Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

02/02/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

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

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ben Twomey Cyfarwyddwr Polisi a Chyfathrebu, Gwasanaeth Eiriolaeth Ieuenctid Cenedlaethol Cymru
Director of Policy and Communications, National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru
Claire Morgan Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Elizabeth Bryan Pennaeth Gweithrediadau yng Nghymru, Rhwydwaith Maethu Cymru
Head of Operations in Wales, The Fostering Network Wales
Emma Phipps-Magill Cyfarwyddwr Gweithrediadau, Voices from Care
Operations Director, Voices from Care
Helen Mary Jones Pennaeth Polisi a Chyfathrebu, Voices from Care
Head of Policy and Communications, Voices from Care
Jackie Murphy Prif Weithredwr, Tros Gynnal Plant
Chief Executive Officer, Tros Gynnal Plant
Jassa Scott Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Matt Lewis Rheolwr Gwasanaethau Maethu Therapiwtig Cymru, Gweithredu dros Blant
Therapuetic Fostering Services Manager Wales, Action for Children
Mike Anthony Rheolwr, TACT Cymru
Manager, TACT Cymru
Owen Evans Prif Arolygydd Ei Fawrhydi, Estyn
His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Estyn
Rhian Carter Rheolwr Tîm, Gweithredu dros Blant
Team Manager, Action for Children
Sarah Thomas Cyfarwyddwr, Rhwydwaith Maethu Cymru
Director, The Fostering Network Wales
Sharon Lovell Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Gwasanaeth Eiriolaeth Ieuenctid Cenedlaethol Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, National Youth Advocacy Services Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Naomi Stocks Clerc
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 10:46.

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

The meeting began at 10:46.

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

Bore da a chroeso i'r cyfarfod o'r Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw. 

Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People and Education 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 the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. And aside from the procedural adaptation related 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. We have no apologies this morning. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? No. I see no declarations of interest. 

3. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd â phrofiad o ofal: archwilio diwygio radical—sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
3. Services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform—evidence session 3

So, we'll move on to item 3, which is our inquiry into services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform—evidence session 3. I'd like to welcome and introduce our witnesses who've joined us this morning. We have Sarah Thomas, director, The Fostering Network Wales, Elizabeth Bryan, head of operations, The Fostering Network Wales, Matt Lewis, therapeutic fostering services manager Wales, Action for Children, Rhian Carter, team manager, Action for Children, and Mike Anthony, manager for TACT Cymru. You're all very welcome.

Members have a number of questions to put to you this morning. I realise there's lots to say, but if somebody has said something, I'd encourage you not to repeat it because I just want to make sure everybody gets through questions. I'd like to remind Members to perhaps be as brief as possible in their questioning. So, we'll start off with questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy.  

Thank you for joining us this morning. How would you describe the situation of foster placements in Wales? For example, are enough of the right types of placements in the right geographical locations?

I'd say that we do not have enough placements, full stop. We do not have a foster carer for every child who needs them, and they're certainly not living in the location that the child needs them to live in. Some of the barriers that we have to placing children locally is the way that we have a current marketplace, which means that foster carers are free to foster with whom they choose, and that's a very good thing for lots of foster carers, but if we don't utilise and access them in the same way that a local authority can access their foster carers, then we prevent children from being placed within their own locality. The children who are most likely to remain in school, to remain able to attend their clubs and activities and to have a thriving opportunity are the ones who have a foster placement as close to their home location as possible, when it's safe to do so. Local authorities will know all of their foster carers within their LA, and they need to improve, I believe, in the way that they utilise each other and also the systems that are in place to utilise those providers who are external and may have a foster carer right on the front door of where that child needs it, but they can't access it as easily because of the systems and structures we have in place. 

No, we certainly don't echo Sarah's point on that. My view is that we will never have enough suitable families for the number of children because of the framework we're working under, which is actually part of the problem at the moment. So, I think, in terms of radical reform, it's urgently needed of the entire system. Fostering for the foster parents is really complex and challenging. They lack support. They're under a huge amount of scrutiny from the child protection framework and the regulations. So, it is a very difficult place at the moment. 

The other problem we have is that the poverty, the trauma in our communities, is very serious. The children who come in from the referrals to our service are the worst we've ever seen. Children are routinely not being fed, starved, dehydrated, locked in cupboards, with serious sexual abuse. So, these children need support in their communities to stop the flow-through into care, and the foster families need a different type of recognition and different frameworks for support.

10:50

I'd also add as well that, in some ways, we've always had that problem, and, ever since I've been in social work and fostering, we've had problems recruiting foster carers. But I think it's even worse now, exacerbated by things post pandemic. The sorts of people that we are looking for, traditionally, are people who've got a spare room—financial, cost-of-living crisis, all those things have come together as well. So, we're actually losing some of the people that we would've traditionally perhaps been able to access as well, so there are additional pressures. And we're also finding single foster carers are struggling within the current climate as well, because it is one of those roles that people have to make a big decision about, whether they can afford to foster, and the climate at the moment is super challenging.

Thank you. Can you tell us about the main challenges facing fostering in Wales at the moment, and what are the key priorities to address them?

The main challenges are that the children are coming in with undiagnosed but very recognisable lifelong conditions such as complex post-traumatic stress, which is created by the birth family members who have terrorised their children and severely hurt the children. They're also severely neglected, and that neglect creates a lifelong learning difficulty. So, the kind of expectations are that these children will develop mental progress if you put them in the right place that's alongside other children, and the fact of the matter is, simply, the outcomes tell us that that's not true. I think of our service—people who've been doing it a long time—and we do everything we can to support the children, but managing their environments and keeping it safe, calm, playful, taking them back to early years experience, and keeping the anxiety at bay is the best chance that we have to help them.

We also think much more like an adoptive service than a fostering service. So, success for us is that our children stay with our families for the rest of their lives; they're not encouraged to move out when they're 16, as they currently are. We know that children leaving care at 16 or 18 are likely to have their own children and then begins the cycle again, which leads to more potential removals of children. So, fostering should be viewed as a permanent option. It should be a family like any other. We don't use the word 'placement', because the children get very confused by it. So, there's a huge amount of challenge, but that would be where I would start at the moment—recognising that children need far more support across a life journey than they're currently getting.

I think I would add, on that note, really, stability is the greatest challenge that we face for our young people. We are currently unable to ensure that, when we remove them from their family, where we take away the people who were meant to fight for them and protect them—. We do that and then we fail to offer an alternative that is better than that on lots of occasions, because we're unable to create that permanency, to ensure the best possible match, because of the lack of provision that we have within the fostering sector. And then, on top of that, we don't necessarily structure our services in the way that they are driven to meet the needs of the child. At the moment, our services are meeting the needs of those who work within them, or meeting the financial pressures, rather than focusing on—. It feels to me like we've sort of lost track of what good outcomes are and what it is that we're all here to do, and what we're striving to achieve seems to have become slightly diluted in the fact that our services aren't able to do what many of them would like to do.

And I think some of that has been impacted hugely by the social work crisis as well in staffing. We're dealing with many foster placements where the turnover of social workers—. There are massive delays, as Matt was describing, and a complexity of what we're dealing with with the needs of the children, and there's a real inconsistency quite often, or changes in social workers, and some of the teams are running at 30 per cent social work and carrying vacancies or agency staff. One of the good things about being in fostering, as an agency for a long time, as well, is that there's continuity in our fostering teams, but in the social work teams the churn is enormous, and that has massive implications for the services that you get. Delays in therapy: we might have a referral going to therapy, the social worker changes, the team leader changes, and you're knocked back in the work that's going on. So, I think the current crisis in social work is enormous as well.

10:55

Yes, for the child to have an adult who knows them well making a decision for them, I think some of them probably feel that that isn't the case because there hasn't been a consistency for them. And then, when they make their own decisions—. I think we spoke earlier this morning in our event about how they're expected to make a lot of big decisions by themselves when they're 18, but they've not been supported to do that; it's not scaffolded through their life because there isn't that consistency from a trusted adult. I think that's really key.

I think it actually does the opposite as well, doesn't it? In some cases, it's actually teaching some of our children and young people not to trust or invest in some of the adults that are working with them. So, it's a by-product of that, which is absolutely the opposite of what we're trying to achieve.

We also find there's poor provision. So, a lot of our children struggle in mainstream school, and even the specialist provisions are not fit for what the children need. In terms of the trauma, we find the children just can't cope with an education environment, and they really, really struggle. Family contact is also a huge issue. You're sending a child to see their abuser. So, it often retraumatises the children, and the lead-up to contact and after contact can be horrendous for our children in terms of bed-wetting, soiling. It sends them backwards, really, so they're not able to have that safe time away from their perpetrators.

Rhian's right. There are two things that we've identified that break down long-term foster families, and that is the wrong education provision because the children simply do not function at their chronological age in the way that mainstream education thinks they do. So, at 18, the children are much more like four years of age in the emotional developmental stage—they still can't do friendships, can't manage relationships, or money, for example. The other thing is that the children have been highly terrorised and traumatised by birth families, and when we show them the perpetrators of their abuse, our current framework suggests that that's a good thing, but if you look at the underlying neurological, psychological impact on the child, it pulls them back into that abusive system. So, we create on our own—. We've got a clinical issue in terms of the way in which the brain is affected by neurology that isn't recognised by the welfare and the rights-based system that we currently work within.

And also life story work. Children often have this piece of work done, often sharing information they never knew about or can't remember, and then they're planting memories and stories into their brains that they just cannot cope with—

—and they just can't process.

—maybe to Matt. You spoke about children who have been seriously sexually abused, exploited and terrorised. Is there enough expert care—quality expert care—out there to support these children within the care sector?

I think, unfortunately—. I've been working in these services a long time—youth justice Merthyr and children with disabilities. There's a kind of myth—a hopeful myth—of recovery; we kind of hope that people will get better. Now, we know, as adults, if any of us have had some difficulty, we're always managing that difficulty. But, what we've got with our children are very, very serious developmental issues and traumatic problems that the system currently doesn't recognise; it's not making connections between them as victims of very serious perpetrators and what that means for lifelong belonging, if that's the only family you're allowed to belong in. I don't think the current system thinks clinically deep enough about the state in which children come out of what are very dangerous family settings. So, the short answer is 'no', unfortunately. There's simply not enough expertise.

I think, even when there is the expertise, sometimes you're trying to get to that, and sometimes the waiting lists are so long in child and adolescent mental health services. It's a pretty broken system, I think. That's why sometimes, like in our own lives, we have to sometimes bypass that, and parents will look to get their own services bought in or whatever. I think, with placements, sometimes, we're seeing placements break down, and not just placements break down, but we're seeing foster carers dealing with highly traumatised children, not getting the services the children need, and then we're seeing breakdowns in placements and losing foster carers because it can be such a difficult and impactful experience, managing such traumatised children.

11:00

You're never quite sure here who's going to mute you or unmute you, sometimes. I am looking at my other screen, I am Chair, because I can't look at the small screen, my eyes go funny. Thank you. 

We've heard of the huge disruption and upset that children and young people experience when they have to move from placement to placement, especially at short notice, after the trauma of being removed from their birth family. Statistics do show that more than a quarter of children have had two or more placements in the last 12 months alone. Why are there so many placement moves and, to what extent is this because of a child's own needs, as opposed to it being because the placement is needed for another child coming into the system? I can't see any of you, so you'll have to jump in as and when. Chair, I'll have to hand over to you to bring people in, because I can't see you. 

Yes. I think I would say that we don't have enough, so that's one reason, and therefore, as a result of that, we haven't got many robust and well-prepared environments for these children who are hugely traumatised and they end up having to go to placements that may not be very well matched, and matching is a critical factor if we want to achieve permanence and stability. I would say that the data that you just cited there—those two or more placement moves—for many children, if you're placed in an emergency, you will need to go to an emergency environment, and, then, you will need to have somebody who will care plan around your needs and move you on again. And, perhaps if that hasn't worked out, you'll move on again. Some of those moves could be positive. It could be that this could be to a family member that they move to as that third move, but they will come up as a statistic that we look at as negatively. 

We need to change the way that we collate this data, in order to understand more about whether we are placing children where they achieve permanence and stability, and in a well-matched placement that is aligned to their care and support plan. Because, unfortunately, due to the lack of resources in fostering, children are being placed in residential provision when their care plan—the assessed need—was a fostering family, a family environment that could not be found because of the lack of provision. I'll hand over to others. Everybody will have views on all of your questions. 

Like I said, our service is one that attempts to specialise in permanency for the children. So, the way in which we assess, train and bring people into the service is for a lifelong commitment. That doesn't always necessarily work out, and, I think, actually, some of the children's mental health issues at three, four, five years of age, are very, very significant. So, they're coming in, often very violent, often very resistant to adult care, because of their own experiences in their birth families. In those circumstances, the more support we build around, as part of the team around the child, the better. 

So, as a service, we go into the schools. We provide art therapy, we provide play support. What we try to build is a holistic view of the child that is systemic and, then, implemented across their care experience. So, if we can do that, we can then make sure that more children can stay more permanently in their family homes. For us, every kind of move is another layer of potential trauma and disruption, which teaches children that they don't belong in family settings, and then, it eventually is to residential care. 

I think we're also—. There is still a whole sufficiency issue there around—we've said about the location—I think we're still getting a lot of spot purchases. We've had a chid who's recently been placed virtually an hour away from school—an eight-year-old. Situations like that where, obviously, as a fostering agency, we're saying 'We don't think this is a great match', but we're being told 'Look, we've got nothing else.' So, we're able to control the bit around the carers, what they can offer, but there's no getting away from the fact that you're having children placed across counties, and that starts you off on a very bad foot. We know the impact of school, and we were talking earlier about how schools are working. That's another thing—the joined-up nature of the different services. Some schools are more trauma-informed than others; a lot of them aren't. And, you can't separate; you can't just see fostering in isolation. So, you might have foster carers who could do as fabulous a job as they can, but there are other factors coming into that. Those journeys are really impacting on a child who's already suffering trauma, going into a school that might not be very trauma-informed, so that environment is not working very well. It all impacts. And all those other factors are perhaps too much for however good a foster carer is, in some situations.

So, there are overlapping factors, aren't there, but, I think, schools play a big part in that as well, because I think it's no coincidence that, during the pandemic, I think most of us found that a lot of our children thrived, and we were all prepared for the opposite. We thought, 'Right, the support networks are not going to be there; the carers are going to struggle,' but actually, a lot of our children struggle in the school environment, and then when they were out of that during the pandemic, the relationships with foster carers really blossomed when, perhaps, they'd been struggling, because a lot of issues come from school back home as well. So, I think you can't separate those from placement breakdowns as well.

11:05

Can I just touch on permanency? Matt mentioned about how his service can really focus on that from the very start, from the minute somebody applies to foster. That should be the norm. That should be our practice. That's what we should be striving for, for every single person who picks up the phone to a foster carer or a potential applicant. To do that, we need to really think about: we've brought in fantastic policy, like When I am Ready in Wales, but when people are contacting us to foster, we're not telling them that this is a commitment for life. If you come forward to do this, we really need you to have a variety of attributes, and we will help you and train you and support you, 24 hours a day, with the right, proper financial rewards, so that you do not raise children in poverty, and everything else that goes around that team around the child. But it is permanence. These children do not need to move again and again and again. They need to know that the people we bring forward and we assess and we approve at fostering panels know the commitment that they are making and what it really means.

