Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

17/11/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams AS
Heledd Fychan AS yn dirprwyo ar ran Sioned Williams
substitute for Sioned Williams
James Evans AS
Jayne Bryant AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates AS
Laura Anne Jones AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Kirrin Spiby-Davidson Pennaeth Dros Dro Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Acting Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales
Rocio Cifuentes Comisynydd Plant Cymru
Childrens' Commissioner for Wales
Sara Jermin Pennaeth Cyfathrebu a Pherfformiad, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Plant Cymru
Head of Communications and Performance, Office of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Naomi Stocks Clerc
Clerk
Rosemary Hill Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Tom Lewis-White Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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

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

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

Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 12:57.

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

The public part of the meeting began at 12:57.

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

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

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

I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee today. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Sioned Williams MS has sent her apologies for items 2 to 6, so Heledd Fychan MS will be substituting—welcome, Heledd. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I can see no declarations of interest.

3. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Comisiynydd Plant Cymru 2021 - 2022
3. Scrutiny of Children's Commissioner for Wales Annual Report 2021 - 2022

We'll move on to our next session, which is the scrutiny of the Children's Commissioner for Wales's annual report 2021-22. I'd like to welcome the commissioner and her team. We have Rocio Cifuentes, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales; Kirrin Spiby-Davidson, acting head of policy and public affairs; and Sara Jermin, head of communications and performance. So, I'm going to start by asking the commissioner to make a few brief opening remarks.

Diolch yn fawr, Jayne. Prynhawn da, bawb, a diolch yn fawr iawn am y cyfle i rannu gyda chi ein gwaith dros y flwyddyn ddiwethaf.

Thank you, Jayne. Good afternoon, all, and thank you very much for the opportunity to share with you our work over the last year.

Thank you. So, the work that I'm going to present covers the last financial period, 2021-22, so it's from the time before I commenced in the role as commissioner. And, therefore, I really want to pay tribute to the work of my predecessor Sally Holland, and, of course, the work of the wider team, in delivering the work that I'm going to be presenting to you. And just to give very brief highlights of that work, it included delivering no less than 604 individual cases of casework, through our investigation and advice service; securing no less than 650 pieces of broadcast and print coverage; and also responding to a total of 31 consultations, including Welsh Government, UK Government and Senedd committee consultations. And, although the context of the report is from work before I started, the recommendations contained within the report are very much my own and reflect what my own priorities are, coming into the role and being six months in now. And, as we will no doubt talk about, it includes the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, mental health and well-being, and wider inequalities.

Just before going any further, I thought it would be useful just to reference and give a reminder of what the key purpose and function of my office is. As set out in the legislation, the key purpose is

'to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children'

in Wales. And, in practice, this means five key functions. Firstly, it's to support children to learn about and understand their rights, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Secondly, to listen to children and young people and to really understand and hear what's important to them. Thirdly, to advise children and young people, and anyone working with them, if they feel they've been treated unfairly. Fourthly, to influence Government and other organisations who say they are going to make a difference to children's lives, and hold them to those promises and hold them to account. And finally, to speak up for children and young people on important issues. So, because of that, I'm really pleased to be here today and welcome this scrutiny and welcome the opportunity to answer your questions. Diolch.

13:00

Diolch, Rocio. Right, we'll go straight into questions from Members, and we start with questions from James Evans.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you very much, Chair, and welcome, children's commissioner. You did mention in your opening statement there about the 604 cases that the office dealt with between 2021 and 2022. Only 22 of those cases came directly from children. Do you or your office have any understanding of why this is, and is this something that concerns you, and do you think that there's more work that you need to do as the children's commissioner, to actually highlight the work that your office does?

Thank you for that question, James. It is something that I have been looking at and trying to understand the reasons for that percentage. It is a figure that has been consistent, more or less, over the last, I think, at least six years. So, yes, the majority of our cases and approaches come from adults on behalf of children and young people. My understanding of that so far, my assessment of that, is that it's for a few reasons.

