifelong.
I would also add that, in terms of creativity, I think it's a really important point that, with the elimination of profit agenda, when that realises a freeing up of funding that, perhaps, is at the moment going on a profit basis, it's really important that that's reinvested, and that can be reinvested into prevention and other services that can support. So, your illustration of Project Unity is a great example, really, of something that's been funded by Welsh Government to test out and to allow then, and, then, what we learn from that we should be then looking to see how we use that to scale that across the nation, really, in terms, then, of the opportunity that that affords us as well. Thank you, Chair.
No problem. And I'll just bring in Ken Skates now to talk about family courts.
Thanks, Chair. A key piece of evidence that we heard directly about the FDAC model was its benefits in terms of procedural fairness. And we know that the UK Government has commissioned work looking at the feasibility of applying this problem solving more widely in the family courts in England and Wales, which will report, I think, next year. Is this something that the Welsh Government could also move quickly on, and liaise proactively with the judiciary in Wales to take forward?
Thank you very much, Ken, for that question. We are absolutely convinced of the value of the problem-solving family court model. I'm really pleased that the Welsh Government funded the family drug and alcohol court in Cardiff and the Vale. We provided £450,000 to support this pilot project in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan for a two-year period, and, as I say, the Welsh Government paid for that to happen. And it is, I think, a very successful way of looking at disputes, and it's very interesting that you referred to the fact that, if the process is done in a respectful manner, whatever the result, it is the people who are involved who feel treated as human beings, and treated with respect, and that is very fundamental for them for the future.
So, this is something that we are very keen to pursue. It is in the process of being evaluated. It's being evaluated by CASCADE, based in Cardiff University, and they do need a bit longer, beyond the two years, to continue their evaluation, and we want to see the evaluation, really, to decide how we would go forward. So, we're looking at ways of extending the funding in order for the evaluation to be completed, and then, we will see what the evaluation says to see if we can make it serve a wider population in Wales. But, certainly, the evidence we've got so far has been very encouraging. I don't know, you probably saw the figures. It is a really good way to address issues, I think, like this, and I'm so glad that we were able to fund it. We took the decision, in the Government in Wales—this funding didn't appear to be coming from the Ministry of Justice—that we would fund it because we wanted to see the people of Wales having opportunities from these courts. So, it's a great step forward, I think.
Albert wants to come in.
Just to add to the Minister's response. We have the family justice network in Wales, so it's very easy for us to have those conversations with key stakeholders, the judiciary, local government, Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru, et cetera. So, the point that the Member was making in the question—we have a ready-made forum, nationally, that we can utilise as well. Thank you.
Okay. Jane Dodds, I think you wanted to come in, briefly.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Jest cwestiwn byr, os yw hynny'n iawn, ynglŷn ag FDAC. Dwi ddim yn hollol ddeall pam dydy o ddim jest yn cael ei rolio allan dros Gymru achos mae wedi bod yn gweithio yn Lloegr am flynyddoedd, ac mae'r dystiolaeth yna ynglŷn â sut mae'n gweithio. Felly, jest yn fyr, ydych chi'n gallu dweud yn union pam rydyn ni'n aros yma yng Nghymru i'r holl beth gael ei rolio allan dros y wlad? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you, Chair. Just a brief question, if I may, on FDAC. I don't fully understand why it isn't rolled out across Wales, because it has been working in England for years, and the evidence is there in terms of how it works. So, very briefly, can you just tell us exactly why we're waiting here in Wales for it to be rolled out across the country? Thank you.
[Inaudible.]—that we took the initiative in Wales because it wasn't being rolled out in Wales because, obviously, family justice is an England-and-Wales issue. So, courts had been funded in England. I think there are about 15 courts in England, the majority of them in London, and Wales didn't have any. So, we decided, the Government in Wales, that we would fund them. No decision was made from the England-and-Wales justice system to fund any courts in Wales, so we stepped in, from the Welsh Government, because we saw the benefits of it.
Just to pick up. We looked very closely at some of the lessons from England around FDACs. Some didn't work so successfully because of the numbers of cases that were going through, so we worked with colleagues to learn some of those lessons. We decided that we would do that pilot, as we said, in Cardiff and the Vale and, obviously, we would very much see that as a stepping stone going forward. How we do that is something that we're now considering. Obviously, we know the evidence that this works, but you've got to make sure that you have the right number of cases, you've got to make sure that you get all the partner agencies, including health, very much heavily involved in this, and really seeing it as an investment. So, I think this is something, structurally, that we will take forward, building on, as Albert said, our work with the local family justice boards as well. We know that north Wales are very keen to have an FDAC, so we know that there's a real appetite for this. So, it's a question, now, of doing that in a proportionate and sustainable way.
Thanks, Chair. What is the Welsh Government's position on universal basic advocacy provision for all parents involved in the child protection system?
