Y Pwyllgor Deisebau

Petitions Committee

25/04/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Buffy Williams MS
Jack Sargeant MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Joel James MS
Luke Fletcher MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Annabel Lloyd Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Rhondda Cynon Taf
Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
Deborah Jones Voices from Care Cymru
Voices from Care Cymru
Francesca Pritchard Voices from Care Cymru
Voices from Care Cymru
Julie Davies Cyngor Dinas a Sir Abertawe
City and County of Swansea
Sally Jenkins Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd
Newport City Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gareth Price Clerc
Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Mared Llwyd Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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 14:00.

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

The meeting began at 14:00.

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

Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Deisebau.

A very warm welcome to you all to this meeting of the Petitions Committee.

This meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. The meeting is bilingual, and translation is also available. A record of proceedings will also be published. I should note that we are in hybrid format for the first time in this committee room in the Senedd today, so we look forward to experiencing that.

Before we start today's session, can I say thank you to the team at Unboxed that have been working to develop the petitions website? Anyone looking at a petition can now see—and they can share—heatmaps showing where people have been signing Senedd petitions. You can see at a glance which constituency or region most strongly supports a particular petition. This is part of our commitment, as a committee, to make the work of the Senedd petitions system more accessible, and I hope that people across Wales will find it useful. So, I do thank the team at Unboxed and also the clerking teams behind the scenes here for all their hard work, as always.

Item 1 on todays agenda is apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. No apologies have been received, and it's great to see all Members back today in the Senedd in our first session back. It's also great to see some live viewers here, waving to us from the galleries. It's great to see you there. Can I remind committee members that they should note any declarations of interest, either now or at the relevant point during today's proceedings? I believe that Joel James would like to do so.

Thank you, Chair. Just a quick thing, really. One of the people giving evidence is employed by Rhondda Cynon Taf council and I am a councillor on that authority.

Diolch yn fawr, Joel. That is noted for today's session.

2. Sesiwn dystiolaeth – P-06-1161 Casglu a chyhoeddi data yn rheolaidd o ran faint o fabanod/plant sy'n dychwelyd at ofal eu rhieni sydd wedi bod mewn gofal ar ddiwedd Lleoliad Rhiant a Phlentyn
2. Evidence session - P-06-1161 Routine collection and publication of data of how many babies/children return to their care experienced parents care at the end of a Parent and Child Placement

Item 2 on today's agenda is the evidence session with panel 1 for P-06-1161, 'Routine collection and publication of data of how many babies/children return to their care experienced parents care at the end of a Parent and Child Placement'. This is the second oral evidence session for this petition. Today we will first take evidence from local authority heads of children’s services. The second panel consists of those with lived experience and those who represent them. Can I thank the witnesses for being here today and remind them again that this is a bilingual meeting? Translation is available and you can ask or answer in their language of your choice. Can I ask you to first, therefore, introduce yourselves for the record?

Of course. Thanks, Chair. I'm Annabel Lloyd, children's services director at Rhondda Cynon Taf. I'm here today in my role as chair of all-Wales heads of children's services.

Good afternoon. I'm Sally Jenkins. I'm director of social services for Newport City Council. Thank you.

Good afternoon. I'm Julie Davies, head of child and family services at Swansea Council.

Thank you all for that. If I can start and jump straight into some questions from Members today. I'll start by asking, are care-experienced parents more at risk of having involvement from children's services, and having their children removed? Is this group more visible to children's services because of the level of contact that it has already had with social services? So, that's an opening, and I don't mind who would like to go first. Annabel, would you like to start?

Chair, if I could come first, but I know that Julie, in particular, has gathered together some examples and data, and that Sally is very experienced in this, and so I know will want to contribute to inform the discussion today. First and foremost, we are really pleased to be able to contribute to this. We really want to say that, at the heart of all of our work, keeping families together is absolutely what we are about. What we would like to do today is talk to you about some of the services, at various stages of development, that exist in order to do that.

The evidence that you've heard so far absolutely makes a compelling case. We appreciate that, and we are committed to making sure that, in all of our work, we have services that are available at the right time, and in the right way, that are trauma informed and evidence based, rooted in strength-based practice. I think, really, that in terms of some of the data and some of the information that the Petitions Committee has heard, what we have heard about is the complex impact of trauma and retrauma on people's lives. In that context, we need to understand some of the journeys of some of those care-experienced young people.

I want to give the Petitions Committee some assurances that, when we carry out assessments pre-birth, we don't identify, necessarily, the care experience of a parent or an expecting parent. But, we do understand how important it is to support care leavers well, and also to make sure that we understand their journey, and support young people to make the decision at the right time to become parents at the right time for them, bearing in mind their complex backgrounds. We know also that people's experiences of our services really matter, so we wanted to pay careful attention to some of the evidence that you are hearing today as well.

Some of the services that we have invested in throughout Wales—and I do accept that there are some differences across Wales—include systemic strength-based approaches to practice that are rooted in the relationships. We understand that and know that to be really important when working with young people and families who have experienced trauma. That work doesn't occur in isolation. We work very closely with partner agencies, and I think the Petitions Committee might decide to hear from others with relevant contributions in terms of midwifery services and possibly, also, in terms of the court advisory service. I think that what we want to make sure that we convey to the Petitions Committee is that a decision to separate parent and child is an awesome intervention in the life of a family—a decision that we would never make before we have considered and reconsidered and looked at all options for alternatives. It is very much a last resort.

A recognition of the need to make sure that there are suitable services in place and that we continue to evaluate and re-evaluate those services is in the Baby and Me service in Newport—and Sally, who is here today, can say a bit more about that—Jig-So in Swansea, Baby in Mind in Bridgend, and Magu, which is a service in development in Rhondda Cynon Taf. The Petitions Committee may find it helpful to hear from some of the staff involved in developing those services, which have at their heart making sure that vulnerable parents are supported in the right way before a baby is born.

The question that we would encourage the Petitions Committee to ask is more around understanding the trauma and the journeys of care-experienced young people, the level of support that they need, the services that are in development, and also some of the data and voices that maybe there hasn't been an opportunity to hear so far, including perhaps parents whom we have supported to positive outcomes, where vulnerable young people have had the right support at the right time. That is very much the objective and intention of some of these developing services. Parents who have care experience who become parents later in life, who will not have any contact with children's services, and who are very difficult and perhaps not an appropriate group to identify as well. And also, perhaps, some of the voices of some of those care-experienced young people who have experienced positive outcomes as a result of that support as well.

We also wanted to mention the charter. All-Wales heads of children's services wholeheartedly support that and we anticipate full sign-up of that as well. Those were some of the key points, really. Is there anything that others feel that they want to add on around that?

14:05

I know that Members will go on to have some questions around services like the Baby and Me project with Barnardo's a bit later on, so perhaps we won't go into that now. We are certainly considering next steps of where to take this petition. Julie.

I thought it might be helpful, contextually, to say that, in relation to Swansea specifically, I have looked at our data, and at the moment we support, as a service, 380 care-experienced young people. I was curious to understand how many of those may have gone on to have children that we are aware of, and what their situation is at the moment. Of those 380, 21 of those have had children. Of those, 14 have remained with their parents, whether it's a single parent or both parents. I have got detail behind that. At the moment, seven of those children are not in the care of their parents at this present time, but that may change because of the support that we wrap around those care-experienced young people. That's less than 2 per cent of that current cohort that we are supporting in Swansea where they have had children and they are not in their care, but we are supporting them to see how they could go back to their care at some point in the future. I thought that might be helpful for you to be aware of. 