So, we're not a first-port-of-call advice service; we are intended to provide advice and support when a case or a situation isn't progressing as it should, and therefore it's more likely that an adult would be making the call for that reason. Secondly, I think a factor is that the accessibility of our service has been historically aimed at, and focused on adults, due to, for example, the opening times of our advice service are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so that is something that I am looking at. But I do think that, primarily and fundamentally, in most cases that we deal with and that we expect to deal with, it would usually be an adult raising issues on behalf of a child or young person. I personally am pleased that it is 20 per cent direct contacts from children and young people; I think it is something that we could look to build on, but I'm aware of many other services that exist that do offer a first and important port-of-call for children and young people, including, for example, the Meic helpline and Childline, amongst others. So, I think it's about us clarifying, as an office, exactly what our specific purpose and what the particular remit of our investigation and advice service is. But it is something that I am continuing to consider, with my office, and it will be a focus of my work over the next few months.

Okay. Thank you very much for that. Operationally, a third of the cases that you currently deal with come from the Cardiff, Swansea and Bridgend areas, but the office of the children's commissioner has now moved to Port Talbot. What was the rationale for that decision to move it away from where a lot of the cases are, and were young people involved in that decision making, because, if they weren't, do you think that it could have been a missed opportunity to get that more all-Wales service that we actually hoped for, actually, when we did your pre-appointment hearing and we discussed this then?

13:05

Yes. So, I'll cover the—

[Inaudible.]—made the decision, I can understand that—[Inaudible.]

Yes, but I have been fully informed of the rationale for the office move in particular. But I'll cover the coverage of our casework first. So, the majority of our casework figures do come from the three local authorities that you mentioned, but we do have casework that comes from every single local authority across Wales, and, obviously, the greatest population is in the south of Wales. So, the distribution of casework isn't unexpected in relation to population. I am keen to look at not just the geographical reach of our service, but also the reach in terms of other protected characteristics and diversity within those numbers and within those local authorities. I think there's always more that we can do in terms of increasing how many people and young people know about our service and can therefore access it, and, once they know about it, what can be done to make that access as equitable as possible.

But then, coming to the physical location of our office and the recent office move, it was a move that was a long time in the planning and in the consultation. It was a move that was primarily motivated by an aim to be more sustainable in terms of financially and environmentally. So, financially, the new offices represent an average of a £20,000 annual saving compared to our previous premises that were in Swansea, and, in terms of sustainability, the new offices are located right by Port Talbot train station, so it therefore enables much easier access by public transport.

I believe that our young people's advisory panel were involved and consulted on the office move. I'm not sure at the moment how much more widely other young people were consulted, but it's something that I could get further information to you about.

Thank you. Thanks, James. I'm just going to bring in Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. Yes, just a quick follow-up question to that. That was really interesting, actually. I was wondering whether you're aware of whether there is any sort of disproportionate awareness across Wales of your office, and whether awareness of your office is highest in those local authority areas that generate the most casework—whether there's a correlation between awareness of your role and the amount of casework that comes from those areas.

My gut reaction is yes, that there is a correlation between awareness, and I think there are a lot of word-of-mouth referrals and awareness raising that inevitably happens. I can see also, in terms of the spread of issues that we deal with in relation to casework, there are also clusters, and, as with anything, I think our office has developed a reputation for particular expertise in certain issues, but it might not have had that much casework historically in other issues, and this is something that I'm keen to look at. I think that general awareness of the office and the particular services and functions of the office is something that I spoke about in my pre-appointment hearing with you, with this committee, and it's something that I am still focused on over the coming months in terms of looking at ways that we can really reach more children and young people and their families, so that they know who we are, what we do, and how to contact us. 

Sorry, just one more question as a follow-up to that answer—again, really helpful. Have you considered, indeed, have you discussed, the possibility of joint working with other commissioners to raise awareness of all of your offices across Wales? Because I imagine that the same will apply to all of the commissioners, that, where they are based, where they are physically located, they will have the greatest levels of awareness and therefore perhaps joint working to create a commissioners' office, whether it be in the north or mid Wales, or perhaps both, that combines all of your roles—. It wouldn't need to be a significant human resource, but it might just help to ensure that there's greater awareness in those parts of Wales where perhaps you're not getting as much attention.

