Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg
Children, Young People and Education Committee14/09/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Buffy Williams AS|
|Heledd Fychan AS|
|James Evans AS|
|Jayne Bryant AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Ken Skates AS|
|Laura Anne Jones AS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Albert Heaney||Prif Swyddog Gofal Cymdeithasol Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, Welsh Government|
|Alistair Davey||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, y Gyfarwyddiaeth Galluogi, Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol ac Integreiddio, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Enabling People, Social Services and Integration Directorate, Welsh Government|
|Julie Morgan AS||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Social Services|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Jennifer Cottle||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Tom Lewis-White||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:35.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:35.
Croeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg heddiw.
Welcome to this meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee.
I'd like to welcome Members to the meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee today. I'd like to say 'Welcome back' to this autumn term. The summer recess seems to have gone very quickly for some of us. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Ken Skates, who's with us this morning, has sent apologies for part of item 2 and all of items 3 to 7. Are there any declarations of interest from Members? I see no declarations of interest.
We'll move on to the first and the main item on our agenda. It's on services for care-experienced children and exploring radical reform, with a ministerial scrutiny session. I'd just like to thank the Deputy Minister and her officials for coming in this morning at short notice as well from the end of last term. We very much appreciate you coming in at such an early opportunity. We have with us this morning Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services, and joining Julie is Albert Heaney, Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, and Alistair Davey, who's deputy director of the enabling people, social services and integration directorate.
I'd also like to give a warm welcome to everybody who's joining us in the public gallery this morning. It's really lovely to see you here. Thank you for taking the time out to come in in person. We're really pleased to see you. It's great that we have a particularly full gallery today. I'd just like to say that I know this is a really intimate environment here, but just to remind everyone, if we could keep noise to a real minimum, just so that we can hear the questions and answers from the Deputy Minister and the questions from Members. We'd really appreciate that, just so everybody else online can hear as well. It's really important we can do that.
Today, we're going to be talking about some really emotive issues, and those issues really resonate strongly with care-experienced people and professionals who work with care-experienced people. I know that we have many people with lived experience of the care system here today. If anybody in the public gallery would like to take a break from today, at any point, we have a room just opposite. Officials are here to help. So, if you just want to leave the room, please do so, and somebody will show you where that room is and you can take as much time as you like. I just want to reiterate that that is a real offer there and to make sure you take that time out. It is absolutely understandable and appreciated.
Just to double check as well for those who came in a bit later, we've got headsets. I said there's simultaneous translation from Welsh to English available. Some people will be asking their questions in Welsh. You've got a headset. It's on channel 1, so, if you press the side button. You might just want to test that. If you've got a problem, just raise your hand, and Hasera over here will be able to help you. So, if there's a problem, let us know.
We'll move on to the first item, which is asking questions to the Deputy Minister and officials. I'd like to say once again thank you for joining us this morning. Deputy Minister, I think you'd like to say a couple of words before we start.
Thank you very much. Very briefly, I'd just like to say how pleased I am to be here again today to have a further discussion with the committee. I'm also particularly pleased that the young people are here today, because the Government is very keen to work with the committee and with the young people to try to transform children's services in Wales. I'm very glad of this opportunity to do that, and I see this committee meeting and meeting with the young people as another step on that journey. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Diolch, Minister. Thank you very much for that. It's really helpful and it's really good to hear that offer as well. Just to talk about our report, perhaps we could set out just some general questions to start with about what your overall view of the committee's report on that radical reform for care-experienced children was. Do you believe that it gives an accurate and up-to-date picture of the care system across Wales?
Thank you very much for the question. First, firmly, to place on the record, I welcome this report. It shares our ambition to transform children's services in Wales, and it aligns with our children and young people's plan. We share your passion and young people's passion to make the radical change that is so obviously needed, and I think your report highlights that radical change that is needed.
The committee report does highlight a number of issues that we must address as part of that transformation journey, but I think it only provides a partial picture of the work that we are taking through our transformation programme of children's services, and I think it's important that the committee is aware of that and that the young people are aware of that. We are in difficult financial times—I don't think I can say anything without mentioning that today—and we do face workforce issues. We feel that the report perhaps didn't reflect the fact that we're midway through the legislative programme. And, of course, we've never wanted to address every issue through legislation. We believe that it's really important to work collaboratively with partners to drive improvement.
Of course, we do need to legislate sometimes, and, of course, we did this for advocacy. For advocacy and other issues raised by the committee, the real issue is failure to consistently deliver policy intent to actual practice. I think that's where one of the big issues is. But I don't see that further legislation is necessarily the answer, and it's really important that we work with partners and with the regulators. In any case, we're actively using the report alongside other research and evidence to build on our work, not least addressing the lived experience that has been so strongly and powerfully identified. We have made progress, working to deliver the commitments within the care experience summit declaration, which is the first of its kind in the UK. And both the First Minister and I are absolutely committed to achieving the vision that's been outlined by the young ambassadors.
We're also piloting the universal basic income pilot for care leavers, which has been internationally recognised. CASCADE is evaluating the scheme on behalf of the Welsh Government. It started in November 2022 and will last for four years, and that is something that shows our faith and confidence in care leavers—that we are piloting that basic income scheme. Work is firmly under way to deliver a national practice framework. The framework will be the first set of national standards for children's services in Wales, sitting alongside things like the all-Wales safeguarding procedures, and we will be delivering up to five new standards of practice by the end of 2023, with further standards being co-produced. It will address the key concerns that young people have raised about practice in your report, which I've taken very great notice of.
We're progressing our commitment to eliminate profit from care and we are finalising the policy and structures that will underpin the legislation to embed this. Eliminating profit from care is much more than models of ownership and profit; it's about building resilience in the sector, trying to best meet the care and support needs of the young people and keep them within their communities and doing all we can to support them to be with their families. So, eliminating it is much more than just a model.
We've published our corporate parenting charter, we'll be holding a wider launch of the charter later this month and I hope that many people here will come to that launch of the charter. A total of £3.5 million of regional accommodation funding was used by 15 projects all across Wales. This is to try to keep young people who have to be in residential accommodation and who have needs that we need to fulfil. So, we put money into developing that accommodation. And we've committed to invest in our national fostering scheme, Foster Wales. I know the young people made comments about fostering in their contributions. We're also committed to ensuring that kinship foster carers receive the same support as mainstream foster carers.
So, those are just some of the things that we are doing. I think we really welcome the report and I see it as a great contribution to taking forward our transformation. I wanted to go through some of those things with you.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. You've touched on a couple of things in terms of our report, but what did you think about the breadth of evidence that we took from children and young people on which the report is based? Was there anything in particular that struck you in that evidence?
That evidence was very powerful, very important evidence, and the lived experience of care-experienced children and young people is at the heart of everything that we're planning to do. That's why we worked very closely with Voices from Care to organise the care leavers summit that we had last December and the declaration that the First Minister and I signed in May. We will be having another mini summit in October and another annual summit in Cardiff next year. Those summits and those meetings are co-produced with young people, with Voices from Care, and it is the lived experience that we want to capture and work with. So, it's a journey, it's a beginning, and it's a long way to go. We will be constantly reviewing and updating our work to make sure that we address the concerns identified by the young people. Various bits of work are at various stages of maturity, but we're in that journey now.
In terms of what particularly struck me about the evidence given by the young people, I suppose what I was particularly struck by was the evidence about practice. I felt very distressed to hear about how some young people struggle to get support and have felt a lack of empathy and had to keep telling their story over and over again when their social worker changed. That's one of the reasons we're doing this national practice framework, to make sure that there's consistency and quality of support, because that's absolutely critical, I think, to ensure that care-experienced children do have the best outcomes. Of the procedures and guidelines that are coming up, one of the first ones will be about missing children, so that will be consulted on and will come out soon. That's being prepared by Anthony Douglas.
I think, as a Government, we've always listened to children and young people, and all this work is about them. I'm absolutely committed to ensuring the lived experience of care-experienced young people is absolutely central to the transformation programme. That's why we have young people on our transformation delivery group. So, once again, we value the committee's report, and, obviously, the most valued bit of it is that contribution of young people.
Thank you. That's really good to put on the record about the value of our report, which all Members here feel very passionately about after speaking to those children and young people. I can assure you we'll also be taking a keen interest in the work on missing children and young people, because that's, again, something as a committee that we're very interested in and mindful of. As I said, our report has really been driven by the voices of those children and young people who we spoke to. To what extent were you aware of the frustration from some children and young people about, perhaps, the Welsh Government's response not showing the same ambition for change that they would like?
I want to assure all the care-experienced young people who are here and who are listening in to the session of the absolute commitment of the Welsh Government to transform children's services in Wales. I want to pay tribute, really, to their courage in sharing some of the experiences they have shared with you and that they have shared with me in the sessions that I've had. I've met individually with all members of the Cabinet about the care-experienced summit declaration, and they all gave their support and passion and commitment to take this forward. And in addition, the ministerial oversight board, which is co-chaired by the First Minister and myself, includes the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Minister for Finance and Local Government, the Minister for Health and Social Services, the Minister for Social Justice, and the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing. So, I want to show the commitment, the cross-Government commitment, of all those Ministers, and, as I've said, I have met them all individually, and there is a commitment that they will all individually make sure that they meet care-experienced young people, so it's not just me or members of the committee who are doing the report, it's across Government, so we want to see that development. So, I hope that shows our commitment.
And the wider ministerial membership of the board does recognise the need to consider the well-being and the prevention support for care-experienced children and young people, so not just when they're in care, but before they came into care and what could have been done and what support could have been put in, so we're looking at it on the ministerial board—all parts of the journey.
And as I say, we are working co-productively with Voices from Care to deliver what we've said in the summit declaration, and we've started to carry out those commitments.
So, I would say that I'm very sorry if care-experienced young people felt disappointed, or—. I don't know what the expression you used at the beginning was. But I can only restate my absolute commitment, the commitment of the officials who are here with me today, and the commitment of the Welsh Government. We are totally committed to this, and your report, I think, helps us towards that aim.
