What action is the Minister taking to address the increase in the number of looked after children in Wales which has risen from 89 per 10,000 children in 2015 to 115 per 10,000 children in 2021?
Too many children are removed from their families into the care system in Wales. Reducing the numbers of children in care is a key Welsh Government priority.
Since 2019, we have taken a targeted approach with Welsh local authorities who report quarterly against their plans to reduce numbers of looked after children. 2021-22 is the final year of our 3-year Reduction Expectation Plans work. As of 31 December, there were 7,091 looked after children in Wales, a reduction of 161 children over the course of this last financial year.
Our Programme for Government contains a number of key commitments relating to a new vision for Children’s Services in Wales. We want to achieve whole system change and continue the recent trend of fewer children and young people entering care, by providing the right support at the right time to families going through difficult times.
Supporting families to stay together and preventing children entering care cuts across a wide range of Welsh Government policy areas. Our overarching Children and Young People’s Plan published on St. David’s day sets out our ambition for children and young people in Wales and brings coherence to all the work being taken forward across the Welsh Government on behalf of children and young people.
We continue to use the latest research and best practice to inform our work in this area. In particular, we are taking forward the Commission on Justice in Wales recommendations as part of our long term strategy to reduce numbers of children in care. In November 2021, we launched our first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) pilot in Wales, offering an alternative family court for children’s care, to help keep families together. The aim of the court is to break the cycle of children being taken in and out of the care system and help parents become free from substance misuse so they can be safely reunited with their children and avoid children being placed in care. The pilot is being evaluated and this will be used to inform the future roll-out of FDACs across Wales.
We are working closely with local authorities and Heads of Children’s Services to identify, disseminate and embed best practice which already exists in Wales to all local authorities. Our recently established Transforming Children’s Social Care - Oversight Board will play an important role in this work. We have appointed Anthony Douglas CBE, former Chief Executive of Cafcass, as Chair of the Oversight Board and its work will be informed by the knowledge and extensive experience of children’s social care which he brings to this role.