Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

02/03/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alan Davies Pennaeth Gwasanaethau a Ariennir, Cyngor ar Bopeth, Cymru a Lloegr
Head of Funded Services Citizens Advice, England and Wales
Christine Parry Rheolwr Gwasanaethau Plant, Barnardo's Cymru
Children’s Services Manager, Barnardo’s Cymru
Dr Hannah Bayfield Cydymaith Ymchwil, y Ganolfan Ymchwil a Datblygu Gofal Cymdeithasol Plant
Research Associate, Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre, Cardiff University
Jane Shears Pennaeth Datblygu Proffesiynol, Cymdeithas Gweithwyr Cymdeithasol Prydain
Head of Professional Development, British Association of Social Workers
Lee Phillips Rheolwr Cymru ar gyfer y Gwasanaeth Arian a Phensiynau, a Chadeirydd Fforwm Addysg Ariannol Cymru
Wales Manager, Money and Pensions Service and Chair of the Wales Financial Education Forum
Lena Smith Cadeirydd rhwydwaith CLASS Cymru
Chair of the CLASS Cymru network
Yr Athro Jacqui Boddington Prifysgol Metropolitan Caerdydd, ac yn cynrychioli Prifysgolion Cymru
Cardiff Metropolitan University and representing Universities Wales
Sam Austin Dirprwy Brif Swyddog Gweithredol, Llamau
Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Llamau
Siân Elen Tomos Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, GISDA
Chief Executive Officer, GISDA
Sophie Douglas Ymgynghorydd Polisi, Prifysgolion Cymru
Policy Adviser, Universities Wales
Yvonne Connelly Cyfarwyddwr Gweithredol Gorllewin a Gogledd, Llamau
Operational Director West and North, Llamau

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

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

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

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

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

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.

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

The meeting began at 09:32.

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

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

Good morning. 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. 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 remain in place. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Buffy Williams MS has sent apologies for part of item 4 and all of items 5 to 8, but we've received no other apologies. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see no declarations of interest.

2. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical – sesiwn dystiolaeth 9
2. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 9

So, we'll move on to the first item on our agenda this morning, which is our inquiry into services for care-experienced children, exploring radical reform. This is our ninth evidence session. I'd like to welcome our witness this morning, which is Jane Shears. Jane is head of professional development, British Association of Social Workers. We're going to have a number of questions this morning. You're very welcome here. We'll start off with a general question, wondering about your views on the biggest challenges facing the workforce in children's services in Wales today, and perhaps you could comment on some of the scale of the changes that you feel are needed.

Okay, thank you. I just wanted to add an extra to my introduction. My substantive post is head of professional development at the British Association of Social Workers, and I want to thank committee members for inviting the British association here today. Since December 2022, I've been providing support to the BASW Cymru team in the absence of the national director, and the national director, following a period of sickness, won't be returning, so that's the capacity in which I'm here today. I also practice as a social worker in England as an approved mental health professional under the Mental Health Act 1983, and a best interest assessor under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In preparing for evidence today, I've consulted with current practitioners and academics in Wales, alongside reviewing the publications relevant to the key lines of inquiry for the committee. I'd like to apologise for not sending written evidence in advance, but obviously I'll do my best to answer your questions today.

One of the key issues that is mentioned across a number of different documents, and by professionals and social workers themselves, is the issue around recruitment and retention, and opportunities for career development. I think, first of all, there is a growing vacancy rate amongst social workers in Wales, and issues around the training of social workers into children and family and child protection posts is something that is a key topic, I think. I think it's helpful and useful to consider a range of different qualifying routes that are available now, including apprenticeship models, but, of course, apprenticeship models do take time, from the inception of people coming onto that programme to becoming qualified social workers. 

On the other side of that, there are the fast-track programmes in some areas, but, again, that has other issues to consider in terms of preparation for front-line practice. Bringing to front-line practice, I think there is a tendency that there's an expectation that, perhaps, the more newly qualified social workers will gather experience as case holders on the front-line, and that itself brings different challenges about the experience that's required to work when there are quite complex needs with families, systems and children and young people, and children in need and children who are looked after. 

So, I think one of the things that we could look at is the demographics of the workforce, the retention of the workforce. One of the observations I've made in preparation for today is that there are a number of really fantastic initiatives happening in Wales to support people in perhaps more specialist services, but the consequence of that is that perhaps people with more experience tend towards the positions that are available in those more specialist services, which then maintains and recreates the deployment of perhaps less experienced social workers in the front-line practice as case holders with children, families and young people. 

09:35

Thanks, Chair. Thanks so much for attending today. One of the main things that's been raised with us during the course of this inquiry is the huge disruption and the upset that children face when there are frequent changes of social workers. What's your view on why this happens?

So, one of the things that the British Association of Social Workers do annually is a survey of social workers. And some of the findings from the survey suggest that one of the key areas of churn in the workforce is the working conditions that social workers are experiencing.

This year, we're just in the process of analysing the results of the 2022 survey, and the key things that have come from that so far are the bullying and harassment that social workers report that they experience in the workplace, and the abuse that social workers experience, both in the workplace, and with people with whom they work. And added to that is the cost-of-living crisis and the extent of poverty experienced by those with whom social workers are working. Seventy-five per cent of social workers in the survey said that people they're working with need more support as a consequence of the cost-of-living crisis. And 75 per cent of social workers said they felt more children would come into care as a result of the poverty and disadvantage that people are experiencing. So, I think there's a dual set of reasons. One is around the experience of social workers and their working conditions, and the other is the increasing level of complexity and need of the experts by experience or service users that social workers are working with.

09:40

What is it with the churn that actually impacts on the young person? Is it the loss of a secure and trusted adult? Is it the anxiety that's caused by finding somebody new and having to retell a story? What are the main factors that impact adversely on young people when they're faced with multiple changes?

From the evidence I've looked at, I think the main issue is the discontinuity. I think there are also some expectations around the role of social workers. Some of the evidence I've looked at suggests that it's not always clear whether the social worker is there in a capacity that brings statutory legislation and children coming in to be looked after, or whether that's more of a supportive friend-type role. I think that's also about expectations of the parents and the families of social workers, not just children themselves. I think the trusted adult, the person in position of trust issue, is something that might well be better explored too.

Thank you. Just moving on, you've already pointed to the huge number of vacancies that there are in the system. I think the latest report from 2021 shows that there were more than 460 vacancies in social work teams across Wales, and around about 140 vacancies in children's residential care. You've already outlined some of the measures that could be taken. Are there any other things that should be done to address this really serious situation?

One of the initiatives that the British Association of Social Workers is working on currently is looking at supporting overseas-qualified social workers to take up posts. It is actually a live project at the moment, and I'm happy to discuss or share that. In preparing for the committee, it was one of the issues, if you want to a bit more information afterwards. I'm happy to share how we're working around that to support people.  

That would be fantastic. Thank you. That would be wonderful. Thanks very much. Thanks, Chair.

Thank you, Ken. It would be good to have that. And also, when you've analysed the results of the annual survey for this year, we'd obviously very much appreciate seeing that and hearing more so we can look at the comparisons, perhaps, to last year as well.

Yes, absolutely. We'll isolate the responses from the Welsh social workers and compare that with the whole data set.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much for coming today. What we're seeing from data is that, since 2018, I think it's 32.4 per cent of staff now are agency staff working within children's services. Do you know why social workers are choosing to work for agencies? Do you understand what impact that's having on children's services department? What are you trying to do to lessen the amount of agency staff within the system?

I think that's absolutely right; more people are choosing to work on an agency basis or as independent social workers or as locums. Obviously, one of the key drivers is salary, that people will probably earn as much as a third again or double what you can earn in a substantive post in a local authority, for example. I think one of the other things that I've already mentioned is the working conditions, when people are able to choose maybe short-term contracts, which again feeds back into the question around changes in social workers for children. So, those are two of the key drivers: working conditions and pay.

09:45

I suppose with pay it's that vicious circle as well, isn't it, because people are always going to think on their feet if they can get more money, and then local social services departments need those people, so it just goes round and round and round. So, I do understand it's a difficult challenge.

Another observation is that people will probably have done their first year supported in employment with a local authority. Anecdotally, I think, as far as the British Association of Social Workers membership is concerned, our independent members tended to be more experienced social workers that perhaps were moving into roles around practice education of student social workers. But what we're seeing—and we are doing some more work on this—is a change in the demographics, that perhaps more early-career social workers are choosing to become locum social workers.

Do you think, when social workers, like you said, do their first couple of years' placements with local authorities, that there should be more, perhaps, strict rules around making social workers stay with those local authorities or within local authorities in Wales so they can't just leave after they've done their training to go and work for an agency?

I think if people work through the apprenticeship route with the employer then there are contractual arrangements around how long they stay.

Do you think they should be strengthened? Because people can find a way out of those. I was a councillor; I know people can find their ways out of those things.

My understanding is that it's not legally binding. So, it might be that it would be under a contractual arrangement between the employer and the person.

Okay. I'll move on then, Cadeirydd. One thing that we have heard through the inquiry was from social workers and people just the huge case load that social workers have. Do you or does your organisation have any practical solutions of how they can reduce case loads? Is the principle of legislating for maximum case loads for social workers something that's probably worth exploring?

The issue around case loads is often revisited. I think there have been a number of different ways of trying to work out what would be a reasonably average case load, but it is quite complex in that it's not just a metric issue; it's far more complicated than that when you look at the amount of work that's required for individuals at different times. And obviously, people are dynamic; there's not a steady state of people's distress or their strengths. So, it is quite difficult to make a reasonably average guess at what should be an average case load. I think that extends to adult services as well. We had a recent article in The Guardian that talked about the average number of case loads, talking about between about 12 and 16. One of the things that I will say, which we might be coming on to later, is that if young people are placed in residential care out of area, then the social worker still has the accountability for the young person. And you can imagine, if somebody is placed quite a way out of area, then a visit is a whole day. So, I guess the answer is I don't think there is a case for legislative solutions to average case loads.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. Turning to social work training, we've heard concerns from front-line practitioners that social work students being accepted onto courses are becoming younger, meaning that, maybe, inexperienced young people are dealing with very complex and distressing cases, which they may not have the maturity and resilience to deal with. What's your view on that, and do you have any information about the age profile of students?

09:50

Sorry, could you just repeat the last part of the question?

So, any idea about how old those students are. Are there a lot more younger people in social work at the moment?

There are certainly more routes to train as social workers than there used to be. I think there are two ways of looking at this. Previously, many years ago, it was unlikely that you would get on a social work course as an undergraduate, but, obviously, that has expanded, so you can start a social work course as an undergraduate. But there are also postgraduate programmes and an apprenticeship scheme, all the different kinds of training that I've mentioned. Usually, on a training course, people will have at least two placements, so there is a lot of placement experience that is integrated within the training programme. If you're in a second year, you do a 70-day placement, and in your third year, you do a 100-day placement. So, there is quite a lot of experiential learning that social work students experience through the course of their training. And then, obviously, there is also the supported year in employment. Obviously, not all social workers go to work for local authorities; around about 40 to 50 per cent work in non-governmental organisations. So, in terms of the support for social workers, There are different initiatives to support social workers, certainly through their training, to get practice experience, and into first-year support in employment, in whichever employment placement that is.

Thank you. Thinking about the age again of the social work students, do you think that life experience comes into this? Do you think that they—? How can I say this? I know you've just touched on it, but do you think the younger they are, the less likely they are to be able to cope with more challenging case loads and cases that are put before them?

Like us all around the table, we're not a homogenous group of social workers and we will all have different experiences. One of the strengths could be to think about an apprenticeship model from school through to supporting people into a social work qualification, particularly for, perhaps, Welsh-speaking school students who want to then move into that kind of work. But it's about a different kind of support process, through from secondary schooling into training as a social worker. That might be through an apprenticeship model or it might be through vocational qualifications into a graduate programme. I think it's about trying to be creative and thinking about how we support people with different experiences into social work training. There is another group—I don't know whether the committee have engaged with it at all—which is the Association of Care Experienced Social Care Workers. It may be that that would be a good question for that group. Because, obviously, people who are care experienced who then become social workers have that experience of being in both roles.

That's really helpful. Can I just ask quickly as a follow-up from what Buffy was saying, just around the support that young social workers are getting from social workers that have been in the profession for a lot longer, just making sure that they're passing on their expertise over years, how is that expertise shared with younger social worker when they're actually in the job, as well? 

09:55

When people are student social workers, they'll have an experienced practice educator, and that is somebody who will be experienced and be able to support the student through their placement. So, that's one area. The second area is that all social workers have supervision. It's a strong and important element of practice, and that will be either with somebody in their team or a more experienced social worker—it might be the team manager, or a principal social worker, or a senior practitioner. That is how people have that level of supervision around their case load. 

I think one of the issues that was raised when people were not office-based through the pandemic was that there was a lack of that informal learning from more experienced practitioners in the room, listening to phone calls, having an informal chat. That kind of interaction with more senior staff, I think, was something that was absent, and, obviously, with some social workers returning to office-based practice, that can be something that can be re-established.  

I've heard directly from a trainee social worker that, when they were training, they felt that they had work just dumped on top of them. They were inexperienced, and a senior social worker put a huge case load onto that person, and they didn't know where to turn. And they subsequently left the profession because they felt they were just being used as a dumping ground for the senior social worker, because they had lots of paperwork and forms to fill, so it was everything pushed down, and they actually didn't know where to turn for any help or advice, or where to go. So, is that something you think needs to be looked at as well—that, when you do have the senior social workers who are shadowing and giving people advice, they're not just using trainees as a bit of a dumping ground to deal with things so that they can go on and do something else?  

So, that links back to the point I made about the BASW survey around bullying and harassment, that people are experiencing that in the workplace, and that can and may be from senior members of staff. I think the second thing is that we have recognised that people need support, and the British Association of Social Workers offers all social workers and students in Wales a professional support service, which is a one-to-one counselling service that is free. And also, the British association have an advice and representation service that people can access for advice and representation when they feel that there are workplace issues or employment issues that they need some independent advice on. So, there are some places and there are some initiatives and services that are available. 

Thank you. Have you got any other comments about social work training and the opportunities for continuous professional development?