Diolch, Deputy Minister, and that's really good for us to have that on record. Sorry, Heledd. Sorry, I didn't see you there. Sorry. Heledd.
I just wondered if I could just follow up. I think it's good to have that reflection in terms of acknowledgement of the disappointment following the debate, and, obviously, a lot of hurt and anger. I just wonder, has that then specifically made you reflect since that debate, or shape perhaps a change? Because that felt that, seeing that response, it didn't go far enough in the view of those that had shared those experiences. Because I just worry, hearing some of the things that are just saying, 'Oh, we're doing lots of things. We've been doing this anyway.' I'd just like to know if any of the evidence has actually moved you—from the work of the committee—to perhaps reflect differently or think about reprioritising some things.
We've reflected hugely on what's the committee said, and I can absolutely assure you that your work on this has made us look at all our work again. And certainly—. No, I would have said it has made us reflect on it all, and we have—. I mean, I think what I said at the beginning was that we feel that the report didn't cover everything we were doing, and we do think we're doing some things that are pretty radical and groundbreaking that weren't really acknowledged in the debate in a positive way, such as the basic income and those sort of things. We certainly are considering everything that you've said.
Shall I just bring Albert in?
Yes, thank you very much, Chair, and thank you for the question. I think one of the critical features for us was that, in terms of the destination where the committee report wants to go, I think that matches exactly where the Minister and the Government want to go. So that shared ambition and shared commitment is absolutely there, and I think it's there with a passion as well, and therefore we understand the expressions around disappointment. And reflecting on that, I think one of the real impact issues for us is that we do care deeply in terms of impact on children and young people, and that we have been, as a Government, I think—actually, if you look around the world as well, I would say—very engaged in listening to children and young people. There are lots of exercises. The children and young people's plan is a great example of a Government leading the way and engaging directly with children and young people across Government.
But I think one of the biggest learning points here is that we've been very much in listening mode, but I think we need to be more effective in communication. I think there are lots of shared issues, that we know that journey that we're on and what we want to achieve, and I think we need to be better at communicating and sharing that so that we all understand exactly what's happening. And I hope that, both through this committee experience and post this committee as well, we can really take that forward in a way that helps us all go on the journey that we really see as necessary. Thank you.
Thank you, Albert. And just to say that our report focused on the radical reform as a manifesto commitment and that is why we didn't look specifically at the 'eliminate profit' or at the universal basic income pilot in detail. We obviously did recognise that, but that's what our report's intention was. Laura.
Thank you, Chair. I was going to wait until my part to say this, but I think it's more appropriate that I say it now and it's something that I need to say. I'm going to be frank, Deputy Minister. I think your response to the debate was quite frankly appalling. I was very disappointed, as were many, and it upset many as well, your response to the debate. People didn't feel listened to, we, as a committee, didn't feel listened to and you're saying now that you want to listen to young people, well, quite frankly, why aren't you listening to our report then, because it's all there in black and white and the evidence? These people have turned up today, who have given this evidence. Why aren't you listening to them?
I really hope that, going forward today, as we break down what we've been talking about in committee and in our report, we hear something more positive from you. I don't think it was unreasonable to ask you, during the debate, to reconsider your entire response, actually, to the debate. We've heard warm words from you in the past that we need radical change, and I belive that you do care about it. I know that you've worked on things in the past. That's why I find it quite frustrating and disappointing to hear that response. And you're saying things today, that you want to listen, and I hope, once again, that perhaps you do listen to what we're saying and asking you today and that you'll explain why you have rejected 22 out of the 24 recommendations. Thank you.
Thank you, Laura, for that. I don't think that I have to really reiterate that I have listened to children ever since I've had this job, and I've listened to children basically all my life, so, I'm not going to get into a position of having to defend that. And I am determined that the section of the Government that I lead listens to children and makes sure that what we do is in the best interests of children. So, I don't think there's any point in trying to defend that anymore or saying it again.
But I've always listened and I'd like to say that we accepted in part, I think, 20 of the recommendations. And the reason that we didn't accept some of them was because of the legislative issue, which I think I need to perhaps go into. Do you want me to go into that now, Chair, about the legislation?
I think we'll be coming to that point later, I think. There will probably be an opportunity for that later. And if we don't, please make sure that you get to say that at the end in case Members don't get to that.
Yes, because I think to say that we've rejected 22 is not correct.
Okay, well, we will go on to those points later. We've got some questions now from Ken Skates; I realise that time is moving on. Ken.
Yes, thanks, Chair, and, thanks, Minister, for your responses so far. I'm just going to ask some questions about the evidence base and the ambition that accompanies Welsh Government's declaration that it wishes to see radical reform. Your written response has been seen by some as indicating that radical reform is not needed over and above the commitment to eliminate profit. Do you have any reflections on the disappointment of stakeholders and their view that the Welsh Government's response to the report lacks urgency and also restates an amalgamation of existing work that was already in the public domain?
Well, thank you very much, Ken, for that question. And it was certainly not my intention to suggest that eliminating profit is the only thing that is going to deliver radical reform. And I'm absolutely clear that that is not the case. That is just one of the areas that we are doing. It's interesting, we're doing eliminating profit because young people said that that was what they wanted. I met a group of young people—I think other Members of the Senedd may have done it as well—I think it was around the manifesto before the last election. I met those young people and they put to me so powerfully about how they felt about the huge profits that are made by some companies from them, really, because of the need for them to be placed in profit-making organisations. And they put their case so clearly that I felt absolutely convinced that this is what we should do, and so we put it in our manifesto. So, we're doing that because young people said, 'This is what we want you to do.' And so I think that's another example of us listening to young people.
So, eliminating profit we did because young people wanted it, and we have a much wider vision about how we want to support children in Wales. We want to support children to remain with their families, we want to see fewer children and young people entering care, providing the right support at the right time for children and families. And for those children who are in care, we want them to stay as near to home as they possibly can to continue to be part of their community, remain in their schools and to remain with their friendship groups. And we've got to put in place the right type of care that will meet their needs. And I'm absolutely fully committed to delivering this vision, and I think that the transformation programme we've got will do that.
And of course I am disappointed that stakeholders consider that the Welsh Government's response lacked urgency, but I am also disappointed that the substantial progress we have made in delivering radical reform hasn't been recognised or indeed reflected by the committee. I think it's important that young people know what we've done, and it's important that we are clear that the committee recommendations reinforced a number of key areas of reform that we have been proactive in taking forward. And that's why I've referred to current work, because that's what you have been talking about—the issues are the same as some of the current work we're taking forward.
And I think, moving forward, we will ensure clear communication, with regular updates to the sector and to young people, and we're starting that this month, so I hope you'll have much more knowledge of what we're doing—I think Albert referred to that when he spoke to the committee—and this includes delivering the commitments of the care experienced summit declaration. And just to reassure the young people who spoke to us today, we are absolutely committed to this, and we do have a sense of urgency. We have a sense of urgency because we're only going to be able to do what we can do during this Senedd term, because that's where the commitments are. So, we've got two years to try and really move this forward. So, I certainly feel the sense of urgency every day. I think, as an elected politician, you do.
I've already mentioned the publication of the corporate parenting charter and the national practice framework, and also I think it's important to say that we're actually committing £68 million up until 2025 in order to take forward the not-for-profit agenda in terms of encouraging not-for-profit accommodation. And another thing that we're doing that is again radical is our single unified safeguarding review, which is an example of how, through collaboration and co-production across political organisations and geographical boundaries, we are tackling a very complex shared programme. And there has been a huge amount of interest in that.
So, we've accepted fully or in part 20 of the 27 recommendations made by the committee, and I think that's important to remember. And as I said, most of the ones that we didn't accept were linked to legislation. So, Ken, we have an ambition that is way beyond the 'eliminate profit' agenda, but I think it should be acknowledged, when we're talking about radical reform, that we are radically reforming by trying to eliminate profit.
Ken, I'll just bring Albert in, sorry, briefly.
Yes. Sorry, I was going to ask Albert actually this very—. Can I just—
Yes, sorry, Ken. Go on.
Is it all right, before Albert comes in, to just ask the point? Yes, so, is it the case—I think it is, from what I'm hearing—that the problem is actually with the communication of what is being done rather than with the substance and the ambition of what's being done? Is that a fair assessment of the Government's response to what this committee's been doing and the inputs to the committee's work and how the Government has responded? It's all about the communications rather than the substance.
I wouldn't say it was just, 'Oh, it's just the communication hasn't been right.' I think it's caused more reflection than that, but I think it did reinforce the fact that we do need to communicate more. But in a way, I suppose it was the choice of the committee about how you took your deliberations forward. The fact that we were disappointed that some of the radical things we were doing weren't recognised more—. We don't want recognition; we just want to improve children's lives. So, you know, that's what we're hoping to do, so that we can do as much as we can together.
Thank you. Sorry, Albert.
Albert, yes. I'm sorry—
Thank you. Thank you very much, and a really helpful clarification point. I just wanted to give an example of where I think some of the radical developments are taking place, and supporting the Minister referencing the national framework. I really think the national framework over the last nine months, actually, has undergone some extensive pre-consultation. We brought in Anthony Douglas, as you know, who has an esteemed career in the UK. He's been covering some really important issues around children's services and is developing the national framework in a way that will promote greater consistency and that will improve practice. Just to give you a flavour of that: four draft standards have now been produced. One of those is around child-inclusive practice; children and young people who go missing; manageable workloads; and continuing care. So, it's just to say, in terms of the question around 'eliminate', yes, 'eliminate' is crucially important for the Government, but alongside that, the radical reform elements are clearly, clearly taking place, and I think, certainly, we'd be very happy to share those with the committee and with children and young people themselves.
Thank you. Thanks very much. I'm going to move on now to legislation. I know that, Minister, you're keen to explain the pressure that the Government's under, but in our view, and I'm sure that you'll agree, the care system falls drastically below what any of us would want for our own children. Young people have told us that radical reform that improves standards of care won't be delivered without changing the law. What case has been made and what negotiations have taken place in the Cabinet about carving out additional legislative time to prioritise radical reform for young people?