We do have a really significant issue in which the language of institutionalisation in the system is used every day with the children who are in the care system. They're told that they live in 'placements'. They're told, 'You've got to go to a LAC review,' which they hear as a 'lack', not a 'looked-after children' review. They're introduced to people's social workers, who are supposed to have control, but then are gone one day, gone the next. What we're surrounding these children with is a fabric of language that is pure stigmatisation. They're going into schools where other people have families, homes, they don't live in placements. They grow up to believe that the state, the care system, the corporate parent, like a big brother, is looking after them. I think you see from the care system that that layer of institutionalisation then flows through into dependency on hospital services, into prison services, and residential-type institutions. So, the language itself is toxic and anti-childhood, but the children are surrounded in it, and as professionals, we're complicit in that.

That's very good and leads on to my next question there, because we've heard from young people about the changes in social workers—10 social workers in a year, 16 social workers in a year—and that has a huge, huge impact on those young people. I know that we're talking about placements; can you tell me how that impacts on placements, both from the perspective of the child and of the foster carer? And do you have any real practical suggestions or solutions of how we could improve that situation? Something's got to change here, because children need continuity, like you've just been talking about. Thank you, Chair, and that's my questions finished.

Relationships are absolutely critical if we're going to achieve good outcomes for these children, and that's not just the relationships that they have, but it's the relationships that everybody around them have—how well everybody works together and has consistency is so important. I think it has come to the point where it is absolutely critical for our workforce pressures that we legislate social work caseloads. We don't have anything in place to cap or prevent a social worker from having up to 40 or 50 families on their caseloads. That's the reality. We could do something about that. If we ensured that our social workers had limited numbers of families to be able to focus on and do their job to the best of their ability, then we would, I think, make a significant step towards addressing some of those pressures and those consistent changes, day to day.

The other thing is also to create consistency in the workforce at other levels, such as through the regionalisation of services, because right now, we have 22 different ways of doing everything: 22 different ways of supporting children, 22 different ways of recruiting foster carers, 22 different ways of paying and rewarding our foster carers and our social care staff. So, it is no wonder. Our local authorities are directly in competition with each other, because we are unable to embed consistency across that workforce at every level.

Can I just ask you on that point, is there—? You've given us a good suggestion, but do you think that there are enough staff to be able to do that?

No, I don't think for one minute that there are enough social workers in Wales or anywhere in the UK, in fact. We have a huge shortage. But I do think that if we capped caseloads and made that environment a better place to work—. Certainly, when I started as a social worker over 20 years ago, it was a world apart from what it is now. The pressures on that system mean that newly qualified social workers are coming in without the support and management and leadership around them that they need to protect them. I had a protected caseload for the first two years; we now have social workers who are immediately put into child protection or given cases that they are not equipped to manage, because you become more equipped with experience and skill, and you just can't replace experience. 

11:10

Matt and I were talking as well earlier, saying that the hybrid working—some of us have gone to homeworking, and in local authorities, I think it's more hybrid, but, there are risks as well. As well as losing people because of caseloads and leaving the profession, you've actually got situations where you're not getting the induction that you would have had when it was full-time in the office. And I'm not saying they were golden eras, or whatever, but there's something real about—. Starting with my team, if I get a new social worker coming in, we're all homeworking, and you don't get that sense of being in a team. A lot of what you learn, particularly when you're developing your confidence, is from what you hear or somebody else picking up on the conversations you might have with somebody on the phone. That kind of stuff is invaluable. The first couple of years are so much about that: 'Oh, I've just noticed somebody's struggling with something over there. Let's send somebody over informally'. And I think that's a real risk as well, on top. I don't have the solutions, I have to say, with solving social work. But, these things—all serious case reviews, communication between agencies, it's the same thing. It has been there since the 1970s, I think. 

Yes, I just wanted to pick up on that, really. Going back to what we talked about previously, about locations, would more regional co-operation in that regard, in finding matches—would having a regional or a national structure around that help the situation as well?

To some extent, I think that it could. I think that, for a start, if foster carers who all foster in the same region, in the same area, are not directly in competition by moving around and going to different services because there was a structure in place that created consistency. I think we need a national register of foster carers, because we don't actually know—we only know the number of foster carers that we have in local authorities. That's the only data we actually have. In relation to the 20-plus private providers that function in Wales, we don't know how many they've approved, how many they've recruited, or roughly how many vacancies they might have and therefore what's our utilisation, what are we able to access for children and where are they, more importantly. We should have a map of all our foster carers to know where they are and how we're best utilising them so that they're meeting the needs of children. 

My view is that there's just simply a low-quality practice issue across the social care structure. It was wrong to turn the social work qualification into a degree. I was lucky, I was a postgraduate and I was much older and had some worldly experience; I think you're sending young people into potentially dangerous situations where they're overawed by much more sophisticated adults. So, the structure for employing, rewarding and encouraging people to become a social worker unfortunately has been watered down over the last years. I think that we're not focused on quality practice. We don't have a method of practice as yet that ensures and creates placement stability. It's fractured across the 22. There are some good pockets of expertise, but that's not the norm. People are mostly firefighting and doing the bare minimum.

Okay. I'm just going to bring Ken Skates in and then James Evans. Ken.

Thanks, Chair. Yes, I was just going to follow up on the call for a national list and a national map for foster carers. Does such a list exist in England or in Scotland?

There is work in progress in both of those. So, I am the director for Wales and director for our work in England, and we're in discussions with central Government in respect of a register. We are also in discussions with Welsh Government, and officials have been very positive and are interested in taking this forward, because it not only ensures that we know where our foster carers are, but it means that we could embed nationwide quality standards and expectations for fostering, which would need to be met, and a variety of ways in which we can ensure that we measure and monitor how well our fostering sector is doing and how well it is meeting the needs of children. 

Mine was actually on the education point, and I've raised this a couple of times now in other evidence sessions. Do you think there needs to be a change in how universities actually deliver social work qualifications? Because I've got friends who've gone through this course and they say it's very much focused on the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. They can come out of university and literally reiterate every single part of the Act from the front page to the back, but actually, the practical elements of helping people on the ground tend to be missed out. So, do you think we need to have a relook at how we actually deliver this course to people in universities to make sure it's actually delivering on what we want to do rather than sometimes being more focused on the legislation elements? I know that's important, but it's also very important that we're educating people on how to deal with young people, how to deal with families and also make sure they're safe when they go into difficult situations as well.

11:15

I think that's a really good point you make. I'm knocking on a bit, but I do remember going through my social work practice. I went back not too long ago to look at doing an MA in social work; in fact, I started doing it, and actually academically and practice wise, it had less value, I thought, than the diploma I'd done many, many years ago. So, I think there is a long hard look needed at the type of education that's required to equip people with the right skills and the resilience you need to survive in a social work setting. I do think there is something about the maturity of the people who are coming through. Really and truly, this is a place where you listen to terrible histories, where you see high levels of emotion of a distressing nature and we're subjecting very inexperienced young people to those settings. Secondary trauma is very real to social work staff who have to experience these things, and it is for our foster parents, so I think it's something we should take more seriously. 

I totally agree. I think social work is a relational profession. Similar to what I was saying about hybrid working, a lot more online training has been something over the years. For social workers, it's been a real challenge and continues to be. I think there are some real benefits in being able to do online training for some carers. I was just having a conversation the other day with my staff where the carers themselves—. They were bringing through carers who need to have the communication skills and relational skills to be able to work in these very challenging situations. We're getting some carers who come through who can talk a very good talk in terms of theory. Sometimes, I have to say, professionals coming into it don't always make a good foster carer, because they might have the theory, but the practice is very different. I think with social work, even when I trained, I was feeling that there weren't enough practical skills in it—you learn that very much on the job. But we're throwing people into situations where you really need to be prepared before. So, I would definitely agree with that—it's a practical profession. There's a lot of theory and a lot of recording—you need that—but it's a practical profession, I think.

Thank you. A lot of what you have said is extremely concerning and there obviously needs to be systematic change. But going back to foster caring, there is a lack of provision in Wales. The evidence is coming out, whatever we listen to, that the provision's not there, and you've already touched on it today. Maybe the process itself to become a foster carer is quite long and drawn out—perhaps it needs to be, as you've said today. But what's also become clear is that there needs to be continuous training for these people to be able to look after the unique needs of the child and that it needs to be really child focused and child led in terms of where they're placed and who they're placed with as well.

Apparently, there are very good examples from Swansea Council, which is leading by what's best for the child. If the placement is not there that suits the child's needs—some, as we've said, of their needs are quite severe and hard to deal with—then, they're creating the places: they're training people and creating the homes for them to go to. That came out of one of our discussions today, rather than the opposite effect of someone else saying that their child was placed in lots of different places and ended up in Glasgow, because they couldn't cope with the child. I mean, that's an awful long way to go, Wales to Glasgow, isn't it? That's not doing anyone any favours. How do you feel about creating those special places and training foster carers to be able to deal with certain groups of people with certain different needs, rather than trying to hope that someone will come forward who might suit that child? Do you see where I'm coming from? I hope that someone can answer that.

I'm happy to go. I have worked in fostering for over 20 years, and in that time, I have seen a significant number of specialist schemes be set up. Each and every one has been unable to achieve what it was intended to do, and that's because when children become looked after, we will know sometimes very little about them, and their future is in our hands. We need to be preparing the entire foster care workforce in order to be able to meet the needs of any child, and matching should be the key to it. I don't believe that there is actually a great deal of value in labelling things as specialist, because what happens is the foster carer's labelled as a specialist, and then they cannot be used for the next child who needs them, or the child after that, because they're waiting to be held for their specialist placement. Sometimes, that specialist need—the next child who comes through with very complex needs—might not be the right match in lots of other ways, but they go to the specialist foster carer because that person's been trained and is specialist. I see it time and time again; it is one of the biggest reasons I think that placements fail, and young people end up moving. What we actually need to do is ensure a robust across-the-board workforce of foster carers with a fantastic training package alongside them; 24-hour support; therapeutic, evidence-based training for our foster carers, not two, three courses a year and that will tick your box for the fact that you've learnt enough this year.

11:20

Can I just follow on from that? I think as well in terms of that really robust training of foster carers, it's obviously so important. I think we've done a lot through our Fostering Wellbeing programme of giving foster carers a really good introduction to lots of different topics, and so they can really see, 'What do I need to know more about to support the child that's with me now?' Some of that might be something like speech and language therapy, so we give them a really good session on that, so they can really see, 'How do I build up communication? What can I do at home?' But what they also will find then is, 'I need some more input here, because I've now recognised that there is more to be done, and I do need that support.' And then they can't go anywhere with it because maybe they've made a referral and that waiting list might take a long time, or they're not in a position to make a referral because the child's just recently placed with them and nobody is really sure what's happening next. And so actually, although that really good training for them is really important, it's also important to empower them to be able to say, 'What do I do with that?' Because they can't do everything themselves within the home. So, we need to upskill and to really meet the needs of that child, and then be able to bring in the extra support that's needed as well.

Only briefly, ours was a generic service before we ploughed every kind of therapeutic training into it. What we've managed to achieve with foster parents is a high level of skill, because they've had the right training and level of support. So, I agree with Sarah; I think there is the method of practice that we can instil in everybody, but what we find from our transfers in from local authorities and other agencies is that they haven't been trained. They're not there; they're left on their own. They feel at times bullied and victimised by the actual service that's there to support them. So, I think it's a very patchy framework, but training and support is it, really.

We've recently introduced a therapeutic assessment model as well, learning from the fact that we need to have carers assessed therapeutically, but also learn a lot of knowledge and skills during that assessment process as well.

Thank you. Moving on to the next question, the Welsh Government has consulted now on legislation to eliminate profit from the care of children who are looked after, with an initial focus on private provision for residential care for children and independent sector foster care. From a former life, from a former job, I'm acutely aware that private profit-making agencies are making it very hard to recruit foster carers, hence the shortage, and LAs can't obviously afford to pay them as much. Is that a problem? How do you feel about that change?

Of course, we're from a third-sector agency, so we applaud the change. I suppose what we're concerned about in the private sector is children losing their homes as a result of that. In terms of the time shift and the movement through it, whilst we broadly support—nobody should be making a profit out of children in care—I think we just need to take it one step at a time to ensure a smooth transition. None of the foster parents we've had transfer into us were aware that their agency was profit making at the time they applied for assessment. Most people don't want to care for children for profit—the value base alone was what we've relied upon to get them in to us. It's surprising that most of the public don't really still recognise that there are different types of ways to foster.

I would add to that that we have a direct example that I could share with you—a foster carer who was fostering with a profit-making agency who had absolutely no idea. They believed they were fostering for a local authority. They contacted us about an issue, we gave help and advice. We provided that help and advice, and, in the course of that discussion, they discovered that their fostering service, who had said, 'We are Blah local authority', was actually a profit-making agency. They tried to transfer and to move to their local authority, because they'd wondered why the children were in school over an hour away and all those things they'd never understood, and they were offered £5,000 to remain with the profit-making fostering service. The children ended up being moved on, because the agency found an alternative match for them.

These things are happening every single day, so I absolutely applaud the eliminate profit agenda, not just for that profit-making element, but for the fact that we need people to phone their local authority or a third sector agency. That is something that they need to do, and we all need to work better; local authorities and the third sector need to build greater relationships, because the third sector can sometimes deliver on a variety of things that local authorities can't. They can fill gaps and create situations that really wrap around that child and that family, because they have far more insights and the ability to do that. I think that's what we need to do—robustly build our local authority fostering alongside those third sector partners.

11:25

Just to say I completely agree with you. It seems, from what you're saying, that there'll be more control, and it seems like today we need to have those relationships with all foster carers, and that the way to do it is to bring them more in house, into the council, so everyone can work together and be on these training programmes and everything, ready to prepare the child. But, at the moment, it's all over the place, isn't it?

Yes, and those applicants responded to whoever came up at the top of the search engine. That's what happened. They had no idea. They certainly do not express or expose the fact that they're profit making and that they may end up caring for children from England, not Wales, if they go to foster with them.

I'll be asking my questions in Welsh, so if you can put your headsets on.

Diolch. Rŷch chi'n rymus iawn, a phob un ohonoch chi wedi peintio darlun i ni o beth sydd o'i le ar y system bresennol. Ys gwn i os gallwch chi roi darlun hefyd o beth yw allbynnau hyn i'r plant. Beth yw profiad y rhan fwyaf o blant o'r system fel y mae hi yn bresennol?

Thank you very much. You have powerfully painted a picture for us of what is amiss with the current system. I wonder whether you can give us a picture too of what the outcomes of this for our children are. What is the experience of the majority of the children of the system as it currently stands?

I think they're very much aware they're in a system. They don't feel like they're in families, they feel like they're in a system with decision makers that may be people they've not met, or may be people they've met once. All the adults in their lives, maybe, will come and go, and I think they're acutely aware of that.

A sut mae hynny yn cyfieithu i brofiad y plentyn? Pa her sydd gan y plentyn oherwydd hynny?

And how does that translate into the child's experience? What challenges does the child face because of that?

They don't have anywhere to belong. The families that they were often removed from still have the same difficulties many years later, so they're often very dysfunctional, with very fractured relationships. If you can't go back to your birth family, every human being needs a family that keeps them safe, somewhere to go for Christmas. The way the current system articulates itself is that doesn't happen from within a fostering setting. It's normal that 16 plus teams come in and start talking to children about the money they can have, the benefits they can have. The system pulls apart the very relationships we're trying to create with our foster parents. Most of our foster parents are there because they want to care for children across a lifetime. The current system destabilises all of that, and, actually, inherently makes things far worse for the children, because children, being children, will go with money, they'll make bad or poor choices for themselves. What we need to do is make sure the system, particularly when we agree what permanency looks like, supports a childhood and an early adulthood from within the family setting, and that fostering is as validated as any other family.