13:10

Thank you, Ken. I do meet with other commissioners regularly, and we have looked at joint working and sharing of resources on different issues and aspects, including—. I'm aware that other commissioners are looking at the potential of sharing office space and so on. Due to our very recent move, that isn't something that we are actively exploring.

Since I've started, I haven't been involved in any conversations about working together to raise awareness, but I think that is a good suggestion. Having said that, the Welsh commissioners have very different target audiences, shall we say, in some respects and, clearly, my target audience is very much children, young people and families. And therefore, in that respect, I think that there is huge potential within the new curriculum, particularly with the new requirement on schools and teachers to raise awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and working closely with schools is something that my office already does. We already have a high number of schools engaged in our ambassador networks. Around 35 per cent of primary schools and 26 per cent of secondary schools are already involved in that scheme. But it's something that I want to continue to roll out.

Okay, thank you, Ken. And I think Laura wanted to come in. Laura.

Thank you. Just quickly on that, I was just about to suggest maybe a greater role with school councils, that's all. They have all these different ministers, for environment and all this sort of thing, don't they, in the councils now. But they could have children's commissioner role within their group and maybe choose someone to do similar sort work as you and see what comes from that. It was just a thought.

Thank you, Laura. Yes, I very much welcome the suggestion. The ambassador scheme already—. In some schools, they do link it with their school councils, but others choose to have it separately. I think another opportunity that I'm keen to explore is strengthening links with the Youth Parliament in very much the same spirit of increasing awareness of our office.

Diolch yn fawr iawn a diolch am ymuno efo ni heddiw. Mae chwe mis wedi hedfan ers i chi ddechrau'r rôl hefyd. Roeddwn i jest eisiau holi, o ran, dros y chwe mis yna, sut fyddech chi'n disgrifio eich perthynas waith gyda Llywodraeth Cymru hyd yma? Er enghraifft, pa mor aml dych chi'n cael cyfle i gyfarfod â Gweinidogion? A byddai'n ddifyr hefyd gwybod beth ydy'r math o faterion allweddol rydych chi wedi bod yn ymgysylltu efo nhw yn eu cylch.

Thank you very much and thank you for joining us today. Six months have flown by since you started in this role. I just wanted to ask, over those six months, how would you describe your work relationship with the Welsh Government to date? For example, how often do you get to meet Ministers? And it would also be interesting to know what are the key issues you've been engaging with them on.

Diolch yn fawr for the question, Heledd. It has been a very busy and intense time, with a high level of engagement with many of the Welsh Government Ministers on a very regular basis. For example, I meet with the education Minister bi-monthly and with other Ministers quarterly. The topics and priorities have been very varied, as you might imagine, but you also wouldn't be surprised to hear that there are key recurring themes that very much echo the wider context that we're facing, in terms of the cost-of-living crisis, mental health, the Government's programme of social care reform, and the challenges and pressures facing many services, particularly in relation to staff retention and recruitment, as well as funding pressures. So, the relationship overall with Government, I think, is very positive, and builds on the excellent work of my predecessor, and of the office, since its establishment. 

I also have regular meetings with officers, and a very productive relationship there in terms of sharing information. I feel, overall, that there's an extremely high level of activity and communication back and forth. I feel—and this relates to my wider call for a clearer action plan on child poverty—that some of the conversations, and some of the issues highlighted, would be more coherently addressed within a wider framework and action plan, which would enable myself, as well as Government officials, to really track the progress of different areas of work, and to understand how they fit into that bigger picture. 