Albert has just said what we're doing about the practice framework, and that has nothing to do with—. We don't have to have a law to do that. There's a huge amount that can be done without law, but obviously I do understand the fact that the committee wants to see new legislation introduced, and that's figured very strongly in the reports, I think, the new legislation. But you'll know, Ken, that we have—. Legislation is planned as part of the programme for government, and that happens—. The First Minister makes a statement about the programme for government; we've also got the co-operation agreement, so things are planned in in a systematic way. We have done a lot of legislation over the last 10 years—huge amounts of social care legislation—but we've still got great needs, and young people are saying that the care system is not fit for purpose. Although, as I say, we've done so much legislation and really groundbreaking great legislation, so I think there is a huge amount that needs to be done without legislation.
But obviously, the committee recommended introducing new legislation in seven different areas and amending existing legislation in a number of other areas, and it included both primary and secondary legislation, and the legislative cycle can't support many more laws, basically. I mean, that is the position. We're in the middle of the legislation at the moment, the cycle. As I say, we've got two more years to go of this Senedd term. But I do think we can do so much by working with partners to review and to strengthen practice in the way that we've discussed, and that is the basis of the national practice framework—the first set of national standards for children's services in Wales, so the children, young people and the professionals will expect what the standards are to be as they deliver. And I think that's absolutely crucial myself—a very crucial thing to do—and also, reflecting a multi-agency report.
And so, I think that— . I understand why you want legislation, but I don't think it's always the answer, and it's not feasible to do at the moment. And, as I say, we've got the legislative programme, and, obviously, children are very high up on the agenda of the Cabinet, and of the Senedd, and I think that shows, really, how high—. The First Minister is totally committed to the children's agenda. And, as I say, we have got legislation about eliminating profit, and the amount of effort and difficulties and issues that have come up with that are absolutely—. Working to get that into law is hugely demanding, and it's very difficult to get other legislation in even if it is accepted that it's needed.
I'll just bring James in very quickly, Ken, and, then, come back to you.
It was just on this point. So, Minister, there are obviously parts, as you said, that need legislation. So, are you basically saying there is not enough resource within the Welsh Government to deliver this legislation that's needed?
No, what I'm saying is that there is a set time during which you can deliver legislation—
But you can bring legislation forward by expedited processes—
—a five-year period in terms of actual time. There is only a set time that you can bring legislation. And every Government brings forward its programme for government, and that's what you work to, and that's what we're doing. I don't know, Albert, whether you want to answer that.
I agree, Minister, but other Ministers have brought forward legislation that wasn't in the programme by an expedited process. So, if Government wants to move, it can move. But I'm just interested in: is it because we don't have the physical lawyers sat in Welsh Government to write these pieces of legislation into law?
I think, at the moment, what we're saying in relation to the requests that are coming forward for additional legislation, is, on those grounds—and we'll talk about them, I'm sure, today—we don't feel that we need to go down a legislative route. Where there is a requirement for legislation, whether that be primary or secondary legislation, where we can strengthen under our Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—and that's why we built it as a framework legislation—it's been much easier for us to strengthen subordinate legislation, and we do that regularly.
We have got a programme for government. We have got a social care Bill, and there are elements that are being taken forward by this Government. For example, personal advisers is a good illustration of a policy direction that will now translate into legislation. So, in terms of the programme for government, the First Minister sets out his programme for government, he sets out his legislative programme, and we, across all of Welsh Government, will be putting forward, and have already put forward, our case for legislation as a Government.
Okay. Back to Ken.
Thanks. I'm going to move on to protected characteristics. I understand—correct me if I'm wrong—that the Children's Commissioner for England is currently consulting on making care experience a protected characteristic, because it apparently meets the three tenets under the Equality Act 2010. But our call to lobby the UK Government to make care experience a protected characteristic was rejected. Are you able to just outline the rationale for rejecting this approach to lobby for care experience to be a protected characteristic, which again was a recommendation that came directly from children and young people?
Well, as you know, the Equality Act is outside our legislative competence, so anything we did on this would be lobbying, as you say. But we are aware that there are different views about this. We have been told by care-experienced children—some care-experienced children—that this is something that they do not want, that they feel it is a stigmatising process, and they don't want to move forward in this way. So, there are differing views amongst young people on it.
We absolutely understand the stigma that can be felt by care-experienced children, and I do think it is widespread, and your report has highlighted that. And we are, as I say, committed to listening to what young people say, and one of the key principles of the charter is to eradicate stigma, which we recognise that care-experienced children do experience. We want to make sure that they're recognised for what they are, and not just defined by their experience of being in care. And, obviously, all children have a right not to be discriminated against. So, we do understand the committee's commitment to this, and I'm going to be working with officials across Welsh Government to explore this further with care-experienced people and children as part of the future care experience summits with Voices from Care. So, we will be exploring this, but there are different views that have been given to us, so it's not a united view.
Okay. If the Children's Commissioner for England determines that care experience should be a protected characteristic, how do you think Wales would respond to that? Because, obviously, if it was accepted by the UK Government, England would then be implementing something that Welsh Government has actually not supported to date. So, would there be a change of view? Would the Welsh Government, in turn, argue that it shouldn't be made a protected characteristic?
I think it would depend on what conclusion we reached when we've had the further discussions with the young people.
I think it's really important that we really take on board what they feel and, obviously, I assume that the young people that spoke to you felt that they did want this as a protected characteristic, but we've had young people speaking to us who felt differently than that. But we've got to find a way forward on it, so we'd do that, Ken: we would consult young people.
That's really helpful to know that the Government is committed to consulting further on this is an important point.
Oh, absolutely, yes.
Thank you, that's really helpful.
At our request you've provided information about the transformation of children's services delivery group and its ministerial oversight board. Now, do their remits relate to care-experienced children alone or a much wider remit about children's services? And are you confident that staff capacity allocated within the civil service is sufficient to deliver substantive change?
Well, I think we're very keen to look at all the experiences that young people have. So, as I've said before, young people have talked to us about their experiences before they came into care and before they became care experienced, and things that they think we could have done that would have helped them to stay at home. So, it will be looking at the whole of the life pathway. So, it would include young people who may not have yet come into care, to look at those sorts of issues. I think that the whole of the transformation of children's services does need to look at that whole pathway.
And in terms of civil service resourcing, well, that is a matter for the Permanent Secretary, I think. But I do say we have brought in external expertise in order to help us with this. I think Albert mentioned Anthony Douglas, who was the head of CAFCASS England, and he is helping to write our practice framework, which is absolutely great. I'm hoping you're going to be seeing that and seeing a difference on the ground, how young people are responded to in the local authorities, responded to by social workers, when that—. And we've also brought it Jonathan Griffiths, who's the ex-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, and who was the director of social services in Pembrokeshire, and he's the transformation director, so we have brought in extra resources. And, of course, the capacity that's needed is needed on the front line, in terms of social services and what's delivered at the local authorities as well. I think that's absolutely crucial.
Thank you. Thanks, Minister. Thanks, Chair, that's all from me.
Thanks, Ken. Questions now from Laura Jones. Laura.
Sorry. Thank you, Chair. Yes. Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your answers so far. Sorry if I came on a bit strong; you can understand the frustrations that still are there, even if we've had the summer to calm down.
I want to ask you about the social care workforce crisis and the impact on children. Based on your conversations with young people and professionals that you have met with, what is your understanding of the impact on them of having so many different social workers in their lives, and their belief that it's a priority to have one consistent professional dealing with their case? I mean, we heard a lot about that during our stakeholder events, where nearly every care-experienced young person we spoke to said that they'd had many different social workers. One young person—I think we'll all remember—said that they encountered 32 social workers, which is quite shocking. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are. Thank you.
Well, that's definitely a clear theme, I think, amongst young people about the fact that changes to the social worker destroy any relationship that's been built up, and I think you did have quite distressing descriptions of how social workers left without saying goodbye. And that's what we want to get over. We want to make sure there's good practice and things like that don't happen, and that, if you do move on, which is inevitable, as social workers will move on at some point, but that it's done properly, and it's dealt with in a respectful way to young people.
And, obviously, we do support very strongly the relationship practice and the fact that the relationship with social workers in particular should be able to support and nurture and help develop. And I know, when it does happen, well, young people are so appreciative and it means so much to them. There is good practice that goes on; I think it's important to say that, because we have got a workforce that is very committed, the social care workforce. So, there is good practice that goes on, but it is not—. The fact that young people have to repeat endlessly the issues and the problems that they may have been through and build up a relationship again is obviously not satisfactory at all. I do think that this has to be addressed in a holistic manner, and we need to have a systematic approach, and we want to have a firm foundation on which to build the workforce.
So, we have invested the £10 million in the social work bursary to make a social work degree more attainable for people and make more of an attractive career for social workers, so we have put that money in, and the social worker bursary has seen a 39 per cent increase in take-up in 2023-24, compared to 2022-23. So, I'm very pleased about that, because it does show that more social workers are now coming into the field. Because it has been difficult to attract social workers, and it hasn't been seen as an attractive job because it's not high on the support list of who the public support, and, of course, there have been damaging public things about social workers. So, I think this is one of the ways that we've seen this 39 per cent increase. I don't know whether you had the actual figures for that, did you, Albert? You were telling me earlier on.
I did tell you earlier on, Minister. Thank you ever so much. So, I think this is a tremendous increase; 39 per cent is the rate we were given. I checked the figures earlier on, Chair, and it was 154 social workers on the bursary last year, and up to 215 this year. So, I think that's a real step forward in terms of numbers coming through, and, of course, that takes time, year on year, to filter into the front line.
Yes. I think it's important to say that it will take the whole of the social work course before we see those people actually arriving.
How does that relate, then, in terms of—? Because, obviously, that's fantastic news, but in terms of retention then—. Because, obviously, figures in terms of completion are something that we'll need to monitor, and also, anecdotally, hearing about so many people, because of the load of casework that social workers have—. Actually, how does that bridge the gap, then, between those that we're losing currently from the workforce because they're just finding it too much?