If I could just add on that as well, it's not all doom and gloom, in that we're in fostering because we're very passionate about it, and in amongst that, there are some fabulous examples of lots of carers, but, I think, in spite of the system in many situations. But there are loads of really positive outcomes, as well. That's the bit that hasn't changed. We've always had good outcomes as well, but I think it's harder for foster carers to be managing that.

O ran y plant, beth fyddai'n eu helpu nhw fwyaf, o ran yr hyn sydd ar goll o'r gwasanaethau sydd eu hangen arnyn nhw, neu o leiaf y rhan fwyaf ohonyn nhw ar hyn o bryd, i'w cefnogi nhw gyda'r heriau yma? Beth sydd angen ei wneud? Oes angen aildrefnu gofal cymdeithasol ac iechyd? Rŷn ni'n sôn am ddiwygio radical, so beth sydd angen ei wneud?

In terms of the children, what would help them most, with regard to what is missing from the services that they need, or that the majority of them need, to support them with these challenges that you've outlined? What needs to be done? Is there a need for reorganisation of social care and health? We're talking about radical reform, so what needs to be done?

11:30

Dwi'n dysgu Cymraeg—

I'm learning Welsh—

—but I will not attempt to answer you in Welsh; I don't have that level of skill. I think that the way that—. Health, education and social care work at the moment are very, very disjointed. They are working separately, with separate agendas, separate visions, for what they are setting out to achieve, and, for this particular pool of children and families, the vulnerable people who need our support need us to be working together. They shouldn't be trying to fight and work their way through this system, not knowing who is where and how. 

I know from internal practice experience that the disagreements that go on internally between health and social care around who should fund things, who should support, what role is theirs and what role is someone else's, are just completely bureaucratic and stopping us from being able to deliver the services that we need to. So, I would say that they should definitely—when it comes to children and young people, our services need to work together in complete harmony for them to be able to work for them.

And education as well, because the home-school link is so important, and there isn't a guarantee for foster carers—they don't know what they'll get from each school, and they quite often work across different schools, especially if they foster different children. There's some excellent practice around trauma-informed settings, but they might not be accessing that sort of school and there might be a sort of system that's almost working against the child's needs, so what do they do about that?

I think for everyone to have that consistency of how we are approaching this and how we are working together—. And, again, that's set up slightly differently everywhere. So, sometimes, there'll be excellent links and very strong relationships, and sometimes the foster carer will almost feel like they're not involved in that—you know, 'I look after the home bit and you look after the school bit, and we don't talk to each other.' Obviously, again, that's not supporting consistency for the child. So, it's just about everybody involved in that child's life talking to each other and really strengthening the multidisciplinary reach, I think. 

I do think, as well, touching on what we were saying earlier about working in the third sector, we should be finding ways of us working closer together, because there is a significant issue in terms of eradicating profit. We're still relatively small, the third sector, and I think we've shown—. With the Fostering Network as well, we've delivered a five-year programme, Confidence in Care, across the whole of Wales. I think we should be looking at getting more support to work on initiatives together and with local authorities as well.

Sorry, my wish list is that I would remove children sooner, so the damage to their neurological development—and emotional—is kept to a minimum. I would change the services radically. I would shift the language completely. I would look for permanency, that fostering is—. Maybe not even—. The children hate the word 'fostering' and they hate the words 'foster care'. We should be calling it 'community parenting' or something different. Then, I would have assessments of the trauma and the neglect that the child has had on an individual basis, and come up with a plan that meets their developmental need across time. So, I would look for a radical restructure.

Person centred—all about the individual. It's what our legislation says that we should be doing—it's there.

I was just going to ask, quickly: we've had a National Adoption Service in Wales for 10 years. Is there a case for a national fostering service as well as that suggestion for a register that you gave us?

I would argue yes. We have Foster Wales. They are collaborating, but it is down to the goodwill of local authorities to work together at the moment, and I think that if we had a national service that included the third sector, as it does—the National Adoption Service includes the third sector—then we would have an opportunity to create the consistency and embed the good practice right across the board so that children do not experience a postcode lottery the day that we remove them from their family.

Yes, and I think that Wales is of a size that it shouldn't be difficult to do it. I think a lot of the information is there. We have the Children’s Commissioning Consortium Cymru, or four Cs, that we work with. There's information collated in places, but it doesn't all seem to come together in one place. We want to be openly working for the same children; that's the objective.

I think it's a great aspiration, but I wouldn't want to embark on something that was so complex that it stopped the urgent reform of things that could be done sooner. I think there are probably things that we could put higher up the agenda and spend time doing, because we know creating these services takes a lot of energy, there's resistance, there's a lot of thought and money that needs to go behind it. But, at the current time, I think it's about now, and there are some things we can do quicker to start changing things for the children we've been discussing today.

11:35

Thanks, Chair. Just briefly, are any of you involved in shaping the Welsh Government's plans for reform of the system, and what would be the single biggest thing that you would wish to change?

So, we're involved at the moment in delivering—they've just provided us with funding to deliver a programme called Step Up, Step Down. It's been run in Northern Ireland and it is a preventative programme that entirely refocuses all of the time and effort onto the point at which a child is on the cusp of becoming looked after. It requires a quite holistic, well-trained, therapeutic approach, and we've been funded to pilot it in two local authorities, and that's about to commence from 1 April. We're also funded to deliver a lot of other programmes. None of it is specifically related to the radical reform work, I would say. We're still waiting to hear more about what else that would look like, but we are doing a significant piece of work in respect of trying to prevent children from becoming looked after. 

And Fostering Wellbeing, which is about a multidisciplinary, team around the child approach and strengthening those links, and again we're going to be moving forward with that, which I think is related to that programme of work, although, as Sarah says, we've got more to hear about that. 

Yes. I think we should have individualised plans that take account of the child's developmental stage and the impact of the neurological trauma and the neglect that they've suffered. These things are lifelong, but the children can be helped, they can be managed, but the current system doesn't ensure that. It confuses the problem. We've managed to refine that method of practice in our service and we'd be very happy to help the Welsh Government think about that. 

Yes, I do agree with that point, with Matt, and specifically some areas around when children turn 18. I think that sort of chronological approach—. We lose foster carers sometimes because, if a child turns into a When I am Ready placement, sometimes those children—. They're not any different—so, the day after, they're 18, and they've got a lot of needs, and the level of support they get is less. I would like to see us look at that, because we talk about corporate parenting and we've seen plenty of situations in TACT where we've been around long enough where we've genuinely felt like we were part of parenting the children, and those relationships continue. We have a service that provides, at post 18, that we keep in touch. We see a lot of situations where that support really tails off. I totally support the principle of When I am Ready, but I think there's more support still needed for children after 18, and the carers often need that support as well. I think local authorities as well lose carers—if you can only take one foster child, they've had a long experience of being supported and part of our fostering service, then to take a When I am Ready—. Sometimes those placements will break down in a couple of years, you lose those carers, and they don't come back to us. I think there's a lot of support that could go in after that, Cadeirydd, as well. 

I think When I am Ready is—

Can I—? Just bearing in mind we're very over time, so I just want to make sure, if there's another question—Ken, did you have another question? No. Okay. Right, go on.

With Mike, I take that point. My suggestion would to raise the age to 25 years of age. Most of the children leaving care are having their children removed at 16 to 18 years of age. If you raise the age and the children know they can stay in that family, that that is part of what they do into mature adulthood, it would immediately achieve better outcomes within the system. 

And Rhian—just finally from Rhian. Elizabeth, sorry. And then we'll have to stop, unfortunately. Oh, Sarah—okay.

We need to change the fostering regulations to recognise that children require foster carers up to the age of 25. If When I am Ready, the fantastic policy that it is, is going to work, the legislation that underpins it needs to be adapted to reflect it. So, that's something we could do quite quickly.

Okay. Thank you so much. It's been incredibly powerful to hear you speak this morning. I really appreciate you coming in to give us evidence. I'm sorry that we're so short on time. We have another panel coming in after. So, diolch yn fawr.

You will be sent a transcript to check for accuracy in due course, but I really appreciate you coming in to give us evidence this morning. Thank you.

We'll just have a very short break just to change over the panel. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:39 ac 11:43.

The meeting adjourned between 11:39 ac 11:43.

11:40
4. Gwasanaethau i blant sydd â phrofiad o ofal: archwilio diwygio radical—sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
4. Services for care-experienced children: exploring radical reform—evidence session 4

Okay, we're back in public session. This is our fourth evidence session for services for care-experienced children and exploring radical reform. I'd like to welcome our panel here today. We have Helen Mary Jones, who is head of policy and communications at Voices from Care. You're very welcome. Emma Phipps-Magill, operations director from Voices from Care, Sharon Lovell, chief executive, NYAS Cymru, and Ben Twomey who is director of policy and communications, NYAS Cymru. You're all very welcome; it's really good to see you. Thank you for coming in this morning. We also have a lot of questions, I'm sure you can imagine, from Members. We're quite tight on timescale but we'll make a start, and first of all questions from Buffy Williams. Buffy. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for joining us this morning. To what extent are care-experienced children given a genuine voice in the big decisions that affect their lives, and how can advocacy help? 

I'm happy to take that question, and thank you very much for that. I would say we have made significant progress in the space of advocacy and children's rights in Wales. NYAS Cymru, along with Tros Gynnal Plant, are the two statutory advocacy providers here in Wales, and we have a national advocacy approach that supports children and young people having consistent access across Wales to advocacy. So, I think the active offer of advocacy has made a huge difference. So, every time a child and young person comes into the care system or is subject to child protection, they have an automatic right and entitlement to have an advocate. So, I think we should be really proud in Wales of the developments.

What I would say is missing is the commissioning arrangements for advocacy, which are still sporadic, I would say, across Wales, and something that is a gap. I would also say the gap in provision for care-experienced young people around mental health advocacy and access to education in terms of representation through advocacy. So, I think we've been on a real journey in Wales and we should be proud of that. And I would say children and young people who are care experienced, through advocacy representation, have their views, wishes and feelings heard by decision makers. But I think there needs to be a review of the national approach to see if it's working, if it's effective, and what can be strengthened.

11:45

Hi. Yes, coming back to Sharon, I absolutely agree in regards to the strides for independent advocacy in Wales and what's happened. I think, from our recent work with Voices from Care Cymru, with the summit and the consultations across Wales that we've undertaken, for some young people, the implementation of the active offer, although fantastic for those coming into care, I think what the young people said to us was that some of them didn't actually know about advocacy, and those are those young people who are a little bit later on in life. So, when the active offer came in in 2017, they'd already started their care journey. So, what they're saying to us is that, in some instances in local authorities, at key transitional times in their lives—movements or placement moves or decisions to be made—they're not necessarily offered an advocate then. Some of the young people told us that they weren't aware of their right to an advocate. But again, that is the older young people who would have missed that implementation of that robust active offer system that is happening at the moment. Helen Mary.

Peth arall mae pobl ifanc yn dweud wrthym ni—. A dylwn i ddweud, o safbwynt Voices from Care, fod pob peth dŷn ni'n cyflwyno i chi fel pwyllgor yn dod oddi wrth bobl ifanc eu hunain, so rŷn ni'n 'doing what it says on the tin' fel petai, yn mynegi eu llais nhw. Ac maen nhw'n dweud weithiau bod cael y cynnig pan dŷch chi mewn gofal yn gyntaf, dŷch chi mewn cymaint o stad, dŷch chi ddim rili yn deall efallai beth sydd yn cael ei gynnig, a byddan nhw yn hoffi cael y cyfle, bod y cynnig yn cael ei ail-wneud. Nawr, fel dwi'n ei ddeall e, mae rhai gweithwyr cymdeithasol yn gwneud hynny; maen nhw'n ei wneud e unwaith pan fo'r proses yn dechrau, ond wedyn maen nhw'n dod nôl a dweud, 'Gwnest ti ddim derbyn, ond os wyt ti'n moyn nawr,' ond dyw hynny ddim yn gyson.

Ac mae yna issues hefyd ynglŷn ag annibyniaeth. Mae Sharon ac Emma yn iawn i ddweud ein bod ni wedi cymryd camau pell iawn, so mae ein gwasanaeth advocacy ni yn llawer mwy annibynnol nag oedd e, ond yn y diwedd, y ffaith bod gan lywodraeth leol gymaint o lais yn comisiynu yr advocacy, i rai pobl ifanc sydd efallai wedi cael profiadau gwael ac sydd bach yn suspicious, dŷn nhw ddim yn derbyn—er bod y gwasanaeth yn annibynnol—dŷn nhw ddim yn llwyr yn ei dderbyn e. So, byddwn i yn cytuno bod angen review fel roedd Sharon yn sôn amdano fe—nid bod y system yn wael, ond gallai fod yn well.

Ac mae yna fwy i ddilyn lan ar gwestiwn Buffy. Mae yna bethau eraill sydd eisiau eu gwneud yn ogystal ag advocacy er mwyn sicrhau bod llais plant a phobl ifanc yn cael ei glywed, ac mae'n rhywbeth yn ymwneud â diwylliant y gwasanaethau ac os ydy'r gwasanaethau yn barod i glywed pethau weithiau sydd ddim yn gyfforddus iddyn nhw.

The other thing that young people tell us—. And I should say, from the point of view of Voices from Care, that everything we are presenting to you as a committee comes from the young people themselves, so we're 'doing what it says on the tin'; we're expressing their voice. And they say that sometimes, having that offer when you go into care for the first time, you're in such a state that you don't really understand what is being offered, and they would like to have the opportunity to have that offer restated and remade. And, as far as I understand it, some social workers do that; they do it first when the process starts, and then they come back and say, 'Well, you didn't accept this then, do you want it now?' But that isn't done consistently.

And there are also issues with regard to independence. Sharon and Emma are right to say that we have taken major steps forward, so the advocacy service is far more independent than it was. But, the end of the day, the fact that local government has so much of a voice in commissioning that advocacy, for some young people who have had poor experiences and are likely suspicious of this, they don't accept—even though the service is independent—they don't fully accept that it is. So, I would agree that a review is needed, as Sharon mentioned—not that the system is poor, but it could be better.

And there is more to follow up on in terms of Buffy's question. There are other things that need to be done as well as advocacy to ensure that the voice of children and young people is being heard, and it is related to the culture of the services and whether the services are willing to listen to things sometimes that aren't comfortable for them.

Thank you. Thank you for that answer. What is the current reach of advocacy services in Wales? Are there arguments to strengthen the legal duties in respect of advocacy provision further than the current active offer, to make it a statutory duty for all children in care to have a named advocate?

Wel, mae hyn yn rhywbeth mae pobl ifanc wedi'i godi gyda ni, achos maen nhw'n gwerthfawrogi'r advocacy pan fo nhw'n ei gael e, ond bydden nhw, yn ddelfrydol, eisiau bod mewn sefyllfa lle mae ganddyn nhw advocate, maen nhw'n datblygu perthynas, ac efallai bod dim angen e neu hi am gwpl o flynyddoedd, ond bod yr un person yna iddyn nhw godi'r ffôn iddyn nhw. Ac fel mae pethau ar hyn o bryd, mae'n anodd iawn, iawn i'r gwasanaethau ddarparu hyn drostyn nhw. So, bydden nhw'n hoffi gweld y berthynas yn gallu para fel eu bod nhw ddim yn gorfod ail—. Ac mae hyn yn rhywbeth sydd yn dod mas yn gyson, bod plant a phobl ifanc yn gorfod ail-ddweud eu stori dro ar ôl tro ar ôl tro, ac mae hynny ynddo'i hun yn gallu bod yn retraumatising. Ond—ac mae hwn yn rhywbeth y gall y review ei drafod—os oedden nhw'n gallu cael y person yna maen nhw'n adnabod ac yn gallu trystio ac sy'n gwybod yr hanes, byddai hynny lot yn well. Ond, mae yna oblygiadau adnoddau yn hynny o beth, ac mae hynny'n rhywbeth i'r gwasanaethau achos mae'n rhaid iddyn nhw gael yr adnoddau er mwyn gallu darparu. Mae hwnna'n rhywbeth eto y bydd angen i'r review ei archwilio, byddwn i'n dweud.