13:15

Thank you very much. Certainly, in terms of the report, it's very clear, the focus on child poverty and your views there in terms of the need for that strategy as well. You've mentioned it's been positive in terms of dialogue, but are you seeing movement towards agreeing with your position, or is this something, in terms of the committee, that you think we should be helping to amplify? I think lots of us remember that target of eradicating child poverty by 2020, and yet, now, we're in a position where things are worsening, and, obviously, in the cost-of-living crisis context, continuing to worsen. So, do you feel that there needs to be a greater emphasis on bringing all those interventions together?

Yes, I do. At the moment, I think there are many excellent examples of work programmes and interventions, but they are sometimes undertaken in a piecemeal and very disjointed manner. So, there would be greater coherence, greater accountability, greater transparency, if they were brought together. It's not only about spending more money on this issue, because we know from the estimate provided by the Wales Audit Office, for example, that they've estimated that £1 billion was spent on alleviating poverty through different measures in the last year, but it's about making sure that we can see clearly how well that investment is paying dividends and where some reprioritisation may be necessary. I think the current situation really warrants a greater degree of innovation, perhaps, and, really, flexibility, but also urgency in really delivering on what are some very ambitious commitments and visions, but it's about the practical implementation of that. 

I would really welcome the support of this committee in emphasising that message. I am looking forward to the formal response from Welsh Government to my recommendations, which I hope to receive in the near future. 

Thank you. I think we'll be very interested to see what that response is, because, also in the report, it is emphasised in terms of the urgency and the context that we're experiencing now. You've mentioned also in terms of targets—. And in terms of a potential timetable, is this something that you think that we should be absolutely prioritising now rather than something for the term of this Senedd? You've mentioned refocusing resources. Do you think this is one of the biggest challenges, therefore, that this Government is facing at present?

I do, and I think the findings of my Ambitions for Wales national survey, which closed last Friday—the findings from that survey are devastating and shameful, quite frankly. I won't repeat all of the statistics, but 45 per cent of seven to 11-year-olds are experiencing and worrying about being able to afford food, and even higher numbers being worried about their families being able to afford the things that they need, basic things that they need.

So, I think this is an emergency situation, which warrants emergency action, and I think that this is the biggest challenge of our time.

13:20

Thank you. That's a very clear message for us as a committee and also to Welsh Government as well. I think it echoes a lot of what we're seeing in our communities, and links to the report of the committee in terms of pupil absence as well, and the impact poverty is having. Are there specific things within a child poverty strategy—? I know there will be many, many elements, but in terms of key things that you'd like to see there, what are the biggest areas of interventions do you consider we could be making as a Senedd?

The biggest theme that emerged from my survey is, very sadly, food, and I have called for Welsh Government to accelerate the roll-out of the free school meals programme, but also to consider what it can do to look at free school meals for secondary-age pupils. Only yesterday, I heard in my young people's advisory panel a young person tell us that the cost of a pasta pot had gone up, they'd calculated, by 44 per cent, and they were saying that they could see their friends just not buying lunch because they couldn't afford it. So, food, hunger, child hunger—as shocking as it is to think that we are talking about this in Wales in 2022—is the No. 1 issue, and I would really urge Welsh Government to look at what emergency measures it can take, perhaps similar to the response that we saw during the pandemic, to really look at innovative ways of getting that money into the pockets of families, so that they can buy food for their children.

I'm also calling for the Government to consider piloting a free public transport scheme, which again would immediately and practically alleviate the financial pressures on children and young people and their families. This, as we've heard in many cases, does have an impact on pupil absence, as well as much wider impacts on their mental health and well-being, and this impact is not a short-term impact. The impacts of childhood hunger and poverty, in most cases, would be lifelong, unfortunately. So, it's about making sure that we really invest now to safeguard the futures of these children.

Thank you for those very clear and important points. Chair, I've gone through all the questions I had.

Thank you, and lovely to see you again—I didn't say that earlier, sorry. I just wanted to first say that I'm really happy to hear that your focus is on school travel. I think that's something we all recognise as something that's very important and has a knock-on effect on a number of the things we're talking about.