Well, obviously, advocacy, I think, is very important, and the role of parental advocacy is to support parents to positively engage with social workers, with third sector organisations, the family courts and other professionals to resolve issues that have negatively impacted on their family. This can be done in different ways, really. It can be done through independent professional advocates or parents with lived experience of the child protection system, to provide support to help parents with their engagement and understanding. I think that that is a very important way of providing advocacy—people who've had the lived experience of being helped by advocates themselves and who then become advocates. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet some of those people, and it is very, very powerful as advocates.
We currently provide annual funding of £300,000 to NYAS—the National Youth Advocacy Service—to deliver a parental advocacy programme in Gwent, and that's via our sustainable social services grant scheme. The programme pairs parents with advocates who assist them with all the different things that they need. Additionally, advocates do assist parents in communicating with the child's social workers. This programme with run until 2025. Our programme for government says that we are committed to expanding the provision of advocacy services to support parents who are on the edge of care, helping them to avoid statutory social services involvement and to reduce the risk of children entering the care system. So, our programme for government commitment is there.
I'm very pleased to say—well, to announce, really, because I think this is becoming public now—that we're investing a minimum of £1.5 million of funding over the next three years through the care-experienced children change fund. This funding will be used to scale up existing parental advocacy projects on a regional basis, to ensure that new services are established in each of the seven regions in Wales as part of a national roll-out. I think that does indicate our commitment to parental advocacy. We do want a consistent service across Wales, going back to some of the previous questions that we've had, and so we are developing a national framework for parental advocacy with third sector partners. We do know that parental advocacy has a very important role in stopping too many children coming into care, so the Gwent initiative will be learning from that, but our aim is to roll that out throughout Wales. It is a programme for government commitment, and there's some more money to do it.
Thanks, Chair. That's all from me. Thank you.
Thank you. Questions now from Sioned Williams.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dwi eisiau siarad tipyn bach am leoliadau. Er bod rhanddeiliaid yn cymeradwyo egwyddor cynlluniau Llywodraeth Cymru i ddileu elw o ofal plant, rŷn ni wedi clywed pryderon am yr amserlenni arfaethedig a'r canlyniadau anfwriadol posibl. Er enghraifft, mae'r grŵp polisi elusennau plant cenedlaethol wedi sôn nad yw'r amserlenni'n rhoi digon o amser i'r nodau hyn gael eu cyrraedd yn ddiogel. Rŷn ni'n gwybod bod yr ymatebion i'r ymgynghoriad yn cael eu cyhoeddi y mis yma. Ydych chi'n gallu rhannu gyda ni ganfyddiad mwyaf yr ymgynghoriad diweddar, a sut y bydd yn effeithio ar eich cynigion chi?
Thank you, Chair. I just want to talk a little bit about placements. Whilst stakeholders applaud the principle of the Welsh Government's plans to eliminate profit from children's care, we have heard concerns about the planned timescales and possible unintended consequences. For example, the national children's charities policy group says the time frames do not provide enough time for these aims to be reached safely. We know that your consultation responses will be published this month. Are you able to share with us the biggest finding of your recent consultation, and how will it impact your proposals?
Diolch. Thank you very much for that question. To eliminate profit from children's care is one of the top commitments of the Government, and we are determined to do all we can to take this forward, because the present market is unsustainable. There are very high costs in the present situation, and care-experienced young people have told us repeatedly that they don't like to be considered as opportunities for people who are working for private profit. As part of our general reform agenda, we want to have children placed locally, placed near to their families, near to their communities, and in non-profit-making establishments. We're really committed to do that. As I say, it's really part of our wider vision for children services in Wales.
As you say, the consultation has finished. There were 153 responses to the consultation on our proposals, and obviously I'd like to say I'm very grateful to all those people who responded. I'm really pleased to say that there was strong support from a range of public and third sector bodies for the principle of the central proposal to register only not-for-profit providers. There was support for that. I certainly want to say that I do accept that there are challenges with implementation, particularly the risk to sufficiency while we change over to make sure that there are enough placements available during that period. We have put in place a programme to manage this procedure. We've got a programme board, chaired by the Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, and the boad membership does include private providers, private foster carers, residential providers, where we're discussing what the implications are of this policy change.
We are also working with local authorities to develop their placement commissioning strategies from 2023 to 2027. And as Alistair has already said, we're providing revenue funding of £68 million over the next three years to help grow local authority and not-for-profit provision. We are giving money to the local authorities to develop their own provision, with the aim of reducing the number of children in care. What I clearly expect over the next four years is for local authorities to work very hard to rapidly escalate their care reduction policies and programme, as well as developing alternative residential or other provision, because we want to see fewer children in care. We want to see the local authorities bringing down the number of children in care as well as developing their own provision and not-for-profit provision.