Well, that is something that young people have raised with us, because they appreciate the advocacy when they receive it, but ideally, they would want to be in a situation where they have an advocate, they develop a relationship, and perhaps they might not need the advocate for a few years, but the same person is still there, so they can pick up the phone when they need it. As things stand, it's very, very difficult for the services to provide that service for them. So, they would like to see that relationship lasting so that they don't have to re-tell—. This is something that comes up often, that young people and children have to re-tell their story time and time and time again, and that can be retraumatising in itself. But—and this is something that the review could discuss—if they could have that same person that they know and trust, and who knows their story, that would be far better for them. But, there are implications in terms of resources in that regard, and that is something for the services to consider, because they do have to get those resources in place to enable them to provide that service. That's something, again, that the review will have to focus on, I would say.

11:50

Thank you very much, Jayne, and thank you, Buffy, for that question. I would say that the statutory legislation is strong in Wales for children and young people in care and subject to child protection. So, I think we have a very robust framework. I think where there is a gap still—fundamentally a gap—is visits to residential homes in Wales. We know that advocacy came out of the systemic abuse in children's homes for care-experienced children, and we still haven't got that right 20 years later. We still do not have the right for any child or young person to have access to an independent advocate within that home environment. So, my ask would be, within the framework of advocacy, that is an area where we critically still need to improve, so that children who are placed out of county, vulnerable, in children's homes in Wales, have an entitlement to a residential visiting advocacy. I think that is one of the key weaknesses still in place.

Thank you, Chair. Following on from that—. But, firstly, lovely to see Helen Mary Jones, and all the panellists, obviously. Thanks for coming in today. Following on from what you've just said about residential visiting advocacy, obviously that's a weak point that I wanted to ask you to expand on. You've already touched on some things, but if the rest of you could maybe give your opinions too and tell us what your concerns are about residential visiting advocacy, the lack of having advocacy in those provisions, and what percentage of children don't have an advocate. What exactly is the risk when they're not provided, and would you make it a statutory requirement? Thank you.

I think, if I can come in, I think our experience of children and young people and what their voices are saying to us is that those who are living in residential homes, if they are placed out of county, it can be a little bit of a postcode lottery. So, you may have two young people sitting around the table and one is able to access advocacy, and one isn't. That needs to be eradicated. Residential visiting advocacy is so important to give that time and space for young people or children to be able to feel safe to say how things are. There is a really good model of residential visiting advocacy within the advocacy providers within Wales, both with the National Youth Advocacy Service and Tros Gynnal, that could be quite easily implemented. But it needs to be embedded within the independent advocacy approach within Wales, and, as yet, it's not.

Yr issue hefyd yw plant a phobl ifanc o Loegr sydd yn cael eu gosod mewn cartrefi, yn enwedig yng nghefn gwlad Cymru, nad yw'r hawliau yn ymestyn iddyn nhw. Byddwn i'n dweud bod angen yr hawl statudol yna a'r hawl i'r advocate ymweld heb orfod dweud eu bod nhw'n dod—weithiau eu bod nhw'n ymweld yn gyson a bod pobl ifanc yn gwybod, every second Thursday, fod yr advocate yn mynd i popio mewn, ond hefyd eu bod nhw'n gallu mynd i mewn heb ganiatâd y bobl sydd yn rhedeg y cartrefi. Achos mae rhai ohonyn nhw, rhai o'r cwmnïau sy'n rhedeg y cartrefi, yn wych: maen nhw'n comisiynu advocacy, maen nhw'n croesawu pobl i mewn. Mae yna eraill sydd ddim. Mae'n dod yn ôl at thema a oedd yn dod allan yn ein ymgynghoriad ni oddi wrth bobl ifanc yn gyson iawn, fod gwasanaethau ddim yn gyson, ac mae'n dibynnu ble ti'n byw, a pha lywodraeth leol sy'n comisiynu eich cefnogaeth. Un peth mae'n pobl ifanc ni yn ei ddweud yw dylai fe ddim dibynnu ar ble wyt ti'n byw yng Nghymru, neu os oeddet ti wedi dod i Gymru o rywle arall; dylai hynny ddim effeithio ar y gwasanaeth a'r gefnogaeth rwyt ti'n eu cael. Ac o ran a ddylai fe fod yn statudol, wel, dŷn ni'n gwybod bod e ddim ar hyn o bryd a bod y cynnig ddim yn gyson. So, eto, byddwn i yn dweud, yn bersonol, fod yna rai pethau sydd mor sylfaenol bod yn rhaid iddyn nhw eu cynnwys nhw yn y gyfraith. Ac mae hynny'n rhywbeth efallai, fel roedd Sharon yn ei ddweud, yn rhywbeth bydd efallai'n dod allan o'r review o'r gwasanaeth fel y mae.

The issue too is young people and children from England who are placed in homes, in rural Wales in particular, and the rights don't extend to them. I would say that there is a need for a statutory right and a right for the advocate to visit without having to say that they are coming—that they should sometimes visit regularly and that the young person would know that every second Thursday the advocate is going to pop in, but also that they would be able to attend without the permission of those people who are running the homes. Because some of them, some of the companies that run homes are excellent: they commission advocacy services, they welcome those advocates in. But others don't. It comes back to a theme that emerged in our consultation with young people very frequently, that the services aren't consistent, and it depends where you live and what local government commissions the support available to you. One thing that our young people tell us is that it shouldn't depend on where you live in Wales, or whether you've come to Wales from somewhere else; that shouldn't impact on the service and the support that you receive. And in terms of whether it should be on a statutory footing, well, we know that it isn't at present and that the offer isn't consistent. So, again, I would say, personally, that there are some things that are so fundamental that they should be included in the legislation. And that's something, as Sharon said, that might come out of the review of the service as it currently stands.

11:55

I can't see, sorry. Yes, okay, thank you very much, Chair. And, as you said earlier, Helen Mary, it's about the continuity and building those relationships, with the same advocates going into those homes.

But, if I move on to the next question, which is: how would you describe the effectiveness of current planning or review mechanisms for care-experienced children, and how well they are listened to within them? And you've already touched on it, and one of you suggested a need for a review. How do you think the service could be improved, because I think that Helen Mary then said that the culture of services, and the willingness to listen, might have been a problem? So, I'd like to hear your thoughts on that. Thank you.

Wel, mi wnaf i ddechrau, achos mae'r issues o gwmpas beth oedd y looked-after children reviews yn rhywbeth sydd yn dod allan fel thema bwysig yn ein ymgynghoriad ni. Ac, eto, mae'n rhaid i ni ddweud bod yr ymarfer ddim yn gyson; mae'n dibynnu ble ŷch chi. Ond mae pobl ifanc yn disgrifio pethau fel pwyllgor o bobl yn troi lan yn eu hysgol nhw, ac maen nhw yn cael eu galw allan o'r dosbarth a mynd mewn i'r cyfarfod, yn aml iawn heb neb gyda nhw, weithiau heb iddyn nhw gael rhybudd bod hynna'n mynd i ddigwydd, a bod y cyfle, wedyn, i fynegi barn. Ac mae hynny'n dod nôl, mewn ffordd, i advocacy a phwy sy'n helpu'r person ifanc i baratoi ar gyfer y cyfarfodydd yma. Ac maen nhw'n ffeindio fe'n embarrassing a bod e'n gallu bod yn stigmatising bod pobl ifanc eraill yn gwybod. Maen nhw'n becso achos, weithiau, mae'r cyfarfodydd yna yn cael eu trefnu, a dywedwch eich bod chi'n paratoi ar gyfer eich TGAU ac rŷch chi'n cael eich tynnu mas o'r dosbarth Saesneg, neu Cymraeg, neu maths—pethau rili sylfaenol—. A dwi'n cofio un person ifanc yn dweud wrthyf i ac Emma,

Well, I'll start, because the issues in terms of what used to be the looked-after children reviews is something that comes up as an important theme in our consultation. And, again, we have to say that the practice isn't consistent; it depends where you are. But young people described things such as a committee of people turning up at their school, and they're called out of their classes, and they have to go into that meeting, very often without anyone accompanying them, without them having any notice that this is going to happen, and that there's the opportunity, then, to express a view. And that comes back, in a way, to advocacy and who helps the young people to prepare for these meetings. And they find it very embarrassing and that it can be stigmatising that other young people know. They're concerned because, sometimes, those meetings are being arranged, and say you're preparing for your GCSEs and you're taken out of your English or Welsh class, or maths—those really important lessons—. And I remember one young person telling me and Emma,

'They organise the reviews to suit themselves and when it's convenient for them. They don't ask me. They don't ask my family, and we just have to do whatever they want. It's supposed to be my review; why can't I decide?'

A byddwn i jest yn gadael y cwestiwn yna gyda chi fel pwyllgor. 

And I would just leave that question with you as a committee. 

I think, fundamentally as well, the voice of children and young people is important. It is the only time within their care journey that they have the opportunity to influence their care plan, to be able to rebalance that power, to give them that voice, and where they want to be able to thrive and aim for those aspirations. We clearly hear from children and young people that are not invited to their children looked after reviews. I have had experiences where I've supported young people within the CLA review process; however, I've been sat outside waiting for professionals to finish their meeting, prior to the young person being invited in. That's not acceptable, because you have a young person who is seeing many professionals behind a door who are already talking about them. So, we are retraumatising, and, I think, what we need to do as well, throughout this process, is recognise—. We've done a lot of work in Wales around adverse childhood experiences; we recognise what ACEs are, but where's our position as professionals, and where do we contribute to the continuation of those ACEs? And not allowing children and young people to have that voice, to take control over their care plan, which is fundamental in the principles of the Social Care and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—. It's about that choice, that collaboration, that control. We can't take that power away from them, so we need to get better.

Other young people say to us as well that they actually get invited via a formal letter to their own CLA review that's taking place in their own home. So, they will have a very language-built letter that says, 'Under section so and so, so and so, you are invited to a CLA review', and they say, 'Am I being sent a letter to invite me to my own meeting? It's my meeting, guys.' So, they're very, very passionate about that. And, I think, if we can't improve that, then, fundamentally, how can we improve the voice of children and young people across all platforms of care, and all areas of their decision making within their lives?

And there are models out there are much better. So, starting with the child: 'Where do you want your review to take place? Who would you like to come?' If, for example, they want the birth family to come, but it's not safe, explain to them properly why it isn't safe. It doesn't have to be like this, and it comes back to children and young people too often feeling that they're perceived as a problem that needs to be solved, rather than a person with their own rights, their own views and their own opinions. The damage that that does, on top of the damage that young people have already suffered, as Emma says, is retraumatising. When we know that there are better ways to do it, and there are some social workers and some local authorities that are doing that, the question, I think, for us as a national community, has to be: why are we tolerating not everybody doing the things that really work?

12:00

Yes, thank you. One of the vulnerable groups, I think, within the care-experienced community, are girls and young women who become pregnant whilst they're in care. National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru have funding from Welsh Government to work across Wales with the girls and young women who do become pregnant whilst in the care system, and I would say that the voices of those girls and young women don't often get heard. We know, through our advocacy casework of working with over 150 young women and girls who are pregnant in the care system, all of them, their child or children who are born or not born yet, are subject to child protection proceedings. There is something fundamentally wrong about every single child who is born or not born to a care-experienced mother being subject to those proceedings. That's not me saying that, where there are reasons to do so, that shouldn't happen, but there seems to be an automatic process whereby those children are scrutinised. We've heard countlessly from young women—and I know they've been very much part of the stakeholder events, and thank you so much for engaging directly with the young women from NYAS—that their voices need to be heard more, and we need systemic change to improve that.

One of the recommendations that I would suggest is developing a national action plan in Wales to address this issue, with stats from the local authorities, to compare and contrast how many care-experienced young women are having children and how many are going through child protection processes. We've done the research, but there is no accountability. There is no framework in which to address those issues. So, I would call on that vulnerable group to be listened to much more.

The other area that I would advocate for is the extension of independent visiting services for care-experienced children and young people to go up to the age of 25. Currently in legislation, they're entitled to an IV up to the age of 18. Many don't know about that right and entitlement. And if you think of the leaving care space, at the age of 16 to 18 when they go through transition, that's not the time to withdraw those services. So, an independent visitor is a befriender who works in a befriending role for many, many years with the child and young person. They're a volunteer. And Welsh Government have commissioned NYAS to undertake a commissioning framework and standards for independent visiting, but only 1 per cent of the care-experienced community actually have an IV. So, I would advocate, within the corporate parenting duties, that that is extended. Thank you.

Thank you. I'm just really conscious of time, because we're overrunning and I know we've got a lot of questions to get through, so if it's really quick, Emma.

I think I just wanted to highlight the point in regard to the young mums. We can't forget dads as well in regard to that. They play a fundamental part and sometimes, through assessment, become the primary carer. I think, going back to what Sharon was saying, one fundamental experience of a young person who said to me, 'I have been criticised for being a bad parent, but my parent has been the local authority—what have they taught me?' And I think, when you are looking at radical reform, we need to go back to grass roots, and we need to ensure that, as soon as our children and young people enter that front door of the care system, they are loved, they are supported, they are valued and they're accepted, there is transparency, and they are given the skills to thrive. That, actually, is not what we're seeing; we're seeing fantastic good practices, but we should never be at a point where we are questioning the parenting capabilities of the children in our care, because we haven't given them skills to be good.

Just to say, we've also written as a committee to the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, just to follow up on those concerns with birth parents that we have heard. So, that is something that's very much in the forefront of our minds. Questions now from Sioned Williams. 

12:05

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Rydyn ni wedi trafod tipyn y bore yma ynglŷn â'r hyn sydd angen ei ddiwygio. Yn gyffredinol, beth yw profiad y rhan fwyaf o blant sydd yn y system gofal yng Nghymru? Ydyn nhw'n profi person-centred approach?

Thank you, Chair. We've discussed a great deal this morning what needs to be reformed, but in general, what is the experience of the majority of children in the care system in Wales? Do they experience a person-centred approach?

Wel, mae'n anodd dweud achos rŷn ni'n sôn am 7,000 o blant a phobl ifanc. Mae'n bosibl dweud, o ran yr ymgynghoriad rŷn ni fel mudiad newydd ei wneud, ei bod hi'n llai tebygol bod plant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi cael y profiadau gorau yn mynd i eisiau cymryd rhan. So, i raddau, mae'r bobl ifanc sy'n 'opt-io' i mewn i'n systemau—efallai y gallwch chi ddweud eu bod nhw'n debygol o fod y rhai sy'n llai ffodus. Dydy hynny ddim o reidrwydd yn wir, actually, achos mae gennym ni rai pobl ifanc sy'n dweud, 'Wel, mae fy mhrofiad i wedi bod yn grêt, ond dwi'n gweld beth sy'n digwydd i bobl ifanc eraill'.