So, possibly no further comments around social work training. The course content is pretty well regulated across the different providers. In terms of continuing professional development, there are a number of different routes that people can take. So, I've mentioned that, after their supported year in employment in the first year post qualification, there are routes such as education professional standards, which is qualifying people to support social work students. There is the approved mental health professional route. There's also the best-interest assessor route, and there is, obviously, mandatory training through the employer, and other training that's available. So, for example, the British Association of Social Workers is this year, in 2023, running a whole series of masterclasses around child protection and working with children, which is a monthly lunch-time seminar. We also run programmes for newly qualified social workers, for practice assessors, and we're looking at—which is something, actually, I was going to mention later—developing a programme for emergency duty team social workers as well. So, there is quite a broad range of continuing professional development available for social workers. 

10:00

Many of the care-experienced children we have met have told us they don't feel listened to and that decisions are made to them rather than with them. Do you have any views on the extent that care-experienced children are given a genuine voice in the big decisions made about their lives that is proportionate to their age and understanding?

I suppose the answer—. My initial answer is social workers try to work on people's strengths, and you're probably familiar with the ladder of participation and the movement from 'doing to', 'doing for', 'doing with'. I think, certainly from the documents I've read, that there is a big emphasis on actually working with children and families to make decisions. I think one of the other areas is around positive risk taking and strengths, and that is around social workers and other members of the multidisciplinary team involved with the children and family feeling supported, that they can take positive risks rather than perhaps minimising, or being able to take positive risks and be supported in that decision making with the family.

Thank you, Buffy. I'm just wondering about your views about those social workers who perhaps go on to be managers, and the fact that they might like being social workers but won't be then on the front line. I'm just wondering about your views about any professional pathway, really, that keeps them in practice rather than out of the role—perhaps like medicine, where you can keep your hand in a little bit, so to speak. Would that be something that you have a view on?

My own view is that it's always useful to retain a practice element, and, speaking for myself, that's what I have done to continue to be a front-line practitioner alongside working at the British Association of Social Workers. I have to express that's a personal view, but I would always hope that people would retain an element of practice to enable them to support other people in practice to the best of their ability. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd, a bore da. Dwi jest eisiau tsiecio bod y cyfieithu yn gweithio. Ie? Grêt. 

Rhywbeth rŷn ni wedi gweld yw bod yna amrywiaeth enfawr o ran y cyfraddau plant mewn gofal rhwng yr awdurdodau lleol. Felly, hoffwn i wybod, heb eich bod chi'n rhoi unrhyw fath o feirniadaeth am awdurdodau lleol neu weithwyr cymdeithasol unigol, oes gyda chi unrhyw sylwadau am yr amrywiaeth yna yng Nghymru, hyd yn oed pan fyddwn ni'n cymryd i ystyriaeth wahaniaethau mewn cyfraddau amddifadedd o ardal i ardal, a hefyd y cyfraddau sylweddol uwch o blant mewn gofal yng Nghymru o gymharu â Lloegr.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning. I just wanted to check that the interpretation is working. Yes? Excellent.

Something that we have seen is that there is a huge variation in terms of the rate of children in care between local authorities. So I'd like to know, without you attaching any particular criticism to individual local authorities or social workers, whether you have any comments to make on that variation in Wales, even when we take into consideration the different rates of deprivation in different areas, and also the significantly higher rate of children in care in Wales as compared to England.

One of the things I'm wondering is whether there are different levels of safeguarding thresholds across the local authorities, and that inevitably will have a consequence in terms of whether children meet the threshold for being looked after. I think the unique characteristic of Wales is in terms of the population deployment—so, you have some very rural areas and some more urban areas. I think deploying a service across such a varied nation and community is always going to be a challenge.

I don't have an answer for you about why so many children, in proportionate terms, are looked after in Wales, but that is, obviously, something that this committee is passionately keen to understand. 

10:05

Diolch. Yn amlwg, rŷn ni'n gwybod am y meini prawf trothwy yna rydych chi wedi cyfeirio atyn nhw a'r angen i'w profi nhw yn ystod yr achosion gofal. Felly, ydych chi'n teimlo bod hynny jest yn rhywbeth sy'n digwydd, o ran sut mae pobl yn dadansoddi neu'n deall hynny, o ran y broses cyn mynd i'r llys neu'r broses yn y llys? 

Thank you. Clearly, we know about those criteria and the thresholds that you have referred to, and the need to demonstrate and adhere to those criteria in those cases. So, do you feel that that is something that just happens, in terms of how people analyse or understand the criteria, in terms of the process before going to court or the process at court itself?

If there are variations amongst the thresholds, that may be for good reason, in terms of the locality of what's happening in the services. I think, from what I can gather, as I've said before, there are some extraordinarily innovative approaches in different parts of Wales that are helping to support people and young people—the edge of care, for example, which I'm sure colleagues later on today will talk about as well. But, I wonder whether some of those services have the rigorous evaluation and research around them to be able to provide the evidence for those services being expanded or delivered in other areas, or a version of, depending on the particular needs of the locality.

Diolch. I ba raddau y mae dadl bod gweithwyr cymdeithasol proffesiynol ar eu colled y naill ffordd neu'r llall, o ran argymell i lysoedd teulu fod angen cymryd plant oddi ar eu rhieni biolegol? Pa mor anodd yw hi iddyn nhw daro'r cydbwysedd cywir a chael eu hargymhellion yn gywir drwy'r amser?

Thank you. To what extent is there an argument that the social worker professionals are damned if they do and damned if they don't, in terms of recommending to family courts the need to remove children from their birth parents? How difficult is it for them to strike the right balance and get their recommendations right all of the time?

That's a very difficult question, but thank you for asking it. I think that there are due processes that social workers follow, and, obviously, going to court and taking a child into care is the last resort. As I've said, there are risk-assessment issues—that, perhaps, social workers may not always feel supported in taking those positive risks around children and families. As you'll all be aware, it is more often than not that there are issues in terms of where things may have been done differently that come to the media rather than when things have gone really well. So, you very rarely have a media story of a social worker doing a great job.

Diolch. Wedyn, a oes gennych chi unrhyw sylwadau ar rôl ddeuol gweithwyr cymdeithasol pan fo pryderon o ran diogelu ynghylch plentyn rhiant sydd â phrofiad o ofal, sef cael rôl ddiogelu ar gyfer plentyn, ar yr un pryd â bod yn rhiant corfforaethol i fam geni â phrofiad o fod mewn gofal?

Thank you. And then, do you have any comments to make on the dual role that social workers play when there are concerns with regard to child protection regarding the child of a care-experienced parent, namely that of having a safeguarding role for the child, at the same time as being a corporate parent to a care-experienced birth mother?

I don't think I'm able to answer that, I'm sorry—not today. But, I'm happy to take the question away and come back to you, and follow it up with some written comments. 

10:10

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for your evidence today. To what extent are BASW Cymru aware of and involved in current Welsh Government plans to explore radical reform for care-experienced children? Thank you.

The British Association of Social Workers has a team in Wales, and I explained in my introduction that I'm covering that for the national director, so there will be a national director appointed over the next few months. The association also has a national standing committee, which is made up of people across Wales from the academic community and also the practice community. So, as far as I'm aware, this is the first time that the British association has given evidence to this committee regarding radical reform, but it is something that we have clearly on the agenda, and it's on the work plan for the standing committee and the British Association of Social Workers Cymru team over the next 12 to 18 months.

Okay, great. Thank you very much. You've mentioned an awful lot of things today, but what is the main thing that you would change to improve the system for care-experienced children in Wales?

I think it would be to look at the services that are working well for children. I think there is, as I mentioned, a role for research and evaluation around some of the—and that may be already happening, and you might have that information. I can see there's a research person here. But, actually, to look at what's working well, but also, I think, it's just as important to look at what isn't working well. So, for example, if you have residential placements that are out of area that make it difficult for continuity around family support and contact with services, then that, obviously, is fractious for the relationship between the people involved in helping to support the young person.

The other piece of feedback that's come back from consultation with colleagues is the young people being assessed in English rather than in Welsh. And one of the things I wondered was whether the committee had done a freedom of information regarding how often the interpreting services have been used—I couldn't find anything about that.

The other observations I have so far from preparing for today are that I haven't come across anything where the committee is particularly looking at in-hours services and out-of-hours services and whether children and young people have a different response, or rather than there is a different response to children and young people depending on when crises present to services.

The other thing we've touched on, but we haven't mentioned, is vicarious trauma for social workers and also other professionals working in the field. James, I think you mentioned that implicitly regarding newly qualified social workers, but I think it's also the case for more experienced social workers who are having to make these decisions. It comes back to the point that was made earlier, which is you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't, but, actually, you carry that vicarious trauma, whatever the decision is that you make.

My other observation—. I've already mentioned about the shifting threshold of safeguarding boundaries, but I haven't come across anything that deals specifically with neurodiverse young people, and again, forgive me if that's already part of the inquiry. What I was able to find is that there is a long wait for ADHD assessments, and what the follow-up service is post assessment; there may be some delay in then beginning to provide a service for those young people.

And I think, lastly, my observation is that, throughout all the three stages, again, there needs to be a consideration of children and young people who are perhaps thinking through their sexuality. The LGBTQI+ literature doesn't really seem to feature as a key indicator of the inquiry's evidence thus far, but it may be; I may not have come across it.

10:15

Mine is just on the big changes that are needed. From what we've heard from evidence, there is disparity across Wales of level of service, level of intervention. Do you think it would be better to have—we've got the social services and well-being Act—a standard set of what you would expect going into social services across Wales, a standard level of intervention right across Wales? Because we've heard that social workers will move between different authorities and have different levels of expectation, so do you think it would be better if we had a standard set of best practice for everyone to follow across Wales, rather than having a piecemeal approach of if you're in one local authority, you may get a bad experience, but move across the piece and then you get a great experience, for example?

I guess it depends if you mean standard response times or service—

Let's look at edge of care, for example, if edge of care is working for someone and it's proving to keep children out of being looked after and having care orders put against them—. Other authorities don't do that; would that be something that probably should be standardised across Wales, if it's working?

I think it would need to be adapted to the specific area, but certainly, there could be key elements that form a standard of practice. I don't know if you've heard from colleagues in Anglesey, who are, as far as I can understand, focusing very much on trauma-informed practice, and working with social services and education, so a cross-agency approach, rather than a cross-geographical-lines approach.

Thank you. And just a couple from me. What do you think the value of wraparound support from independent organisations, as opposed to local authorities, is?

These services are in transition in Wales. I understand that some local authorities are now reinstating their own run, say, residential care. So, I think the plurality of the availability of services can provide wraparound services, but I do understand that there have been some concerns around the use of the private sector and re-evaluating how that fits best for the well-being of the child. So, I think it's probably important to review all the services that are available, and look at how they best meet the needs of the child. It's about the right services at the right time for the child, for what they need.

Brilliant, thank you. And just to take you back to the point around caseloads and maximum caseloads, you were saying about the association not agreeing that it's worth exploring legislation for a bandwidth of maximum caseloads. What do you think the concrete answer is to that, then? We're looking to have some recommendations—some really concrete ideas. Do you have any—? If you don't think that legislation is the way, what do you think could help?

10:20

I think perhaps more consultation with social workers about what is—and I think you're probably saying, 'This is what you're here for', but probably we could do—. So, the British association could look at doing a more in-depth consultation with social workers, working in children and young people's services, about what they feel is a reasonable caseload. And I suspect that there will be different views about that, but if the committee is looking for guidance from the social work community, then that's a piece of work that would need to be done.

Okay, thank you very much. And thank you very much for your evidence this morning and thank you for agreeing to provide us with some further information on the points as well. We do really appreciate that.

You will receive a transcript in due course to check for accuracy, but diolch yn fawr; thank you for coming in this morning.

Thank you for inviting us. Thank you.

Brilliant. We're now going to just take a short break to bring the next set of witnesses in, so, we'll go into private session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:21 a 10:33.

The meeting adjourned between 10:21 and 10:33.

10:30
3. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical – sesiwn dystiolaeth 10
3. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 10

Okay, I'd like to welcome everybody back for our next evidence session. So, we've got our witnesses here this morning. Thank you for joining us; you're very welcome. We've got Christine Parry, children’s services manager, Barnardo’s Cymru; Siân Elen Tomos, chief executive officer of GISDA—hello; Sam Austin, deputy chief executive, Llamau; and we have Yvonne Connelly, operations director, west and north, Llamau. Nice to see you all. 

So, we've got a number of questions from Members this morning. I'll make a start. We've heard that transitioning from care is a key period in a young person's life. What are the key challenges facing the young care leavers that you support? I don't know who would like to make a start. Christine.

I'm happy to start. Yes, sure. So, I think, for us, some of the main issue that we've seen when we've been working with young people who are transitioning from being 16 to 17-year-olds to adulthood, into 18-year-olds, is a kind of inflexibility around the system that's currently in place. So, what we find is that what we're trying to do is fit the young person into the model that we've already got in place, rather than looking at young people as individuals, not homogenous groups, and trying to make sure that we can fit the support that they need around them. And I think where we are really struggling, perhaps, is sometimes to be able to help young people who we know have suffered significant traumas, and then their behaviours, their crisis behaviours, the mental distress that they have, which perhaps has been worked with more thoroughly as 16 or 17-year-olds, as they go off that sort of cliff edge at 18, where a lot of professionals withdraw from the help that they provide, we start to find young people really struggling with things like housing and engaging with their personal advisers and engaging with the services that are around them. So, certainly, from our point of view, that transition period is really crucial and it's one where we need to be looking more closely at the traumas that they face, not withdrawing from them.

10:35

Haia. Gwnaf i siarad yn Gymraeg, os ydy hynny'n iawn.

Hiya. I'll speak in Welsh if that's okay.

Mae GISDA efo cytundeb lefel gwasanaeth efo Cyngor Gwynedd, jest i egluro sut mae o'n gweithio yng Ngwynedd. Rydyn ni'n cyflogi'r personal advisers, so mae Cyngor Gwynedd yn rhoi arian i ni, a wedyn mae gennym ni dair personal adviser llawn amser ac mae gennym ni un person yn gweithio rhan amser sydd yn ymgysylltu efo pobl ifanc i gadw pobl ifanc mewn gwaith.