Thank you for that, Julie; that's really important. And the data that you've collected there, we'd be grateful if you'd share that with the clerking team, if that's appropriate. I think that would be helpful in our next steps and consideration as well.

14:10

I suppose the only thing that I wanted to contribute at this point, really, is about re-emphasising the point that Annabel was making, that for care-experienced young people, inevitably they have experienced huge degrees of trauma and loss, and they very often, sadly, don't have the family support and the family framework around them that for any of us to be a successful parent we need. And I think one of the questions we really need to be asking is: how is it that we ensure that children who are in the system, who sadly end up in that system, how we can provide reparative services for them to avoid them being in a position where they don't have the necessary skills in order to become safe parents? Because, reiterating Annabel's point, the absolute last thing any of us sitting here would want to do, or any of the other heads of children's services, is remove children. It's not why we are social workers, it's not what we want to do, and that's for care-experienced young people just as it is for any other. And I think a really important observation is that Julie's data is really helpful in terms of that current population, but what we also know is that there will be thousands of care-experienced people who have nothing to do with social services and who have gone on to have really successful lives and had their children and never come near to consideration from children's services. So, it's trying to get that balance. Care-experienced young people will have been traumatised, that's why they're in care, they therefore bring with them a set of challenges and issues and a lack of family support, and our job is how to repair that to ensure that their children don't become looked after.

Thank you, Sally. Thank you, all. It's pleasing for me, in a personal capacity, to hear you talk about trauma-informed approaches, because I don't think we talk about that enough. With that trauma, then—. Sally, you mentioned at the end that the individuals bring certain challenges with them. Can you, perhaps, describe some of the challenges that care-experienced parents face that then lead to having social services interventions and perhaps having the child removed at that point? Sally, if you want to start.

Okay, I'll start and then we can move through. I think, inevitably, with care-experienced young people who become parents younger—. So, I suppose that's the group, really, we're talking about is the under-21s. If our care-experienced young people don't become pregnant or don't become fathers in that period, we know that they will be older, they will mature, they are more likely to be settled, so they're less likely to have involvement with social services. So, we're very much looking at that younger group. So, the first thing to bear in mind is: how do we support them not to become parents before they're ready, in the same way as we do for all young people, but with this group with a real emphasis on recognising that they may need longer to mature, to get to a point where they're ready to be parents?

Now, what we see in children who become looked after and then move through the system are children who have experienced very poor care from their own parents, who have experienced abuse, neglect—all of the things that you would be able to reel off and other Members would, just as I can. So, domestic abuse, substance misuse, parental mental ill health, that whole range and panoply of disadvantage and trauma that this group of young people will have experienced and, somehow, have to find a way through to become adults in their own right. So, I think that that's the kind of background that we're looking at for them, and then our job is to help them go into adulthood having been able to manage some of that trauma in a way that ensures that they can live really good, happy lives as adults. And, as we all know, that isn't easy. So, I think that's the task for us, and those are some of the experiences. 

And tragically and sadly, when we do end up removing the children of care-experienced young parents, it won't be because they were care experienced, it will be because of domestic abuse, substance misuse, parental mental ill health, which impacts on their children. And again, I don't think any of the 22 heads of children's services would take being a care-experienced young person as an automatic coming into the system. I think, if anything, you'd want to take a step back and say, 'How do we support? How do we help them through this?', rather than to see it as a gateway into their own children becoming looked after.

Thank you, Sally. I can see agreement from both Julie and Annabel there. Julie, would you like to add anything further to that?

I think the thing that I would add to that is that one key element that's missing for some of our care-experienced young people is a family network, a network of support. So, one of the things that I know we're all looking at in the individual local authorities is how we can ensure that they're not in that position when they become 16, 17, 18, but how we can ensure that through their journey of being in our care as a local authority and with our partner agencies, helping them to create that network of support, whether it's within their community, which is really, really important, whether it's with the foster carers that they're with, or if they're in residential care, similarly so, so that they're less likely to retain those vulnerabilities, I guess, that are there because of the trauma that they've suffered. And, therefore, they're less likely to get drawn into some of those—so, for example, substance misuse, domestic violence—so that we help them, taking a trauma-informed approach, to understand the journey that they've had so that their journey, going forward, is much more positive for them. And that's the whole—. Taking a very strength-based approach enables you to think in that way, and therefore your behaviour, as a system, is much more likely to be conducive to much more positive outcomes for children. But, the main focus is how we ensure that they have a family that cares about them and supports them. 

14:15

Yes, I think that the other thing that we need to help explain to the Petitions Committee is that the level of need that we're facing at the moment has never been more complex. So, young people have experienced trauma, re-trauma, and work has been carried out on the looked-after system—it's improving and further work is required—but sometimes the level of need, the time at which young people become looked after, and the level of trauma, is not always the solution, and the restorative and the repair at the right time. So, further work is required on that. 

And the other thing to say is that Julie's absolutely right: that strength-based approach is so important. We do have a duty to looked-after children to make sure that when they become parents, if they need support, their experience in the looked-after system is by no means a disadvantage and, if anything, attracts the support sooner and at the right time as well. 

The other bit that I'd add on is that, as Sally's correctly said, in those very, very sad situations where we feel we need to look after children and there is no other alternative to safely caring for that very young child, that's not a decision that children's services will make in isolation. In fact, we would regard it as so significant an intervention that it would require judicial consideration, given the various factors about people's rights, our duties to the parent, our duties to the child as well.  

One of the things that we'd like to offer to do, should the Petitions Committee find it helpful, is to provide some case examples and follow up in writing with some of the illustrations that might inform your work.

Yes, that would certainly be very useful for the committee to consider. We will move on now to questions from Members. We'll go across the area. I've done what a Chair of the committee should never do and take too much time on their own questions, but it's certainly an important topic, so no problems there. Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Gadeirydd, and apologies that I can't be in the room today. I suppose this is the opposite of what Jack was asking in terms of the challenges now facing care-experienced parents. I'd be interested to know what are the biggest challenges you face as local authorities. You might have touched on that a bit in your previous answers, but I would like to know what the challenges are in providing support for care-experienced parents, and trying to avoid them, really, being separated from their children. So, for example, what is the scale of the challenge in getting the tight type of placements in the right location? And you mentioned some case studies just at the end. It might be an opportunity to give them now, if it's appropriate, but, yes, I'd be very interested to know what those challenges are for you as local authorities.

Thanks, Chair. If I could make a start, but I think Julie has some specific case examples and we'll follow up in writing, with your agreement, as well. So, today it's really important that we don't distract from the experience of looked-after young people, and what I want to say is that we're incredibly proud of our looked-after young people. If you think about the past two and a half years and how their systems have changed dramatically, we're also incredibly impressed by the work that our foster carers, adopters and special guardians have done in supporting those young people.