Four hundred and ten of the 604 cases that the commissioner's office dealt with in 2021-22 related to concerns about education. The annual report also lists a wide range of education policy issues, including exclusions. To what extent are you concerned that education appears to be such an area of concern? And can you tell us more about the research referred to in the report, which refers to unexpectedly high levels of fixed-term exclusions of children in the foundation phase, and also of course the impact of the new curriculum, additional learning needs—we've touched on travel—and young people being educated at home? I know that's a massive chunk of stuff.

Yes, thank you for that question, Laura. As I've already alluded to in terms of casework numbers, I think the fact that such a high proportion relates to education is at least partly a reflection of the reputation and expertise that our office has developed around that area and issue. I don't believe that it reflects that, you know, there are greater problems in education than in other sectors, for example.

In terms of school exclusions, which we know were increasing year on year, the most recent statistics that have been made available since the publication of my report actually show that, in the last school year, exclusion numbers reduced, but that's highly likely to be related to the fact that schools were not open for so many days in that school year. And my predecessor raised specific concerns about exclusions in the foundation phase, and those concerns were really detailed in the 'Building Blocks: Inclusion in the Foundation Phase' report that my office published. So, we are really, as an office—. One of my recommendations is around the ongoing work that Government is carrying out on school exclusions and the review of the guidance that they plan to publish. We are hoping that that will be published by September 2023 and that the Government sticks to its timetable on that. And we're hopeful, and we're urging Government to include within that renewed guidance greater, or basically more of a—that the guidance should more clearly reflect a children's rights approach to that guidance, which includes particularly giving consideration to the age of the child and any other protected characteristics in the decision-making process leading to decisions to issue fixed-term or permanent exclusions, even. We also are urging that children themselves are included in the consultation work that leads up to the new guidance.

13:25

[Inaudible.] Thank you for that. I'm not surprised the numbers are high regarding education because there are so many things going on at the moment in education that could cause them to contact you, I have say.

Your annual report says that:

'Following the final publication of the Independent Inquiry in to Child Sexual Abuse, Welsh Government must coordinate and publish a Welsh Implementation Plan to ensure its learning and recommendations are implemented by Welsh Government and other public bodies in Wales.'

What discussion, if any, have you had with the Welsh Government since the independent inquiry report was published on 20 October, and are you confident that a Welsh implementation plan will be published? Thanks.

Thank you. We haven't specifically discussed the IICSA report, although I do plan to and it will be an agenda item in my regular meetings with Government. In terms of the issue itself, it's something that my office has focused on for a long time, and we hold biannual round-tables on child sexual abuse, which brings together the expertise and key stakeholders working on this in Wales. So, we are very much—. Our recommendation is that Welsh Government does really closely consider the recommendations of the IICSA report and identifies exactly what it can or can't do in Wales as a result of those recommendations, and to build on the previous work, the national action plan.

It is an issue that can't just be thought of as having been completed because of the IICSA report having taken a number of years and having concluded. But, nevertheless, much of the important work really starts now. And, again, it's like so many things that I find myself talking about, it's all about the implementation of recommendations. A review in itself is not the end point; in many cases it's the beginning of a journey. 

Thanks, Chair. This committee has launched an inquiry into the Welsh Government's programme for government commitment to what it says is to:

'Explore radical reform of current services for children looked after and care leavers.'

Is this radical reform something that you're involved in, and are you aware of any progress in this area?

Thank you, Ken. It is something that my office has been involved in, in several of the working groups, and it is something that I have also been involved in many meetings about, so my office has been represented in specific groups, including the transforming children's social care board and the corporate parenting implementation group. We're also members of the eliminating private profit programme board and I'm going to be taking part in a care summit event, which has been rescheduled for early December. So, it's something that I've also had several conversations with the Deputy Minister about and with the Chief Social Care Officer for Wales. And I have really started to understand how radical and ambitious the reform programme is.