Felly, o ran y pethau dwi'n gweld sydd yn fylchau, mae o'n sefyllfa eithaf cymhleth. Dwi'n meddwl, i ddechrau, ein bod ni angen grwpio pobl ifanc o ran beth ydy eu hanghenion nhw. Er enghraifft, rhieni ifanc sydd yn dod yn rhieni ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal; dwi'n meddwl eu bod nhw'n grŵp o bobl ifanc sydd angen cefnogaeth benodol am gyfnod hirach. Yn amlwg, fel roedd Christine yn ei ddweud am iechyd meddwl, y cyfnod oed trosglwyddo, mae hwnnw'n her enfawr. Dwi'n meddwl bod yna lot o ffocws ar oed yn lle angen, lle mae pobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal yn aml heb wedi datblygu yr aeddfedrwydd buasech chi'n disgwyl gan, efallai, person ifanc 18 oed arall. Felly, mae yna fwlch mawr yn y trosglwyddo rhwng gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl plant i oedolion.

Buaswn i'n jest licio jest ffocysio ar un peth, lle mae gwasanaeth iechyd, ac yn arbennig y gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl, yn aml yn dweud, 'O, dydy o ddim yn cyrraedd criteria ni—mae o'n behavioural,' 'Dydy o ddim yn mental health—mae o'n behavioural.' Mae'r gair 'behavioural' yma yn codi yn aml, a wedyn, beth? Pwy sydd yn gyfrifol am y bobl ifanc yna sydd yn dioddef, yn amlwg mewn trawma, ond dydyn nhw ddim yn cyrraedd, efallai, threshold gwasanaethau iechyd meddwl?

Wedyn, grŵp arall ydy pobl ifanc o'r gymuned LGBT. Mae yna fwlch mawr yn y fanna. Mae pobl ifanc yn gyffredinol, i ddweud y gwir, ond efallai fwy o bobl ifanc ôl-ofal, dydyn nhw efallai ddim wedi cael eu hystyried ddigon. Grŵp arall ydy neurodivergents, a hefyd—. Buaswn i'n gallu siarad trwy'r dydd am hyn, so efallai bydd yn rhaid ichi fy stopio fi. Mae pobl ifanc sydd â neurodivergence, hefyd—. Dwi'n siŵr bod yna bobl eraill wedi codi pethau fel hyn yn barod, felly dwi ddim eisiau ailadrodd pethau rydych chi wedi'u clywed yn barod.

Dau bwynt arall ydy, pan fo pobl ifanc yn 'transition-io' o'r gwasanaethau plant i wasanaethau oedolion, dydyn nhw yn aml ddim cweit wedi deall beth ydy eu hawliau nhw, a bod dyletswydd gwasanaethau cymdeithasol â bod y ddyletswydd statudol yn ôl y Ddeddf yn newid yn llwyr pan fo pobl ifanc yn troi yn 18, a dydy pobl ifanc ddim cweit wedi deall beth mae hynny'n ei olygu iddyn nhw. Mae hynny'n rhywbeth dwi'n poeni amdano.

A wedyn mae gennych chi grŵp o bobl ifanc wedyn sydd efallai yn 22 neu 23, sydd wedi aeddfedu, sydd wedi setlo yn eu bywydau, ond efallai sydd eisiau help. Adeg yna, maen nhw angen y cymorth go iawn, ond erbyn hynny mae wedi symud ymlaen a does yna ddim lot o gyswllt, rili. Dwi'n meddwl bod eisiau mwy o help o ran hynny.

A wedyn, jest dau beth arall: cyfleon gwaith a hyfforddiant. Mae angen gwneud rhywbeth lle mae pobl ifanc yn cael blas ar waith ond ddim y pressure yna i roi gorau i'w budd-daliadau nhw, fel eu bod nhw dal yn cael blas ar waith efo cefnogaeth. Mae pobl ifanc yn ei ffeindio fe'n anodd 'sustain-io' rhywbeth ac aros mewn rwtîn, felly dwi'n meddwl bod yn rhaid meddwl am bethau fel yna.

A wedyn yr un olaf roeddwn i eisiau amdano yw'r supported accommodation. Maen nhw mor ddrud. Mae GISDA yn darparu hosteli o dan y grant cymorth tai Llywodraeth Cymru, y grant housing support grant. Mae rhenti yn ddrud, so pan fo pobl ifanc eisiau mynd i weithio, maen nhw'n colli yr elfen budd-dal, so maen nhw'n gorfod cyfrannu mwy, ac mae o'n bechod ofnadwy.

A wedyn, o ran yr ochr ariannu yn y supported accommodation, dwi ddim yn meddwl fod o'n glir bob tro lle mae'r cyfrifoldeb iechyd, lle mae'r cyfrifoldeb gwasanaethau cymdeithasol, a lle mae housing support. Beth ydy remit yr housing support grant? O ran yr housing support grant yma, yn aml weithiau mae pobl ifanc yn cael eu dympio yno, lle, rili, mae o'n gyfrifoldeb ar y gwasanaethau cymdeithasol ac iechyd.

Mi wnaf adael i bobl eraill siarad, a mi wnaf ddod yn ôl wedyn os dŷch chi eisiau codi unrhyw beth dwi wedi'i godi. Ond diolch. 

GISDA has a service-level agreement with Gwynedd Council, just to explain how it works in Gwynedd. We employ personal advisers, so Gwynedd Council provides funding for us for that, and we have three full-time personal advisers and we have one person working on a part-time basis who engage with young people to keep young people in work and employment.

So, in terms of the things that I see as being gaps, it's quite a complex situation. I think, initially, we need to group young people in terms of what their needs are. For example, young parents who are care experienced; I think they're a group of young people who need specific support for a longer period of time. Clearly, as Christine said, in terms of mental health, the post-transition period is a major challenge. I think there's a huge focus on age rather than need, where young people who are care experienced often haven't developed the maturity, perhaps, that you would expect from a young person of 18 years of age. So, I think there's a huge gap in terms of transition between mental health services from childhood to adulthood.

I would just like to focus on one thing where health services, particularly mental health services, often say, 'Oh, it doesn't meet our criteria—it's behavioural,' 'It's not a mental health issue—it's behavioural.' That word 'behavioural' comes up very often, and then what? Who then is responsible for those young people who are suffering and facing trauma, but they don't meet that threshold for mental health services?

Another group is young people from the LGBT community. There is a major gap there. Young people in general, honestly, but perhaps more in terms of those care-experienced children from that group, they haven't been supported sufficiently. There's neurodivergence; that's another group too, and—. I could talk all day about this, so you might have to stop me. But young people who are neurodivergent—. I'm sure that there are other people who've raised these issues so I don't want to repeat what you've heard already.

Two other points are that when young people transition from children to adult services, they often don't quite understand what their rights are, and that the social work duty and the statutory duty according to the Act change entirely in that transition when young people turn 18, and young people haven't quite understood what that means for them. That's something that I am concerned about.

And then you have another group of young people, who are perhaps 22 or 23 years old, who have matured, who have settled in their lives, but perhaps they need help and support. That's when they need that support, but by that time it's moved on and there isn't a great deal of engagement. I think that there is a need for more help in terms of that.

Just another two things: employment and training opportunities. They are needed; young people need to be able to have that experience of work but without having that pressure in terms of giving up their benefits, so that they can experience work with the support there for them. Young people find it difficult to sustain something and to stay in a routine, so we need to think about those things.

And then the final thing I wanted to talk about was the supported accommodation. It's so expensive. GISDA provides hostels under the Welsh Government housing support grant. Rents are expensive, so when young people want to go out to work, they lose that benefit, which means that they have to contribute more, and that's a great shame. 

And in terms of that funding for supported accommodation, I don't think it's clear every time where the health responsibilities are, where the social services responsibilities are, and where the housing support element is. So, what is the remit of the housing support grant? Young people are often dumped there, when, really, it's the responsibility of social services and health services too.

I'll let others contribute now, and perhaps I can come back if you want to raise any issues. But thank you. 

10:40

Thank you. Firstly, I'd just like to agree with everything that Christine and Siân have just said; it's really important. In Llamau, the majority of young people that we see who are care experienced have experienced multiple placement breakdowns. So, that means they will have been in perhaps 20 or 30 placements; they might have been to 10 or 15 schools. So, when they come into our accommodation-based services, they don't trust adults—everybody's let them down, the system has let them down—and they are then coming into accommodation and we need to spend a lot of time to build up that trust, make them feel safe and make them feel secure. And that can be really difficult sometimes, particularly given the basis of the contracts that we hold with housing support grants and how quickly people want us to move people through the system; it takes time to rebuild that trust and relationships. 

The other thing to note, I think—and I'm sure that you've come across this—is that we know from research that a quarter of homeless people are care experienced. So, we know the system is failing those young people. We know that there are not enough supported accommodation services available for young people when they leave care, and there is still an expectation for many young people who are care experienced to have to go through the homelessness route, and that is wrong. There should be a really clear pathway. And I'm really proud that the Vale of Glamorgan are working with us in partnership to develop a better pathway. So, we're starting to develop registered accommodation for young people who are 14 to 18, so that they will then transition much more clearly, and much more safely, into our supported accommodation post-18. They will know the support provider, they will know the people who are working with them, they know the way we work. So, I want to compliment the Vale, really, who, before the Welsh Government talked about eliminating profit from care, they were already thinking about that. 

I think the other issue that has been raised is how those services just fall off a cliff edge when a young person hits 18. And that transition into adult services, whether it's adult social services or whether it's adult mental health services, is really challenging, and we really must move away from this idea that chronological age trumps cognitive ability. And really, I would really welcome Welsh Government pushing for a transition, particularly for mental health services, for 14 to 25-year-olds, because we need to have services that understand young people, that don't try and label them, and, as Siân was talking about, discriminate against them from actually accessing services just because of the labels they have. We need to be able to deal with these young people who've experienced multiple trauma, who will become, in the main, parents themselves. So, we need to stop this cycle and really support them around that. 

We also need to be thinking about education—work, training and education opportunities. At Llamau, we run a service called Education at Llamau, which provides that, but the funding for these services is really piecemeal. We know, for example, that many of the young people who come into our services are really struggling with literacy and numeracy; they're so far away from employment. So, we need to make sure that we can really work with them intensively to build up their skills, so that they can actually go on and become economically active and financially independent. 

The issues around mental health services have been talked about really well.

The waiting lists going into supported accommodation are huge, even with investment. We know—it's a real disappointment—that the housing support grant didn't have a financial increase in the budget settlement, and that's really difficult for the sector. But we also know that young people who are leaving care are often placed in bed and breakfast by children's services departments and just left there. And they're not appropriate, and they're often sharing accommodation with perhaps people who've come out of prison. So, it's not an appropriate environment for them.

I think I'll stop there. I'm not sure if there was anything else, Yvonne, that you wanted to add. I'm strangling myself with this.

10:45

That's okay. We've got lots of questions for you, so some more might come out. But, Yvonne, is there anything else you'd like to add in particular?

I think, just to complement everything that's been said, also, really, I think the challenge here is to hear the voice of the young people, and actually services and systems understanding what those young people want. We've often found in our accommodation-based services that young people arrive to us not knowing that this is part of their placement, that they're going to be here longer term. They think that maybe this is an emergency placement or that perhaps they're going to go back home. So, actually, really, that work done with young people to understand their pathway, that this is a pathway led by them and their needs—. Really, for me, hearing the voice of our young people is really quite important, and also that work done before a crisis. So, actually, those emergency placements, we taper away from those, and we look at what does that young person—? Where do they want to live? What does that look like? Have we taken into account perhaps where their community, their schools are, their wider networks? And I think that's a real challenge. Young people tell us they feel really unheard in that process, which really compounds, then, that mistrust of adults and systems and processes as they go on to live their adult life.

Thank you, Chair. First of all, just to say that there are huge concerns around transition and the focus on age not need, and it's really positive to hear in all your contributions so far that you recognise that and the positive steps you're already taking and ideas that you have. From your experience as service providers, what level of choice, do you think young people have about when they leave care? We've already touched on that. To what extent are the young people you worked with ready to leave care? And in the main, is leaving care a planned process to some extent, or is it dictated by the need to free up placements for younger children?

Thank you for that question. As I said earlier, most of the young people that we support come to us—. It's a referral from children's services. It's often in an emergency, and it's often when a placement has broken down. So, I don't think there is any choice at all, and that makes it really difficult for those young people, and those young people often feel that they've had choice taken away throughout their whole time in care, when the only choice that they've had is bringing a placement to an end themselves, perhaps by their behaviour. So, when they come into our accommodation we have to hold onto them and take them through that period where, for some of those young people, they might be feeling really vulnerable and trying to test us to see if we're also going to be like everybody else and bring that accommodation to an end.

The age range of those young people, it could be at 16 if the accommodation—. We've had young people that come to us on their sixteenth birthday or the day after their sixteenth birthday. That's huge trauma. We have young people that come to us on their eighteenth birthday or the day after their eighteenth birthday, and everywhere in between, and a little bit above as well. So, I don't think there is any choice.

I wouldn't say—. My experience isn’t that I've seen young people who have been moved on because it's to free up a placement per se; it's more because that placement's been brought to an end or the foster carer has been asked if they will transition into more of a supported lodging, and the payments reduce then. So, as a result—. So, they don't want to lose the money—they want to keep the money going—so they will then say, 'Well, no, we'll take another younger person', and that's when the young person has to move on.

Yes, I would echo a lot of what Sam is saying there. The trouble is that it is driven by ages. The legislation is driven by ages: you reach 16, and hit one label as a looked-after child; or you become a category 2, which makes you a care leaver who's under 18; or you reach 18, and then you have to be a care leaver. So, it's driven by legislation, it's driven by age, it's not driven by the actual young person that is sitting in front of you. I think for a lot of young people then, they are shoehorned into accommodation that is not particularly suitable for their needs at the time. There are a lot of—. Llamau is one of the examples. There are a lot of organisations that are working really hard to help those young people who are in those accommodations that are perhaps not the correct fit for them at that time. And we do have a lot of distress, then, at 18 when the idea of When I am Ready has been posited, perhaps, at 17, and then, as they reach 18, the foster carers don't feel that they can actually move into a When I am Ready scheme; a lot of the time, some of it is financial, as Sam was saying. And, again, for those young people, it is a reiteration, perhaps, of a failure, of a lack of adults wanting to invest in them, and all of these things can be quite traumatising. They were brought into care because they probably had traumatic things happen to them, and our system seems to, rather than help with those traumas, actually kind of add to them. This idea that you have to go and you have to have assessments for accommodation, and you may pass that assessment and be offered accommodation, or you might not pass that assessment, and that understanding, then, of, 'Why has that happened to me? What have I done wrong?' And then, you can see, as they've turned 18 and as they get older, they feel less invested in the behaviours that we need to see, those sorts of co-operation behaviours that you need to see to keep them in these accommodations.