Did you want to answer?
I'm happy to pick that one up, Minister. I think that's—. We certainly see the challenge of the workforce on all of those fronts. So, you're absolutely right, this is about how do we attract new social workers to come in to the profession, and value them as well. Because I think we have seen a legacy of how social work has been represented that's also had a detrimental impact upon the attractiveness of coming in to the profession, so we're trying to change that. To do that then, we have to work on a number of fronts. We have to work on retention. So, there's work currently going on, with the Welsh Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, actually taking leadership themselves to really look at how pay, terms and conditions—. And some of those are about, just to say, trying to look at harmonisation across the different authorities. Because we know one of the challenges is that you can move around, as a professional, across borders, and, for children and young people, that has a great impact. I've spoken to social workers myself, and spoken to children and young people, but I've spoken to social workers and what they have said is they really don't like doing that themselves. So, therefore, we're working with those professional groups to change that.
You mention about case loads, and, again, there's work currently taking place to look at what is manageable, how do we begin to regulate that, and I mentioned around—and we use the word 'regulate' in the looser sense, rather than legislation—how do we create the standards around. Because I do know, from children's services, in some places, over many times, there have been efforts to try and bring in rules around case loads, and that's proven very, very challenging. It's proven very difficult to manage because of the nature of children's services and the types of issues that children's social workers are dealing with. So, I very much agree with you, and it's on all fronts that we're actually taking this forward.
The other thing I'd just like to mention as well is, through Social Care Wales, we've got this 'grow your own' scheme, which supports paid employment and funded social work training. There were estimated about 140 'grow your own' students for 2023-24 within the local authorities. When somebody who is working in the local authorities wants to become a social worker and they transition to being a social worker, the local authority supports them through the training as well. So, we've got 140 'grow your own' students. So, there are some little seeds of hope, I think, in terms of increasing the social work workforce, which is absolutely crucial to the question, I think, that was asked.
Thank you. Laura.
Thank you. Yes, it was abundantly clear throughout this whole committee process that it was necessary to have that consistency of care right through, to emulate that family environment that a lot of us are lucky to have. It is unsettling to have that constant change in young people's lives. So, it's really exciting to hear that you are focusing your efforts on making it a more attractive career. Particularly, I think, perhaps we need to look at the pay levels as well, to ensure that people see it as a career and are retained, and that retention is there in the sector; it's not seen as a part-time job, or short-term job, I should say, which is very apparent that it seems to be to many people, hence creating that problem that we were talking about.
Heledd just mentioned case loads, and you've just answered about it, so I will continue that theme right now. The Welsh Government did reject our call to set a legal framework for social work case loads that was modelled on the legal requirements for nursing in Wales, yet it's clear to us that the non-legislative approach, which you are carrying on, is not tackling those social work vacancies nor the dependency on agency staff. So, why don't the principles of safe, manageable, maximum case loads translate from nursing to social work, as we've seen in nursing?
The reason we rejected that recommendation is the request to legislate a cap on case loads. We don't really feel that social work compares in the same way to nursing, because activities within a nursing environment and a social work environment aren't really comparable. I mean, absolutely both are vital roles, but there are really significant differences between nurses and social workers. Because nurse staff levels are based on potential patients within settings and the method is not used for nurses who are in the community; it's used in different settings. We absolutely share the ambition about the recommendation in relation to manageable case loads, but we believe workforce efficiency and the sort of areas that we've talked about are the priority for achieving manageable case loads. And it's absolutely the view of the Welsh Government that they should be manageable case loads, to be able to provide the required support for children and young people, and also for their health and well-being.
I think we've already discussed how we are trying to retain social workers and how we're getting more social workers coming in. And I think I've mentioned the £10 million for the social work bursary, £7 million for the Social Care Wales workforce development programme, which, again, is very important. And Social Care Wales are undertaking work with local authorities, focusing on workforce planning approaches for social services. We have a very—. I'm sure you've all seen the WeCare Wales advertising that's done intensively on the television and through all the media, which shows the attractiveness of social care.
So, those are all the things that we're doing, and we also provide professional support, a free and confidential peer-to-peer listening service, which is led by the British Association of Social Workers, to try to support people in their roles. So, those are all the things we're doing, but we don't think the cap is something that is feasible to do and it's also quite difficult to manage, which I think Albert referred to in what he said.
And just before you come back in, Laura—I'll bring James in—just to say the comparison that we as a committee meant wasn't in terms of comparing social workers like for like with nurses. Our point of comparison was around the workforce shortages, agency staff and the impact on service users. So, that's where our comparison was, rather than looking at nurses and saying social workers did the same role, just to clarify that. James.
No. Mine was actually on that. We made the comparison between nurses. The nursing staffing levels were brought in by my predecessor, Kirsty Williams, around risk. When nurses have too much on, there is risk, and, when social workers have too big a case load, there is a risk around that. So, do you not recognise that, if we did legislate in this area to actually have a maximum case load level, it reduces the risk and actually allows social workers to have more of a manageable case load, which actually helps retain staff, and actually has better outcomes for the young people that that social worker is working with?
And that's absolutely what we want, is the better outcomes for young people, but we don't think a cap is a feasible way of doing this. And as I said, I think the nursing situation is different, and we want to approach it in a way that ensures we've got the support in for social workers in all those ways I've described in a wider, holistic sort of way. Because it would be very difficult to bring in a cap, because it's very difficult to determine the complexity of cases, the different issues in different areas. And I think there could be unintended consequences. So, we are wary of bringing in a cap, but we do think we should do all these other things to boost the social work workforce, and I think things are slowly improving.
And we did recognise that within our recommendation around that not every case was the same; that was built in our thought, because we are very much aware of how we have to look at that, and we couldn't just have an arbitrary figure because that would be very difficult. Laura.
Absolutely. I'd reiterate what James and the Chair have just said, and I'm sure as a committee we'll follow the retention figures very closely, because that is fundamental. It's all very well getting them in there, but we need to maintain those people in that job.
Moving on, how often does the Welsh Government get information from Social Care Wales and local authorities about the number of vacancies in the children's social care workforce, and what is the latest number of vacancies specifically in children's social care, and what percentage is that of the overall children's workforce, please?
Social Care Wales's 2022 report suggests a vacancy rate in social work teams of approximately 17 per cent, and this figure includes all roles, not just qualified social workers. This is collated and shared with us on an annual basis, and we've explored and piloted methods of real-time reporting, but we’ve got ongoing work in this area. And also, it does highlight that, compared to the 2021 data, in the 2022 data there was a 3 per cent increase in social workers working within children’s services. Again, it’s a small increase, but it’s encouraging we’ve got a small increase in the number of social workers, and we’ve got, as I say, with the increased data of the social work degree, and the growth within the local authorities’ ‘grow your own’, we can be cautiously optimistic. So, it’s 17 per cent.
Just to clarify, is that just within children's social services, or is that within social services more generally—within children's services?
Do you know that, Albert?
The rate we've been looking at is within children's services.
Just within children's services.
Brilliant, thank you for clarifying that.
That's my understanding.
We really appreciate that. Laura.
Thank you, Chair. Deputy Minister, the latest published data on the use of agency social workers is from 2018, but we uncovered data from Social Care Wales that shows that, in 2022, 49 per cent of children's services staff in Wales were agency workers, and 86 per cent of those agency workers were filling social worker roles. What are the most up-to-date percentage figures you have for the percentage of agency staff in children's social care, please?
Well, I think it's important to clarify that agency workers did not account for 49 per cent of children’s services staff in Wales, which I think is what you—
From Social Care Wales.
Yes. Because the reports provided by Social Care Wales refer, as I understand it, to 49 individual practitioners who had shared that they were an agency role, not a percentage of practitioners, and I think we estimate that about 7 per cent of the sector are actually agency workers. On 31 August there were 329 agency social workers employed by local authorities in Wales, and that's approximately 7 per cent. So, my understanding is that it's 7 per cent, not 49 per cent.
We could clarify that. I understand that it was a percentage and that was the percentage that we understand it to be. But we will clarify that afterwards, if that's helpful.
Just to say, Chair, we'd be happy to help if we can clarify figures, in the same way with children's versus all social work vacancies. We'll try, post the meeting, to make sure we get those absolutely nailed down.
Brilliant, thank you. We can share it—absolutely.
It's quite a different figure, so it would be good if we could clarify that.
And just supporting the Minister's very helpful statement, we've been working with different groups, and the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru took forward an all-Wales pledge, and we were very appreciative of them stepping into that space, and wanted that as well, about stabilising the kind of recruitment in children's recruitment agencies—so, actually having an approach. And that's why we're much more confident now of the figure that they've produced, which is the 329. So, that isn't the figure, of course, you would have had from Social Care Wales; that's come down from a different source. Thank you, Chair.
That's brilliant. So, we can help clarify that, and I just think it highlights the importance of transparency of data, really, doesn't it, so that we can all see that? Laura.
Thank you, Chair. A final question, Deputy Minister: Social Care Wales's workforce strategy for the health and social care delivery plan 2022-23 does not mention the children's social care workforce once. What, then, is the target for reducing vacancy rates in children's social care agency staff, and by when does the Government want this to be delivered?
Well, there are no Welsh Government targets for vacancy rates, because manageable vacancy rates will differ across different local authorities, and our focus and priority is to support a resilient workforce and to reduce overall vacancy rates. So, we don't have any targets, but meeting our workforce needs obviously requires a system change, and the delivery plan we develop will draw together a plan for how the sector works together to deliver change, and this will include measures of progress and specific children's services workforce programmes of work. You've probably heard about some of those that are happening today. Social Care Wales's workforce strategy delivery plan is also being reviewed, and through the workforce delivery plan consultation the feedback from the social care workforce will directly shape priorities. So, 'children's' is there, but we don't have any targets.