However, I have been challenging and asking for greater information and clarity about the content of that work programme and the detail of how that vision is going to be implemented. I've been assured that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes, because I understand that the groups [correction: because I understand that, other than the eliminating profit board, these groups] that I've mentioned haven't met for a number of months. I have been assured that much work to maybe restructure some of those groups is under way, but I have challenged and said that I would welcome greater detail and information about those changes and about the work plan—what is going to happen, essentially. And, unfortunately, I haven't received that yet, but I am due to be meeting with the chief social care officer and hope to have that very soon. But I think that detail is critical and necessary for accountability and transparency, and for me and others to be able to have confidence in the scale of that reform programme, then that information is really crucial.

13:30

Thanks, commissioner, for that very candid response. Just out of interest, what do you think the Welsh Government's priorities should be for radical reform for children who are looked after and then, secondly, radical reform for care leavers?

So, I'm pausing because these are conversations I've had—. I've had so many conversations on these issues, including with care leavers themselves. We very much support the ambitions and principles behind the reform programme. We very much support the ambition to enable families to care for children in their families and to be kept together where possible and also the emphasis on children to be more involved in those decisions, and to have a rights-based care system. And we also support the ambition to safely remove care for profit [correction: profit from care].

But, in terms of the priorities for care leavers, I think what I've heard from various sources is that, in terms of your aim to reduce the number of children in care, early intervention and early support for families is critical. I know that there is new work under way to provide that support to families, but I think that is something to be maintained, and for you in your own inquiry to really look closely at how that work is being delivered. 

I also know that my work previously helped to develop a charter that care-experienced parents had developed for local authorities: so, young mums who felt that they were negatively judged for having been in care themselves and who then felt that their own children were more likely to be taken into care. So, it would be good if you could look closely at the experiences of care-experienced carers in that process.

Also, kinship carers—it's important that you can explore how any children who are looked after through kinship care can be best supported. Also, looking at the role of corporate parenting, I think my office is keen to ensure that the duty to support looked-after children is really properly understood and taken up, not only by social services, but by other public services, in particular mental health services and education services, which play a really crucial part in supporting care leavers to achieve their potential. So, they are sort of some of the headlines.

Also, we are concerned about the current use of unregistered and unregulated placements for children who are looked after. One of my annual report recommendations refers to that, and asks that Welsh Government sets up a working group, so that the full extent of the issue can be better understood.

There are many other issues, for example, continuing to monitor how the basic income pilot for care leavers is going, and also how support for care leavers is delivered, including their right to personal advisers, and how they are actually accessing support up to the age of 25, as is their entitlement. But we also would really welcome and urge you to really include—as much as you can—young people who have been in care, who are care experienced, to hear their voices as part of your inquiry.

13:35

Thank you. Just finally from me, a couple of questions about private profit. Is ending care for profit actually going to lead to any improvement in outcomes for looked-after children, or is this a policy area that’s being driven by ideology rather than the outcomes and the needs of those who are in care? And then, secondly, do you think that private profit from the care of looked-after children can be eliminated unless you have private providers working with the Government, and will they work with the Government?

Thank you. I am aware that this is a complex and contentious area of work, and it’s something that my predecessor called for for several years, arguing that profit should be safely eliminated from the care system. This was based on conversations directly with people in care. And it’s important to say that there were many other sources of evidence that made the same suggestion, including the study by the Competition and Markets Authority, which showed what they termed 'excessive profits' being generated, again, against what they termed 'a backdrop of poor outcomes for children'.

To answer your first question, there is no guarantee that a not-for-profit system would deliver better outcomes. That in itself is not a guarantee, but I think that the current system has been deemed, to be found, not ideal from many perspectives, and the decision has been made to progress towards a not-for-profit system.

It is important that current providers, including for-profit providers, are engaged and supported to be part of those conversations, and that the process to remove profit does happen gradually and safely, and that throughout the process, the potential impact on children is really carefully assessed through a child rights impact assessment, and it’s really crucial to mitigate any potential negative impacts that might be identified. We have shared a suggested child rights impact assessment template with Government and also provided a detailed response to a Government consultation on this topic that we would be happy to share with you as a committee.

That’s really helpful. We’d value that. Thank you. Thanks, Chair.