I would just add that part of the work that we're doing—so, I head up the youth homeless prevention service in Swansea—we do have a specific eviction prevention worker for over 18, because it can be quite easy, and you can understand, really, if you're actually providing accommodation, sometimes the easier route, perhaps, particularly if it's really difficult behaviours, is eviction, notices to quit. So, what we're trying to do is get ahead of that now with an eviction prevention worker, and look at the core reasons why somebody is finding themselves with a notice to quit, because multiple placements don't help anybody.

10:50

No, certainly. It would be good to follow that work, so if you can send us any information about that, it would be good to see how that's going.

Yes, I'm just going on to my next question. Building on what you've already said about transitions possibly being driven by the wrong reasons, do you have any news on the quality of pathway plans? And, to what extent do you feel under pressure to accommodate young people who are not ready for independent living, and whose support needs are too high? I know that some of you have mentioned neurodivergent behaviour. Thank you.

Ie. Dwi'n meddwl, os ydyn ni'n rhoi o mewn cyd-destun, os ydych chi'n edrych ar yr 20 mlynedd ddiwethaf, mae deddfwriaeth pobl ifanc mewn gofal wedi datblygu'n weddol sydyn yng Nghymru, rili, achos pan roeddwn i'n cymhwyso fel gweithiwr cymdeithasol 20 mlynedd yn ôl, Deddf pobl ifanc ôl-ofal, section 24 o'r Children Act 1989 oedd o. So, pan wnaeth y Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 ddod allan, roeddwn i'n hollol excited achos o'n i'n meddwl, 'Grêt, mae pobl ifanc yn cael bach o sylw o'r diwedd', ond wedyn, yn amlwg, mae'r Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 wedi rhoi mwy o sylw i bobl ifanc ôl-ofal a sylw i'r cynghorwyr personol. Ond, pan rydych chi'n darllen y rhan yna o'r Ddeddf, dydy o dal ddim yn ddigon cryf ac mae yna waith angen cael ei wneud i fod yn fwy manwl yn y Ddeddf, oherwydd mae yna anghysondeb ar draws gwahanol siroedd ar draws Cymru i gyd efo beth ydy cyfrifoldeb awdurdodau lleol yng nghyd-destun y Ddeddf, felly. Sori, dwi'n mynd rownd y cwestiwn y ffordd rong. Ie, rydyn ni'n gorfod ymateb yn sydyn i bobl ifanc mewn gofal, ond mae yna lot o waith angen cael ei wneud i wella pethau hyd yn oed mwy. Dyna dwi'n meddwl.

Yes. I think that if we put it in its context, if you look at the past 20 years, for example, the legislation with regard to young people in care has developed relatively swiftly in Wales, because when I was qualifying as a social worker 20 years ago, it was section 24 of the Children Act 1989. So, when the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 came out, I was really excited because I thought, 'Well, great, young people are going to be given due attention at last', but, clearly, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 has placed a greater focus on post-care young people and supporting the individual person. But, when you read that part of the legislation, it still isn't sufficiently robust, and there's work to be done to consider those issues in greater detail, because there's a variation in the consistency across counties and across Wales in terms of what the responsibilities of local authorities are in the context of the legislation. So, sorry, I'm going around the houses on that question, really, but, yes, we do have to respond swiftly to young people in care. There is a great deal of work being done and needs to be done to improve the situation further. That's what I think, anyway.

[Inaudible.]—about the pathway plans. So, I did head up in Swansea the leaving care service, the  personal adviser service, like Siân, for a number of years. I think pathway plans, there should be a really good look at the pathway plans and the purpose of them, and is it useful for the young person who's involved in the process, or is it being seen more as a tick-box, monitoring exercise. When you think of 18, 19, 20-year-olds, the idea that every six months, they actually want to sit down and analyse their lives and what they've done in the past six months, and make plans for the next six months, in the general population, we wouldn't be expecting 18 and 19-year-olds to have to do this. Sometimes, as well, it's done in a meeting context where there are lots of professionals around the table. And, again, does a young person actually want that to happen?

And what we found, particularly post 18, was that a lot of young people started to back off from wanting to be part of that pathway planning process. I would say that what we need to look at is allowing personal advisers and leaving care services to have a menu of options of how they work with young people, to plan and to ensure that they've got the support around what their ambitions are post 18, rather than trying to have this really quite rigid pathway planning process that can follow them from 16 right the way through to 25. What you need at 16 and what you need at 24 is so different. So, yes, I would urge the committee to look at that pathway planning process—not to say that there doesn't have to be a planning process of some sort, but there needs to be, I think, a menu of options that speaks to the needs of the young person in front of you.

10:55

Thanks, Chair. And, again, just building on what you've already talked about in terms of housing and accommodation for care leavers, is it the case that young care leavers don't get sufficient priority in local housing allocations? And, is there an impact of local authority stock transfer on the priority given to care leavers?

Yes. Thank you for the question. In my experience, young people come into supported accommodation first rather than going straight into their own accommodation, and I think that's right, because young people, generally, when they leave home, who aren't care experienced, are more likely to share accommodation with other people, generally, that they know, perhaps when they go to university, et cetera. So, I think there's a real danger of giving—. Although sometimes a young care-experienced person might want their own accommodation initially, again, that needs to be looked at and spoken to with them, to see if they're ready for that. Because we also have seen cases of young people who have been given their accommodation and, actually, they're really struggling to control the front door to that. So, there are dangers of things like cuckooing and exploitation, et cetera. But when they move on from supported accommodation, generally, they are given accommodation, but it's often through a gateway process and an expectation to see have they met the criteria, to show that they're able to live independently. So, they are given their own accommodation that is either local authority or housing association. That does happen, but, often, it's that criteria about whether they're able to—'tenancy ready' is the phrase that is often used.

The big issue, sometimes, is the availability of that accommodation and also where that accommodation is and is it appropriate for them. So, we've seen some great examples where housing associations have been really happy to give brand-new accommodation that's been built to young people leaving care, and I think they really deserve that and they should have that. But we see other examples in other local authorities where they're given the hard-to-let accommodation, and that accommodation's not going to be sustainable for them, because there are lots of issues there that are going to impact on their daily living.

Na. Buaswn i jest yn cytuno efo pob dim sydd newydd gael ei ddweud, a dweud y gwir. Dwi'n meddwl, beth sydd ddim yn glir weithiau efo pobl ifanc ôl-ofal ydy—sori i ddweud hyn—pwy sydd yn talu. Os ydy person ifanc yn dod i supported accommodation, mae'r lefel o gefnogaeth yn is o lawer na fuasai person ifanc mewn supported lodgings neu mewn foster care. So, dwi'n meddwl dydy o ddim yn glir weithiau, pan fo person ifanc yn gadael gofal i fyw yn annibynnol, beth ydy'r lefel o gefnogaeth maen nhw ei hangen, beth ydy'r risgiau a phwy sy'n talu amdano fo, oherwydd dydy'r housing support grant ddim yn ddigon i gefnogi pobl ifanc ôl-ofal. Mae eisiau rhyw fath o top-up housing-related budget ar ben yr housing support grant, sydd yn gallu rhoi yr ecstra yna i bobl ifanc ôl-ofal. Dyna beth dwi'n meddwl.

No. I would just agree with everything that has just been said, truth be told. I think what isn't clear sometimes with care leavers is who pays. If a young person comes to supported accommodation, the level of support is far lower than a young person in supported lodgings or in foster care. So, I think it isn't clear, when a young person leaves care to live independently, what the level of support that they need is, what the risks are and who pays for that, because the housing support grant isn't sufficient to support care-leaving young people. There is a need to a housing-related budget top-up on top of the housing support grant, which can provide that extra top-up for those care-leaving young people. That's what I feel.

Thank you. What happens to young care leavers if a supported housing tenancy breaks down? Is it likely that the local authority might bring them back into a placement? And, you've already talked about inappropriate accommodation being given to young people, bed and breakfasts, and so forth, are you aware of many young people being placed in unregulated accommodation? 

11:00

Yes. Certainly, once they've turned 18, there is nothing under legislation that can bring a young person back into being looked after and put back into regulated residential placements, or into foster placements. So, once you start seeing a breakdown of placement, it often multiplies into multiple breakdowns of placements. I think, and I've said before, that's because we don't look at the underlying reasons for why the placements are breaking down, and we're not putting in sufficient support and support that actually talks to the specific trauma that care leavers are likely to have gone through and that affect the behaviours that they have. 

So, one of the things that we've looked at as Barnardo's is we've got some training flats in Swansea, and those are able to give young people an idea of what it's like to live independently, with the opportunity, then, to step back into more supported accommodation, say, 24-hour supported accommodation, if they find that the isolation that they don't realise they might feel when they start to live on their own—and the cost of living on their own, when they realise, perhaps, that that's not for them. So, some taster ideas of what it's like to live in a tenancy independently might be one of the things that you could take forward. 

Thank you. Yes, we really try to avoid tenancy breakdown at all costs. For us, we don't have any exclusion policies. We don't evict for things like lack of payment of rent, et cetera; we see that as a support issue. So, we do everything we can to try and keep that young person in the placement. There are very few times when we have to ask a young person to leave. That's normally because of a very serious issue that's happened, perhaps with another young person that's in that accommodation. And our supported accommodation is small—it's between four and six bed spaces—so we're trying to create a really supportive and family environment that is psychologically and trauma-informed. Where we do have to ask a young person to leave, we do that, and we will still work with them and look to get them to come back into our accommodation, but we do that in a multi-agency way with homelessness services and children's services. So, that's what we try to do. 

In terms of your question around non-regulated accommodation, I think it's probably really important to say here that supported accommodation that is funded by housing support grant isn't regulated under Care Inspectorate Wales. So, our accommodation isn't regulated, but it's regulated by the local authority because it's commissioned and audited by the local authority. So, that's done in partnership with housing and children's services. So, it's just really important to get that clarification, I think, and that accommodation is cheaper than regulated accommodation, but we're paid to provide housing-related support. We can't just provide housing-related support to the young people who are care experienced, or the young people who have been made homelessness from families. They need much more holistic support services.

So, that's why at Llamau, we employ psychologists to provide clinical supervision and training and reflective practice to our teams, but that's not funded by any of the statutory funding routes that we have. But it's really important to provide that wraparound service. There are concerns about young people who do go into bed and breakfasts, and the numbers, I think, are unknown, really. Through the homelessness route, that's very much regulated through the Welsh Government, and having to report to Welsh Government in homelessness about how many young people are placed in bed and breakfasts, but I don't think that's the same for children's services. So, I think that is an issue that probably needs to be looked at. 

Na, jest cytuno efo bob dim sydd wedi cael ei ddweud, a dweud y gwir. Ie, does yna ddim digon o lety ar gyfer pobl ifanc mewn gofal. Mae o'n greisis; mae'n ofnadwy. A dwi ddim yn meddwl bod o'n fater o jest medwl am y ffaith nad oes yna ddim tŷ; mae o'n issue lot ehangach na hynna. Does yna ddim digon o ofalwyr maeth, does yna ddim digon o weithwyr cymdeithasol. Mae'r berthynas rhyngom ni a gwasanaethau cymdeithasol yng Ngwynedd yn eithriadol o dda, ond does dal dim digon o eglurdeb am bwy sydd efo cyfrifoldeb dros bwy, a phwy sydd i fod i ofalu am y bobl ifanc ôl-ofal. Felly, ie, dwi'n cytuno efo bob dim sydd wedi cael ei ddweud gan Sam, a dweud y gwir.

No, just that I agree with everything that has been said, truth be told. Yes, there's just not enough accommodation for young people in care and leaving care. It's a major crisis, and I don't think it's just a matter of thinking about the fact that there isn't a house for a person; it's a much broader issue than that. There aren't enough foster carers, there aren't enough social workers. The relationship between us and social services in Gwynedd is exceptionally good, but there still isn't enough clarity in terms of who is responsible for whom, and who is meant to care for care-leaving young people. So, I agree with everything that's been said by Sam. 

11:05

Diolch, Siân. Ken, have you finished? Right, thank you. Questions now from James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I've got two questions, if that's all right, but, in the interests of time, because it's quite nice to see there's no real divergence of opinion amongst the panel, unless you've got any real difference with somebody who's already answered, I'm saving time, Chair, if that's okay—

—and a one-person answer will be fine. So, just thinking about the universal basic income pilot that's been introduced, there were concerns raised at the time about how that would impact on care leavers. Could you explain, or one of you explain, how that's impacted on the people you work with? So, that's the first question I've got. And the second question I've got is that a lot of young people who we spoke to who have personal advisers say it's very hard for them to get hold of their personal advisers—they have different phone numbers, they can't get through all the time, and they keep getting told they've got huge case loads, so it's very difficult to access that support. So, to what extent do you think that the personal advisers are actually fulfilling the roles that they're there to do, because what we're hearing is that young people haven't really been able to access that service? So, anybody who wants to fire off first, carry on. 