All of Wales's heads of children's services have put together a paper called 'Children's services pressures', in which we have outlined the additional challenges we're facing at the moment. Some of those include increasing demand. So, if I speak for my own local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf, we've experienced a 42 per cent increase in demand over the last two years, and that has affected services across the board. So, we've had to invest in early help services and new types of early help services as new needs are emerging, particularly for smaller children who've been born during that pandemic period and haven't had the same opportunities as well.

Some of the other challenges are around workforce and staffing. Further work is under way to understand more of it, but as services have developed, so the availability of social workers—qualified and experienced social workers—for safeguarding, court work, has diminished. So, some of the local authorities in Wales are working with teams that experience 30 or 40 per cent vacancy rates, and the context of that increasing demand adds to the constraints.

We also know, given the world that young people are experiencing at the moment, that some of the young people we're meeting for the first time have come in with a level of complexity—so, I'm giving examples here of young people who children's services have not previously known, not families where we've had involvement over several years—coming straight in and having very high-end complex needs, where opportunities for prevention work, working to keep families together, working to keep all children safe with their relatives, are not available to us, due to the level of risks and complexity within that.

Some of the other challenges that we've faced, really, are having partner services available at the right time when we need them, and through regional partnership boards, local authorities are having discussions with CAMHS, with health boards, about how we need to make services available in an integrated way, so that these most vulnerable young people who will need services across a range of services, including mental health, education, special education, criminal justice services, can experience strength-based approaches and integrated approaches, and the Children's Commissioner for Wales has spoken very strongly on this through the 'no wrong door' approach, which we think to be very important.

Those are some of the key challenges, and I know colleagues will want to contribute as well.

14:20

I think that, certainly in relation to emotional well-being and mental health services, there is a definite gap, particularly for adolescents, and Annabel is absolutely right; in terms of presentations and contacts at our front door, adolescents, teenagers, and the support that they need, we just haven't got enough of that support available at the right time, in the right place for our children and young people, and that will also be true for care-experienced young people, whether they are becoming parents or not. We need more of that support available for our children and young people across all of Wales, not just in a particular local authority area, and that requires us as a whole system to look at what resources we're making available and how we're making them available, because unfortunately at the moment, we don't have a single door—we have many doors—and that's confusing for children and young people and families, and also for professionals. So, although we're endeavouring to work as a system, I think, across every sector, whether it's education, whether it's local authority or whether it's health, we need to be very clear about how, what that means, so that young people are able to access that support at the right time, because at the moment it's coming too late.

Can I just pick up, just very specifically, in relation to placements? I think it's important to elaborate in that area that, across all local authorities, we have these big challenges, but we have a running issue for all children in relation to placements, and that's equally for parent and child placements for, for example, care-experienced young people. One of the issues that I would want to raise is that I think there are some real issues about the thinking around those placements, because very rarely is it appropriate that we remove a parent and a child and put them in a residential or a foster placement, and that that's likely to be successful. At some point, they've got to live in the community in which they're in, and that goes back to Julie's earlier point about creating those environments for them with support networks. That, for me, feels so important, because if we transplant children into an environment that, realistically, can't be long lasting, we need to create long-term community-based solutions for parents and their children, and particularly for this group of care-experienced young people, who are less likely to have those naturally. So, it's just that very specific point in relation to placements; I don't think it's a straightforward answer in terms of, 'Is it the right thing to do to provide those sorts of placements?' I think the challenge is to create the environment in the community where you can provide sufficient support, and then that currently is under that huge weight of pressure that's on children's services because of the elements that Julie and Annabel have outlined.

14:25

Thank you for those contributions. I was wondering if you could tell us about some of the main types of support that local authorities provide to care-experienced parents to prevent them from being separated from the children in the first place. Are those interventions made early enough, in your view? I'm more than happy for anyone to take up that question to start with.

I'll start, and then I'll come to Julie, because we've got different experiences. So, I think, as a Petitions Committee, you've already heard from Baby and Me services, which Barnardo's runs for Newport City Council, and I think that's a really good example of support services that are offered for care-experienced parents, but also for parents with high degrees of vulnerability of all ages and all backgrounds. And I suppose one of the very immediate lessons that we learnt when we were establishing that service was to offer support as early as possible. So, we now have across our health board a footprint that, at booking, support is offered if that's appropriate. So, rather than waiting until 23, 24, or even later into the pregnancy, we are offering support as early as possible in the pregnancy. And we know that, inevitably, offering support in the twelfth week of pregnancy, as opposed to the thirty-eighth, is a huge difference, isn't it, because it gives an opportunity to then really build a relationship. Going back to Annabel's earlier point about relationship-based services, if you can do that and you can create the time—. We know that, contrary to some of the mythology, this group of parents do present early, they don't wait for antenatal care, they're not delayers—by and large, they come in early for antenatal care, and there is a mythology around that—so, it is possible for us to do that. So, services like Baby and Me, Babies in Mind, Jig-So in Swansea, we are able to offer very intensive packages of support, hand holding. It's hand-holding support to really help with every element. And whilst some of that is practical—it is about that practical support and housing and how do you bath a baby—far, far more important is the emotional support. It's the emotional support for that parent, but also really giving that understanding of creating that emotional connection, before that baby is even born, for that mum, for that dad and for that baby, and that is so important in those services, to really focus on that connectivity, rather than those kind of skills-based approaches—useful as those are, actually, that emotional, relationship-based support is what really matters.

So, those are the types of services that we across Wales have been developing. We've told you about some, and you've heard about them from other providers, and they are developing widely, because we recognise that this has been a gap, and I think Julie's got some very specific examples of how Jig-So has been able to do that.

Yes. So, in Swansea, that's called Jig-So, and it's a group of specialist midwives that work with local authority staff, and we had—. I'll just tell you about an example, and hopefully that epitomises actually how we how we work with them. And this is not just for care-experienced parents; it's also for other vulnerable—very similar, as Sally said, in her area. So, one case recently where the mum was a care leaver and the father was not involved, the community midwife referred in to Jig-So and child and family services at the same time. This is 10 weeks after conception. Jig-So then had a specialist midwife take over, and then an early allocation for parenting support. So, Jig-So supported the social worker's assessment and plan and targeted their work, and they supported mum too on the practical side in terms of housing and benefits before and after birth. And Jig-So works on working with them for 1,000 days pre and post birth, but they had 30 weeks to work with mum before the baby was due, and they were able to deal with a lot of the worries, reduce the risks and share the—. They've got some really helpful parenting material, which I can share, if you'd find that helpful, but it's a very strength-based approach, recognising the parents' worries, but also helping them to see there are opportunities in there. And it's always full of hope, because that's the basis on which we work.

So, that then helped to build the relationship between the professionals that were there to support mum and baby, and one day after—. So, this mum actually had some support from a foster carer, and that continued, and now mum attends our parent and baby support group with Jig-So, so meeting other young parents in a similar position—not necessarily care-experienced, but young, vulnerable parents—and that's helping her to grow her support network. So, they're still—. Seven months baby is now, and mum is still getting support from Jig-So and some other professionals. She's had a specialist midwife and nursery nurse support for her and the newborn, one-to-one parenting, and also group support, and they've helped her to link into the local children's centre, which she's now accessing independently.

So, I think that, from the point of very early on, when mum found out she was pregnant, right through to baby, who at that point was seven, eight months old, shows how we can support, as a multi-agency group, a young mum in this case, but we do also pull in dads, to develop that community network of support, and she's now living independently with baby. 