Thanks, Laura. Questions now from James Evans.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. At the start, you outlined the financial challenges facing the Welsh Government, and I think we can all respect that. The Welsh Government have said that they have got long-term funding commitments for the family drug and alcohol court model, and that's something that you support and, also, the Counsel General is a supporter as well. With the financial situation that you outlined at the start, how confident are you that you can actually keep delivering this model, because you did say you wanted to do it, following its evaluation in January?
Well, I'm very supportive of the family drug and alcohol court. I was pleased to launch it and have had feedback from it since, and we are evaluating it. I think there's been an interim evaluation, which looks hopeful, and we're having the final evaluation early next year. We have funded it from the Welsh Government—well, obviously, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, but we've put the money in. Our ambition is to—well, it depends, obviously, on the evaluation. We've got to wait to see what the evaluation is, but that non-combative way of working is a way that we would like to see spread across Wales. But, we, you know—as you said, these are difficult and financially difficult, challenging times, and we really have to scrutinise and prioritise where we can best put our money, given the financial situation we're in. But we'll have the evaluation and I'm hopeful we'll make, then, the right decision about how we move forward.
So, just for clarity around that, when the First Minister asked departments to look for savings, is this one of the areas that is being looked at as a potential saving or is it on the backburner until the evaluation is done?
It's waiting for the evaluation. We certainly haven't looked at it as a potential saving.
But is it being looked at now?
We haven't, no.
Okay, that's fine.
Just to say, we've been working very closely with Cardiff and the Vale. Obviously, we've given them £450,000-worth of funding, and I think one of the things that they've been saying is about how this fits with their integrated family support model across Wales that local authorities have, and also about some of the savings that this can create. So, there could be a different model, if we look at roll-out, about how we do that roll-out and how it interfaces with the integrated family support service. I think this is a real opportunity, going forward, around that investment and how we best use that money and those models across Wales, so we'll look at that evaluation. Obviously, we're not looking to take money away from that pilot; that pilot money is there.
Okay, that's quite positive to hear, actually, because we hear all of the doom and gloom, and listing things that are doing great work that you do worry could disappear. I do want to talk about advocacy for parents. Now, the Government rejected our calls for parents to have a legal right to support once their child has gone into the child protective system. You did tell us that there will be a national framework for parental advocacy, working with third sector partners. When will this framework be in place and will it give the support to every parent across Wales who has their children in this situation?
Thank you very much for that question about advocacy. The programme for government sets out that we are committed to expanding the provision of advocacy services to support parents whose children are on the edge of care, helping to avoid statutory social services' involvement, escalation of needs and reducing the risk of children entering the care system. Over the next three years, we are investing £1.5 million of funding through the care-experienced children change fund, and this funding will be used to scale up existing parental advocacy projects on a regional basis to ensure that we establish new services in every region in Wales.
The national framework for parental advocacy will set out the core principles and the service criteria that all regions must have in place. I've rejected the committee's call for all parents to have a legal right to parental advocacy once their child is in the child protection system, as to do so would really miss out on vital steps in the policy-making process. Because, I think, we've got to gather the learning and the evidence from the national roll-out in order to ensure that the service and the different approaches being provided—that they work and that they are delivering the expected outcomes. And then we need to work in partnership with our stakeholders to consider where the legislation would be the appropriate next step, including considerations of any impact, resources and, again, any unintended consequences. So, I think, what we're saying, once again, is that what we want to do we want to do jointly with the sector, to work with the stakeholders, see how this roll-out works and then consider what would be the appropriate next step in terms of legislation.
So, how is the Government going to monitor this to make sure that those parents are getting the support and advocacy that they want? Because it's very good saying, 'We're going to have a framework', but if it's not being monitored properly, some places might do it, some places might not.
Do you want to say about—?
Certainly. Obviously, we put that framework in place, and we've worked with the providers to do that. I think one of the things that's very innovative is there are different approaches. Some are using peer advocates, for example. So, I think this is something that we are monitoring through that framework with the providers, who are giving us feedback. Obviously, we're working with local authorities and regions who are providing that to us as well. So, I think there's a real opportunity here to look at how those different approaches are working—how does it fit in with things like family conferencing and at what stage do you offer an advocate. So, I think this is about rich learning for us, and I think we've rolled this out very quickly. We could have just stuck with the pilot, but we've actually broadened it out quicker than we actually thought we were going to do, just because we could see both the need for it. And also, as we go forward, we need to make sure we have the capacity around parental advocates, which is why I think having those community-based approaches, as, for example, we have in Neath Port Talbot, alongside other providers, like Tros Gynnal Plant and National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru, gives us that rich information. So, rest assured, we're excited about what could be coming out of this. We are monitoring it and we will be looking at how do we take forward that evaluation.
So, you're not ruling out legislation completely in the future at all?
That's good to hear.
But we want to work with stakeholders to—. That's what we want to be. The whole way we work is to work together, and to work co-productively and to come up with the solutions, which I think would be much more effective, if we work in that way.
Thank you. About the opt-out advocacy model—that's something the committee was very keen on. The Welsh Government rejected that outright—the opt-out model of independent advocacy for residential visiting advocacy. Yet that recommendation came directly from the young people, who say that the current offer that they get is just a social worker thrusting a leaflet in their hand and actually nothing much else coming from it. They don't actually hear from them again. Providers are saying that social services themselves are making these decisions about young people's lives and the current system doesn't work. So, will you reconsider this outright rejection from the Government and actually look to work with the committee and these young people to make sure they get the advocacy that they need and, actually, desperately need, I'm sorry to say?
Well, I think I would agree with you. I think advocacy is absolutely crucial and it's really important that we provide the best sort of advocacy service we possibly can. And I just want to reassure the committee and anyone else listening or reading this—my response did not outrightly reject opt-out advocacy. My response confirms that my views and expectations do align with those of the committee, and I've looked carefully at what the committee has recommended and at my responses. And the committee, I think, recommended three issues: the need for legislation, the assignment of an advocate and the options to both opt in and opt out. I don't know whether you want to go into that a bit more, Alistair?
Certainly. Obviously, we're one of the few countries that have an active offer and we've worked very closely with providers over the years, and we have a national provider forum to have these very conversations, and I think—. We've recently met again with some of the providers, just to say, 'We need to look at how that forum is working.' I don't think any of us think that we need more legislation. I think this is really about—. We have all the legislation we need; it's making sure that we have that policy to practice. We have a national framework around this, we have national standards, we've just done a review of the range and lever tool. So, this isn't about opt in, opt out. That offer is there all the time and it could be issue-based as well. So, it should not be just about a leaflet; it should be about the fact that there is an active offer—that someone will come along and talk to the young person. That is monitored by the independent reviewing officer in a local authority. We have data that comes through the national framework and template. I think what we have to make sure of is that local authorities are accountable and that there aren't gaps in that provision and that we are measuring the outcomes. Because I think everyone knows the value and investment that we've placed in advocacy—
I'm sorry to interrupt, but how do you make them accountable without the legislation there?
Well, we have the legislation there, so this is about using that data to talk to local authorities, and we've got the regulator as well to make sure that every child who has the right to an advocate has an advocate. And if we feel that there are gaps, we would want to work in co-production and partnership with those local authorities to find out why that is the case.
If local authorities aren’t offering advocacy, it’d be interesting to know what powers the Welsh Government has, then, as you say, under the current legislation, to go in and say, ‘Right. You’re not doing this. You must do this. How are you going to do it?’ It’s probably for Albert or the Minister.
Thank you. I'm really interested in this conversation, actually, because I come from a background of advocacy as well, and it's been a passion for many, many a decade now. My understanding is that the process that's currently set up is that children will have an advocate in Wales. So, no local authority in Wales—this is my understanding—should be denying a child an advocate. There seems to be something here that you have gathered, as a committee, that's really important for us to look into in substantial detail, because we can cite what the current arrangements should be, and I think that would be very reassuring to the committee, but what we need to do is be absolutely clear that every child who is entitled to and needs an advocate should have that advocacy service.
All local authorities have a duty upon them. We know that that's already there and that's why we've been funding the active offer. The active offer for Wales was groundbreaking internationally, as well, and it was the right thing to do. So, I don't think there's any conflict around what the committee wants in terms of intention, apart from whether it's legislation or not—we want that process to be working well. What we will be doing post this is working with those providers, agencies and local authorities to make absolutely sure that that is taking place. For example, at the moment, if a young child or young person is given a leaflet, the social worker and the local authority have a responsibility to pass the information over to the advocacy provider, who should be making contact.
And without labouring it too much, Chair—I know that time is always pressing and always pressured—but we know at the moment—and we talked about this previously—that there are two different methodologies from the two advocacy providers in Wales, the main two, and what we want to do is get consistency. So, we will be taking that away from this committee with vigour and with passion to really look at how we resolve that, so when we come back to committee in the future, we can all be confident that children are getting the level of support through an advocacy service that they're entitled to, but also that they need.
Exactly. It's a thread that runs through things—
Sorry, James. I was just going to say that we see this as being a very important issue as well and there is a conflict in what young people's experiences are at the moment. We heard directly from those young people and, obviously, in our recommendation, we call for an assigned advocate to make sure that the onus isn't on the young person to seek help, but that it's actually given automatically rather than that young person feeling that they had to go out of their way to find that. So, we look forward to seeing the work on this and to keeping a close eye on it as well. James.
Thanks, Chair. I just want to move on to kinship care, if that's okay. The charity Kinship says that 9,500 children in Wales are living in kinship care and that most families do not receive any financial, practical or emotional support. Will the Welsh Government consider using the opportunity of its reviews of fees and financial allowances for foster carers to look at all the needs of kinship carers, regardless of legal status? Within what time frame exactly will the special guardianship expert group be looking at the wider changes needed to support kinship families?
Thanks very much. I'm very glad that you brought up kinship care, because obviously, it's crucial and it is being used more and more—rightly, I feel. But obviously, there are various types of arrangements that fall within the kinship umbrella. There are special guardianships, informal kinship where the child isn't looked after by the local authority and kinship foster carers where the child has been placed by the local authority. And obviously, I think there are many children living in kinship care situations that nobody is involved with, nobody knows anything about, and that's how it should be. So, I think we've got to acknowledge that there are these other groups.