O ran y cynghorwyr personol, y personal adviser, mae o'n wir fod y case load yn ofnadwy o uchel. Mae nifer y plant sydd wedi mynd i ofal yn y 10 mlynedd diwethaf wedi mynd i fyny yn ofnadwy, sy'n golygu bod yna fwy o bobl ifanc ôl-ofal, a does yna ddim mwy o adnoddau ar gyfer y bobl ifanc yna. Felly, i fynd nôl at beth oeddwn i'n dweud yn gynharach, dwi ddim yn meddwl ei fod o'n ddigon cryf yn y ddeddfwriaeth beth ydy rôl y personal adviser, a beth ydy perthynas y personal adviser yna efo'r awdurdod lleol. Mae o'n sôn am 'advise and assist', ond efallai nad ydy'n glir beth yn union mae o'n meddwl, a beth mae 'keep in touch' yn meddwl—ydy o'n golygu tecst unwaith y flwyddyn? Pwy sydd â'r cyfrifoldeb? Mae'r awdurdod lleol efallai'n dweud, 'Rydyn ni'n rhoi'r cyfrifoldeb ar y person ifanc'; dydyn ni ddim eisiau rhoi pressure arnyn nhw, ond mae o weithiau'n falans. Mae'r ddeddfwriaeth yn gadael lle i fod yn inconsistent, rili, rhwng y siroedd i gyd. 

O ran y basic income, dwi'n meddwl bod o'n beth da iawn. Mae gennym ni ambell i berson ifanc  wedi dechrau arno fo yn barod. So, mi fedra i roi un engraifft: person ifanc yn ein hostel ni, ac rydyn ni wedi mynd trwy'r ffurflenni i gyd, ac, ar ôl talu rhent supported accommodation, sydd yn rhent uchel iawn, mae'r person ifanc yna yn dal efo £800 y mis, sydd yn dipyn mwy na beth fuasai fo ar universal credit. Felly, rydyn ni'n syportio'r basic income scheme, ac rydyn ni'n edrych ymlaen at weld sut wnaiff o ddatblygu dros y misoedd nesaf.

In terms of the personal advisers, it is true that the case load is exceptionally heavy. The number of children who've gone into care over the past 10 years has gone up a huge amount, which means that there are many more care leavers, but no additional resources for those young people. So, going back to what I said earlier, I don't think it's sufficiently robust in the legislation what the role of the personal adviser is, and what the relationship with the personal adviser is with the local authority in question. It talks about 'advise and assist', but perhaps it isn't clear what that means, or what 'keep in touch' means. Does it mean a text once a year? Who is responsible for that? The local authority perhaps says, 'Well, we give the responsibility to the young people.' We don't want to put pressure on them, but it is about striking a balance. The legislation leaves scope to be inconsistent between all of the counties.

In terms of the basic income, I think it is a very good thing. We've had some young people who've started on that pilot. I can give you an example of a young person in a hostel. We've gone through all of the forms and, after paying rent for supported accommodation, which is a very high level of rent, the young person still has £800 a month, which is a great deal more than they would have through universal credit. So, we are supportive of the basic income scheme. We look forward to seeing how it will develop over the coming months. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, all, for joining us this morning. A recent report from Public Health Wales found that leaving care is considered a 'predictable route into homelessness', with around a quarter of homeless young people being care experienced. To what extent does this reflect your experiences of delivering services on the ground?

I think it's probably quite a fair reflection in terms of the young people that we work with and their experiences, and I think one of the key conversations throughout today, for me, is really that early identification, intervention and prevention. So, we talked a lot about pathway planning, but actually the need is for us to be further upstream, to understand actually what the young person's journey is as they're working through the care system and as they're navigating that, because these systems are designed by adults, in all honesty, often for adults, in terms of their understanding. So, for our young people, really starting to understand what their needs are, and starting to work alongside the family also, perhaps, in terms of that wider prevention agenda, actually would potentially prevent young people either going through the care system or, at the point of 18, having to enter a homelessness pathway in terms of where their next step is. I think, Sam, you've probably got some quite good examples in terms of care leavers in the services. 

Yes, we do see a lot of care leavers that come through, and I think I said earlier that young people who are leaving care should not have to go through the homeless pathway. We see a lot of young people. Yvonne has talked about the early intervention and prevention services. We've been piloting a service called Upstream Cymru in Caerphilly and Cardiff, and starting to go into Neath Port Talbot. We're finding that around 20 per cent of those young people are at high risk of homelessness or educational disengagement, but they're also not on the radar of any services, and that's because services aren't asking the young people themselves; they're making assumptions based on other matters.

We also know that around 50 per cent of people who are rough-sleeping were homeless more than three times under the age of 21. So, we know that there's a massive correlation between young people becoming homeless, care leavers becoming homeless and adult homelessness, and that is a cycle that we really have to break. So, those pathways—smoother pathways—of young people leaving care and having a route into good-quality supported accommodation, and then a route out of that into their own accommodation where support follows that, which is an example that's happening in Cardiff at the moment, are really important pathways. But, in Cardiff, there's also a massive waiting list for those young people who need that appropriate accommodation service, and, when you get out of the big cities, the opportunities for supported accommodation just fall away. So, I think it is a massive issue.

11:10

Thank you. I think you've answered a little bit of my next question, just now and previously, but I'll still ask it anyway. Again, the Public Health Wales report also said that there are untenable differences between authorities when it comes to their approach to, and provision for, young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including care leavers. Is this a picture that you recognise, as providers that work across more than one authority in Wales? 

Yes, I think it probably comes down to the legislation and what Siân was saying before—that it can be quite unspecific. You wouldn't think that legislation is unspecific, but when you look at the guidelines that often sit behind the legislation—the guidance—they can be open to a lot of interpretation. So, across Wales, you would see local authorities that will very much see youth homelessness, care leavers and over-18s as part of a social service response, and then you will see other local authorities that will see it as very much part of a housing response. So, you can see divergence in that way as well.

I do think that we've all got a lot better, and we do see that, certainly for 16 and 17-year-olds, it should be a much more social services-led response, but, yes, it is something to be looked at. We don't want, I think, our legislation to be so inflexible that it dictates everything that we do, but, also, it can't be so open to interpretation that what a young person experiences in north Wales is very different to what they'd experience, perhaps, in south Wales. 

Thank you. Research from the Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre at Cardiff University showed that vulnerability to child criminal exploitation is increased when young people live independently as it heightens risk factors for exploitation, such as feeling lonely, isolated and struggling to survive on a limited budget. How much of an issue is this and how can young people be protected? I think we've heard quite a lot about that from the evidence we've taken previously in our meetings, and that is quite worrying for us, as committee members.

Thank you, and thank you for raising this issue. It's something that we're really concerned about. We see a lot of young people who are vulnerable because of financial and sexual exploitation. That's why supported accommodation—24-hour supported accommodation—is really important, because we can be the eyes and the ears, and we can fill that contextual safeguarding, and we can give that information and work in a very multi-agency way with children's services, with the police, et cetera, where we have concerns. I talked earlier about where a young person isn't ready to live on their own and live independently, loneliness is a huge issue, and we have seen, and have had referred to us, young people in their own accommodation where they're really struggling, and that's when the idea of trying to get them to come back into care, into a more supported accommodation is really important. We have young people that are then really mixed up in county lines, and they are then really reluctant to tell anybody what's going. They're really scared, and it's really frightening, and we have to have a really strong multi-agency approach to protect those young people.

So, in Cardiff, we've got funding from the lottery, under a service called My Way Home. We're really targeting that in Cardiff, working in a way where we've got experienced and specialist support workers working with those young people as they transition out of supported accommodation into their own accommodation, and, as they transition into those more adult services, to work in a really intensive way to support them to reduce the risks of that exploitation. It's only just started, but it'll be really interesting to see what the outcomes are from that.

But I think some of the issues that we also see are with those young people that go into adult services—adult mental health and adult social services. It's very much the expectation that you go to them and, if you miss your appointment, that shows that you don't need it, whereas those young people that might be 18, 19, at risk of sexual exploitation, but cognitively working at a much younger age, need a different response and different support around them.

11:15

Thank you. Thank you, Buffy, and we've got a final question from Sioned Williams.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Rŷn ni'n dynn ar amser ac, os gallwch chi gadw eich atebion yn gryno, rwyf i jest eisiau gofyn ichi—. Rŷn ni wedi clywed am nifer o bethau y bore yma rydych chi eisiau eu gweld yn newid hefyd—pethau fel meddwl am anghenion plant yn hytrach na'u hoedran nhw, meddwl am y gefnogaeth ariannol a phris llety sy'n cael ei gefnogi, meddwl am yr angen ar gyfer cefnogaeth holistaidd a gwasanaethau holistaidd. Felly beth yw'r prif beth y byddech chi'n ei newid i wella'r ddarpariaeth o dai priodol o ansawdd ar gyfer pobl ifanc sy'n gadael gofal yng Nghymru?

Thank you, Chair. We are tight on time and, if you could keep your responses succinct, I just wanted to ask you—. We've heard about a number of things this morning that you, too, want to see changing—things such as thinking of children's needs rather than their age, thinking about financial support and the cost of supported accommodation, and perhaps thinking about the need for holistic support and holistic services. So, what's the one main thing that you would change in order to improve the provision of quality and appropriate housing for young people leaving care in Wales?

Jest i ddweud, ac fe wnaf i drio bod yn fyr, dŷn ni newydd beilota project o'r enw TAPI, tîm o amgylch y person ifanc, so, team around the young person. So, yr un peth â beth oedd Sam yn dweud, a dweud y gwir—fedrwch chi ddim sbio ar un peth ar ei ben ei hun; mae'n rhaid ichi ystyried y byd cyfan o amgylch y person ifanc, a bod statws pobl ifanc yn llawer is nag ydy un plant ac oedolion. Mae pobl ifanc bob tro yn add-on ar ben gwasanaeth plant, os dŷch chi'n deall beth ydw i'n meddwl—'children and young people', 'plant a phobl ifanc', lle, rili, dydy o ddim yn addas ar gyfer pobl ifanc. Felly, mae jest ishio codi statws pobl ifanc a theilwra rhywbeth penodol ar gyfer pobl ifanc ôl-ofal, fuaswn i'n argymell.

Just to say, and I'll try to be succinct, we've just piloted a project called TAPI, team around the young person. So, similarly to what Sam said, you can't look at something in isolation, you have to consider the holistic picture and the world around the young person. And the status of young people is far lower than that of children and adults. Young people are always an add-on to children's services, if you understand what I mean. It's 'children and young people', whereas, really, it's not appropriate for young people. So, we need to uplift the status of young people and to tailor the services specifically for care leavers. That's what I would recommend.

Succinctly as possible, okay. So, again, I think it's echoing what we've all said: it's to be looking at these young people as individuals, not trying to shoehorn them into our models, and it's particularly, I think, looking beyond the idea that there are quick fixes and that all you've got to do is pay off rent arrears, all you've got to do is teach somebody to budget, teach somebody to be able to cook. What you need to do with these young people is to look at the trauma that is underpinning the behaviours that we see, the difficulties that they are having, and, if I could say one thing that I think would be really good, and Siân has talked about something that seems very similar, it is to have services like the one that we've got in Swansea that is called Bloom, which looks at, really, those key traumas and the isolation that these young people feel, and trying to build ambition into it, looking at housing as their home and trying to make sure that they can integrate into that.

Funding, properly funded services, early identification to try and support families and young people so they don't need to go into care in the first place, and a transition service that goes up to 25 that is wraparound.

I think Sam has probably summed it up. Early intervention, though, and prevention to really start to be further upstream with our young people and actually understand what identification of those at risk looks like way before we meet a point of crisis.

Thank you very much. Thank you, all, for your contributions today. I'm sorry we were pushed on time. I know there's a lot to say, but we do really appreciate you coming in. You will receive a transcript in due course to check for accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

We'll just go into private session to change over witnesses. So, we'll now go into private.

11:20

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:20 a 11:30.

The meeting adjourned between 11:20 and 11:30.

11:30
4. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical – sesiwn dystiolaeth 11
4. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 11

Croeso nôl. Welcome back to this session of our inquiry into services for care-experienced children. This is our eleventh evidence session. I'd like to welcome our witnesses here this morning. We have Lee Phillips, Wales manager for the Money and Pensions Service and chair of the Wales financial education forum; you're very welcome. And we have Alan Davies, head of funded services, Citizens Advice England and Wales. Thank you for joining us this morning. Members have a number of questions to put to you for our inquiry, and we'll start off with questions from Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. Good morning. Research from the Money and Pensions Service indicates that financial education as it's currently delivered in schools is not likely to be sufficient to close the gap and fully meet the additional needs of more vulnerable groups. What’s the key thing that we need to do to narrow this financial capability gap of families of children at risk of entering care?

Yes, I'll start. Can I just clarify 'at risk of entering care'? So, it's before they actually get there.

Okay. One of the things that we do is we have a programme called Talk Learn Do. We trialled that with Flying Start and Families First colleagues across Wales in 2015. The idea behind that was to help families talk to their children about money in a way that's age appropriate, so to get that understanding and give parents the confidence to have those conversations. Because it was Families First and Flying Start areas, they were particularly deprived areas generally across Wales, and I think we've worked with over 1,000 parents in that time. Very interestingly, the result that came out was that parents felt much more confident about talking to their children about money. Children were understanding things like why parents would say 'no' if they couldn't have something.

Also, one of the secondary outcomes that we weren't necessarily looking for, but hoped for, was that 25 per cent of the parents who took part in that intervention came out of overindebtedness themselves because they had engaged with their money; they had made an absolutely concerted effort that when they were dealing with money and their children, they made a point of what they were doing. So, it actually had a double impact. Children and young people understood that they couldn't have everything, they could understand why they were being told 'no', and parents themselves actually engaged more with their money and came out of overindebtedness.

So, there's that part of that, but there's also the wider financial well-being. When we often talk about well-being for families, we think about physical and mental well-being, and what we would like to do is look more at financial well-being as part of that. You can't have good physical and mental well-being without financial well-being. When we're looking at working with families and others across Wales and the rest of the UK, what we're looking at is how do we embed financial well-being into these other well-being services as well, so we're looking at well-being in the round. I'll stop there in case Alan would like to come in at that point.

I strongly support everything that Lee has just offered. From our perspective, obviously our involvement pre care is wrapped up in relation to how we deal with any requests for support from families. But the thing that we would particularly point to is the need to return to the integration of social welfare and income maximisation advice as part of the Families First programme. It's really essential in terms of giving families a stable income stream to be able to plan responsibly, and then that in turn feeds into how we can protect children and tackle child poverty in Wales. 