14:30

Thank you, Julie. I want to move on. I'll stay on the airwaves, because I know Members have got some more questions, and I'm just conscious of time, but if there are further comments that you'd like to make, then please follow up by writing; that would be great. If I can stay on the airwaves to the Rhondda. We'll fly to the Rhondda to see Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for joining us today, panel. My question is: how successful are services like NYAS Cymru's Project Unity and Barnardo's Baby and Me project in keeping care-experienced parents and children together? And do you monitor these outcomes?

Thanks. Yes, we accessed the NYAS service as part of our preparation for this. So, really, we'd need to recommend that NYAS address that question around effectiveness, but rather to say that it was helpful to have that information. We'll make sure that everybody's aware of that, and perhaps there's an opportunity to do a bit more sign-up and information sharing about that service, which I'll take responsibility to do.

But, in terms of the effectiveness of the services, the services that are in design, absolutely, as we need to think—. When designing a service, we need to think about the outcomes for the family. There's no one measure that will give us a good reckoning of that. However, keeping a child and parent together absolutely has to be one of those key measures when we evaluate those services. I think that Sally and Julia want to comment on that. 

You've obviously heard from colleagues who work for Baby and Me, and certainly in terms of—. I understand that they gave evidence before you. What we've seen overall with Baby and Me is a 48 per cent reduction in the number of newborns we remove. Now, that is really high and really pays testament to the support that they've been able to offer. Now, that's not exclusively care-experienced parents, but care-experienced parents are within that group, and we could look to break down that data further.

I think, in terms of the effectiveness, Annabel's right: what you're looking at is a series of outcomes. Because you're obviously looking at the outcome for the parent—the care-experienced parent or the vulnerable parent—and for the child, because you have a vulnerable infant in the midst of this as well. So, it's looking at the outcomes for both. And our No. 1 outcome would be a happy family who are together and are able to stay together, and certainly that's what we have seen with Baby and Me.

In relation to measuring effectiveness, we fund that service, so we oversee that very tightly. That's part of our monitoring, and that's what I would hope that you would expect to see of us. We do, for example, regular quarterly monitoring for that service, but we also, for example, do dip sampling. We have regular meetings with the service where we look at individual cases and we look at what's happening for those families, and that includes parents who've been care experienced. So, I think there is an oversight of those services, because we, as local authorities, recognise it is really important for us, when we're working with those services, that we are able to really understand the outcomes from them and, if necessary, change them—so, change the services. Because Annabel mentioned early on that what we want to see is growth in this area, not getting stuck in a pattern of services.

I'm very keen on locally based services, which is why we developed Baby and Me—that's a service that's for Newport. What we're beginning to see is all local authorities delivering similar locally based services, and I think that's absolutely crucial in terms of being able to access, for example, health board and education and other resources from family support teams. Thank you.

Thank you for that. If the data could be broken down into care—. That would be really great for the committee to see and to evaluate. We've got about five minutes or so—just over five minutes—left, but I'll bring in Joel James.

Thank you. Thank you, Chair, and thank you for coming today. In previous evidence sessions, we've heard from care-experienced leavers about how they feel almost singled out and treated differently, and almost as if they're automatically deemed a higher risk when their parenting is assessed. Is this something you recognise?

14:35

Thanks. So, the first thing I would say is that, if that's the experience of the young person, that really matters. We need to hear that, we need to understand that, we need to look at that in the context of a range of information. But I hope what we've been able to do today is to convey to the Petitions Committee that whether or not a young person is looked after is not a factor automatically for identifying risk as a parent. In fact, it may more likely be a factor for us to identify duties to support that young person. But I do understand that that is an experience that's been conveyed by young people, so it'd be very wrong of me to diminish that; I can only convey, really, what the intention, design and results are that we're achieving with some of those preventative services.

Can I ask: do you think there needs to be, perhaps, more work done around allowing those care-experienced parents to share their voice? Is that avenue there? Is that all there for them already, or is that something that certainly needs to be looked at? And I'm not picking on a particular local authority; I'm thinking Wales wide here. Perhaps you have a view.

You're absolutely right that we definitely need to hear a representative range of voices very clearly, very loudly. I think some of the case examples we've heard about today, those wouldn't necessarily be young people who'll want to take up advocacy. Some of our young people don't like identifying as looked after, and we need to respect that as well. So, one of the things we wanted to do today was to encourage the Petitions Committee to ask themselves and to ask us: how do we achieve hearing a representative range of voices? Because there will be a range of experiences, we recognise that, and none of those experiences are we in any position to diminish.

But each local authority has an advocacy provider. Many have participation strategies. I meet with care-experienced young people— I think every head of service does—and we have participation and voice pieces, task-and-finish pieces of work, around specific subjects, for example, being looked after and in school, being looked after in foster care, being looked after and in residential care. There's never enough, is there? But a great deal of work is under way, and my encouragement is always to make sure that we hear a representative range of voices.

Thank you. I think that's a question that we will certainly ask ourselves, but I think it's one for the Minister as well, that perhaps she can address as well. And I look forward to tomorrow's visit with Buffy Williams to Voices from Care and having discussions directly. Would anyone like to add a bit further? No. Julie.

I think one of the things that I'm keen to pursue in Swansea is that our corporate parenting board consistently hears the voice of care-experienced young people, and that's something that we started in the last year and we're going to pursue. And they've actually been along and shared their experiences with the corporate parenting board members. I think it's really, really important that we hear that, because it's a whole system that supports these children and young people, not just the local authority, and that helps with—. So, if you think about community-based work, local councillors have a fantastic opportunity to play there in helping young people, whether they're care experienced or not, to understand what support and resources are available in their local communities, and that's something that some of our local councillors are keen to support in the next municipal year, looking at examples like that. But certainly, voices and experiences, it's important that we hear on a regular basis from a range of young people and children.

With regards to that statement, then, about councillors becoming more involved, I know, as a councillor myself—. I'm a corporate parent, and I was on the children's services scrutiny committee and everything, and for a couple of years now I've been trying to be more active in that role, to try and see what the situation is like for children in care within my ward, and I always felt a bit frustrated there, because, due to data protection rules and general data protection regulation, they would say, 'Listen, we can't tell you how many are in your ward who are looked after, we can't give you names, we can't give you anything.' So, it was just involved in generalisations, really, and I was just wondering, then, is that something that needs to be improved. If councillors are meant to have more of a role in helping corporate bodies and the council in terms of looked-after children, then surely they must be able to know what they're dealing with, then, really. It might not even be names, but it's just, you know—.

I think there's an issue in terms of taking it to ward level, because the numbers are very small. One of the welcome things is, despite quite a lot of the discussion, the numbers are low. It's also recognising the difference between where children come from and then where they live, in terms of looked-after children, because those can be very different—they can have lived somewhere previously and then be in a foster placement or a residential placement. So, it's quite difficult on a ward level, I think, to share that information because of the smallness of the numbers.

I think, picking up on Annabel's point, very often children want anonymity. They don't want to be identified as children who are looked after. Some do, and they want to manifest their voices in different ways. So, we have to respect that. But I think Julie's point in terms of using corporate parenting as a way to convey representative voices of those who do wish to be visible is where you can really look at something that is outside of generalisation and hearing directly from children and young people, and for all of us trying to, as we come out of some of the restrictions, expand the work of our corporate parenting forums and boards with our councillors, it feels like a really good time to do that.