The Government is committed to seeing how kinship arrangements can be improved in Wales, particularly as the numbers in care who are being placed in kinship care are growing. We are committed to doing that, irrespective of the legal status of the arrangement. As you know, I've already confirmed that there will be a special guardianship expert group, and this will look at the use and the support that's available to all kinship carers in Wales. So, the guardianship group will look at that.
The group has representatives from the statutory and the third sectors, including representatives of kinship carers. I've had quite a lot of contact myself, personally, with Kinship, and I think it's very good that they will be represented there, and, of course, we'll have service users on the group, and it will look at ways of ensuring we capture the views of children and young people in the decisions that we make. I think it's important that we do this, again, in a very measured and structured way, focusing on the individual needs of all the groups that sit under this kinship umbrella.
It's due to meet again next month, and I will ensure that the issue of widening the group's remit is on the agenda for discussion so that a time frame can be agreed, and Kinship itself is represented on that group. Foster Wales is committed to ensure that kinship foster carers receive the same support as mainstream foster carers, and has launched its national commitment, which is an agreed package of training, support and rewards available to all foster carers, both mainstream foster carers and kinship, in Wales through all 22 local authority fostering agencies. So, there is that commitment to ensure that all foster carers, whether kinship or not, receive equal support, and a commitment to ensuring that they get the same financial support as mainstream foster carers. At the moment, all approved foster carers, including mainstream and kinship foster carers, are paid at least the national minimum allowance to meet the needs of the children in their care. I'd really like to thank Kinship for all the work they do, because I think they're a very good organisation and an advocate.
Thank you. Moving on, Deputy Minister, you mentioned earlier corporate parenting and the corporate parenting charter, which I have a copy of here. The Government rejected calls from the committee for stronger legislation to give care-experienced children very specific legal rights. Instead, you said the Welsh Government would be encouraging all public bodies to sign up to this lovely charter, which I think doesn't really say a great deal. Given the committee has heard time and time again that the current guidance is not working, can you explain to me and the committee why you believe extending the corporate parenting charter on a voluntary basis will deliver any meaningful change?
We are actively exploring existing legislative levers to support the charter and to try and have a consistent approach to corporate parenting in Wales. We do have legislation in place to strengthen the guidance for local authorities through a dedicated chapter on corporate parenting within the Part 6 code of practice on looked-after and accommodated children under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. I think Albert said earlier the way that Act was constructed means that you can come back to it and reinforce and strengthen by legislative means. This draft chapter will set out local authorities' duties in their role as corporate parents and support a strengthened strategic approach to corporate parenting.
It's initially been published on a voluntary basis, and a public launch will be taking place later this month. We've been working again with Voices from Care and the young ambassadors to develop a logo that can be displayed by all bodies who sign up to the charter, and there'll be a public consultation this winter. Obviously, this consultation will help inform the charter and identify any needs for any more guidance.
The charter is one bit of an extensive work programme that has been undertaken to extend the role of corporate parents across all public bodies, and also we're looking at private bodies as well. So, this is just the start, basically. We'll be launching it later this month, and we are strengthening existing legislation to give it a legislative basis.
Thank you. I've got one final question, Deputy Minister. In the corporate parenting pledges, it says, 'prepare you for leaving care and supporting you thrive independently'. But new homeless figures that were published on 5 September show a big rise in care leavers from 18 to 21 being placed in B&Bs. In 2019-20, there were 24 care leavers from 18 to 21 in B&Bs. In 2022-23, there are 171 care leavers in B&Bs. I'm not quite sure how they're preparing people to leave care and support them to live and thrive independently. So, I'd be very interested to hear your view on that latest statistic. Do you actually think that this charter and the Government is doing enough to actually support young people when they're leaving care?
We are planning legislation on homelessness, which will bring in care leavers as part of the plans for that legislation. There is a White Paper going to be introduced now in this autumn term, and care leavers are going to be a crucial part of that. So, care leavers and what happens to them when they leave care is absolutely crucial, and B&B is not accepted usually as adequate for care leavers. B&B is not approved of. And obviously, we do support supported lodgings and that sort of provision, but we do think that the housing issue is very important, and I hope this legislation will address this.
How? It's the 'how' here, isn't it? It is going up. Legislation has been in place before. It hasn't worked. I want to know how we're going to stop placing care leavers in B&B. You say the White Paper's coming, but I'd be very interested to know how that's going to work to stop this happening. We don't have an abundance of houses in the country either, to go and put people in, so I'm interested in how the Government is going to address this. You say it's not ideal to put people in B&B, so I would be greatly interested to see how this is going to be addressed. And that will be my final question, Cadeirydd.
I think you will see when this White Paper comes out more details of the plans for care leavers. I think it's due to be published very soon, and obviously there'll be the chance to have a consultation there. I think that the surveys that we've done have shown that the vast majority—I think it's over 90 per cent—of care leavers are deemed to be in accommodation that is safe and appropriate, but there is that small number who are in unsuitable accommodation. I absolutely agree with you that we don't want that to happen, and we will be doing everything we can to address it.
Thank you. We'll move on now to questions from Buffy Williams.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you for your answers so far, Deputy Minister. I have some questions on leaving care and care-experienced parents. I'll start with the fact that it's positive to hear that the Government will legislate to ensure that all care leavers have an entitlement to a personal adviser until the age of 25 and that you will carry out a review of the support they offer. However, we heard time and time again in our evidence sessions that their personal adviser is hard to get hold of or that they have been placed on a nominal duty list with no named workers. When we spoke to young people, this is something that we were continuously told at our evidence sessions, and it was very worrying for us as a committee. So, will you look to prohibit these practices and set a minimum standard?
As I said earlier on, we are bringing in practice standards for all areas, eventually, of work by social services, so we will be bringing in those standards. I can absolutely repeat our commitment to legislate this Senedd term to ensure all care leavers have an entitlement to a personal adviser up to the age of 25 as a statutory duty. We're able to do that via the Act that's already there. We will be undertaking a review of personal advisers across the local authorities, and that'll be before the end of this year. The results of that review will inform what we do next. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 Part 6 code of practice sets out the qualification and skills that personal advisers need to have, along with the functions that they need to carry out. But, however, we will review the values and the standards as you suggest that we should do.
Now, I think what's been very important for us in this committee, and with the evidence that you've got, is that you've been able to tell us what young people have told you of their experience. And so, although we're doing all those things, and I hope that they will result in a better service, it's really important for us to know now what's happening, and for the practice that you've described—it's not acceptable. The personal advisers—the Government has invested in personal advisers to give young people that help and support at that really crucial time of their life and we've got to make certain that they are effective. I did meet a group of young people with personal advisers and, I have to say this, where the relationships appeared to be very good and the young people told me they were, but obviously that is not universal and you have had this evidence fed into you, so that’s very important that we hear that.
In 2017-18 we did provide £1 million additional funding to local authorities in Wales to extend the provision and adviser support up to the age of 25, and this funding increased the number of personal advisers recruited across Wales and did lead to more care leavers than ever taking up the offer of support. And local authorities have since received funding to extend their provision of personal adviser support to all care leavers up to the age of 25 through the revenue support grant. It’s going now into the revenue support grant, so we are putting that additional money into support for personal advisers, and I think some of the people who are personal advisers are admirable and are just the right sort of people, but we want everybody to get that support and it’s very distressing if this advice is not being given.
James and I spoke to some young people who had personal advisers. They built up a relationship with the personal adviser and then, once that relationship was built, the personal adviser left and they were having to start that journey all over again. Has Welsh Government got any plans to put some incentives in place to ensure that these personal advisers stays and that we don't see a great turnover of these personal advisers, so that our young people are not having to start that relationship journey all over again and time and time again?
Well, this is just the same as we talked about with the social workers, isn't it? I know a high turnover is very distressing for young people. It's very difficult to say, 'You can stop it', because people—their circumstances change, they move on, they change jobs, and you can't stop that, but I think what you can ensure is that you make sure that the practices we have are worked out, are considerate and respectful to the young people, so that if somebody is going to go, they give advance notice, they tell the young people, they introduce them to somebody else and try and make that—
And I think therein lies what isn't happening—they're getting the phone that they're leaving and somebody turns up the next day—
Yes, well, that is not acceptable. That's not good practice, and that's where our practice framework wants to address those issues, which is why I've talked a lot about this practice framework. And I think it sounds a bit dry, the practice framework, but it means how you are going to be dealt with, how you are going to be treated with respect, and 'This is what you have to do if you are a personal adviser and you are moving on—you must do all these things.'
Thank you. You rejected our call to extend the 'When I am Ready' scheme to all care-experienced children up to the age of 25, including those in residential care, yet we know that the average age for a young person to leave home in Wales is 24. Why does Welsh Government believe our most vulnerable children should leave home earlier than other young people?
Well, I want to reassure the committee again that my response did not outrightly reject the call to extend the 'When I am Ready' scheme to all care-experienced children up to the age of 25, including those in residential care. What my response was was committing to undertake a full review of the 'When I am Ready' scheme during next year. In 2024 we will do this full review in order to identify the changes necessary to make the scheme more effective. And part of this review will look at the feasibility of extending this scheme to all care-experienced young people up to the age of 25 and not solely to those who are completing an agreed programme of education or training. I feel very strongly about this. I believe our young people need the best, and certainly, as you say, young people often stay at home—well, I think the figures are that lots of people stay at home until they're 30, and all their lives, sometimes, and we want to make sure that we at least are able to do this. So, we are looking at it. It's not a rejection, it's looking at that next year.
Good. We believe that up to a third of care-experienced parents go on to have a child removed from their care, yet Welsh Government rejected our recommendation to give them the legal right to intensive support to keep their children with them where safe to do so. When, then, will you make a decision about long-term sustainable funding for parental advocacy projects, such as Project Unity, given we know that the current funding ends in 2025?