Thank you. Following on from that, Citizens Advice recommends that the Welsh Government integrates social welfare and income maximisation advice into the Welsh Government family support programmes on the basis of a potential link between rising child poverty rates and the rate of children entering care. How much of an impact do you think income maximisation makes to families at risk of having a child removed? What needs to be done to take this forward, and by whom?

I think it's going to be incredibly difficult for us to quantify that, because if we look at the studies that have been carried out that provide the causal link between those, the metrics that have gone into those studies, essentially, have been rewritten because of where we are with the cost-of-living crisis. So, what we're seeing is that more families are now tripping into that at-risk position than has ever been the case in terms of the services that we're providing.

What we can say categorically is that, for the vast majority of people that we are dealing with, at the moment, in the last 12 months, we've seen an increasing proportion that have approached us that are in crisis, we're seeing a lack of some of the basics in terms of an ability to achieve a balanced family budget or we're seeing a lack of evidence in terms of their budget planning and capability. We're also seeing reduced levels of savings that those families can draw on and we're also seeing an increased level of risk through debt, some of which includes fines, which then only adds to and exacerbates the difficulties that the families face, and, dare I say it, the risk of potential imprisonment.

What I can say is that things have been made significantly worse over the last 12 months as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. And it is every aspect of domestic income and budget that is being affected here. So, it's a layering on families. We're seeing that for those who traditionally we wouldn't have supported, they're coming to us because of increasing mortgage rates. We're also seeing, because of the increase in rental costs and a reduction in terms of the rental market, that we've got more people who are facing eviction, coupled with the energy costs, food costs—it doesn't take much further explanation. We're seeing it every day in the news—tremendous pressures are coming on families from all sides. Obviously, we're actively concerned in terms of what we can do to prevent a significant increase in the number of children who present themselves as being in need of care as a result of that.

11:35

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. The code of practice for looked-after and accommodated children says that local authorities must place an early emphasis on financial literacy and financial capability skills. To what extent is there evidence of children and young people in care being supported with these skills at an early age?

Can I just clarify—? You said, 'What evidence is there?'

Okay. Great. Thank you very much. We don't have any research that tells us what's happening specifically around children and young people in care. We do know what's happening with regard to getting financial capability and well-being to children and young people. We do a survey every three years that looks at children and young people in Wales and their parents and their financial capability, so I'll have to draw on that, if that's okay. 

We know that around 50 per cent of children and young people in Wales get a meaningful financial education, whether at school or at home. It was around 40 per cent, I think, just for school particularly. One of the things that we've been doing is working with families and schools to try and embed financial education and literacy in that. One of the things that we've been doing, particularly in a school environment, is working with schools to deliver financial education support to teachers so that they can deliver that support. We've worked with Martin Lewis, the money-saving expert, to take his textbook from England and make it appropriate for Wales, and we've delivered that to all the schools in Wales bilingually as well. And we've been working on a primary level as well in order to do that.

But our research tells us that, for children and young people—. Your point was on early intervention. Our research, which we did a while ago, said that for children and young people, by the time they are seven years old, those money habits and behaviours are already in place, and so we need to get to children and young people very early. So, part of the reason we did Talk Learn Do initially and that pilot was how do we get to children before they're seven to start embedding those behaviours. Of course, schools are an absolutely important part of this, but actually it's the family that is the particularly important place to do that, whether that's foster carers, other guardians and carers.

The idea is that it's the home where we role-model money, it's the home where we give money, so that's where we need to start looking at providing support for the parents, because they're the ones who need to give—. I mean, think of it as the three Rs. You need to give regular money to children so that they understand that it comes and it goes and they have to budget that. You have to give them responsibility for it, so that they can make mistakes at an early age. It might be as simple as choosing a comic over sweets, or sweets over a comic—once you've eaten the sweets, the money's gone but you don't have anything else to show for that. It's those learnings at the earliest age possible—so, there are roles, there's responsibility, there is regular money. It's also setting rules around that as well. Those are the kinds of things that really set behaviours in children and young people at a very early age.

I don't have any evidence of what's being delivered for children and young people in Wales in the care system particularly. One of the things we have been doing is working with practitioners who work with young people. We host the financial education forum for Wales, and that is a quarterly group where we encourage anybody who works with children and young people to come together. We bring people in to talk to those about why it's important to talk about money and how it is being delivered. And we have people there like family learning practitioners, through to youth workers, policy makers and funders who come to that. One of the topics we always talk about is starting early and delivering financial education at all levels, through all angles, and for anybody who works with children and young people to build in that financial well-being from the earliest stage possible.

11:40

I think that Lee has given an excellent outline in terms of that early intervention for people within education. All I can speak to is our experience in terms of the financial capability issues that we've seen from the people that we're supporting on the basic income pilot scheme at the moment. Of course, at that stage, when they're at the point of leaving care and moving to independent living, the whole idea about financial capability kicks up a gear when they're starting to deal with real-life issues in terms of housing, utility costs, budgeting for food, budgeting for clothes. Our support at that stage has taken what principles they bring to the appointment and either reinforcing them or taking them up another level in terms of looking at them for the first time, considering all of their potential outgoings against their income and then learning in practice, pretty quickly, how to actually set responsible budgets. 

I would say that financial capability as an advice area—I'm just looking at our statistics in relation to the programme—feature very heavily in all of the appointments that we've supported young people with at the moment, together with the fact that they're navigating really quite complex areas of Government administration in terms of benefits, universal credit, employment legislation and employment contracts. There's an awful lot that they have to process in a very short space of time in that big step towards independent living. We're trying to support them through that as well. 

Thank you, Chair. I'm not sure how appropriate it is to mention specific companies, but I'm aware of GoHenry, and I'm sure you've all heard of it. Having spoken to those who established it, they want to do more in getting it into schools and getting it as part of the curriculum, which I think is absolutely fantastic. They also would like to get involved with reaching out to exactly the people we're trying to reach out to here. So, it might be something that we could all think about. I just wanted to interject with that. Thank you.

I think you've answered a little bit of my next question, but I'll still ask it anyway. In written evidence, the Money and Pensions Service says professionals working with children in care need greater financial education, support and guidance, and it has developed a guide and toolkit for professionals. Can you explain how you measure the outcomes of this work and whether time constraints for social workers means some front-line professionals just don’t have time to have training on these resources?

I can certainly start on that. The guide that came out for local authorities came out at the beginning of this year, and the toolkit, then, for practitioners came with that. We will certainly hope to get that out across all of Wales to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to see it and consider how they're delivering financial well-being. 

In regards to those other people who work with children and young people, I absolutely get that they're very busy and don't have a lot of time to do all the training and support that they need. But what we have got is something called the money guidance programme. The idea behind the money guidance programme is, for those people who do not do money management as the day job, it's something that they do on top of everything else. The money guidance programme provides a just around two-hour foundation session that talks about the difference between money guidance that's non-regulated and money guidance [correction: money advice] that's regulated. After that, they've done the foundation, they get accredited for that, and then they can move on to different tiers, if they have the time, on particular subjects.

If I can give you an example of why that's important: hypothetically we have somebody who is working with young people, they know young people, for example, need a bank account, and so they know that down the road there's Simon who works at the local high street branch. He's a lovely guy, he knows how to work with the young people, he talks very well to them, he's not frightening or threatening, and Simon knows that he needs to open them a fee-free basic bank account, because that's the right bank account for those young people, and so that's what they do, which sounds great, because now the young person's got a nice bank account and everybody's happy. Unfortunately, what they've done there is they've actually gone between non-regulated into regulated advice. They've suggested a financial provider, and they've advised on a particular product. Those things are regulated advice, which of course is a legal thing.

So, there's a boundary between money guidance and money advice, and what we want to do is make sure that practitioners, whether they're social workers, youth workers, young people's advisers—. We want people to know what they can and can't do within the rules, but also feel confident that they're doing the right thing, that they know where they're signposting to. That initial e-learning can be done in their own time, it could be done during work, and it could be done on iPads or laptops. And that first couple of hours just gives them the confidence to know what they're doing, where to start, what's the line between regulated and non-regulated advice, and then gives them opportunities to learn more. So, it could be something like budgeting or household finances, and even, if they're interested, going into pensions as well. There are those different tiers and different support, and then those tiers stop when they need to hand over. So, for example, when we're talking about debt, debt is a very highly specialised and regulated area, so it's the basics of debt, and once you've done that part, if you need to do more that's when you need to hand over to a regulated debt adviser. So, the learning is there. It's not onerous, but it gives you those basics to understand what you need to do, and then the opportunities to learn more if you have the time, or a particular subject you're needing to cover.

11:45

Okay, thank you, and thank you, Buffy. Questions now from Sioned Williams.

Diolch, Cadeirydd, a bore da. Rŷch chi wedi amlinellu yn eich atebion hyd yn hyn pa mor bwysig yw llythrennedd ariannol. Allwch chi ddweud wrthym ni beth yw effaith llythrennedd ariannol gwael ar bobl ifanc sy'n gadael gofal?

Thank you, Chair, and good morning. You have outlined in your responses so far how important financial literacy is. Could you tell us about the impact of poor financial literacy on young people leaving care?

It's difficult for us to speak to that. I can speak to the advice that we've given when somebody is requesting support from us through the basic income pilot scheme. One of the difficulties that we've got is the way that we record data. We don't have a tag against a client that shows whether they're in care or not as a protected characteristic, so I can't speak specifically to your question, other than to emphasise the fact that when we're supporting clients, frankly regardless of age, on anything to do with debt or financial matters—and we are a regulated debt and financial adviser charity—we find, habitually, there are issues in terms of a lack of awareness of financial budgeting. There is a shocking level of ignorance, actually, in terms of benefits and other sources of support income that are available to people.

So, we would just encourage, generally, and we're happy to support the 'Claim what's yours' campaign from Welsh Government, that wherever possible, people at the earliest possible stage, before it becomes a crisis, seek help and advice from not necessarily ourselves—other charities are also available—but to seek help and advice, so that they can actually put their financial position in a state that is manageable for them and ensures that they're in charge of their own domestic household and personal arrangements, rather than letting external pressures or a crisis situation make them basically lose control in terms of their personal position financially.

11:50

Yes, thank you. Just to add to that. So, we know that children in care, and care leavers themselves, highlight money management as one of their top concerns. So, some research done by the Prince's Trust and the National Children's Bureau highlighted that. We know that children in care, and care-experienced young people, have often missed out on learning in school and at home. So, those important financial capability influences haven't been there. And, often, there's that challenging home life and complex situations. So, we know that a lot of care-experienced young people aren't as financially capable as their other peers.

So, let me put that into context for you. So, back in 2021—. Every three years, we do what's called the 'Adult Financial Well-being Survey', and we do a Wales version of that. So, this survey was done just after the COVID furlough and forbearance, but just before cost of living came in. So, this is that sort of bit in between. So, we know, at that point, that 47 per cent of adults in Wales did not feel confident managing their money. When we broke that down to young people between the ages of 18 to 24, that number rose to 70 per cent. So, that's 70 per cent of young people across Wales, generally, do not feel confident managing their money. If children and young people who are care experienced are behind that curve, then we can assume that's higher again. 

Another example: 20 per cent of adults in Wales often use a credit card, an overdraft, or borrow money to buy food, because they're running short of money. For 18 to 24-year-olds, that rose to 36 per cent, and 53 per cent of adults in Wales with bills or credit commitments were struggling to keep up. For 18 to 24-year-olds across Wales, that rose to 73 per cent. So, that's the impact, just for young people generally, and then add that extra lens of care-experienced young people on top of that.

Diolch. I fod yn glir, yn amlwg dŷn ni'n medru dychmygu ac yn gwybod beth yw effaith dyled ar rywun, ond yn ein sesiwn dystiolaeth flaenorol, roeddem ni'n siarad am ddigartrefedd, a'r gyfran uchel o bobl ifanc sy'n gadael gofal sydd yn ddigartref. Felly, a fyddech chi yn cytuno bod hyn, a'r ystadegau rŷch chi newydd eu dyfynnu, yn meddwl bod risg sylweddol o fethiant tenantiaeth, er enghraifft? Ydy hwnna'n rhywbeth rydych chi'n ei adnabod?

Thank you very much. To be clear, we can imagine and we know the impact of debt on somebody, but in our previous evidence session, we were talking about homelessness, and the high proportion of young people leaving care who are homeless. So, would you agree that this, and the statistics that you've just quoted, mean that there is significant risk of tenancy failure, for example? Is that something that you would acknowledge and recognise?

I would say that poor financial capability would be a risk of tenancy support for anyone particularly. One of the projects we are doing at the moment is working with Gwent housing support grant, and we're embedding the money guidance programme—that e-learning and support I mentioned there. We're embedding that into the housing support grant in Gwent. So, they're making it part of their funding that organisations such as Llamau, who work with young people, would be doing that money guidance programme, to understand and support people in regards to that. So, yes, absolutely, financial capability, and how we manage our money, absolutely impacts on our capability of running a household, paying our bills, paying our rent, yes.

I'm really interested in that figure, where you said that 73 per cent of that younger age bracket have got credit or struggling to cope. What are the bigger issues why people are in that bracket? Do you think it can be societal sometimes, that you feel pressured into buying the best cars, the best televisions, that type of thing, or is it other issues? I'm just interested, because, when I was brought up, I was always told, 'Pay for what you've got with what you've got'—that type of thing—'and don't have credit.' I'm just interested in where the biggest issues are here, and what people are actually getting in credit for.

I might let Alan talk about what people get credit for. I think, culturally, things have changed. I know that there are some people who, exactly the same as you, have been brought up to save for what you want, and I know a whole group of other people who buy now and pay later, and that is certainly something that is increasing dramatically in regards to accessing services. I'm sure Alan knows more about that.