14:40

Just one last question, really. Obviously, the Welsh Government's looking into how it could strengthen public bodies in terms of becoming corporate parents, and is also looking at reforming children's services in terms of care leavers, but then those who are in the system now. I was just wondering what you think are the biggest changes that are needed to try and tackle that issue.

I think that's a whole meeting. [Laughter.]

If you can try to be concise in that answer, as I know it's quite a long question, but as concise as possible, that would be great.

I'll try and be focused. It's the $6 million question, really, yes. In terms of the context today, what we would say is that, for many of us, 'corporate parenting' is not a suitable term. It's become convention, and we know what it means, but young people are really clear, for absolutely the right reasons, this term needs to change. But it is great to hear from somebody who's a member of a corporate parenting board who genuinely wants to understand more about the experience, and, you're right, there are ways that we can do that.

We would be here all day if I answered the question of what needs to change, so perhaps we can commit that to our written follow-up, please, Chair. The other thing to say, really, is that we perhaps need to think about partnership parenting, given the level of partners that are involved in continuously improving the looked-after system and making sure that accountability is located where it needs to be. Our accountability is to the young people whose lives are most greatly affected by the system.

Thank you, Annabel, and we would be grateful for the follow-up on that. Just any final comments, perhaps, from Sally and Julie. Sally.

The one thing I would look for is, perhaps, prioritisation of care-experienced young people, particularly for CAMHS. It's something that happens in England, but I'm not aware that it happens uniformly across Wales. I note the cohorts of people, but, for care experienced, I think that might be a step in the right direction

I would echo that point. I think that's absolutely crucial. Thank you.

Agreed. We've written to Senedd Members on that, and we can share evidence of that submission.

That's very good of you to offer that. I have run slightly over, but it was important to do so, I think, and any follow-up that you think either we've missed or you would like to add further, then please do follow up in writing and keep an eye on what's going on with this petition.

It is the end of this session; we will go to a break shortly—a quick, technical break. Can I thank you again for coming in? Can I also thank you for not being distracted? We've had some minor technical difficulties here, and you weren't distracted from giving your great, detailed answers. We do appreciate that. There will be a transcript after the session, so if you could check that for factual accuracy, and if there are any changes that need to be made, please get in touch with the clerking team and we will do so, and this will be made available on the website in due course as well. Diolch yn fawr. We will take a technical break now and go into private session while we swap witnesses. Thank you.

14:50

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:44 ac 14:50.

The meeting adjourned between 14:44 and 14:50.

3. Sesiwn dystiolaeth – P-06-1161 Casglu a chyhoeddi data yn rheolaidd o ran faint o fabanod/plant sy'n dychwelyd at ofal eu rhieni sydd wedi bod mewn gofal ar ddiwedd Lleoliad Rhiant a Phlentyn
3. Evidence session - P-06-1161 Routine collection and publication of data of how many babies/children return to their care experienced parents care at the end of a Parent and Child Placement

Welcome back to the Senedd Petitions Committee session today, and we're here for an evidence session with panel 2 for P-06-1161, 'Routine collection and publication of data of how many babies/children return to their care experienced parents care at the end of a Parent and Child Placement'. Can I thank the witnesses for coming in today and speaking with the committee? It's great to have you here. Again, this is a bilingual meeting; you can ask or answer any questions in the language of your choice. And we'll get started, but, before we do, perhaps you could introduce yourselves for the record.

Thank you, Chair, for inviting us to this very important meeting today. My name is Deborah Jones, and I'm the chief executive of Voices from Care Cymru.

And I'm Francesca Pritchard, and I'm the well-being manager for Voices from Care Cymru, overseeing our well-being and getting-ready services, and I specialise in the support that we provide to our care-experienced parents. 

Thank you both for coming in. We'll jump straight into questions. Over to the Rhondda and Buffy Williams.

Diolch, Chair, and thank you, panel, for joining us this afternoon. My first question is: what are the extra practical and emotional difficulties that care-experienced parents face? And is the right support available for them?

Can I just, before I actually address the question, maybe, kind of, introduce Voices from Care a little bit more, if I'm allowed, Chair? And also I'd like to acknowledge Louise Roberts, because I chased her without any kind of debate to get her to do this research, so I'd like to thank Louise for conducting that, because I think it was quite a risky bit of research—it's an answer to a question, really. It wasn't recognised that it was a problem in Wales. It was recognised by Voices from Care Cymru because we are an independent voice, so, we're not commissioned by any authorities, really, outside of a partnership agreement. So, we can speak freely, clearly and organically on behalf of young people. 

In answer to your question, I've just heard the previous evidence, and I heard a couple of weeks ago the evidence, and I think what I'm hearing is that there wasn't a problem over the last six years, and now it's recognised that there is a problem. So, in answer to your question, no, it wasn't recognised, and quite often young people were disbelieved that this was a problem for them.

Yes. So, today I'm just going to be kind of giving some experiences that we've had through working with some of our care-experienced parents across Wales. In relation to that, one of the things I wanted to address was some of the complications around communication for some of those parents, in particular those parents experiencing statutory meetings where there's misinformation being fed back within those meetings, which are already quite emotionally unpleasant for them. In addition to that, then, that creates a distrust of services, so the young people feel that, very often, corporate parenting parties will feed back information to one another and they would be kept out of the loop. So, one of the things that we'd suggest is that parents are at the heart of this and that, ultimately, information is fed back to them, even if it is going to another professional—that they're always aware of what's been said, effectively. 

But in addition to that, one of the other points I'd like to add is that, overall, where there's children's services involvement, very frequently the best interest of the child is considered more so than the parents, despite sometimes that parent still being under the age of 18 and having the same rights and entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This very often can sometimes lead to conflicts between the accountability of corporate parents and who will be supporting that individual, examples of which can be things like financial support. So, for example, we've worked with parents who maybe needed additional resources and there have been discussions about, 'Well, we can't fund this, we can't fund this', so the young person ultimately—and their child—then misses out as a result.

14:55

Buffy, did you want to come back there? Did I see a hand, or—?

No, okay. Thank you, Buffy. Thank you, both, for that. Before we move on to further questions from Members, the committee will also note the work of Louise Roberts on the Senedd Record. 

Thank you. 

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for coming today as well. You mentioned there the difficulties with funding and other levers of support that you can offer to care-experienced parents, and I was just wondering what more support should be provided. In an ideal situation, what support should be provided, and for how long? Is it just during the initial, for want of a better word, birthing period, or throughout the life of that child—continuous involvement in helping the person?

That's a really interesting question, because it's such a complex time for young people, particularly being young parents. The support that has been offered so far and up to date—and again I've heard the evidence—is patchy, and for a lot of young people who do not have any trust in local authority social services and right across the board in terms of the corporate parenting agenda, they quite often will hide their pregnancy. So, we've got a problem right at the beginning. And I couldn't say to you, quite honestly, as a panel member, that we understand the whole picture yet to be offering the solutions. I think that was the basis for the research—to understand how big the problem is and also to understand, really, how much children's rights were being diminished and breached throughout the process of being a parent. Thank you.