Mae yna rhai sy'n cael profiad gwych. Mae rhai sy'n cwympo ar eu traed gyda theuluoedd maeth neu gartref gofal sydd wir yn darparu beth sydd ei angen arnyn nhw, sy'n gwrando arnyn nhw, sy'n rhoi'r cyfle gorau iddyn nhw, ac rŷn ni'n gweld rhai pethau'n gwella. Mae Sharon wedi sôn bod y gwasanaeth llawer yn well o ran advocacy nag oedd e ryw 10 mlynedd yn ôl. Mae pethau wedi gwella. Dŷn ni'n gweld mwy o bobl ifanc o'r system gofal yn dechrau mynd i'r brifysgol, er enghraifft, a phrifysgolion yn eu cefnogi nhw. Ond, mae yna lawer gormod ohonyn nhw sy'n mynd trwy'r broses yn meddwl nad yw eu lleisiau wedi cael eu clywed, sy'n newid lle maen nhw'n aros tro ar ôl tro ar ôl tro. Rŷn ni nôl at weld pobl ifanc yn cael eu pethau nhw wedi eu rhoi i mewn i bin bags i symud o un lle i'r llall. A buaswn i'n dweud tra bod yna bobl ifanc sydd ddim yn cael y profiad gorau, dydy hi ddim yn ddigon da.

I fi'n bersonol, mae'n frustrating bod yna ymarfer da a gwych mewn rhai llefydd, ond mae gormod ohono fe yn dibynnu ar unigolion, boed yn director of social services neu'n aelod cabinet ar y lefel leol, neu weithiwr cymdeithasol lleol. Mae'n dibynnu gormod ar unigolion ac mae eisiau inni ledu'r ymarfer da yna. Ac er mwyn gwneud hynny, buaswn i eto'n dweud yn bersonol bod angen i ni wneud mwy o bethau'n statudol o ran beth mae'n rhaid i bobl ei wneud. Felly, mae'n anodd inni ddweud, i ateb y cwestiwn, 'Beth yw'r profiad cyffredinol?' Ond, tra bod cymaint o blant a phobl ifanc yn cael profiad sy'n llai na da, dydyn ni ddim yn gallu bod yn hapus, nac ydyn?

Well, it's difficult to say, because we're talking about 7,000 children and young people here. It's possible to say in terms of the consultation that we have undertaken that it's less likely that children who have received the best experiences are going to want to participate in the consultation. So, the young people who opt into our systems and policies, well, you might say that they are likely to be those ones who are less fortunate. That isn't necessarily true, actually, because we have young people who say, 'Well, my experience has been great, but I see what happens to other young people'.

There are some who have an excellent experience. There are some who land on their feet with foster parents or care homes who provide exactly what they need, who listen to what they have to say and provide them with the best opportunities. And we do see things improving. Sharon has said that the service is far better in terms of advocacy than it was 10 years ago. Things have happened there. We see more people from the care system going into university, for example, and universities are supporting them to do that. But, there are far too many of them who go through the process without thinking that their voice has been heard, who change where they stay time and time and time again. We're back to seeing young people having their belongings put in bin bags when they move from one place to another. And I would say that whilst there are some people who don't have the best experience, it isn't good enough in general.

And for me personally, I feel frustrated that there is good practice, excellent practice, indeed, in some place, but far too much of it depends on the individual, be that a director of social services or a cabinet member on a local level, or a particular social worker on a local basis. It depends too much on individuals, and we need to spread that good practice. And in order to do that, I would again say, personally, that we need to put more things on a statutory footing in terms of what people have to do. But, it's difficult to say, to answer the question, what the general experience is, but whilst there are so many children and young people who have a less than good experience, we can't be content, can we?

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Sioned. One of the issues—I could talk about loads of issues in this space, around child-led practice, but I would like to highlight the vulnerability of young people in the leaving care system when it comes to housing and the risk of homelessness. We know that young people who are in care are more vulnerable to becoming homeless and more vulnerable to being exposed to the criminal justice system, and I think there is something here about working across policy so that children and young people, although they sit within social services' space, we actually work in partnership with our housing colleagues, with our health colleagues, within education and within the homelessness field so that we can strengthen the corporate parenting commitment of extending those corporate parenting duties across different public services, because I think that is an area where, when we talk about young people having choice and control, as it describes within the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, they are particularly vulnerable in relation to housing and homelessness, and that is an area that we need to address. 

I think it's appropriate at this time as well to talk about the stigma that children and young people face when they're in the care system, and I think we need to be looking at that, because they carry so many labels. They didn't come into the care system and wish for the labels, so it's about understanding where is that coming from. And what children and young people are telling us at Voices from Care is that there is too much language around the care-experienced community around the negatives. When you see everything that's in the news headlines, when you see everything that's being reported—we're talking about high numbers not achieving in education. We need to change the language, we need to celebrate assets, and we need to not ignore but we need to improve the deficits. And I think from that, we will see the stigma maybe dissolve, but also, it's our community awareness of social services, because it's not the young person, it's the system itself that's stigmatised.

12:10

Yes, can I add to that? In the mix of stigma and homelessness in particular and the risks there, child poverty is obviously really important in relation to children's social care. There's a real link between the rise in child poverty and the rise in children entering care. And the ambition of governments across the UK, including the Welsh Government, to really reduce child poverty by 2020 has clearly failed, so, something needs to happen to address that.

I think what care does really well, if we're celebrating a success, is, for most children, it insulates them from that poverty while they're in care, but there are too many children entering care because of family poverty and then being thrown back into poverty when they leave care. So, care needs to be more than a respite from poverty—it needs to be something that actually challenges and disrupts the situation we have where so many children and young people are in poverty today.

Ie, jest un cwestiwn bach olaf te, o ran pa wasanaethau—. Mae nifer ohonoch chi wedi sôn am yr angen i weithio mewn partneriaeth yn fwy ar draws y gwasanaethau sydd eu hangen i gefnogi pobl ifanc. Oes yna wasanaethau sydd ar goll a sut gallwn ni ddatrys hynny?

Yes, just one brief, final question regarding which services—. A number of you have talked about the need to work in partnership more across the services needed to support young people. Are there services that are missing and how could we resolve that?

Thank you. You've mentioned 'missing', so, that's actually what I'll speak about. Services for missing children—there's a big gap in the consistency about what happens when a young person goes missing from care. A child goes missing from care or from home in Wales every hour. So, during this session, there'll be a number of children who will be reported missing. Hopefully, most of them will be found safe and well, but of course, appalling abuses and exploitation can happen when children are reported missing.

For most areas in Wales, there's a consistent return interview service. So, that's where someone, often independent of the child's care, will speak to the child about why they went missing, what the push and pull factors were that led to them going missing and what happened while they were away as well—what happened to them. They'll also speak to them about what they want to happen once they've returned home too. So, all of those things are really good at reducing the number of children that go missing in the future. The issue is that there's a very inconsistent practice across Wales. So, some areas commission services through police commissioners or through the police. In north Wales, it's commissioned via local authorities or some have in-house services, and the criteria in which you're to interview a child are very, very different. So, sometimes, it happens quickly; sometimes it's over a period of time; sometimes, it's available for all the children who are in care in that local area; sometimes, it's only if they've already got some sort of flag highlighting a risk around sexual exploitation.

We think that there should be a more universal offer for children to make sure that every child who goes missing has access to a return interview. That would keep them safe; it would share information across partners. Because there's that big gap there of someone speaking to the child who isn't the police, who isn't just trying to find out about crime, but actually to reduce overall risk is really important. And the best system that we could create would have roles like this, because of the scandals, which have already been mentioned, that would always have a child knowing that they've got someone to turn to in those particular moments of vulnerability. Many of these children, I wouldn't like to call 'vulnerable children', but they're children who have been placed in vulnerable situations—sometimes out of county, sometimes engaged with mental health services—and because of those vulnerable situations, we need to find that exact point to intervene with an independent person to be be able to hear their views and express what needs to happen next.

I think, in regard to missing services, I think we do really well in Wales in regard to needs analysis and looking at what we need. What we don't consider is the movement of care-experienced young people. So, where one local authority may have one service, and they've been moved from one to another, is a postcode lottery—that service has gone, and that service may have been making great strides within that young person's life, and there is no possibility of crossing over. 

I think what we do have sometimes is this battle between the best interests and the rights. And some services are not offered to a child or young person, because it is felt that it's not best for them at that time. So, again, that choice is taken away—that voice, that informed decision making. So, I think what we see is, we've got an amazing third sector within Wales that is there to be able to support and to be able to deliver services and can do it differently in a very much child-led, children's-rights way and process, which we know, from feedback from children and young people, is beneficial to them, and that's what they welcome. But what we see are those best-interests decisions, so children and young people are actually not knowing about the services that they can access, and that can be very, very difficult.

Thank you. I'll move on now to questions from James Evans. James.

12:15

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. I've got one question for NYAS, if that's okay. In calls for written evidence to Welsh Government, you asked for a complete ban on all forms of unregulated accommodation, guaranteeing that children in care are cared for where they live. Can you explain more about your concerns, and how common is this issue?

Thank you for the question, James. So, unregulated accommodation is something that's been increased in use over recent years in Wales. It's often used in the context of children who need specialist support, I suppose, rather than a residential children's home that's already registered and already providing that support. But it's very closely linked with the issues within what you'd call the 'care market'—if we were to use that phrase—of the current housing that's available for children. So, we think it's a problem because, obviously being unregulated, there aren't those safeguards and checks and inspections that you'd expect in residential children's homes. It's not an area where policy or legislation and active choice has been made to increase the number of children going into unregulated. So, that suggests to us that if no policy decision was made to increase the use, then it's happened by accident, and it's certainly not in the best interests; it's basically happened because of other factors, like the housing availability that there is. So, one at the ways to address this, we think, with a ban, is to obviously look at the range of options that are available to children, to maybe look more closely at what kinds of accommodation and what types of care are most beneficial for children as well, looking right at the start. It shouldn't be a system where we talk about, 'Fostering hasn't worked', so then we go into residential children's homes, and then 'Residential children's homes haven't worked', so then we go into unregulated or secure homes. It should always be about finding what works best for that child straight away, as soon as possible, so we avoid the movement and the serious instability that happens in that child's life.

So, in Wales, there's obviously a number of children who are in this unregulated accommodation right now. We've been speaking to the children's commissioner and proposed to the children's commissioner that, during her term, she might be able to oversee something focused on children's rights around those young people, and, because it's a seven-year term, you could ban unregulated accommodation for under 16s, which already happened in England a couple of years ago. You could do that straight away, and then, for 16-year-olds, you'd do that in two or three years' time when you've got enough accommodation, and then, by the end of the seven years, you have a situation where no child needs to go into an unregulated placement.

It should be straightforward enough to move regulations that already exist and get Care Inspectorate Wales looking into these homes, as well as trying to get the residential visiting advocacy as well, which we talked about. But, to do that would basically give that reassurance that these children who are in these homes are better able to be supported, to flourish, to be happy, healthy and safe as well.

Yes. Thank you, Jayne, and thank you for the question. I think we have to think is it ever good for a young person who's been in the care system, at the age of 16, to be in unregulated B&B. For example, what service are we providing? What level of love and care are we providing to individual young people?

Sioned, you asked about partnership work; I think there could be a partnership approach to the solution here. Ben mentioned working with Care Inspectorate Wales. I would say let's work together to see how we can eradicate any young person who is in care ending up in unregulated, unsafe accommodation because there aren't enough choices for young people.

I've just checked the statistics as well. We've got 122 children, in the latest reports, that are currently in this type of accommodation. A broader point is the average age at which a child moves out from home, from their family, is around 24 years old. These are 16 and 17-year-olds. They're still children under domestic and international law, and they're being pushed into places where they can't be cared for, because the point about care, James, is that care is regulated; it's important that Care Inspectorate Wales looks at it. So, if you don't have regulation here, then, theoretically, you're not able to provide care as a provider of an unregulated home, because you'd need to be registered with Care Inspectorate Wales.

And it would be really helpful, Ben, if we could have those statistics, and we can share them with the committee. That would be really helpful. James.

Yes, thank you, Chair. More of a general question for the panel now. We've heard extensive evidence about the huge disruption and upset for children when they face frequent changes to social workers. I've heard of 10 social workers up to 16 social workers in the space of a year. Do you have any practical solutions on how we can improve this situation, because the current situation is just not helpful to anyone? Thank you, Chair.

12:20

Y cwestiwn mae pobl ifanc wedi ei ofyn i mi yw, 'A oes rhaid i ni gael gweithiwr cymdeithasol sydd â'r holl qualifications ac yn y blaen?' Roedd yna gyfnod mae rhai ohonom ni'n ddigon hen i'w gofio pan oedd yna lot o bobl yn gweithio yn y sector gyda phlant oedd efallai heb y pethau academaidd ond oedd â'r agwedd iawn a'r values iawn. Beth mae plant a phobl ifanc yn dweud wrthym ni yw, wrth gwrs, fod angen yr expertise yna, ond y realiti yw, gyda'r rhan fwyaf o weithwyr cymdeithasol, nad oes digon o amser gyda nhw i'w dreulio gyda phlant. So, mae eisiau i ni ailedrych, rwyf fi'n credu, ar y gweithlu a sicrhau ein bod ni'n tyfu'r gweithlu proffesiynol, ond ein bod ni hefyd yn edrych am rolau newydd, rolau mwy hyblyg, sydd yn gallu rhoi'r gefnogaeth yna i blant a phobl ifanc, efallai o dan oruchwyliaeth gweithwyr cymdeithasol.

Mae hefyd eisiau edrych ar y job, achos mae'r bobl sy'n mynd i mewn i waith cymdeithasol gan amlaf eisiau helpu teuluoedd a phlant, ond, fel mae pethau ar hyn o bryd, maen nhw'n teimlo weithiau eu bod nhw jest yn plismona, ac nad oes digon o amser a dim digon o adnoddau i'w rhoi. Felly, does yna ddim ateb syml, ond mae eisiau ailedrych ar y gweithlu ac ehangu'r rolau sydd ar gael. Dyna un o'r pethau mae pobl ifanc wedi eu cynnig i ni.

The questions that young people have asked us is whether they need to have a social worker who has all of the qualifications and so on. There was a period, which some of us are old enough to remember, when many people working in the sector with children perhaps didn't have the academic qualifications, but had the right approach and the right values. What children and young people tell us is that, of course, the expertise is needed, but the reality is that the majority of social workers don't have enough time to spend with the children and young people. So, I think we need to look again at that workforce, and ensure that, yes, we grow the professional workforce, but we also look at more flexible roles that can provide that support to children and young people, perhaps under the supervision of a social worker.

We also need to look at the job itself, because those people who are going into social work very often want to help families and children, but, as things currently stand, they feel sometimes they're just policing and that they don't have enough time or resources to provide to them. So, there's not a simple answer, but we need to look again at the workforce and to expand the roles available. That's one of the things that young people have proposed to us.

Lovely, thank you. Thank you, James. Questions finally now from Ken Skates.

Thank you, Chair. Are any of you involved with Welsh Government in shaping a radical reform of the system?