Thank you, and we certainly do recognise the need for intensive wraparound support for care-experienced parents to reduce the risk of children being removed from their care, and that is one of the priorities for funding for the regional integration fund, where we put a lot of our money to provide joined-up partnership. In the summit that we've held and in my discussions with care-experienced young people, this is one of the issues that has been brought up very strongly, that young people who are care experienced who fear that they will lose their children, and it is a matter of huge concern for us.
This, again, links back to the national practice framework, where we want to make sure that there's a joined-up approach to make sure we get national standards for this situation so that people must never ever, just because a young person is care experienced, then think that that child must be taken away. They must never enter into that situation. So, we want to have these national standards. So, we want to prioritise early intervention and prevention, and we will consider the need for legislation as part of the delivery of the transformation programme for children's services.
In terms of the funding, you mentioned Project Unity, and I think I'm right that the funding was put under the sustainable social services grant, and that has been for five years. And certainly we were very pleased that we were able to give longer term grants, because we used to give them one year, then we went to three years, and this was extended to five years—I think that was because of COVID. But, obviously, we have to then assess and review and decide where the money goes. But I can give you an absolute commitment that we will look at how this is going to be funded in the future. But I just want to emphasise that I think, a couple of years ago, we would have been thrilled that projects were having five years, and we're not in a position to say what we would do in another two years' time.
Okay. Based on some very negative feedback from birth parents about their direct experiences, we recommended that Welsh Government commission an independent review into parenting assessment placements that would report no later than December 2023. You have said that this work will be conducted in-house during this Senedd term. Can you give us a specific deadline you are working to so that the young people can understand when changes might be made? And can you confirm that birth parents will be involved in this review? Also, will it look at increasing specialist mother and baby foster placements, which are so important? I know of some of these placements personally that really do work, and it really does help keep mother and baby together when you add that extra support, in-house support, on-hand, 27/7 support.
Yes, I think the foster placements are—I've experienced them as well and I think they can be absolutely fantastic. So, we're certainly doing all we can to increase the availability of foster carers in Wales, and you have my commitment for that. We're putting money into Foster Wales in order to develop this type of specialist placement. As part of our transformation governance arrangements, we have arranged a delivery group, and that includes key stakeholders including local authorities and those that are representing children and young people, and I think it's crucial, as you say, to have young people who are actually involved in this as part of that group. And they, as part of our transformation programme, will be looking at these areas to see what we can do to improve the situation. I can't say, here and now today, that we will have—. It will be an independent review, but we can ask the delivery group to look at that when they consider this. Was there anything more you wanted to add about that, Alistair, or have I covered most of it?
I think you've covered it, Minister, but I think you're right, I think we really have to look at the review, the evidence. I think we've probably got to look at who we involve in that, and we would be very keen to come back and give you some feedback from that work.
Okay, thank you, Buffy. Just going back a bit to parental advocacy, do you know when are we likely to have a decision about the long-term funding of parental advocacy?
Are you talking particularly about the projects that end in 2025?
Yes. When do you think we would make that decision?
I think it's a difficult one, in truth, to give an answer on today. We will certainly be coming back to you as quickly as we can.
Okay, that would be really helpful, thank you.
Sorry for not being able to—
No, no—thank you. We've got a keen interest in this. Questions now from Heledd Fychan.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. I'll be speaking in Welsh.
Os caf i edrych yn benodol o ran cefnogaeth a diogelwch arbenigol. Un o argymhellion y pwyllgor gwnaethoch chi ei dderbyn yn rhannol oedd o ran cyflwyno deddfwriaeth sy'n rhoi i bob plentyn yr hawl i gael gwasanaeth cymorth iechyd meddwl therapiwtig arbenigol. Mi oedden ni o'r farn y dylai fod ganddynt yr hawl statudol, yn yr un math os yw plentyn wedi ei fabwysiadu. Dyna beth oedd y syniad o ran hynny. Mi wnaethoch chi ddweud yn eich ymateb bod gennych chi waith eisoes ar y gweill a fyddai'n cryfhau cefnogaeth i blant a phobl ifanc ond heb yr angen am ddeddfwriaeth newydd. Dŷn ni wedi gofyn am fwy o wybodaeth am hynny fel pwyllgor ond heb eto ei derbyn. Felly, ydych chi'n gallu rhoi peth o'r wybodaeth yna heddiw? Oherwydd dwi'n siŵr ein bod ni'n cytuno bod y gefnogaeth mae plant a phobl ifanc sy'n mynd mewn i ofal ei angen yn un—. Mae pob un yn mynd i fod angen cefnogaeth oherwydd y rheswm pam maen nhw felly yn y sefyllfa honno. Felly, dim ond i ddeall pam eich bod chi dim ond yn derbyn yn rhannol ein hargymhelliad ni a beth ydy eich bwriadau chi o ran y plant a phobl ifanc yma.
If I can look specifically at specialist support and safety. One of the committee's recommendations that you accepted in part was with regard to introducing legislation that allows every child specialist therapeutic mental health support. We felt that they should have a statutory right, the same as if a child is adopted. That was the idea behind that. You said in your response that you already have work ongoing for support for children and young people without the need for new legislation. We've asked for more information about this as a committee but we haven't yet received it. So, can you therefore provide some of that information today? Because I'm sure we all agree that the support that children and young people going into care need is something that each and every one will need due to the reason behind them being there. So, I just wanted to understand why you only accepted that in part and what your intention is in terms of these children and young people.
Well, obviously we do recognise that the children and young people who are engaged with children's services, whether in a health board or local authority setting, do have needs that require multidisciplinary and multi-agency support, and in developing the new mental health strategy, a key focus will be on equity in access and outcomes from mental health support. So, I think that is a very important bit about the new mental health strategy.
Now, I know that my colleague who is responsible for this area, the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, said during the Plenary debate on the subject that:
'We absolutely recognise that we need to be doing more to support care-experienced young people in a therapeutic way and we are fully committed to that.'
There is work under way that will strengthen support without the need for additional legislation. She made that statement in the Plenary debate. But we are aware of situations where services could do better in providing more integrated support, and so in response to that we have delivered the NYTH/NEST framework, which is a tool to help service providers develop and deliver services, which enables babies, children and young persons' link with trusted adults who have an easy access to expertise to support them, and the framework aims to have a whole-system approach, with services integrated and working together so that resources and expertise can be co-ordinated to identify the right mix of services needed to protect the child's health and well-being. So, we're using the regional integration fund—the RIF—and the really good initiative of service providers. We're already seeing some examples of collaborative working happening in Wales. But I'm aware that there's much more consistency needed. Every regional partnership board in Wales has got a NEST implementation plan, and I've asked them to provide annual updates on their progress, embedding the NEST principles into their partners. And we've also commissioned the NHS executive and the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee to develop a service specification for the child and adolescent mental health services. This aim will set out the Welsh Government's expectation of CAMHS services in Wales, and result in a more consistent offer for service users, and also set an opportunity to set out my expectation of the service to work with other services to establish the necessary arrangements to deliver integrated care, and I've also done a similar project for local authorities.
So, that is the way we're trying to approach it, by working in an integrated way.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi'n meddwl yr hyn sydd efallai yn fy mhryderu i, a'r hyn roedden ni'n edrych arno fel pwyllgor, oedd o ran edrych ar yr hawl statudol yna: nid bod yna hawl cyfartal, ond yn cydnabod y bydd gan y plant a'r bobl ifanc yma straen ôl-drawmatig a thrawma oherwydd y profiadau maen nhw wedi'u cael, ac nid mater o fod yna hawl cyfartal i gael mynediad os oes angen, ond bod angen i'r cymorth yna yn bendant fod ar gael yn yr un modd sy'n cael ei gydnabod fel hawl statudol efo mabwysiadu, felly.
Felly, ydy hyn yn rhywbeth rydych chi yn rhoi ystyriaeth iddo fo? Oherwydd rydyn ni'n gweld os ydyn nhw ddim yn cyrraedd y trothwy o ran CAMHS ac ati—rydyn ni'n gwybod am yr anawsterau mawr sydd efo CAMHS—ein bod ni'n trio sicrhau bod y cymorth sydd yn benodol ei angen ar y plant a'r bobl ifanc yma ar gael, a'u bod nhw ddim yn cael eu hystyried fel un o nifer o fewn system lle rydyn ni'n gwybod bod yna drafferthion, bod angen sicrhau bod ganddyn nhw'r hawl, ac nid dim ond bod ganddyn nhw'r hawl cyfartal, ond eu bod nhw'n derbyn y cymorth sydd ei angen arnyn nhw.
Thank you very much. I think that what I'm concerned about, and what we looked at as a committee, was in terms of looking at that statutory right: not that there's an equal right, but acknowledging that these children and young people will have post-traumatic stress and trauma due to the experiences they've had. And so, it's not a case of there being equal access if necessary, but that that support certainly needs to be available in the way that it's acknowledged as a statutory right for adopted children.
So, is this something that you're giving consideration to? Because we see that if they don't reach that threshold in terms of CAMHS et cetera—we know that there are great difficulties within CAMHS and so on—we try to ensure that this specific support that's needed for these children and young people is available, and that they're not considered one of many within a system where we know that there are difficulties, but that we need to ensure that they do have that right, and not that they just have an equal right to it, but that they receive the support that they need.
Yes, I absolutely recognise the need. Obviously, many children and young people will not reach the threshold for CAMHS and don't need CAMHS, but they do need something, and they do need support and help. And that is why we are adopting the NEST model, so that this is built in.
Mental health is everybody's responsibility, and we're also having the whole-school approach in order to try to ensure that the help is there and the understanding is there. We're having training for trauma-informed services. We want all our services to be trauma informed, so that the recognition of the trauma that we know many care-experienced young people have been through is recognised at every level. So, that's how we're approaching it.