I think the point you made might have held through more widely a few years ago, in that we were supporting clients who had made, perhaps, unwise decisions—if I can phrase it that way—in relation to overextending their financial commitments. They didn't realise the implications of some of the commitments that they had entered into, whether they were for large purchases such as a house or for rental agreements, and the terms associated with that, or with car purchase schemes.  With young people, I can only say that if we're looking at where we are now, over the last 12 months, and with the young people we're working with at the moment with the basic income pilot scheme, we're not actually dealing with people that are making frivolous decisions; we're dealing with people who, frankly, just simply haven't got enough money to achieve a balanced budget on a monthly basis. The costs across the board have risen with every aspect of living at the moment, to the extent where, unfortunately, some people are looking at taking on loans, particularly the aggressive interest rates of payday loans, to try and make ends meet on a monthly basis. Now, I think we have to look—. It's not a matter for us as a charity, but we have to ask a wider question about what we're going to do in terms of plugging that gap in terms of basic income for basic provision for things like housing and food and heat, for example, where we're seeing, as a charity, a cohort of clients coming to us that we would not have imagined we would be supporting by way of profession, and we're seeing an increase as well in terms of in-work poverty. So, I would say, at the moment, with the cost-of-living crisis, the sort of financial considerations and pressures that households are dealing with is dramatically different than what it was 12 or 18 months ago.

11:55

Diolch. Dwi'n credu, Lee, gwnaethoch chi sôn yn un o'ch atebion blaenorol fod gennych chi ddim tystiolaeth o ran yr hyn sy'n cael ei ddelifro’n union, ond mae yn adran fanwl iawn yn y cod ymarfer ar gyfer plant sy'n derbyn gofal a phlant sy'n cael eu lletya sy'n amlinellu'n fanwl ac yn glir iawn yr hyn y mae'n rhaid i awdurdodau lleol ei wneud ynghylch llythrennedd ariannol ar gyfer plant sy'n derbyn gofal ac sy'n gadael gofal. A yw hyn yn gweithio'n ymarferol?

Thank you. I think, Lee, you mentioned in one of your previous answers that you don't have evidence in terms of what is being delivered exactly, but there is a very detailed section in the code of practice for looked-after and accommodated children, which sets out, in detail and very clearly, what local authorities must do with regard to financial literacy for children in and leaving care. Is this working in practice?

I have no evidence to say 'yes' or 'no' to you, Sioned, I'm afraid. But I can tell you that, when we host the Wales financial education forums, we do have people from all across Wales who work with children and young people from all various positions and areas, and one of the things that often comes out is that children and young people who are care experienced need more support and need help in basic money management matters. What we're trying to do is ensure that, through our guide, for example, that was mentioned earlier, that local authorities understand what support is out there and available, how they can embed financial education and well-being generally into that, whether that's with foster carers and through schools and through their young people's advisors and social workers. It's about making sure that they are aware where it is, how to access that, what resources are available, provide the toolkits. All of us have a role, when we work with children and young people, to consider the financial well-being of those young people. So, we are always hearing that we need to do more, and I think that's all of us.  

I just wonder how you present all that to the children and young people you're trying to help. Is there an app that you have? Or what form does it take? Sorry, just to try and make it as—. Obviously, you've got to try and make it as interesting and colourful, with graphs and things, as possible for young people to engage, as I've found with my own children. I'm just wondering if you could just tell me about that, briefly.

We don't do direct support to children and young people. We think that children and young people will learn best through the people who are their trusted intermediaries, whether that's families, youth workers, social workers, and others. So, we provide tools and resources for them to then use those in a way that is appropriate for the children and young people that they work with. We do have a website called MoneyHelper, HelpwrArian, available bilingually, that does have information on there, and it has information on there for parents on how to talk to their children about money at various stages in their lives. And then there is a section, from 16 onwards, about how to start money management, the basics, the basics about scams and things like that. But, ultimately, we work with those people who are those trusted intermediaries, whether that's in the home or in school or in other settings as well, so formal or informal education, in family homes and through others. So, we provide them with the tools and resources to use as appropriate for the groups that they work with.

12:00

Diolch. Jest un cwestiwn dilynol ar natur y cod ymarfer. Mae'n dweud,

'gall awdurdodau lleol ddymuno sefydlu system o wobrau a chymhellion sy’n gysylltiedig, er enghraifft, â mynychu addysg, hyfforddiant neu weithgareddau eraill sy’n ceisio gwella cyflogadwyedd pobl ifanc',

ac mae'n mynd ymlaen i ddweud,

'os nad yw gwobrau a chymhellion yn llwyddo yn ôl y disgwyl, bydd angen i’r Cynghorydd Personol weithio gyda’r person ifanc i nodi newidiadau ac adolygu’r cynllun llwybr yn unol â hynny.'

Ydyn ni'n gwybod os yw hyn yn arfer eang? Ydych chi, te, yn meddwl bod hynny sydd yn y cod ymarfer yn ffordd effeithiol o ymdrin â chymorth ariannol?

Thank you. Just one follow-up question on the nature of the code of practice. It states that,

'local authorities may wish to set up a system of rewards and incentives linked, for example, to attendance in education, training or other activities aimed at improving young people’s employability',

and it goes on to say that,

'where rewards and incentives are not operating as anticipated, the Personal Advisor will need to work with the young person to identify changes and review the pathway plan accordingly.'

Do we know whether this is widespread practice? Do you think that what is set out in the code of practice is an effective way to approach financial support?

I'm afraid the onus on that is with local authorities; I don't feel that I'm in a position to respond to that, I'm afraid.

The only thing I can suggest is that the Share Foundation, who look after child trust funds, do a programme where there are financial rewards for doing financial education. I'm sure they would be more than happy to provide evidence to you about what that looks like and how that works.

Moving on to the basic income pilot, how is the Welsh Government's basic income pilot for care leavers working to date?

Yes, I would say very well. We're supporting and are linked in with all the local authorities in Wales; we are supporting directly about 82 per cent of the young people who have entered that scheme to date. I expect that percentage of our engagement to increase, as we have to support them at the end of the financial year with tax rebate forms, and no surprises there, we all love paperwork, don't we, but we're probably going to have an uplift in the need for support in terms of those tax rebate claims for the young people involved.

But, what we're finding is that people are not just contacting us, but contacting us repeatedly. So, that's an interesting aspect of the service for us, that it's very much not a 'one meeting and that's it' type of engagement. We are averaging just over six appointments now per young person that we are working with, which means that it's much more of an ongoing relationship that's developing with them. Now, from our point of view, that's exciting because it means that, at the end of the basic income pilot scheme, they'll also have an established confidence and working relationship with us as a charity so that, through later life, they feel confident in terms of reaching out to us for advice and support at particular life events where they may need some independent advice. So, that's encouraging as well.

One of the things that we are discovering—and I believe that you're going to be hearing from the basic income pilot scheme from the Welsh Government as well at some point as part of the committee's evidence—is that there are some sticking points. There are no surprises; it's a pilot scheme, so there are some sticking points in terms of priority, particularly around how people are entering the scheme. How long they can stay in local authority housing, for example, has been a problem that we've had to become involved with in terms of clarifying the circumstances under which they can continue to stay in protected accommodation, and the answer to that is 12 months after they have entered the scheme. But, things like that can be a point of anxiety and crisis for the young people entering the scheme and making a decision about whether to enter the scheme. 

Our engagement on that affordability assessment has been incredibly encouraging. What I would say as well is that, for the vast majority of local authorities that we're working with, there's been a very positive experience, and, in many cases, the involvement with the basic income pilot scheme has actually re-forged or reinvigorated working relationships between the local authority and the local Citizens Advice office. So, we're seeing spin-off benefits in terms of strengthening the working relationship, which can only be good in terms of the social reach of support that we can provide.

So, our early experience to date has been educational for us as a charity, educational for the Welsh Government project team, and hopefully, tremendously beneficial to the young people who are involved in the scheme.

Thank you. It comes down to wondering about how to manage that money, doesn't it, as we've discussed before. Citizens Advice say that it's having an average of six contacts per young person, as part of its role in providing wraparound support for the basic income pilot. To what extent are these requests for support directly linked to the delivery of the pilot, or do you find you're filling a gap for the more generic support needs of young people leaving care?

12:05

Well, it's not so much to do with the administration of the scheme in itself; I think the way that local authorities have led on this has been very sensitive and responsible. What we're finding, predominantly, that we're giving advice and support on are practical issues that, frankly, adults find themselves in the position of entering these areas of Government bureaucracy and struggle with. So, benefits and tax credits, for example, universal credit, dealing with accommodation contracts; financial capabilities speaks into that as well. But what we're also finding is that, for a proportion—I would say under 25 per cent—but for a fair proportion of the young people, they still have issues that they're dealing with as they move into independent living that are the reason that they actually found themselves in care. And by that, I mean that they are dealing with family and relationship issues, so they are vulnerable individuals in that respect, as a result of ongoing issues that they are carrying with them into independent living, if that makes sense. So, there are issues that are beyond the financial, but have an impact on their capability to be able to move truly into independent living, if that makes sense. So, those are other issues that we're able to provide independent support on as well.

Thank you, Alan. Chair.

Thank you, Laura. Final questions from James Evans.

Thank you very much. I have the million-dollar question, I'm afraid, and you can be as succinct as you want, because it's a direct question. So, what are the main things that you would change in the system to improve the lives of care-experienced children and young people leaving care in Wales? And I'll start with Lee, if that's all right.

You can. A big question. I think it's about—sort of summarising everything I've said up to this point—it's about making sure that children and young people are given financial education as early as possible, so that we can build on that as they grow. It's about making sure that families, including foster carers and others, feel confident in delivering that and giving children regular money, letting them have the responsibility for that and make those mistakes early. So, it's better to make a mistake with a fiver than a £500 credit card when it first comes along. I think it's about ensuring that the institutions, educational institutions, informal education environments and others look at financial education and embed that into their practice. It's about making sure that the practitioners across Wales, whether they're social workers, young people's advisers or youth workers feel confident in delivering financial education and financial well-being support, and ensuring also that when we're looking at the well-being of children and young people, we don't forget financial well-being as a particularly critical part of that. And then, what we can then do is build that financial support, that security, that confidence in children and young people, so when they do move on into independent living, they've got a good basis to start making those decisions on, going forward.

Everything that Lee said I would strongly endorse. We also welcome the fact that the Welsh Government is reviewing its child poverty strategy at this point in time. That's incredibly important that we consider the impact that poverty can have on children, whether they're in care or not. If we can tackle child poverty, it also is a proactive way of potentially reducing those who find themselves in care, so we absolutely endorse and support that.

For those who are involved in the basic income pilot scheme, there are some practical issues that, over the next few years, Welsh Government is going to have to carefully consider. The first is that this is a two-year pilot scheme. Obviously, at the moment, in financial terms, it means that young people who are leaving care in 2024-25, 2025-26 are not going to benefit from a basic income pilot scheme. Now, I know that Welsh Government are undertaking an evaluation of the scheme at this point in time, but my concern is that we have an evaluation timescale that may not mean that the Welsh Government is as informed in terms of its consideration of any extension of the basic income pilot scheme as it might want to be. So I would ask that consideration is given to the timescale for making a decision on whether there's a need to extend the basic income pilot scheme or not. If the pilot scheme is not extended beyond its current timescales, we would ask the Welsh Government to give further consideration to the whole provision of access to advice and that step into independent living, regardless of whether the basic income pilot scheme is in place or not, at the point that young people are leaving care. So, whether there is any way of reinforcing the pathway between local authority care and that move into independent living once they turn 18, with some sort of supportive framework put in place—a bridge between the local authority support that they would have received and then other advice sector provision that might be available to them, as they move into young adulthood. 

12:10

Brilliant, thank you. Thank you both for your evidence today. We do really appreciate it—I know there's a lot to cover—but thank you for your time today, and for contributing to this inquiry. So, diolch yn fawr. You will be sent a transcript in due course just to check for factual accuracy, but thank you. 

And we'll now move into private session, just to change the witnesses over. Diolch. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 12:11 a 12:16.

The meeting adjourned between 12:11 and 12:16.

12:15
5. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: archwilio diwygio radical – sesiwn dystiolaeth 12
5. Services for care experienced children: exploring radical reform - evidence session 12

Croeso nôl, welcome back. This is our twelfth evidence session in our inquiry into services for care-experienced children, exploring that radical reform. I'd like to welcome our witnesses here this afternoon, or nearly this afternoon—yes, this afternoon now. So, it is Lena Smith, chair of the CLASS Cymru network; Dr Hannah Bayfield, research associate, Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre; we have Professor Jacqui Boddington, pro vice-chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University, and representing Universities Wales; and Sophie Douglas, policy adviser for Universities Wales. You're all very welcome, and thank you for joining us this afternoon.

So, I'll start off with some questions for us. The first one is: perhaps you can set out for us to what extent the main challenges for care-experienced students from Wales are set out in the recent UCAS report, both in terms of accessing higher education and in terms of being able to succeed in studies. And perhaps you could add to that if there's anything else that you want to draw our attention to in particular about the challenges for care-experienced students. I don't know who'd like to start with that general question. Hannah.

Sure. Thanks for having this today. So, I am here primarily as a researcher from CASCADE. I also sit on the CLASS Cymru network as well, and the research I've been doing has been specifically around care-experienced students' access to and success in university in Wales. There are a number of key challenges for the student body of trying to go through that process. A lot of the time it is around a lack of knowledge—a lack of knowledge of the people supporting those young people as well. So, young people were reporting, for example, that foster carers or social workers just didn't really have the tools required to be able to support them if they did go on to university in the way that a family member might for other young people. There are also more structural barriers, particularly finance. There is a lot of financial support available for care-experienced students, but this wasn't necessarily well known about. The differences in support between local authorities could be very marked. There's a minimum level of support that local authorities will give a care leaver who goes on to university, but a lot of local authorities are doing different levels above that, and there was some confusion around that. There's also just a number of challenges on reaching university of trying to go through that experience in the same way that another student might, and I know that Lena will probably be best placed to talk about that. 

Yes, I just wanted to quickly put in there that what CLASS stands for—it's care leaver activity and student support in Wales. So, it's made up at the moment of all the institutions, colleges, the fostering network, Voices from Care—anybody, really, that has an involvement in supporting somebody going into higher education. 

Now, based on the research that Hannah did that's just about to be published on some of this, it's about those barriers. We worked with students when we did the research, and how we can look at that gap that's missing, because, as much as we as institutions have the information there, how do we get it out to people that are working with these students but also if the students are looking to source it themselves? So, we developed the CLASS Cymru website, and this website is—. As you'll know, there are a lot of resources in the UK for students that are care experienced. However, it wasn't very Welsh-centric, you know, to actually—. We have a lot more development here in Wales that wasn't actually being set on these websites because they didn't know much about it, and, also, that information wasn't available in Welsh. So, we've created a website now that reflects what is going on in Wales. It can be accessed by a student and practitioner. Hannah, through CASCADE, has made some fantastic resources, so even if you haven't got access to the internet with students, as we know that people in some areas don't, we've got leaflets that can be printed out as well to help out with those conversations.