Thank you, Debbie. Francesca, anything to add further to that?

Yes, I think one of the things I would suggest is possibly the extension of support through the personal adviser's role. I know that that can be slightly inconsistent across Wales in terms of access to extended entitlements, and I would suggest that possibly an offer of additional support or more frequent visits from the personal advisers who lead on pathway plans would support the young person to identify, in a young person-led way, what they feel they need as a care-experienced parent to manage any issues that they might have.  

I think, in addition to that, the problem with PAs is they haven't got the statutory power to make decisions on behalf of the parents. So, they're more seen as a therapeutic approach of support, but statutory decisions they can't make. So, that's significantly patchy. 

With that, then, in mind, with the personal adviser roles, is that something you would see in an ideal situation as a lifetime commitment, or is there a period where you'd say, 'That's no longer needed within the role of this care-experienced parent'?

Again, it's a difficult question to answer, because it should be down to the choice of the young people in terms of the UNCRC in terms of children's rights, and also there isn't always a choice there for professionals to support young people through pregnancy. So, again, I'm not answering you but I am trying to, really. But, there are massive gaps, really. I can't answer you until we identify what those gaps are. And I think one of the biggest issues we need to face—and I also have lived experience, which I don't mention very often, but I was a 19-year-old single parent and very scared and realised quite quickly that there was nowhere to reach out to—. Now, that's very historic, but I suppose what I'm saying is that that hasn't changed in all of the years since I had my children; the support isn't there. The stigma is there, and that really very much concerns me, because as much as corporate parents will say there isn't stigma, there absolutely is. And that is why young women, parents particularly, go underground. 

We're grateful for your honesty, so you are answering our questions just fine. 

Thank you. 

Before I move on to Luke Fletcher, I asked a question to the last witnesses about the voices of care-experienced parents and whether that avenue is there for them to be heard. Do you think it is? Clearly it is with the work you do in your organisation, but do you think there is that listening room, if you like, within local authorities across Wales, or is that something that needs to be improved on?

15:00

It was interesting, wasn't it, going back to the previous set of witnesses, who talked about they recognise now that there's a problem? Why now? Because that problem's been there at least, in my experience, for 30 years. So, I think we need to build an approach to the context of what we're talking about, Chair, really, because what does worry me is we make decisions in haste and the services don't improve outcomes. There are 22 authorities in Wales, we've heard from three this morning. Again, it's a vast area of concern with different approaches. There's no one approach, essentially, to fixing the problem.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I'm sorry I can't be in the room with you today. Thank you for sharing some of your own lived experiences with us as well. I think it's always important to recognise where we have those experiences, and that we use them, in a way, to improve people's lives in a positive way. So, thank you for sharing that with us. I was wondering if there are any good examples of support you would highlight that has been effective for care-experienced parents. I'm more than happy for anybody to start on that. 

Fran's being all shy today—it's really not like this in work. Anyway, I think safety in numbers, really. Young parents from care seek out their peers for that kind of support, and also there's that inherent trust because there are no barriers of judgment. One of the key things that Voices from Care Cymru are doing is setting up national peer groups of parents, but, equally, we're trying to bring in positive role models—I would consider myself to be one—in terms of growing an organisation in Wales. But also, we get a lot of support from our patron, Michael Sheen, so we're lifting the stigma by having positive role models involved. Again, I'm not sure if I answered your question. 

You've answered the question. Did you want to add anything at all?

Not really. I think the problem is that as much as there may be good pockets of practice, until young people and young parents trust them, it's going to be a small number of young parents, in my view, that are going to get positive outcomes. There are hundreds of young people in Wales in care who are young parents that won't get the same outcomes. And I suppose the additional thing for me is that male parents themselves are not always recognised as part of the support mechanisms, and quite often ostracised. I think a big solution could be working with the young dads and their families to support the young mums themselves, but that has not been recognised to date.    

Thanks, Debbie. Francesca, do you have anything to add there before I pass back to the Chair? 

Just really to echo what Deb was saying. There are pockets of good practice, and the practice in which we've witnessed that is where, fundamentally, there's a transparent relationship between the care-experienced parent and those corporate parents who are supporting those individuals, and providing a sustainable relationship from early pregnancy and then after birth, so that they're able to support that individual in an early intervention model, and support through any transitions they might experience, such as moving placements, going into housing and independent living.   

Thank you, both. Thank you, Luke. Back to the Rhondda—Buffy Williams. 

Thank you, Chair. The Welsh Government has said it's going to explore radical reform of current services for looked-after children and care leavers. How big are the changes needed and who should be involved in advising on these changes? Have you any thoughts on this? 

I think the first answer to that question, if I may, is that we've campaigned for a radical reform and we're very appreciative that the Welsh Government has included that in the Welsh Government programme, amongst other things, actually. But I think we need to be cautious of what radical review looks like, bearing in mind that Scotland has conducted one. It cost a lot of money, as you could imagine, and the response from agencies I work with in Scotland, and the young people in Scotland, is that it's not come to any fruition in terms of what the promise will look like for care-experienced young people. Respectively so in England—I think that's a different kind of review and, at the moment, it doesn't seem to be carrying a lot of credibility with, certainly, the young people that fed in the evidence. So, I think Wales has got a real opportunity to radically review, but I think you need to take the voices of young people all the way with you and to the end, to make sure that the outcomes and the narrative of that is owned by the experts themselves, and that's the young people.

15:05

I think she said it all. I agree completely. I feel that we have some of the answers to some of this within the parenting charter, which our parents, through our work, have already contributed to and co-produced with Dr Louise Roberts, and I feel that's a fundamental starting point, really, for looking at what's needed.

Okay. Thank you. In finishing, we have had some really powerful sessions, and again this has been one, with regard to this petition, so thank you for that. Perhaps it's a difficult question to answer straight away, but what would be the main recommendation you would like to see the committee make to Government?

That's one of the easy ones.

There are a couple of points. I think we would like to see inequality stopped and the stigma stopped against these young people. I know you've met with Jennie. She was really the one I started the journey with, and the stigma she faced was absolutely off the Richter scale. I think we need to build trust for parents in the corporate parenting arena, and not just see social services as the parents, because, of course, when NHS and all the rest of the agencies are involved, they should be taking accountability for the outcomes.

I think another one is that young people are not listened to, and they haven't been central to the process. Obviously I'm going to call for young people to, again, be listened to, which is very frustrating, because I've been calling for that for 30 years. I'm hoping that young people won't be judged and misled into services that really don't support them. It's a bit of a lottery of where they end up.

I think one of the big areas that no-one really talks about is what happens when a child is removed and you are grieving for the child, and you are left on your own to deal with that grief and the trauma post removal. There's no support, once that child has been removed, for the young person. And, because I am an ambassador for UNCRC, I'm obviously going to call for that to be strengthened in legislation, as opposed to being adopted in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

There are many, many more, Chair, but I think I'll write to you with them and save your very valuable time. Thank you.

Thank you, Deborah. There's no need to apologise. Of course, we would appreciate any follow-up if you feel there is more. And if we feel there is more that we haven't asked, perhaps we will do that. Francesca, an opportunity to say something at the end.

I suppose, if I can find my place—I'm so sorry.