We've had some very enthusiastic local authorities telling us that the timescale is manageable and that they will be able to do it, and I'm very pleased about that. However, in view of the consultation responses that we have had overall, we will look at it to see if we need to make any amendments to our proposals.
Felly mae e'n bosib y bydd yr amserlenni arfaethedig yn cael eu haddasu yn sgil beth rŷch chi wedi'i weld yn yr ymgynghoriad.
So it is possible that the proposed timescales will be adapted as a result of what you've seen in the consultation.
Yes. I mean, obviously, the point of having the consultation is to find out what people think. Our commitment to this is uwavering, but, obviously, we will take into account what people have said and we will consider what they've said.
Diolch. Mae bron pob un o'r gweithwyr proffesiynol rŷn ni wedi clywed ganddyn nhw yn dweud mai lleoliadau yw'r meysydd blaenoriaeth ar gyfer newid, ac mae'r dystiolaeth yn gryf iawn gan blant a phobl ifanc rŷn ni wedi clywed wrthyn nhw ar sail hyn hefyd—llawer ohonyn nhw yn dal i fod mewn gofal neu wedi gadael yn ddiweddar. Mae rhai gweithwyr proffesiynol a gofalwyr maeth wedi dweud wrthym ni y byddai cael cofrestr genedlaethol o ofalwyr maeth ar gyfer darparwyr awdurdodau lleol ac annibynnol yn gam enfawr ymlaen o ystyried nad yw'r model 4C presennol yn caniatáu inni wybod ble mae lleoliadau maeth annibynnol yng Nghymru. Ydy hwn yn rhywbeth rydych chi yn ei dderbyn sydd angen gweithredu ar frys, o ystyried maint y pryderon am leoliadau?
Thank you. Nearly all the professionals we've heard from told us that placements is the priority area for change, and the evidence is very strong from children and young people that we've heard from with regard to this—many of whom are still in care or very recently left. Some professionals and foster carers have said that a national register of foster carers for both local authority and independent providers would be a huge step forward, given that the current 4C model doesn't allow us to know where independent foster placements are in Wales. Is this something you accept needs taking forward as a matter of urgency, given the scale of concerns about placements?
Certainly I think this is something that we would be keen to explore, but I think, obviously, it would be a complex thing to bring in. I don't know how high up it would be on our list of priorities, but I think we would certainly explore it. We'd be very keen to hear what foster carers themselves think about it, so we would want to have some consultation with foster carers. I know that officials have started to talk with the Fostering Network about the benefits of such a system, and it's undertaking a scoping exercise to establish what this would look like in Wales. I know that there would be some advantages, because it would address the difficulty foster carers experience when moving from one service to another; perhaps that would help by offering maybe a less bureaucratic method of transfer, reducing duplication and delays. Also, it could increase the status of foster carers, if there was a register of all foster carers. But I'd be very keen to hear what foster carers themselves said about it, and also I'd want to bear in mind that we do want to move to a system where we are using local foster carers in local areas, nearer to the children's homes. That is very much the direction we want to go in. But yes, we are considering it and we are starting discussions about it.
Gwych. Diolch. Rŷn ni'n ymwybodol o sylwadau a wnaed gan farnwr sy'n eistedd yng ngogledd Cymru, ac fel Aelodau rŷm ni hefyd wedi clywed pryderon, am y defnydd cynyddol o orchmynion amddifadu o ryddid am nad oes lleoliadau diogel addas ar gyfer rhai plant yng Nghymru ag anghenion cymhleth ac anghenion uchel. Felly, pa mor ymwybodol yw Llywodraeth Cymru o'r nifer o orchmynion amddifadu o ryddid o ran plant Cymru? Beth mae'r data hynny yn ei ddweud wrthym ni?
Great. Thank you. We are aware of comments made by a judge sitting in north Wales, and as Members we've also heard concerns, about the increasing use of deprivation of liberty orders because there are no suitable secure placements for some children in Wales with complex and high needs. So, how aware is the Welsh Government of the number of deprivation of liberty orders in respect of Welsh children? What does that data tell us?
Care Inspectorate Wales doesn't routinely record the numbers of children who are subject to a deprivation of liberty order. However, as the newly formed deprivation of liberty courts are being reviewed, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has published that 41 deprivation of liberty orders have been made for Welsh children between July 2022 and January 2023. This is an issue of finding secure accommodation; it's one of the most difficult issues I've had to deal with since taking up this post. Because if the children are of a certain age, I have to agree to them going into secure accommodation, and it is very difficult to agree for relatively young children to go into secure accommodation. You have to feel absolutely convinced that there is no other alternative. That's been very difficult to do, but also it's made me aware that there are not enough places for children to have secure accommodation. What we want to do is to have a system that prevents it getting to that situation where children need to be in secure accommodation.