Now, we know, as institutions, we're looking, obviously, to get students on courses that they're interested in, but CLASS Cymru is about us all coming together and looking at the—. What we are trying to do is actually make these students have a better experience. We work together as institutions to make sure that, regardless of where they go to university in Wales, they know they're receiving that support, and we work together to make sure of that. What we're seeing, though, is those barriers—. We want to make sure that more of that is put out there. What we notice, with that support, is that we'd like to see that recognised more, working with schools and working with colleges, and getting that content information out there. We're hoping—. We've started to plug that gap, but we'd love to see more support to be able to continue that.

12:20

Yes, that's brilliant. You've just touched on the fact that it's the start, really, but how do you raise awareness of the CLASS website with care-experienced young people?

At the moment—. I haven't brought one with me, but we've worked with practitioners and we've actually produced a business card with a QR code on the back. That means that if they're out and about with a social worker or a foster carer, they can have that in their wallet or purse, and, if that conversation is brought up, they can bring that up there. We try to make sure it's in training. So, we've spoken to local authorities about the website existing. We've now started to work with other partners to make sure that they understand where we could put that information, such as the DFSG newsletter. We've worked with Student Finance Wales, so our content is in that information, and we've worked with Nicola Turner for fair access in UCAS, so our content is also on there, because Welsh content was minimal.

Brilliant, thank you. Data from the UK Government suggests that a very low proportion of care-experienced young people access higher education and a higher proportion of care-experienced young people will not be in education, employment or training than is the case for the general population in England. Do we know enough about what's happening in Wales after the age of 18 for those care-experienced young people? No, there seems to be a general—. Jacqui, did you want to say something?

Just to say that we don't collect that data in Wales and, therefore, no, we don't.

Yes, a lot of the difficulty is that we are lagging a step behind some of the research in England, because, in England, you can link up data at 19 between care-experienced young people and what their education and employment is at 19. We don't have that data in Wales from 2016 onwards, so, currently, it's very, very difficult for us to get a clear picture. We've got a lot of anecdotal pictures from universities about the numbers of care-experienced students rising, the number of estranged students rising, but, in order to really support those students, we need to present data that enables us to then put the support in place for those students. Not having clear numbers in the way that there is in England does make it very difficult for universities to resource those positions that can be so key.

I think, as well, one of the things we're looking at at the moment is transitions in. One of the things I'm quite interested in is exploring success through and out. So, again, without having that initial piece of information, it's really difficult to start assessing how well we're working internally to ensure that students are being successful while they're with us.

Brilliant, thank you. We've got some questions now from Sioned Williams—Sioned.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Ie, wel, i ddilyn ymlaen o'r cwestiwn yna ynglŷn â'r data, beth, felly, ddylai Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud i wella'r data rŷn ni'n eu casglu ar ganlyniadau ar gyfer y rhai sy'n gadael gofal, yn enwedig o ran addysg uwch?

Thank you, Chair. Well, following on from that question on data, what should the Welsh Government do to improve the data collected on outcomes for care leavers, particularly in respect of higher education?

Diolch, Sioned. You referred to the UCAS report that was published last year. One of the recommendations that UCAS has made in that report for the UK Government is on providing verified data for looked-after children in the same manner as data on children in receipt of free school meals. So, one specific suggestion would be that the Welsh Government could, perhaps, explore whether that data could also be provided in Wales as well.

12:25

I think our data comes through from different areas, if that makes sense. So, we have data that comes through Student Finance Wales, which collects it on the tick-box that we have for care experience. We have the tick-box that goes through on UCAS, so that we have that information. But a lot of it is not public, so we have to request that as institutions to put that. I think, at the moment, it would be great to see a resource where somebody collects all that information from institutions, so that what we see is comparable information. I am a dedicated contact for care-experienced students at Cardiff University, and what we see is that how many have applied for student finance compared with how many have disclosed to us are different. It's not because they don't know who we are; it's because they don't want to disclose. They see it as that. So, again, back to the barriers, we want them to feel comfortable about disclosing, and so work needs to be done there, but, to get that work done, that data needs to be apparent. We have to show who we're trying to connect with, what their areas are and what numbers we're looking at.

Diolch. O ran y maes data newydd yma sy'n cael ei gyflwyno gan Asiantaeth Ystadegau Addysg Uwch ar gyfer myfyrwyr sydd â phrofiad o ofal yn 2022-23, fydd hyn o gymorth?

Thank you. In terms of this new data field that is being introduced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency for care-experienced students in 2022-23, will this be helpful?

Yes, because it will be verified data, and that is fantastic. So, already, I'm working with the HESA team in our own institution, and the fact is there will be the two data points as well, so not only basing on the enrolment figures of what we've got then, because, as you may know, some people don't like to disclose straight away, but they may disclose later on. So, we've got these two points now, to pick up students later on when they feel comfortable about disclosing. But, to me personally, I like the fact that it's verified: these students are coming through, and we can actually see it in that, because, with the tick-box, when it comes to UCAS and stuff like that, sometimes we do have situations where people do tick the box because they're just caring people; they don't understand the definition, so it's been ticked out of error and that kind of thing. So, knowing that we're using verified data to confirm this is fantastic, because we're really seeing the figures, respectively, of what's going on. I'm very happy, personally, regarding the HESA data and being able to work with the people that are collecting that data to make sure it's verified.

Thank you, Chair. What are Welsh universities currently doing to improve outcomes for care-experienced young people, and can you share any examples of good practice with us, please?

I'll talk through what we do. So, we have both pre-application support and support while they're with us. So, students or potential students can join us in advance of enrolment, see what they're going to experience, meet the people who will support them. We have peer support, we have a named contact support within the institution. There's finance and well-being support as they move through, as well as financial support.

I was just going to add, through the research that I've been doing, I've worked with all of the universities in Wales, and just to add that it is primarily a similar picture to what Jacqui said, so that kind of support. It's a similar basic support provision across all of the universities. Some of the specifics around things differ. A particular example of good practice, and this is coming from care-experienced students who have told stories of the things that most helped them, is not only knowing that named, dedicated person, that's a single person that they can trust—we all know that young people who've been through the care system have often had the people who are supporting them change really regularly, they might have moved placement, moved social worker. So, having one named person that means that they know they can go to that person and that's the person who will help fix things for them, even if it means passing on that information to somebody else or directing them somewhere else—.

But other small things that can really help are some really small, very tangible things. Certainly, one of the universities in Wales offers a great package of physical items for care-experienced students on arrival. I had a student saying that they were really pleased that, when they arrived, they were able to get their own pillow and their own cutlery, and all of those kinds of things that we wouldn't necessarily have thought of if you'd gone straight from a parental home into university. Sometimes, those small things that don't necessarily have to cost much money are the things that have made the biggest difference for those students.

12:30

Just to add, it's such a small thing, but it does link to parental home accommodation year-round. Of course it's something that we—[Inaudible.]—

I'm very rare in what I do as a job, because I'm also the dedicated contact for not only care leavers and care-experienced, but also estranged, carers, asylum seekers and military experienced, because what we're also looking at is the intersectionality of it, that you can have a care-experienced person that's got a caring role, or, actually, military experience based on not having a family background, or actually coming through the asylum-seeker system. So, with that now, I'm lucky that my role is based on that, where, within a lot of institutions in Wales, it's based within the student money advice teams, which means it's part of their jobs. So, I and Swansea University have a dedicated contact on that, and I think what we're showing actually is actually giving that time to be able to have more of that one-to-one conversation, because it is important—we've created cafes where those students can come together and have conversations, because what we want to come away from is not only just dealing with crisis when that comes up, but also sharing the successes. When somebody's had a paper published or somebody's got the placement they wanted to go on, having someone to share that is just as important.

So, going back to the small things that we've all been talking about, those are the things that matter; things that maybe, day to day, we take for granted, that our family offers us, and actually how we can provide that back to our students, to have something to share.

Could I just add, just as a supplementary on what you—I can't remember your name, sorry—just said? Hannah, was it? Just to ask you, on the care package that was mentioned, for example, and those examples of best practice—as you just said, the small things—how are they being shared between universities? If one university is doing it, as you said, why aren't they all doing it, if that's something that's been marked as a success?

That's what we're trying to move towards. So, that's partly what we're trying to achieve. The CLASS Cymru network has existed for quite a long time, but I think that the pandemic—as a lot of us found, the pandemic actually offered us a real opportunity to switch to being able to meet virtually, which has enabled us to meet a lot more consistently than when there used to be one meeting a year, and a lot of people couldn't make it; it's enabled us to have meetings on a more regular basis, where people from different institutions are sharing what's working for them.

I've been able to go in and share what students have said has worked from the research, and those members of the network can then take it back to their universities and see what they can implement. Often, these things can be a slower process than we'd like, but that information-sharing is starting to enable us to make a difference to the support that is being given.

That’s great. And following on from that, in what concrete ways could higher education providers work more effectively with other services, as was mentioned earlier—schools, local authorities—to create that more joined-up approach to higher education for care-experienced young people?

I’ve recently met with virtual school heads that are just, obviously, starting to come into Wales. So, I met with Linda from Rhondda Cynon Taf and Deborah from Cardiff, and the main point with this is we’re already excited about the conversations that we can start, because our website is funded now for the next two years when it comes to the higher education element. We'd love to see the future of that to have schools and colleges added to that to give us one point of access for signposting materials, because, with a lot of jobs that we all do, we’re very time-poor on being able to get the training and information, and we can’t all be the experts in those fields, but if we had one area of signposting support to be able to deliver that information, where we can keep that information updated and also use those external people with expertise with the charities that we see in Wales and in the UK, making sure that actually, we’re helping them stay open for those students, because, sometimes, it can’t come from an institutional part, it needs to come from peer services, things that are going, Voices from Care, the Rees Foundation, Sunflower Lounge, all these areas that are bringing in—.

So, we would love to see more of that interaction, and we hope that the development of the website in the future, hearing back from everybody else—. But we’re already planning to get into a room and start the rounds of 'What are we missing?’, really.

And finally, are there any challenges caused by cross-border movement of students to university, particularly given the ongoing role of the home local authority in supporting care-experienced young people up to the aged 25?

I’d be happy to kick off on that. I think, as you say, the continued role of the local authority supporting the young people coming to university, actually, whether or not they're coming from England, Wales or elsewhere—and even for Welsh-domiciled students coming to Welsh universities, there are 22 different local authorities, so there is already divergence, as Hannah has touched on, in terms of the level of engagement and the level of support that they may expect to receive. Something that we've previously discussed, actually, is that some Welsh-domiciled care leavers will start to be in receipt of universal basic income, and what that looks like alongside their student finance and their accommodation. They could be going to a university in England, and the team there will now be needing to understand the financial support system that is supporting that young person. So, there are going to be various different elements for student support services to get to grips with, both in England and Wales and elsewhere.

12:35

I think it is just mapping that national picture.

Thanks, Chair. It's very much just following on from what Laura was just asking about, in terms of supporting improved outcomes for care-experienced young people. What other significant interventions would you like to see happen in higher education? You've outlined what is being done; what else would you like to see being done within higher education, and what do providers need from Welsh Government to enable your suggestions to become a reality?

I think the biggest point is the data. Certainly from my perspective, if I was looking at the number of care-experienced students within my institution, we're probably looking at about 0.3 per cent of our population. So, having the skills and expertise that we need to—face to face, in terms of counsellors, yes we have that; in terms of data crunching and understanding those larger pictures of intersectionality, it's incredibly difficult for us to have access to reliable data that allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention. So, it would be enormously useful to think about how we could work with external agencies to do that sort of data collection and number crunching such that we can evaluate the efficacy of our actions. 

I would completely agree on that point as well. 

I was going to say that, again, we're starting to see examples of this elsewhere. So, very recently, in fact, in the north-east of England, universities have grouped together into a consortium to be able to look at that on a regional level. That is something that we feel, certainly Lena and I within CLASS Cymru feel, should be able to be replicated in Wales, looking at a nationwide charter of support where the universities are working together, and that could link in really nicely if we did have that national picture from having that support around the data and the number crunching at a national level.

The data allows us to put resources where they're needed. So, at the moment, I think it's hard for institutions to put things forward if we don't have the data to reflect that. And like we've said, we were talking about it, hearing that example from north-east England, and, as soon as I came out of that meeting, I was like, 'We could do that in Wales.' We're very lucky to be able to put people around the table and have that discussion in one room, and we already do great work. And sometimes I think it's about highlighting the great work that we're doing in Wales and making sure that the care-experienced are not looking at a postcode lottery and actually see in Wales that, wherever they go, they're getting the same options. And I think the data is needed to back that up and to highlight it more.

Thank you. And do you think that it would be helpful for higher education providers to have more specific targets, or at least an expectation of best practice? If we look towards Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council has called on colleges and universities to treat care experience as a protected characteristic. So, as a consequences, care experience is a key performance indicator for institutions. Do you think that we should follow suit?

I think, personally, from the work that I've done, it's very noticeable that looking at the way that this support is worded across the different nations does seem to make a difference. So, you've highlighted the Scottish example of a protected characteristic and also, in England, through the Office for Students, through their version of our fee and access plans, the targets are more specific. Our fee and access plans as they have been, through HEFCW, are quite vague. In some ways, that's enabled universities to be able to really tailor towards their student bodies, but actually there isn't a huge amount of accountability there, and, whilst the last thing that I think we should be doing is putting up red tape that makes universities struggle to fight to only meet a target where, actually, we'd want to look at more holistic support, some kind of greater acknowledgement of those underrepresented groups as areas that do require investment would be helpful.

12:40

No, I was just going to amplify what was being said, actually. The other thing that I'd be keen to see is that things were embedded within the processes of CTER as opposed to additional, bolt-on benchmarks or other aspects of practice. I think, if we're keen to do this, it would be useful to actually position them centrally within whatever comes next.