I suppose one of the things that we would probably want to see is more focus from health boards, really, and how we work with health boards within the corporate parenting arena. We know that, from the outset, parents, during the medical assessment in maternity wards, will be asked straight away whether they've had social services involvement. That almost presumes a level of risk for their child just because they might have had social services involvement as a child. In addition to that, the protection of confidentiality whilst in hospital settings, to ensure that if people are in placements there, they are secure from their data protection being breached within that arena in front of other parents. And then, finally, I suppose, on that point, is that information from health professionals is taken into consideration when they're taking assessments—parenting capabilities and assessments—because we know that health visitors and midwives will all be part of that process and are qualified to comment, really, and provide positive support for care-experienced parents.

In addition to that, the transitions and improving transitions for care-experienced parents. Parents, as we've seen through our services, have stayed in placements longer than they needed to, despite positive assessments, because there wasn't adequate housing. And to avoid street homelessness for care-experienced parents when they have their children removed, adding to the trauma and the emotional distress that they have of professionals. I think that's pretty much it from me.

15:10

Thank you so much, both. I don't think there are any other questions from Members. One from Joel.

Sorry. We asked this to the three people before, about the experience of care-leaving parents and how they feel like they're being singled out, and how they're almost treated as a higher risk when they're being assessed for their parenting. Is that something that you recognise as well? Is that something that they're coming to you and saying?

Absolutely, every single day of every single week, and that comes back to stigma, really, doesn't it? So, yes, I can answer that question clearly.

Just to add to that, I think there are some examples of this where we see the roles of independent legal advocates, the roles of independent reviewing officers, and independent social workers conducting assessments or advocating on behalf of those individuals where we've got examples where there might be a conflict of interest, because those individuals might have worked for or represented the local authority in the past, or may have known that parent as a child. We've heard where even professionals are coming up to young people and making comparisons between the care-experienced parent and their parent, which causes further distress. 

It does actually make us feel, sometimes, that we're working in some kind of Victorian period where we're taking from the undeserved, almost, to give to the deserved, and there is some of that judgment in terms of adoptions in Dr Louise's report. And in my mind that is scandalous. That is unacceptable in 2022 that we still have that judgment, really, of young people in care.

Thank you, both. Thank you, Joel. One more thing, Deborah.

If you don't mind.

I'm just being cheeky, Chair, but I'm sending these across. If you support children in care—we like to call them 'care experienced'—this is the 'forget me not' badge that we're asking everybody to wear just to show their support for our community across Wales. And they're quite pretty. 

I'm sure Members will keep an eye out in their postbags. That's very kind of you, and I'm sure many will wear them. We do thank you both for coming today. Again another powerful session of the committee. We will send a transcript after this session, so if you could check that for factual accuracy, and if there are any amendments that need to be made, please do feel free to get in touch. And also, if there are things that you haven't said, perhaps, and you want to, feel free to get in touch with the clerking team. I know myself and Buffy Williams will be visiting and discussing directly with some care-experienced parents tomorrow, so we thank them for the engagement with the committee as well, and I'm sure you'll be informed throughout the process. Thank you very much.

I'll move on to item 4, then. Feel free to stay and enjoy this thrilling session, or you can make your way and enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much. Cheers. You were both excellent. Thank you for coming in.

4. Deisebau newydd
4. New Petitions

We move on to item 4 on today's agenda, new petitions. Item 4.1 is P-06-1249, 'Provide a clinical pathway, medical care, and specialists for people with Tourette’s syndrome in Wales':

'Tourette’s affects 1 in 100 children. It is not a rare condition. In Wales there is 1 specialist who doesn't see children.

'Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system and causes tics. Tics are involuntary, sudden, and repetitive movements and sounds. Tourette’s syndrome can be painful and debilitating.

'Lots of people are unable to get a diagnosis due to no pathway or get discharged the same day with no ongoing medical care and support. Tourette’s isn't just swearing.'

And this was submitted by Helen Reeves-Graham, with 10,393 signatures, with 60 per cent of those in Wales, and I'd like to bring Members in to discuss this particular petition, and I go to Luke Fletcher.

15:15

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Looking at the documents relating to this petition, I can see that the Minister has said in her letter to us that they're awaiting a demand and capacity review of neurodevelopment services. I don't propose that we wait for that to be published; I think it's important that we have this discussion in the Senedd as soon as possible. The petitioner's already mentioned in her letter, for example, how there are massive waiting lists in CAMHS, which is the route that is currently being used by those who are looking for a diagnosis, and I agree: I think that we do need a clearer and proper pathway for people with Tourette's, with that greater specialist provision in all parts of Wales. She's also pointed as well to some of those inconsistencies, not just between health boards but within health boards as well. So, I would like to propose that we put this for a debate in the Senedd where the timetable allows us to, Chair.

Diolch yn fawr, Luke. Are Members in agreement with Luke's suggestion? I can see that they are; no further comments. I agree as well. We will seek a debate through Business Committee on behalf of the committee, so thanks for that, Luke.

Moving on to item 4.2 on the agenda, P-06-1258, 'Make individuals in Wales with Hidden disabilities eligible for the Blue Badge.'

'Living with a Chronic illness on a daily basis and could be of a benefit of having a Blue badge Card due to needing a quick, easy parking spot when in need of a toilet urgently.'

'Individuals with Hidden disabilities such as Crohn's and Colitis should be supported in having easy, quick accessible parking spots such as disabled parking as needing the toilet urgently.'

This was submitted by Non Angharad Williams, with 82 signatures, and I'd like to bring Members to discuss this petition and any actions that committee may wish to take. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair. I agree: I think this is a very important petition, really, and it's something that I'm quite supportive of, and I'm conscious that we've had similar in the past—prior to my time, I suppose—but the Government is actually looking into how it hands out the blue badges now and the eligibility criteria and that. I know, with my councillor hat on, that's raised issues there, because it's just a tick-box exercise, and a lot of people who are applying for the blue badges, they don't tick the boxes that are relevant to them, because they don't think it's relevant to them. I'm really happy to see that that's being looked into, but in terms of this particular petition, I don't think there's much more we can do. We could keep it open until that research has concluded, but then I don't know how long that's going to be, really. So, I'm quite open to what the rest of the committee want to do. We could keep it open and just keep a watching brief on it, but I think we just need to let the petitioner know, then, that there could be some time before they get a response.

Thank you, Joel. Any other comments from Members? There's been a suggestion to keep the petition open, but having noted that this may take some time, too. Are Members content with that? I can see they are.

Just before I do move on, just to apologise and correct the record: I believe I said 82 signatures; it was actually 86 signatures, so I do apologise for that and correct the record appropriately.

Item 4.3, P-06-1261, 'Invest to ensure all schools have high quality, effective internet infrastructure and connectivity.'

'A good broadband connection has become essential for education in the 21st century. More should and must be done to ensure our schools are equipped with the best internet connection possible to provide equality to all, wherever pupils live in Wales.

'Whilst the previous Welsh Government’s programme (2016-21) aimed to prioritise access to super-fast broadband, there continues to be schools where this is not the case.'

And there is additional information for Members. This was submitted by Charles Green, with 65 signatures. I'd like to bring in Buffy Williams to start this discussion. Buffy.