Well, we are. In Voices from Care, we have been commissioned by Welsh Government to undertake the process that we described in our written evidence of talking to children and young people in the care system across Wales. We engaged with probably about 200 or 300 directly or indirectly over the summer. We recruited a team of 40 young people who'd been through the care system, who met before Christmas. The plan was for them to meet in September, but, sadly, due to the death of Her Majesty the Queen, we had to postpone. We had four Ministers attend the event before Christmas with the care-experienced young people—the Minister for education, the Minister for Social Justice, and the Deputy Ministers for health and mental health. They spent the whole day with young people, listening to their experiences, and working with them on what we've called a draft declaration. When you have an international summit—and that was the word that Welsh Ministers used for this meeting—you have a declaration, don't you, that you discuss. So, Welsh Ministers and young people have discussed that, they've amended it, and the idea is that young people and Ministers will sign that declaration. Now, what that does is it doesn't tell you how to solve the problems, but it sets out a vision for what a radically reformed service would look and feel like to children and young people and their families. There's a draft programme in place where we will support the young ambassadors to work with Ministers then to take that declaration to the people providing services and say, 'This is where we need to get to. Let us work with you on how we get there.'

I think what we would say is that that's a really, really good start. We've worked with partners, and I should say we had young people that we recruited through NYAS, through the local authorities, through other third sectors, so it was a huge range of young people, and some of them with good experiences that they wanted to share and make sure that other young people got, and some of them with some pretty grim experiences. So, we'd say, I think, the Welsh Government have made a really good start in putting children and young people's voices at the heart of the radical reform process. I guess what we would perhaps ask you, and young people would ask you, as a committee would be to keep an eye on that, because, speaking to colleagues in Scotland, where a different process was gone through, to begin with, creating the promise, as it's called in Scotland, young people were right at the heart of that. Now the sense is, from many in Scotland, that that's been lost, and it would be such a shame after such a good start with such wide engagement if that got lost.

Thank you. At NYAS Cymru, we work with Welsh Government on a whole range of programmes and projects, but one of the ones that is really quite radical going on right now is the basic income pilot for care leavers. So, that's £20 million Welsh Government has put in for more than 500 care leavers when they turn 18, to receive a certain amount of money—£1,600 a month over the next two years. They're currently piloting that, so it needs to be evaluated, but the early evidence suggests that that's working really well. We'd be keen that, when that comes to an end, we see that rolled out for all care leavers. It's particularly important on the point of poverty that I mentioned before, because poverty has lots of complexity around it. There are loads of different factors that can drive poverty, but, fundamentally, it's very simple: there are not enough resources for the children to live and to live well, and those young people who leave care often find themselves in that situation. So, a simple solution to it is to provide those resources, and that it's child centred and young person centred because it's going directly to those young people. So, we're very supportive of that programme. 

12:25

Really quickly, going back a bit, Voices from Care Cymru has an advisory group that has been working really, really closely with Welsh Government officials in regard to the development and the roll-out and what's needed. So, they were there from the very, very beginning of its discussions and its implementation. They very much reviewed it. I actually chair as well, and we advocated for, a practitioners forum. So, I chair a quarterly practitioners forum for PAs across Wales in regard to the implementation and delivery on behalf of Welsh Government, and we have seen, going back to what Ben has said, that there's actually currently—recent figures last week—97 per cent our care-experienced care leavers who have taken up the basic income pilot, which is amazing. 

In regard to Voices as well, what we do and what we are continuing to do is to work with Welsh Government in regard to the corporate parenting charter, which we really, really want to have and see in legislation. We want to be able to widen those duties and expand them, and we have a central group of young people that actually attend those meetings with Welsh Government officials and are really working in parallel in regard to what that should look like, and about accountability of local authorities against that. 

And that partly answers Sioned's question about what's missing, because what's missing is very often join-up. And I should have mentioned the First Minister, who was also there at the summit, and I'm very grateful to him for that. 

Thank you. Just briefly as a follow-up, how confident are you that real change will happen? And then another question: are there any gaps in the data currently collected by local authorities and Welsh Government? 

Can I bring Sharon in, and then we'll come back to you, Helen Mary?

Thank you very much for the question. I am confident. I'm impatient for change. That's what I would say currently. We want policy to turn into action. I think we've been waiting too long for the extension of the legislation up to the age of 25 to provide support for our care leavers. I know there's a lot of work happening to eradicate profit from children's social care. I feel confident that would happen. I think we just have to be really careful on how that looks so we don't put children and young people at risk.

I'm really encouraged by the cross-party group that Jane Dodds chairs, which is very committed to eradicating profit in social care but also strengthening and improving the lives of children and young people. And Welsh Government are—. I sit on the transformation delivery group for radical reform in this space, so I would say, yes, we are very much engaged. So, I'm really encouraged, I would say, by the progress, but what is missing, I think, is the review of the national approach, which we've talked about, and strengthening the legislation up to 25.

I think I would say the young people are saying that they feel optimistic, and some of our older young people have been involved in consultations before and went into the process feeling, to be honest, a little bit cynical. I think the leadership that's been shown by Welsh Ministers and by other Members of the Senedd—as Sharon mentioned, Jane Dodds as chair of the cross-party group—is really encouraging, but the challenging bit does come next. Young people have worked with Ministers to develop this vision of radical reform. They are realistic. They know that some of these things can be fixed quite quickly and some of these things will take a very long time, so they're not expecting the moon on a stick; they're not expecting things to change overnight. They talk about the First Minister as 'our First Minister', and they feel that engagement. They feel that the Government is in a different place and that perhaps some of those things that we have been waiting for for a long time will come.

I think what needs to happen, though, and what young people are saying to us is that that momentum needs to carry on, and I guess that's why we're so pleased to see the committee doing this piece of work as well, because that builds a consensus around what radically reformed services look like across the political community, and it's that leadership that's going to be needed, because some of the things will be uncomfortable for people that provide services. Sometimes young people are saying things that some of the providers of services may not want to hear.

So I think 'very, very optimistic' rather than 'confident'. And the last thing, I think, Emma, is that we'd want to say about the data, wouldn't we?

Data definitely, yes. At Voices from Care we've just actually completed a piece of research under When I am Ready, which will be presented to the Welsh Government, we're hoping, at the end of February. It's the data that's available, it's how we track the positive impacts of our young people. It's about the numbers and it's about what is important and how are we going to be—what we talked about earlier—looking at those outcomes and how are we actually putting that critical eye. I don't know if there was anything you wanted to add to that, Helen Mary, in regard to the data.

12:30

Just that the commitment to radical reform is real. Young people really feel that. There's a vision now for what it looks like, but we need that rigorous data, we need to be able to monitor. And, of course, we all know the pressures that are on local authorities. People need to understand why they need to collect the data and what will be done to it. But the When I am Ready scheme is a case in point where we just don't know whether it's working or not because the data's not there.

Would you be able to share any of that work that you're sharing with the Welsh Government with the committee? We'd be really grateful.

We have a draft report, and I'm sure that we can share that with you. I don't think we have already, so, yes, we will.

I have some specific points on missing data, the kind of thing we need. Abuse and neglect at the moment is monitored and put into one category, basically. We know two thirds of children who enter care enter care because of abuse or neglect. Splitting those two terms we think would be really helpful, because neglect can particularly be related to poverty, which I've mentioned, it can be related to the family not being able to provide the support that they need, and I think it's important to understand that distinction around the interventions we'll make. That's No. 1.

No. 2 is missing children, which I mentioned. We did a report with the Children's Society that looked at the scale of missing children and the interventions for them across the country. We are doing that, but the Welsh Government can't do that because they don't have the data around return interviews, around police and local authorities and what they're doing. We think that there should be national monitoring of what happens around missing children, so that we can address the scale of it, and part of that would be statutory guidance about what happens for missing children.

And then the third and final point, to go back to what Sharon said earlier, is around those care-experienced young women and girls, and the rate at which there's that intergenerational cycle of children going into care. We know it's vast, we know quite how targeted and, in some ways, persecuted these young women can feel, but it's not something that's being collated at a national level. So, I think having that information would allow this committee and our own organisations to act much better on the behalf of these young people.

I'm really sorry, but we're not going to be able to go any longer, unfortunately, because we are quite over time. But thank you, diolch yn fawr, for coming in this morning. I know there are lots of big issues to talk about, and we're really grateful to you for taking the time and trouble to come and give us evidence. You will be sent a transcript in due course to check for accuracy, but thank you for your evidence this morning and this afternoon. Diolch yn fawr.

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 a 9 o'r cyfarfod hwn
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 6 and 9 of this meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 6 a 9 o'r cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 6 and 9 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

We move on to the next point, which is item 5, and that is to propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for items 6 and 9 of the meeting. Are Members content? Yes, I can see all Members are content, so we'll now proceed to meet in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:33.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:33.

13:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 13:30.

The committee reconvened in public at 13:30.

7. Craffu ar Adroddiad Blynyddol Estyn 2021-22
7. Scrutiny of Estyn Annual Report 2021-22

Croeso nôl. Welcome back to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. Item 7 is scrutiny of Estyn's annual report 2021-22. I'd like to welcome our witnesses here today. We have Owen Evans, His Majesty's chief inspector at Estyn, Claire Morgan, strategic director at Estyn, and Jassa Scott, strategic director at Estyn. You're all very welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Members have a number of questions to put to you this afternoon. I'll make a start. Perhaps you would like to start by commenting briefly on your first year as chief inspector of education and training in Wales, and whether, and if so how, you have taken a different approach to this year's annual report.

Thank you for the welcome and the opportunity to speak. It's been an interesting year—that's the first thing to say—but it's been one that I think has filled me with some optimism about the future. I think if I was to look back at what we've achieved over the past year, the first thing is obviously to reintroduce inspections. I think we were quite successful during the pandemic in supporting the system through engagement visits, and the feedback for those has been very strong. The biggest thing, and one of the first decisions I made in coming into the role, was actually to postpone inspections because I thought the sector at the time didn't have the capacity to deal with it. So, in getting back out and inspecting particularly in schools, what we've seen is that we've had to be very sympathetic to the way that they've been affected by the pandemic, but also to keep standards at the heart of what we do.

I think that the biggest change, really, in the way we work has been in the approach we've taken. We now have a nominee model, for example, so the school or the college or whatever is actually involved in the process right from the start, they have a chance to feed back. The removal of summative judgments, I think, was a major, major step forward for us—obviously one of the key take-outs from the 'A Learning Inspectorate' report. In a way, it's transformed the way we work. So, whereas historically we would have gone into whatever institution and the last day, really, would have been an arm-wrestle about which grade they're going to get, the quality of the discussion we're getting with whichever institution it is now, or school or whatever, is of a vastly different nature. It's a proper professional dialogue about what's working well, and where it's working well we're using that, we're doing more case studies than ever and producing that for other institutions to look at. But where we see a need for improvement, it's a discussion about, 'This is what we've seen, this is what we've found, and I think this is the way you can improve.' So, that's the first thing.

The second thing, really, for me, is impact. I think we're a great organisation, and I think we're probably the organisation with the greatest breadth and depth of educational expertise in Wales. It's really about how we utilise that. I think, longer term—and perhaps we'll have a chance to talk about this later on—we have plans about how we might make more of an impact through the work we do. Communications is obviously a key one. This year, we've changed the way we write the inspection reports. We have hugely different ways of promoting things, like the thematic reports, peer-to-peer sexual harassment being a good example where we did our first children's version or young person's version of that, and parents' reports now, as part of the inspection reports.

The biggest difference to the annual report is—. When I travel the country speaking to teachers or whatever, or lecturers, the question I always ask in conferences is, 'How many people have read the annual report?', and the average run rate is one. So, what we've tried to do is make it more usable and accessible. It is a weighty tome, but there's a lot of good stuff in there. So, we did publish a summary version back in September, very much annotated and very much segmenting into themes and sectors with materials that people could use for support. The annual report really builds on that. We've tried to segment it, we've tried to make it easier to access—you don't have to read the whole lot—and to make it easier and then support it with materials that practitioners can use in their own settings about how to improve. So, it's not just the inspection element, but it's trying to help the sector improve as well, working with our partners.

Thank you. That's a really good outline to start with. You just touched on the issue of the absence of summative grades in your reports. To what extent has that, perhaps, presented any challenges in communicating a clear message about the quality and standard of a school's provision, particularly to parents or wider audiences?

13:35

I'll hand over to Claire in a second, so I'll give her a quick warning. We take an awful lot of feedback. When you try new things, you have to make sure that you evaluate if it's working or not. In some of the conversations we've had, particularly with parents, they were saying, 'Well, you've got no summative grade; how do we know if the school's doing well or not?' So, we have published parents' versions now, and we're far more succinct, I think, in trying to get over how well the school is doing. We mustn't forget that we still have categories, so there is still that backstop if a school isn't performing well enough for whatever reason. But it's an iterative process, really, of learning and trying to adapt. Claire, I don't know if you want to say anything from your experience. 

As Owen said, we understand our role in communicating standards to parents, and indeed to the wider public. So, when we decided to remove summative gradings, we had a good look at the structure of our reports to make sure that when we're evaluating schools and other providers there is a clear indication in the report what's working well, and also what needs to improve. So, we have evolved our inspection reports over time. You will notice now that they're far more personalised. Schools tell us that they recognise themselves from our reports and they feel that they're far more personalised.

In addition to the main report, we've also, as Owen said, started since last November producing a summary report for parents, and that's been well received by schools. We've had some positive feedback from parents as well. But this is something that we will evolve, we want to keep on improving. We've been actively seeking feedback from parents and from parent groups, including examples like Parentkind, to make sure we're hitting the spot with parents, that it's clear when they read one of our reports what the school is doing well, what they need to improve, but also, importantly, what's going to happen next, and what the school needs to focus on. Over the next few months as we start looking towards more regular inspection in the future, we'll be doing far more engagement to make sure we get our reports right, and also we get the summary reports to parents spot on.

Thank you. On that point, do you think there is perhaps an unintended consequence now that excellent or good schools no longer receive the same recognition that they would have in the past? Because arguably, the main distinction now is between schools underperforming to the extent that they're placed in a statutory category or follow-up and the remaining majority who don't receive that summative grade.

Yes and no, if I'm to be honest. I think it depends who you ask. Some schools are competitive; some colleges in particular are competitive, and they want that grade or their badge. A number of settings, though, use that excellence as an ambition, and it's something to motivate staff about where they need to go next. I think the big thing for us is that if you take our priority as being to help improve the sector, I think Estyn, the same as everyone else, is there really to provide assurance, but also to pinpoint where things need to improve.

The one thing we've done more this year than we've done ever before is actually produce case studies about what works. In the schools where we found excellent practice, we've got a huge amount of case studies now that we're publicising digitally, and that we're writing up, we're sharing with practitioners, we're sharing with consortia, local authorities, and people like this. So, I think the approach we've taken, yes, in some cases, it might harm, but I think the greater good is that we're using that information now to dissipate across the sector. I don't know if Jassa or Claire want to come in on that. I think that's been the view we've taken.

Clearly, people want to strive to get better, and highlighting excellence is a key part of that, but I think the case studies do that, and some of our other work as well—thematic reports name and celebrate effective practice in different schools and other providers, and similarly, our annual report again celebrates names and gives recognition to that effective practice in the providers we've found it in. I think the providers still do share that practice locally through their networks and things; that's still celebrated. So, I don't think it seems to be a barrier to sharing and highlighting effective practice.

13:40

Thank you, Chair. You've indicated today and in your report that the pandemic continued and continues to cast a dark shadow over the education system in 2021-22, but also continually. To what extent have some of the negative impacts on learners' education and well-being eased somewhat, and what remain the biggest areas of concern in yours and Estyn's views? Thank you.