Thank you, Ken, and we would really appreciate that, commissioner, and I can assure you we will be hearing directly from young people, and their voices will be very much at the heart of the work the committee does on this. And just to ask if perhaps you can ensure that you respond to our consultation as an office as well. That would be really helpful to us in keeping us up to date. And perhaps on that response you have from Welsh Government on the work that is going on at the moment, we’d really like to keep in touch with you on that. So, any information you can share with us, we’d gratefully receive. Thank you. Just finally, we’ve got some more questions from James Evans.

13:40

Thank you, Chair. I've got five minutes of your time, commissioner, I've got three questions, but, hopefully, we can get two in if we have succinct answers, if that's okay. So, my first question is: can you tell us more about a recent survey of children and young people that was carried out, what emerging issues were there and how these will inform the work of your office, going forward?

Thank you. I assume you're referring to the Ambitions for Wales national survey. So, it did close on Friday; it was open for five weeks. It received a total of nearly 9,000 responses, including nearly 8,000 responses directly from children and young people, and the remainder from parents, carers and professionals. We asked questions about things that were worrying children and young people, as well as wider questions on things that they enjoyed and how safe they feel in their communities, how much they feel heard and so on.

But, really, the most striking and shocking areas of the findings relate to the proportion of children and young people who feel worried about getting enough food, and who feel worried about their families being able to afford the things that they need. I've mentioned already some of the statistics, but, overall, I think it's showing that around half of young people, at least, are worrying about these things on a regular basis. For parents, it showed that around two thirds of those are worried about being able to afford three meals a day, and also being able to afford what we might think of as extras, but basic extras, like being able to afford birthday presents for school friends or day trips out. So, I think it really shows, overall, that a large proportion of children and families who would have been in the just-about-coping category a few months ago are really no longer coping and don't know how they're going to get through the next few weeks and months. That is a very worrying and urgent situation, and that is why I'm speaking so strongly about this issue and calling for an emergency response, because it is just alarming and shocking, really, that this is the situation. So, that is the most important finding from that survey.

We will continue to analyse in greater detail the particular response from different groups, different vulnerable groups. For example, we will analyse if there are specific responses from young people who've identified as care leavers, from ethnic minorities and so on. We will be publishing the full details of those findings early in the new year.

Thank you. I've just got one, maybe two, on finance, if we've got time. In the draft budget that Welsh Government are producing, what do you think the priority areas should be for them on children and young people?

Children's services, I think, need to be prioritised because of everything that I've already described, but we know that a larger number of public services do deliver directly to children, so I think it's about really prioritising those that work with the most vulnerable children directly, and, as I've said already, having a comprehensive plan to really understand and set out where money is already being spent, where money is planned to be spent and maybe where more money is needed.

It's really important that, in making those budget decisions, Government undertakes a full child rights impact assessment and understands the potential impact of those decisions, not after the event, but during the planning and decision-making process. We already have a due regard duty on Welsh Ministers to pay due regard in the decision making that they make. It would be really great to see that due regard duty extended to all public bodies, because this is a context that impacts on all of those public bodies in Wales. I think the child poverty action plan is a framework through which these difficult budget decisions could be made, and it has to be done through a children's rights lens.

13:45

Thank you, James. Diolch yn fawr. As James says, unfortunately, we've run out of time, but we might have some other questions to ask, so perhaps we can put those in writing to you. I'm very grateful for you sharing the information you've mentioned in the coming weeks and months as well. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much for joining us. You will receive a copy of the transcript from the meeting today. We really appreciate your time scrutinising the report today. Diolch yn fawr.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note

We'll move on to the next item, which is papers to note. Full details of the papers are set out in the agenda and the paper pack. Are Members content to note these papers together? Yes, I can see Members are. There are quite a number of papers to note, there are 18 papers to note, so very happy to do that.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We now move on to item 5, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to move into private session for the remainder of the meeting. So, I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? I see that all Members are content, so we will now proceed to meet in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 13:46.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 13:46.