Diolch. Os caf i jest symud ymlaen at orchmynion amddifadu o ryddid. Sut byddwch chi'n monitro canllawiau diweddar Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, sy'n pwysleisio ei fod yn drosedd i ddarparwr anghofrestredig ddarparu lleoliad i blentyn sy'n destun gorchymyn amddifadu o ryddid? Ac oes gennych chi ddata o ran mis Awst 2023, o ran faint o blant sydd yng ngofal awdurdodau lleol Cymru sy'n destun gorchymyn amddifadu o ryddid?
Thank you. And if I may just move on to deprivation of liberty orders. How will you monitor the guidance published by the UK Government that emphasises that it's a criminal offence for an unregistered provider to provide a placement for a child subject to a deprivation of liberty order? And do you have any data from August 2023, with regard to how many children in the care of local authorities in Wales are subject to a deprivation of liberty order?
Right. Well, we're actually—. Welsh officials will be undertaking an analysis exercise to establish the number of deprivation of liberty orders that have been used over the last 24 months. And then the results of that analysis will feed into the Welsh Government's transformation programme for children's services, which I've referred to a lot today. That's where we're doing all this change, in the transformation programme for children's services. So, that analysis exercise will be done.
The transformation delivery group, which has representation from all our key players and stakeholders across Wales, has a key function, as part of their terms of reference, to review the current data available across the sector, with a view to improving how we use the data to inform practice and planning.
I understand that we have six deprivation of liberty orders where young people are placed in unregistered placements at the moment. In terms of unregistered placements, there are obviously many reasons why young people are in unregistered placements. We don't support young people being in unregistered placements, but sometimes the judge will approve and direct that a young person stays in an unregulated placement with a deprivation of liberty order, and approves that placement. In fact, I've come across a few this year where the local authority has been told by the judge that this should happen. We have six in unregulated placements.
Do you want to carry on?
Sorry, I thought you wanted to come in.
No, I wanted to keep—.
Can I just ask then—? One of the recommendations was for a clear plan in terms of how we can ensure that this isn't happening, and it's something that you weren't willing to commit to. I know that the children's commissioner was also frustrated or disappointed that Welsh Government would not support that element of our recommendation. So, how are you working to ensure, through the courts system and so on—? Because, obviously, that's not a situation we want to see happening.
Well, we're working at it through the transformation programme for children's services. That's where we're working at this. It is something that has, obviously, engaged us and worried us a lot, in terms of the unregistered placements and also the DoLS. So, we need to discover more information about the extent of it. As I say, I've only got the figures for those who are in unregistered placements. There may possibly be others as well.
Dwi'n gwybod bod amser yn dechrau mynd yn drech na ni, ond os caf i ofyn ynglŷn â llety anghofrestredig. Mi wnaethoch chi wrthod ein galwad am gynllun gweithredu erbyn diwedd 2023 yn nodi sut y byddwch yn atal y defnydd o lety anghyfreithlon ac anghofrestredig. Gaf i ofyn faint o blant sy'n cael eu lleoli ar hyn o bryd mewn llety o'r fath yng Nghymru, a pha gamau penodol felly y mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn eu cymryd i leihau eu defnydd ar unwaith?
I know that time is against us, but can I ask on unregistered accommodation? You rejected our call for an action plan by the end of 2023 setting out how you will prevent the use of illegal and unregistered accommodation. Can I ask how many children are currently placed in such accommodation in Wales, and what specific action is the Welsh Government taking to immediately reduce their use?
Well, I've got figures for 11 September, so they are very up to date. There are 30 care homes or children's services operating without registration; 29 of these are operated by the local authorities and one is operated by a private provider. The vast majority of these are just single placements, just one person in each service. But the data that's collected is about the number of services rather than the number of children, but 30 care homes will be 30 children, if you understand what I mean.
During this year, Care Inspectorate Wales has approved a number of applications for care homes for children, which equates to 20 additional places provided by independent providers and 13 additional places provided by local authorities. So, registration is increasing and happening quite at pace at the moment. It's currently considering further applications, which, if approved, will equate to an additional 33 places provided by independent providers and 15 additional places provided by local authorities.
The reason why places are unregistered, why children are placed in unregistered placements, is often the result of a crisis when a child has to be moved or has to come into care unexpectedly, and there is nowhere for them to be placed. So, that often results in an unregistered placement, and we do absolutely recognise it's a challenge for local authorities to find and develop suitable placements to meet the needs of children and young people. As I say, the majority of placements do occur because of family breakdown, lots of them are on an emergency basis where the local authorities can't find suitable registered placements, and also, as I mentioned before, there can be cases where the family court have endorsed care plans that include unregistered placements. What's got to happen then is the local authority has got to try and register that placement as quickly as possible and get in touch with Care Inspectorate Wales, and Care Inspectorate Wales then responds in a very practical way, as long as the local authority is doing all it possibly can to register as quickly as possible.
I've also had a lot of meetings recently with the Welsh Local Government Association to discuss the issue of services that are operating without registration and how we can find solutions. It isn't just about increasing capacity; it's about making sure that we support children in the most positive way that we possibly can. The unregistered places, as I say, it's 30 children in unregistered places. We've got 7,200 children in care. But, I think every one of those 30 situations are young people who we've got to look for the best for, and obviously we don't really want any unregistered places to be used.
No, certainly. Am I okay to—?
Yes, go for it.
I know, during the debate, Sioned Williams, who was a member of the committee, asked around missing children.
Fe wnaf i newid i'r Gymraeg rŵan, sori. Rydym ni'n falch iawn o'ch ymateb chi, eich bod chi'n dweud bod yna waith ar y gweill o ran plant ar goll, ond yn amlwg mae yna bryderon mawr o ran hyn. Pryd byddwch chi mewn sefyllfa i rannu'r gwaith a gomisiynwyd gan Plant yng Nghymru efo'r rhanddeiliaid allweddol eraill, a phryd a sut byddwch yn datrys yr hyn rydych chi'n ddweud sydd yn safbwyntiau gwahanol ar sut i wneud newidiadau ymarferol i ddiogelu plant ar lawr gwlad, oherwydd, yn amlwg, mae hwn yn rhywbeth sydd yn hynod o bryderus i ni i gyd?
I will switch to Welsh now, sorry. We're very pleased with your response when you say that there is work under way to address concerns around missing children, but there are huge concerns around the issue. So, when will you be in a position to share the work commissioned by Children in Wales with other key stakeholders, and when and how will you resolve what you say are different views on how to make practical changes to safeguard children on the ground, because, clearly, this is something that's extremely concerning for us all?
Yes. Well, I'm glad that you're aware that we are doing work about missing children, and I hope you're reassured that that is something we're taking forward. We're finalising our review of the evidence that we've taken, and I think those will be shared with our partners in the coming months. So, in addition to the Children in Wales work, which is specifically with children and parents and carers, we also commissioned Practice Solutions to gather information from practitioners and from agencies who have got an interest in this work. I understand that, following discussions with my officials, Practice Solutions provided an update to the Missing the Point group, which was scheduled for last week. I don't have any report for how that went.
So, in terms of next steps, I'd expect my officials to continue working collaboratively with all our partners and stakeholders and to facilitate a shared solution that delivers the protections and safeguards that are needed. I think that is the approach that we would normally use to try to work out a solution with our partners and stakeholders to respect every voice, and elements of that approach will be informed by the experiences of people who are involved with the situation. There are some diverging views; we want to bring them together. So, our approach is based on engagement, transparency, and I'm sure, I'm confident that we will come out with our shared goals.
Ac a fyddwch chi'n gallu rhannu hynny gyda ni? Byddai cael amserlen bach yn fwy pendant na mewn ychydig o fisoedd, dwi'n meddwl, yn fuddiol i'r pwyllgor hwn, a chael y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf o ran hynny oherwydd, yn amlwg, mae o'n argymhelliad a oedd yn bwysig.
And will you be able to share that with us? Having a more defined timetable than just a few months would be beneficial for this committee, and getting that latest information would also be useful, because clearly it is an important recommendation.
Yes. Well, shall I say by the end of the year? Because I think that will cover it. Yes. Definitely. And we'll be really pleased to share it.
Brilliant, absolutely, and that is something the committee all has a strong interest in, so any information that does come, please continue to share with us. That would be really helpful. And we will, obviously, share our information that we have, likewise. But, diolch yn fawr. That's the end of this session today. Thank you so much.
I just wanted to sort of highlight that our report was based on lots of statistics that we took, lots of evidence from academics, professionals, stakeholders, people in the workforce, on the ground, those professionals, but most importantly those children and young people who came and took the time to talk to us about some of the most difficult parts of their lives. We pay tribute to those young people and children who took that time to share with us those experiences, because they feel so committed to helping others in this system, and that's why we feel really strongly about it as well. So, I pay a huge tribute to those young people and to everybody who's been able to join us once again today. So, thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr. We also feel that it's important to have equality in the system, and treating everybody the same isn't going to deliver that equality. So, having a real focus on those young people in care is really, really important.
I'm sure we'll follow up with some points from today, from the meeting, particularly around some of the statistics and how we can make sure that we've got the right statistics, and also perhaps some of those ways where you have perhaps shifted some of your thinking following the debate. But we really appreciate you coming in, like I said, at short notice, really, and accepting that invitation so quickly after the debate. So, diolch yn fawr for your time today and diolch yn fawr to everybody who's joined us in the gallery. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much, and thank you very much to the committee. I think it's been a really good session, and I'd also like to say 'thank you so much' to all the young people and staff who've come along and listened to this long discussion. I really hope that they do understand that we are all committed to doing what we possibly can to improve things, and we are on a journey.
Diolch yn fawr. Thanks for your time. Thank you to your officials as well for joining us.
We'll move on to the next item on our agenda, which is papers to note. Obviously, it's been summer recess, so we have a number of papers to note—that's 32. They are all set out in the agenda and in the paper pack. Is everybody happy to take those together? I see everybody is.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod, a'r cyfarfod ar 27 Medi, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting, and the meeting on 27 September, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
We'll move on to the next item, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting and for the whole meeting on 27 September. I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42, that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of this meeting and for the whole of the meeting on 27 September. We'll now proceed to meet in private.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:37.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:37.