I absolutely agree. I think the pandemic is still casting a shadow. In many respects, the system has coped well and has reacted quickly, so where pupils fell behind, they have caught up, in many instances. But there are a number of areas that I would cite as concerns. The first is, clearly, I think, during the pandemic, all schools, virtually without exception, focused on the well-being and mental health of pupils, and I think that's laudable. Where the best schools focused, though, as well, was on teaching and learning, and really that's where it's fallen behind, I think, in some schools that we do need to pay attention to.

But there are other issues as well. For example, attendance still hasn't picked up to pre-pandemic levels, but probably more worrying is the attendance of pupils from more deprived backgrounds. That gap is widening, not shortening, and so we do have concerns about attendance. We inspect schools, we inspect local authorities, we inspect a number of bodies who, actually, have done some quite extraordinary things in trying to ensure that attendance improves. But it is sticky, and it is proving very difficult.

I do look at models across the world, the Delivering Equality of Opportunity In Schools model that's been adopted in Ireland, for example, is probably an interesting one for us to think about, in that they, on a more formulaic basis, are supporting family liaison officers and things like this. I think the bigger schools, where they have got more resource through pupil development grant, have potentially got the advantage in having more resource to throw at making sure that attendance picks up. But for smaller schools, I think, sometimes, it's been a struggle. I should mention, of course, that it isn't just the schools, it's all the support services around that, from CAMHS services to local authority-led services. So, attendance is still something that I certainly would keep an eye on.

Literacy and numeracy have definitely fallen back, and I think that's an issue, because they are gateways, obviously, to study. The Welsh language, particularly as a second language, pupils were starved, really, of opportunities to use the language during the pandemic and have suffered accordingly, and that's compounding problems that we might talk about later around recruitment with the 2050 ambition. Although you might think that digital skills have improved—yes, they have improved in terms of using Teams and all these types of things—but the higher level digital skills are still a challenge. So, sometimes it's too easy to think that digital skills have improved—well, perhaps not.

So, I think, overall, we have issues on attendance, we have issues around catching up, we have issues around literacy and numeracy. We still have some well-being issues, people are still suffering a bit after the pandemic. But, overall, I think the sector has reacted well, but they really do need to get back and focus on teaching and learning. I don't know if my colleagues would like to comment there.

It's a similar picture in the post-16 sectors that I've got responsibility for. We're certainly seeing learners starting courses with lower levels of literacy and numeracy than they might have had previously. We've also seen some changing patterns in what people are studying, I think, in line with the improved outcomes in terms of the centre-determined grades and then the exams this year, more students are going on to level 3 courses, be they A-levels or vocational level 3, and sometimes not coping with the challenges of those courses.

We are, similarly to across schools, seeing generally more of a need in terms of well-being and mental health support. For example, we've been doing some monitoring more recently of the new Jobs Growth Wales+ employability programme, which is supporting those furthest from education, employment and training. The challenges that are preventing those young people from accessing education and training are more related to anxiety, emotional well-being, mental health than they perhaps were pre pandemic, where there were a greater range of barriers that were coming into play.

A couple of other points in terms of recruitment: it continues to be a challenge across sectors, I think, but in post-16 sectors in particular, staff recruitment since the pandemic has been a challenge, particularly in some specialist areas. So, yes, a similar picture across post-16 education, really, in terms of those main issues.

13:45

I don’t know if Claire wants to come in on the school side.

Thank you. You managed to answer all my questions then. I’ll just add an extra few questions on top of that. You’ve highlighted what we’ve all seen, that literacy, numeracy and oracy have been severely affected, and I’m just wondering—do you think this is likely to be the legacy of the pandemic? Do you see a way that our children can recover from that, those children that have been affected? And also, when it comes to Welsh language skills, how do you think that that’s going to impact the Government’s 2050 ambitions for, obviously, more Welsh speakers? Thank you.

Thanks. I’ll bring Claire in on the first question. I think we just need to be clear that it’s going to take time to wash through. I think any thoughts that we’re getting back to normal here should be dispelled, and I think the sector are working hard on it, but I think teaching and learning and understanding the specific needs of individual pupils is the key to this. But it’s not just the schools—they need support in doing that. So, perhaps I’ll hand over to Claire here.

Indeed. I think the messages that have been coming through from our reports and from what we’ve said already today is that there needs to be a huge focus on improving teaching and therefore improving learning, and I think with the introduction of the Curriculum for Wales it is the same agenda item. Central to the new curriculum will be high-quality teaching and learning, and therefore, even though we are still seeing the impact of the pandemic, I think everybody’s efforts are going in the right direction. We are concentrating on what makes a difference to learners in the classroom, and that’s high-quality teaching, and even though we know that there’s been a lot of catch-up, there’s still a lot of work to do. But teachers make the difference and, therefore, in the classroom is where we need the excellence.

So, just quickly, you’re saying that recruitment and retention of teachers is pretty high priority at the moment, in some subjects particularly.

Absolutely, and attracting high-calibre entrants into the profession.

Just on the Welsh language bit, it’s a lot wider. Yes, we have pupils that have fallen behind, there’s no doubt about that. But I think there are bigger issues around Welsh. I think the fact that we have a cohort of learners now who need additional support, if we’re looking at—you mentioned 2050—if we look that far forward, we have quite severe recruitment issues across Welsh language, particularly in schools, but more widely. Really, what you see then is it’s not just the teachers of Welsh, but it’s additionally teachers of specialist subjects through the medium of Welsh as well. So, we are not recruiting enough people into the system, and we are not supporting enough people to gain those skills in Welsh, really, to achieve that ambition. The Government has plans on this, but I think it is going to need quite a lot of attention over the next few years.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Rydych chi’n cyfeirio yn eich adroddiad at y diffygion yma o ran dysgu Cymraeg, yn benodol mewn ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg, a hefyd at y ffaith eich bod chi’n teimlo bod y rhan fwyaf o gynlluniau strategol Cymraeg mewn addysg awdurdodau lleol ddim yn ddigon uchelgeisiol, ddim yn ddigon pendant. Oes modd i chi fanylu ychydig mwy ar y ddau beth yna, yn enwedig, efallai, y CSCAau, achos y CSCAau yw’r ffordd i ddatblygu'r Gymraeg o fewn addysg, onid ife? Ac mae’r Gweinidog wedi dweud eu bod nhw’n hollol greiddiol i uchelgais 'Cymraeg 2050'. Ac efallai’r rôl y gall Estyn—rŷch chi wedi adnabod hyn yn eich adroddiad—beth yw’r rôl y gall Estyn ei gwneud i sicrhau gwella’r cynlluniau yma, ac oes gennych chi rôl monitro yn hynny o beth?

Thank you, Chair. You refer in your report to these deficiencies in terms of the teaching of Welsh, in particular in English-medium schools, and about the fact that you feel that the majority of the Welsh in education strategic plans of local authorities aren’t sufficiently ambitious, aren't specific enough. Can you provide greater detail on those two issues, particularly the WESPs, because the WESPs are the way to develop the Welsh language within education, aren’t they? And the Minister said that they are at the heart of the 'Cymraeg 2050' ambitions. And perhaps the role of Estyn—you have acknowledged this in your report—what role can Estyn play in ensuring an improvement in these WESPs, and do you have a monitoring role in that regard too?

13:50

Gwnaf i ddechrau ac efallai byddaf i'n 'hand-io' draw i Jassa. Fe aeth Estyn drwy bob un o'r CSCAau. Dwi'n credu dy fod yn iawn, dyna ble mae allwedd i'r peth, i'r dyfodol, a beth ffeindion nhw oedd, er bod y rhan fwyaf ohonyn nhw â rhyw uchelgais, doedden nhw ddim, ar y cyfan, yn ddigon uchelgeisiol. O fewn y goreuon, beth oeddem ni'n ei weld oedd eu bod nhw'n uchelgeisiol, ond bron mor bwysig, roedd ganddyn nhw rhyw weithred i gyflawni hynny. Ac yn anaml iawn y gwelon ni yr uchelgais plws y darn gweithred, a dwi'n credu, os ydy hyn yn mynd i weithio neu beidio, y darn yna o droi'r uchelgais mewn i weithred fydd y peth fydd yn bwysig yn y dyfodol.

Nawr, mae gennym ni, yn amlwg, llygad barcud ar beth sy'n digwydd o fewn yr iaith Gymraeg o fewn addysg, ac felly dwi'n credu efallai bod yna rôl i Estyn i fonitro beth sy'n digwydd yn y maes, achos er bod y Gweinidog yn ddiffuant yn cefnogi ac yn ceisio ymafael â hyn, mae yna rôl o gadw golwg ar y sector i sicrhau bod yr addewidion sydd wedi cael eu gwneud yn cael eu gweithredu.

If I could start, and I may hand over to Jassa later. Estyn went through all of the WESPs, and I think you're right that that's the key to all of this for the future, and what they found was, although there was ambition in most, generally speaking, they weren't sufficiently ambitious. With the best, what we saw was that they were ambitious, but almost as importantly, they did have actions to deliver those ambitions. Very rarely did we see the ambition plus the action set out, and I think if this is going to work or not, that's the important thing of turning ambition into action. That will be the most important thing for the future.

Now, clearly, we're keeping a close eye on what's happening with the Welsh language in education, and therefore I think there may be a role for Estyn to monitor what's happening in this area, because, although the Minister is sincere in his support for this and in his efforts to tackle it, there is a role in keeping an eye on the sector to ensure that the pledges made are delivered.

Ie. Os ydw i jest yn ychwanegu cwpl o bethau. Rŷn ni wedi gweithio yn agos iawn â'r awdurdodau lleol ar yr ochr gynllunio, ac rŷn ni'n cario ymlaen â'r sgyrsiau yna o safbwynt eu herio nhw os oes yna ddiffyg manylder, os oes diffyg uchelgais yn y cynlluniau. So, rŷn ni yn sicr yn bwriadu cario ymlaen â'r sgwrs yna, ac yn hwyrach yn y flwyddyn yma efallai byddwn yn gwneud tipyn bach o waith monitro ar gynnydd erbyn hynny. Yn sicr mae'r uchelgais yna ar goll o safbwynt Cymraeg ail iaith, Cymraeg mewn ysgolion cyfrwng Saesneg, ac mae her enfawr i'r system yna o safbwynt y gweithlu, sgiliau'r gweithlu o safbwynt yr iaith a sgiliau'r gweithlu o safbwynt y sgiliau dysgu Cymraeg i blant. Ond beth rŷn ni yn ei weld—ac mae enghreifftiau yn yr adroddiad ac yng ngwaith y tymor diwethaf—yw lle mae ysgol yn blaenoriaethu Cymraeg ar gyfer staff ac ar gyfer plant, maen nhw wir yn gallu gwneud cynnydd yn eithaf cyflym. So, mae jest rôl inni hefyd, fel rŷn ni wedi sôn yn barod, i rannu'r arfer da yna o gwmpas y system, dwi'n meddwl.

Yes. I would just add a couple of things. We have worked very closely with local authorities in terms of the planning side of things, and we are continuing with those discussions. We are challenging them, if there is a lack of detail, if there is a lack of ambition in the WESPs. So, we certainly intend to continue that conversation, and later on this year perhaps we'll do some more monitoring work on the progress made by that point. Certainly, those ambitions are missing with regard to Welsh as a second language and Welsh in English-medium schools. There is a major challenge for the system there in terms of the workforce and the workforce skills with regard to the language, and the workforce skills in terms of teaching Welsh to children. But what we have seen—and there are examples of this in the report, and in last term's work—is that where a school prioritises Welsh for staff and for children, they really can make progress swiftly. So, there is a role for us as well, as we've already mentioned, to share that good practice around the system, I think.

Os gallaf droi at hwnna. Dwi wedi bod efo prifathrawon o fewn y pythefnos diwethaf sydd wedi codi problemau maen nhw wedi'u cael trwy roi cyflenwad trwy'r iaith Gymraeg. Nawr, mae e'n anodd i ddefnyddio esiamplau anecdotaidd, ond dros yr arolygon diweddar dŷn ni wedi'u gwneud efo'r awdurdodau lleol, fel esiampl, mae bron pob un o'r rheini wedi cael diffygion o gwmpas cyflenwad yr iaith Gymraeg. Ac un o'r pethau sydd wedi newid—nôl i'r cwestiwn, 'Beth sydd wedi digwydd yn wahanol eleni?'—ar ôl pob arolwg awdurdod lleol nawr, dwi’n cwrdd â'r prif weithredwr a'r arweinydd ac yn gofyn iddyn nhw, 'Beth yw eich cynllun i wella'r weithred yma?' A dwi yn cael y trafodaethau yna efo'r arweinwyr.

And if I could just turn to that point. I've been with headteachers within the last fortnight who have raised issues that they've had with Welsh language provision. And it's difficult to use anecdotal examples, but with recent inspections that we've done of local authorities, for example, almost all of those have identified problems in terms of Welsh language provision. And one of the things that have changed—back to the question as to what's happening differently this year—after every local authority inspection, I now meet with the chief executive and leader and ask them, 'What's your plan to make improvements here?' And I am having those discussions with leaders.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for joining us today. I know you've touched on the pandemic and the way that it's affected our schools and colleges. How challenging was it for schools and nurseries to prepare to introduce the Curriculum for Wales in 2022 at the same time as dealing with the COVID pandemic?

I don't think you can disassociate them, as you say. If you've got all of this going on, it's going to take your headspace. And I think it's been a real challenge for leadership. I've been to schools where you would hardly notice the pandemic has been. And yet, I've been to some schools where it's really, really obvious that they've suffered because of it. So, you have to take it on a school-by-school basis. But I think it has been a challenge. Perhaps if I bring Claire in, perhaps she'll elaborate on that.

It has been an incredible challenge for schools. I think the time that they had earmarked for the development of a curriculum was interrupted by the pandemic. But we've seen, as Owen said, schools that, throughout the pandemic, have still prioritised teaching and learning, and that's put them in, perhaps, a stronger position then when we started to get back to some degree of normality, in that they were able to move ahead with the preparation for the new curriculum. Primary schools in particular that prioritised teaching and learning tended to move ahead with creating their vision for the new curriculum and starting to implement the new curriculum. Maybe others, where it was more variable, are further behind, but that variability continues. But, I think we probably need to remember as well that we're only at first teaching of the curriculum, and this will be a curriculum that will develop over time.

There's a slightly different picture with secondary schools, and that's to a degree inevitable because they're almost one year behind primary schools. But, some of the work around qualifications certainly took up, in addition to dealing with everything to do with the pandemic, the well-being of learners, trying to get support for mental health issues, trying to keep the children engaged—. In addition to that, they had the qualifications issue, which obviously took teachers quite a lot of time, particularly, as Jassa has mentioned, around the centre-assessed and centre-determined grades. So, progress in secondary is probably a bit more variable than primary. But, where leadership is strong and has a clear vision for the curriculum, I think we're seeing more progress in secondary. So, we're looking forward to seeing more innovation as we go through this next academic year, as they plan for next September.

13:55

And I think it might be worth re-emphasising the point there that the curriculum is not an event, it's a process, and this is going to take some years to go through, and not to see the curriculum as an isolated event. It's linked to teaching and learning, it's linked to assessment—everything, really, comes together.

Okay. I think you've answered a little bit of my next question, but I'll ask it anyway. You indicated that some schools, particularly secondary schools, have almost rushed to design the new curriculum without sufficiently considering how to improve the teaching and learning that will underpin that new curriculum, and also that this didn't always consider how individual subject disciplines should be best combined to deliver the areas of learning and experience. What impact could this have on their success in delivering the new curriculum?