We are developing alternative provision for children with particularly complex behaviours. Over the last few years we've provided £4.8 million to provide accommodation for children with complex needs, to try to stop them reaching the secure level. I think it has now been agreed that all the seven health board regions are going to provide accommodation. There are plans in place for them to provide that accommodation, to hope we don't reach the state where children have to go into secure accommodation, or have to have deprivation of liberty orders because they can't go into secure accommodation. So, we're very much aware of that.
Also, the regional integration fund, the RIF, has allocated £14.5 million to 13 projects, which has given therapeutic support for care-experienced children to stop this happening. But where it does happen, I know that deprivation of liberty orders are being used to provide support to the most vulnerable children when secure provision isn't available. I know that officials have an upcoming workshop planned with the president of the family division, who is the head of family justice in England and Wales, with Care Inspectorate Wales, Ofsted and the UK Government to understand how we can support local authorities and the judiciary system to better support these children and young people.
I absolutely understand how difficult it is when there's a crisis situation and there's nowhere for children to go, and we do work with local authorities to try to provide strategic support. The duty, obviously, does lie with the local authorities to make these placements, but we give as much support as we can. But it is a very difficult area. We want to de-escalate this; that's what our strategy is—to de-escalate children from going up to needing secure accommodation or deprivation of liberty orders. We want to do all we can to support young people.
We are planning to have a small homes project, which would mean that the accommodation for children who need secure accommodation—either coming in from the justice side or, as we say, for welfare needs—should be treated in the same way. We would have regional centres—three, maybe—throughout Wales. We are starting to plan that. In the meantime, we give as much support as we can to Hillside, which is our only secure accommodation for these children. We've given them almost £2.5 million funding from the Welsh Government to Neath Port Talbot to upgrade Hillside, and, on my last visit there, I was very impressed with the service they were providing for children who needed secure accommodation.
I think Alistair wanted to come in.
Thank you. Just to say, we know, with safe accommodation and the project there, that has brought online an additional 20 beds with another 20 to come, so it's making a real difference. I think we've got some great examples across Wales now, including Windmill Farm in Newport, around joint planning and commissioning with health, real needs-based provision, and that's something we're working on very closely with local authorities as part of their placement commissioning strategies review. So, we've got some great examples as well with the RIF funding there that we're currently reviewing, because we want to take the essence of this, again, as part of that best practice, to spread that across Wales. So, I think this money is making a real difference and we're really moving forward on this agenda.
Ie, un cwestiwn olaf gen i am eiriolaeth. Rŷn ni'n clywed tro ar ôl tro bod eiriolaeth annibynnol yn gwneud cymaint o wahaniaeth, ac yn dod â chymaint o ganlyniadau da i blant sydd â phrofiad o ofal. Er yr hawl gyfreithiol i gael cynnig gweithredol, rŷn ni hefyd wedi clywed nad yw llawer o blant wedi cael eiriolwr, er eu bod yn teimlo bod angen un arnyn nhw, neu fod plant eraill yn cael un cyswllt gan fod cyfyngiad amser ar y ddarpariaeth a'i bod yn seiliedig ar y broblem mewn llaw. Felly, a fyddai Llywodraeth Cymru yn ystyried cryfhau deddfwriaeth i greu model optio allan yn hytrach na model optio i mewn o ran eiriolaeth annibynnol, gan gynnwys eiriolaeth ymweliad preswyl?
Thank you. One final question from myself regarding advocacy. We've heard time and again that independent advocacy makes such a difference and is fundamental to good outcomes for care-experienced children. But despite the legal right to have an active offer, we have also heard that many children haven't had an advocate, despite feeling that they needed one, or that other children had one-off contact because the provision is time limited and issue based. Therefore, would Welsh Government consider strengthening legislation to create an opt-out rather than an opt-in model of independent advocacy, including residential visiting advocacy?
Well, I think we look forward, really, very much to seeing what you recommend on this, because this is something that I think we do need to think about. There are different ways of providing advocacy. I really look forward to what the committee will recommend on this question of opt in and opt out. At the moment, our current position is that we provide a clear entitlement to an active offer of advocacy from a statutory independent professional advocate, and this entitlement applies when children become looked after or become the subject of child protection inquiries leading to an initial child protection conference.
This national approach to statutory advocacy was established in 2017 and currently, the Welsh Government provides £550,000 on an annual basis to deliver the national approach. We have developed and established an active offer of advocacy underpinned by statutory guidance and regulation, so that does already exist, and a total of 481 referrals were received for the active offer of advocacy during quarter 2 of 2022—an increase of 23 per cent compared to quarter 1. So there's certainly a high number, an increase in numbers, and some 311 meetings took place with 203 children and young people who received the active offer and are continuing to issue-based advocacy.
So, we have got that active offer, but I think this opt in and opt out is something that we need to think about. So we wait to see what you say on this.