I'll hand over to Claire for a little more detail, but it is going to slow it down in some settings. We have seen it. We've seen some people completely reinvent the wheel, almost, based on the curriculum, and really forget about what's happening in the classroom. We've seen mistakes being made on trying to have specific things for each AoLE, or virtually across the lot. It's a difficult situation. Consistency has always been a problem, particularly when introducing major change programmes like this. It can be done, but we have seen instances where you just think, 'Hang on, they've taken the wrong approach here.' Claire, I don't know if you want to say anything. 

Yes, absolutely, there's a danger in going towards a quick fix rather than spending that time to think about the vision of the curriculum, and then thinking about what the future could look like. I think, sometimes, those quick fixes appear attractive, but, actually, they slow down the progress of getting to a point where you have a new curriculum and you're looking at things in a different way. So, it will slow down progress. Schools that have gone in that direction and then discovered, 'Actually, this won't work for the new curriculum. We need to think about things differently.' have to peddle back, and, to an extent, that loses some time. So, we're very keen that schools learn what works well from others, but also learn about some of the mistakes that you could possibly make.

How confident and well placed are schools regarding assessment and learner progression under the Curriculum for Wales? Is there yet the shared understanding of assessment and progression that the Welsh Government desires?

Probably not, and I think there's some danger in this. Now, assessment is key. It's a crucial part of education, and I think, sometimes, when you have major change programmes like this, people can fixate on the new. Teachers have been assessing for years, and what we're seeing in some instances in our inspections is teachers almost forgetting what they've learned because, all of a sudden, there's some uncertainty about what assessment means for the future. And so, actually, we're about to do a webinar on it, because we've seen enough instances now to warrant us being worried about it. Whilst there is work going on on the academic side on what a good assessment is, what we're trying to tell teachers is, 'You do assessment; you've been doing assessment for a long time. Build your practical knowledge of assessing pupils into your plans, please.' And I think that's the message to get out there: 'Whilst they talk about future assessment models and how this all works, don't forget, and get on with what you know,' because assessment's such a crucial part.

We've had to change the way we inspect. Obviously, now that we haven't got the data that we would have had years ago, what you're seeing far more in our inspections now, which is a good thing, is that we're far less often in a room analysing things—we still look at the books, don't get us wrong—but we're assessing, right from nursery throughout the school years, are they progressing appropriately. And I think it can be done, and I think practitioners have got the skills to do it, but they've got to have the confidence to use some of the skills they've got already whilst assessment is being developed for the future. Claire or Jassa, I don't know if you want to come in there at all.

14:00

Yes, absolutely. Our practitioners, many of them are very skilled in assessment and, even though it's a different context in the new curriculum and much of the terminology is different, lots of the skills are transferable and we can build on those to develop even more advanced skills in assessment. We've published quite a few case studies. We published a thematic that was called 'Effective approaches to assessment that improve teaching and learning', and we've been trying to get the best practice out there. So, we will probably do quite a lot more of, as Owen said, webinars and so on to make sure we share that best practice around the system.

Just coming in on that, from the schools I've visited, a lot of the feedback from teachers is they don't feel supported when it comes to this new way of assessing children, and a lot of them are actually, by default, going back to how they used to assess, to try to determine where they're meant to put the child in the new sort of assessment way of doing things. So, do you think that maybe there needs to be some sort of—? I know it has to be free, but some sort of loose framework would be good to have in place, in order to help teachers have some sort of focus about where to put their comments or marks, or whatever there is. Thank you.

I think that's a conundrum. One of the messages that I gave the Minister is, look, if you're—. The big change in the curriculum is it's effectively Government handing over responsibility for something to the profession, and I would welcome that. Where there's always a danger is that, where you find inconsistency or you find confusion, you try and put guidelines in place, and the more guidelines you put in place, all of a sudden, we start getting back to the old system of giving rules and everything for teachers to comply with. So, the best answer I can give, I think, is that where we are picking up that teachers are struggling, actually, with assessment and how to build that into the model—and I think many are—then we need to provide support for them to have the confidence to apply their own knowledge in their own specific settings with the curriculum that they're developing. And this is why I keep talking about all these things coming together. Sometimes, the answer is guidelines—I absolutely agree—but at the moment I think you need to be careful about introducing guidelines, because the danger is that, as we take different topics and put extra guidelines in, all of a sudden we'll get back to the position where we're overburdening teachers with diktat.

Yes. Just quickly coming back on that, I understand what you say and I understand the reasoning behind what you're saying, but they are saying they are struggling, so I don't really understand how we get around that. If it's too loose, how are we going to—. I know you want it to be just comparable within the school setting and not compared to anyone else, but, as politicians, how are we meant to assess how children are doing in the schools and then how all the schools are doing in Wales to ensure that we really are not leaving any school out that needs extra support? Thank you.

14:05

I think it's a difficult one. I think—

It is. I think it's a difficult one. At the moment, if we're picking up that there are problems with assessment in schools, our approach—and remember we're not a school-improvement organisation; we're an inspectorate—is to use the thematic studies that we've done to create resources for practitioners to be able to improve practice. So, that's one way of doing it on a national basis. But, I think you're right—if, from a policy perspective, it gets to the point where we don't see the developments in assessment that we need, then perhaps we need to look at it again, or the Government needs to look at it again. But, at the moment, I would still be erring on the side of supporting teachers, practitioners to be able to make those decisions themselves and use their experience.

Where we've got to support them at the moment, I think, is that some have been clouded by the distance and where this is all leading without actually, quite rightly, as in the example you gave of, 'Use the experience you've got and get on it.'

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I want to talk about additional learning needs reform, at the minute, so can you tell me how schools are coping with implementing the new additional learning needs reform system, and what are the challenges in operating both the new ALN system and the existing special educational needs system at the same time, as that system I just mentioned is being phased out?

Thanks. I'll probably bring Jassa in on that.

Thanks, James. I think lots of aspects underpinning the new system are supporting schools in the application of both the old and the new. So, things like person-centred planning, which is a key plank of the new arrangements, is something that, once you've embedded that and your staff are using it, can support you whether you're working in the old system or the new system. So, there are certain aspects like that that are helpful.

Our view would be that, generally, local authorities and schools are just about coping, but that there is still a bit of a nervousness amongst the workforce, particularly about the level of need and the potential for that need to keep growing alongside the existing additional learning needs. We're seeing some things across the system in terms of patterns of referrals to special schools, for example, referrals to pupil referral units and the level of need that's in pupil referral units, which show that, perhaps, strategically, the system isn't keeping up with quite the demand that there is.

But in terms of the actual new arrangements, we're generally seeing that many primary schools have got a clear understanding of those new arrangements and are quite confident overall in that practice of universal targeted and specialist provision. Secondary schools tend to have some staff who are—. They're working really hard to get all staff to have that same level of understanding and ensure that they're working within the new arrangements and some of the principles of that in their day-to-day work with children and young people. I think most of the school leaders that we've talked to feel they've had good support, generally, in terms of local authority additional learning needs advisory teams and the transformation leads. So, overall, we'd say 'just about coping', but there's lots of demand in the system, and that is clearly placing a strain in terms of them being able to do that.

I was actually going to touch then, as you said about understanding—. Do you think all the teachers have fully grasped the principle that ALN is the responsibility of all teachers and not just the additional learning needs co-ordinators?

I think, as I said, generally we're fairly comfortable that there's a pretty good understanding across primary schools. I think it is a bit more of a challenge in secondary schools, where teachers are teaching lots of different children throughout the day as they move around that model. So, I think we'd say 'getting there' in secondary school in terms of that level of understanding. It links to some of the discussions that we've already talked about this morning—that the essence of a lot of the new reforms is actually strengthening overall teaching and learning, so that the day-to-day way that that is done supports learners with ALN, because the vast majority of learners with ALN are in those mainstream schools. So, I think by strengthening some of that you will, by default, also help them in tailoring those approaches for children with additional learning needs. So, I think there is work ongoing to keep chipping away, I guess, at that understanding, I’d say.

14:10

Okay, thank you. Because there has been a reduction in the numbers of children who are recognised as having SEN or ALN over the past year. Has Estyn recognised any raising of the bar in terms of applying the definition? And have you also identified or observed any way that schools are identifying learners who have SEN or receive special educational provision?

I think there’s still going to be—. Probably, as it works its way through the system, as part of the transitional process that they’re going through at the moment, there probably will be more numbers coming into the ALN register a little bit further down the line who are currently SEN. But you’re right, across the board, there’s been that reduction. We haven’t necessarily seen enough evidence yet that there is an absolute raising of the bar. We’ve certainly been picking up evidence that, where learners are no longer being identified as having SEN or ALN, there is still the support they need in place, and we've seen—

Can I interrupt there? You said there’s not an absolute raising of the bar. So does that mean—?

What I’d say is that we haven’t got evidence that, as part of that assessment, they’re using different criteria than they were previously. So there’s not an explicit, ‘We have decided to set the criteria higher’—we’re not seeing that. And we haven’t got the evidence that they’re using those criteria or applying them in a different way. So, we’re not quite understanding, from our evidence, anyway—there’s nothing that’s showing that definitely expectations have changed, is what I’m trying to say, I think.

Are you going to do further work in this area, though, to make sure the bar hasn’t been raised?

Yes, absolutely. So, we’re doing a piece of thematic work this year, so the fieldwork’s going to be starting shortly. So, that’s one of the lines of inquiry, I guess, that we’ve got as part of that. Because, similar to you, we’ve seen the trend. We haven’t, so far in inspection, seen the evidence that that has been an explicit thing, but that thematic work should help us to dig a bit more deeply into that. So, certainly, we can share any findings from that with you as a committee once we have them.

Yes, I think that would be really, really good for us, to have that information. Good. I just want to move on to my final question now. You highlighted the valuable role that Careers Wales play currently in assessing the needs of post-16 learners and recommending to the Welsh Government what specialist provision is to be required. So to what extent is it clear what role if any Careers Wales will have when local authorities become responsible for assessing and funding post-16 provision under the new ALN system? And what role do you believe Careers Wales should continue to have here if some of the responsibilities are being taken elsewhere?

Yes, I think that’s a really important question. We’ve certainly found, through our pieces of recent thematic work, and through our ongoing experience with our inspections, that that role that Careers Wales have played, and are still playing a little bit as we go through that transition period, is really valuable. They have built up a good specialist knowledge, which has helped in giving that independent advice and guidance to learners and parents as they go through that transition from statutory schooling into post-16 and post-18 education and training. So, we'd really value any arrangements not losing that specialist knowledge that’s been built up. My understand is that Careers Wales are in discussions with local authorities about how exactly that relationship will work in each case. I guess we’d be supportive of them continuing to play a role. My understanding from discussions with them is that they’re making sure that their specialist advisers are continuing to work with, for example, maintained special schools, so that through the more universal offer that they would continue to have a role in providing anyway, they will continue to ensure that that specialist knowledge can feed into the decisions that are being made by young people and their families. So, we'd welcome that ongoing role, but my understanding is that it’s still being firmed up what exactly that will be on a local, area-by-area basis.

And are local authorities and Careers Wales keeping you in the loop about what work and how conversations are going?

14:15

We're continuing to ask the questions, so—.

Well, this is the latest answer from the recent round of questions. So, we will follow it up again in another couple of months, to find out how those local negotiations are going. Because we're really keen that that specialist knowledge isn't lost, because those young people need that advice, that independent advice, around their options post 16, and we do have a fear that decisions could, without that, be driven by financial rationales only, rather than what's in the best interest of learners in terms of their education and training. So, we will keep asking the questions.

And I'm sure we'll be following your work on that very closely. Questions now from Ken Skates.

Thanks, Chair. Great to see you all today. I'm going to ask a few questions about tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage. Successive reports from you have highlighted what I think is a very stubborn persistence of negative correlation between disadvantage and outcomes in education. Are you able to put your finger on why this has proved to be such a difficult problem to address, despite over a decade of policy focusing on alleviating and militating against poverty and pretty heavy investment through the pupil development grant as well?

Perhaps if I kick off, then I'll hand over to colleagues. It is an issue, there's no doubt about that, and it's one that the pandemic has exacerbated. If I were to cut down to it, I think the PDG, if you look at it, hasn't been wasted. When you look at actually what schools are spending the PDG on, in the vast majority of cases—which is different to perhaps what it was probably several years ago—they are spending in sort of the right areas. I think where we see the best progress and where we see the best examples of the effects of poverty being tackled is where you have a systemic approach to tackling it. And so it's not just the schools; it's the way that the consortia are supporting, but particularly the way that local authorities are able to marshal their resources and their services, with the health service, to support that. So, I think there's been a huge amount of effort and money spent on trying to tackle this, but I think the area that we still need to focus on is actually bringing services together. And this is why I'm looking at some of the things that are happening in Ireland at the moment, because their performance has been improving in this area, and it's the way that they've actually been able to bring some of those support services together.

Before I took this role, I was the chair of the Cardiff education development board, including during the pandemic, and one of the things that I was keen to do there was—and I thought the council did appropriately—actually to bring all the support services together around the table. Where we see the best practice of tackling deprivation coming together is where you see that team 'insert county name here' approach, where people come together and they'll work out, collectively, all the steps of really understanding why those pupils are falling behind. And that comes from the teacher in the classroom understanding the specific needs, through to community or family support officers understanding what those specific problems of that family are, to child and adolescent mental health services, to all the support services that then can be marshalled behind them. So, it's complex; if it were easy, it would have been done. But I think that's the focus that needs to be placed on this in the future. Perhaps, Claire, I don't know if you've got anything you want to add to that.

Yes. I'd absolutely agree, Owen, that there needs a systemic approach. Schools can't do this on their own, and that's why we think the community-focused schools approach has a lot of potential. And where we've seen schools that operate in this community-focused model, they engage with their learners well, their parents, their families, the community, and also they have strong partnerships with other services, and this is well supported by the local authority as well, because they also have an important role to support the schools to enable them to make the connections, work across directorates within the local authority. But where this works well, it has an impact on disadvantaged learners, on their well-being and also on their attainment, but it does need strong, moral leadership at a school level—moral leadership that puts high importance on the attainment of all learners, not just certain groups. It also needs a relentless focus on high-quality teaching and making sure that sometimes you make those difficult decisions where you put your best teachers with your learners who need more support, and that you work with your families, with your community, for the benefit of all learners. So, that community-focused school approach is something we are very supportive of, because we've seen that working in a couple of schools across Wales—more than a couple, actually. But we've written quite a few case studies in one of the reports we've published.

14:20

And it requires complete buy-in from governors, doesn't it, to have a successful—

—community school. Yes. Okay. In your annual report, you list some common features of schools that are pretty effective in tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage. How widespread are these common features across different schools, and how can this best practice be better shared?

Perhaps if I bring in Claire and then Jassa on that. Or, Jassa, do you want to kick off?

Yes, I'm happy to kick off. I'd say that it's filtering around the system. Our autumn term inspection—so, more recently from the time of the annual report that we're talking about—has identified that a few more schools have got some of those elements of practice that we describe in the report, certainly practice worth sharing: so, for example, Herbert Thompson Primary School in Cardiff, and they've been sharing some of that work with others. And Cathays High School, again, have been sharing their effective practice about developing a school community. So, I think, in lots of ways, the pandemic has prompted schools to think differently about how they work with their community and how they work differently to support learners. So, I'd say that we are seeing more of that effective practice in terms of that engagement with families and understanding the context and the challenges that perhaps their communities are facing. But I think there's still plenty of work to do, and it's certainly something that we'll continue to be prioritising in terms of our work to share that practice around the system.

I'll bring Claire in. Claire, do you want to say anythi