15:20

Thank you, Chair. I think the committee should write to the Minister and ask for more detailed data to enable us to see whether there are particular schools or local authority areas where the average internet speed is lagging. I know the Minister has said that all schools in Wales should have access to superfast broadband speeds since 2019, but, obviously, that's not happening. So, if we could get a more detailed response from the Minister for the petitioner, I think that would be the route to follow.

Diolch, Buffy. I can see other Members in agreement. Luke.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Just to double check—it might be that I missed a portion of what Buffy was saying—are we looking at getting more detailed information for Wales, in all the areas, or specifically this school?

I think we should get the whole of Wales. I don't think it should just be that specific school; I think it should be Wales wide. Because, at the end of the day, every pupil should have equal access to the same internet speeds. There should be none better than the other, then; every school should have the same internet speed.

Sorry. Thank you, Buffy. I think it cut out a bit for me on this side, so I had to double check. Thank you.

No problem, Luke. Thanks for the clarification, Buffy. I assume Members are content with the suggestion there. They are. Thank you, Buffy.

Item 4.4, P-06-1264, 'For school transport guaranteed for all comprehensive children'.

'There are at least 27 children ages 11-12 that have been refused transport to their local comprehensive school. Some of these young children have medical illnesses like asthma, autism and at least 1 child has epilepsy and is expected to walk to school in all weather. These children have been separated from friends who have been able to get a bus pass, and there are only a limited number of children that have been left out. It's disgraceful.'

This was submitted by Emma Jane Granville, with 181 signatures. I know the community of Bridgend and Emma, I believe, are watching today online, so I thank them for engaging so positively with the committee. And I believe the petitioner's had much contact with the local Member Sarah Murphy around this petition. But if I can bring in Members to discuss this petition and any actions they may wish to take, and I look to Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. It's a sorry state of affairs, really, some of these situations that parents and children are finding themselves in when it comes to transport to school. I haven't had the opportunity to speak with the petitioner on this, but I have spoken at length with a couple of my constituents up the Llynfi valley. There are examples where we have children who are walking 45 minutes to an hour to get to school every morning, through all weathers, sometimes in the dark, along busy roads. That is unacceptable in my view, really. And, of course, we've been waiting some time now for the learner transport review to be published, and it's been delayed, well, I won't say a number of times, but it's just been a long delay. It's something that I've raised and I know other Members have raised in the Chamber in terms of trying to get this published as soon as possible, so we'd know where we stand at least. I think that's the problem: we don't know where we stand with the future of learner transport.

In my view, part of the school day should be being transported to school as well, especially as we look at the cost-of-living crisis now and the costs associated with travel in some areas, where some kids have to go on public transport, when they're lucky to be able to access that public transport on the way, because we know that in certain areas public transport isn't reliable in the first instance. 

Given that we haven't had that learner transport review yet, I'd like to suggest that we keep open this petition pending the Welsh Government's review. There is no guarantee of when this will be. I know that I and other Members will be pushing to get this out as soon as possible, but I think that will give us, as a committee, then, a clearer way forward, once we know where we stand on this, to make a decision, then, in the future. So, I'd hope that Members would agree with that.

15:25

Diolch yn fawr, Luke. I can see nodding from the Rhondda, and Joel, are you happy? Yes, happy. Thank you for that suggestion, Luke, and we certainly will take that forward.

Item 4.5, P-06-1265, 'Amend the name of new electoral ward for Saltney, Flintshire to "Saltney and Saltney Ferry."' At this point in today's proceedings, I do wish to declare an interest for this item. As the constituency Member, I have been personally involved in this matter, and I have written to the Minister involved. And to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest with this petition, I'd like to ask Buffy Williams to take over to read the text of the petition and to lead the discussion of today's petition, this particular petition, and therefore exempt myself from the discussion. Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair.       

'The Minister for Local Government and Finance has decided that the name for for the new single ward of Saltney Town in Flintshire shall be "Saltney Ferry".

'We believe that this is a decision based on an error in the Local Boundary Commission for Wales report and can result in confusion among local residents at elections.

'The town of Saltney has a population of approx 5,500 of which only about 800 live in the small community known as Saltney Ferry which forms a small part of the town.'

The submitter is Arthur Barrie Gregory, with 269 signatures. So, I'd like to pass this over to committee and to Joel James.

Thank you, acting Chair, I suppose, and thanks for bringing me in on this. It's something, I suppose, that we've been dealing with, again in my councillor capacity there. I know, for example, that we have issues in Church Village and Tonteg about boundary changes that have riled quite a few residents there. It always leads to concerns then on the consultation element of when the boundary commissioners go out to do this and then how active the councils are in consulting on these changes. But what I'm also conscious of is that we're just over a week away now from the local elections. That election is going to be undertaken with this new name, from what I can understand, and I think whatever happens after that, then, would be a good opportunity for whoever gets in to raise those issues with the council and then for the council to raise them, going forward. I think, as a committee ourselves, I don't know if there's much more that we can—. I don't think that there's anything we can do, really, and I think maybe it might be best just to close it.

So, we close this petition. Are we all in agreement? Yes? I can see nodding—yes. Thank you.

Thank you, Joel. Thank you, Buffy, for taking over, there—that was of great assistance. So, we will close this petition. Again, I'll put on the record that, from a personal capacity, I will be there to support the community of Saltney Ferry in this, ongoing.

Moving on to item 4.6, P-06-1266, 'Age appropriate testing for Covid in Children'.

'I would like the government to consider adopting a different method to testing children, an age appropriate PCR test nicknamed the lollipop test. All the children need to do is to suck on a cotton swab for about 30 seconds which is a much less distressing experience for them.'

There is additional information to this petition for Members and members of the public to see. It was submitted by Michelle Hurd, with 376 signatures. I would like to bring the committee in to discuss this now. Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I think it's fair for me to say that I think all of us as Members have had, potentially, similar stories coming into our inboxes. I know that I've had quite a few. From what I gather now, from the questions I've been asking in the Chamber alongside other Members, the Welsh Government is looking to bring in those non-invasive swabs for testing, and not just for younger children, but, as well, for those who have additional needs on top. There's one story in my region where it's a very traumatic experience, testing their child, because of their additional needs, for COVID. Given that the Welsh Government is now looking to make those tests more available later this year, I think that should address what the petition is asking for, and in that case, I would suggest that we thank the petitioner, that we provide that information to the petitioner that the Government is looking to bring those less invasive tests in and close the petition.

15:30

Diolch, Luke. I can see Members are in agreement with that. Item 4.7, P-06-1267, 'Create a recall mechanism for poorly performing Members of the Senedd':

'We call on the Senedd to urge the Welsh Government to introduce a mechanism where constituents are able to recall their MS and call a subsequent by-election, similar to the mechanism introduced by The Recall of MPs Act 2015. 

'If a Member of the Senedd fails in his/her duty a mechanism should be in place to replace him/her.'

This was submitted by Stan Robinson from Voice of Wales, with 175 signatures. And again, I'd like to bring Members in to discuss this petition and any actions they may wish to take. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, I've read with quite a lot of interest about this petition, and I have some concerns about it in terms of the wording. You know, 'poorly performing'—that's very subjective, really. And I note the example that he used within the petition; I wouldn't have necessarily thought that it would be appropriate to then recall that Member. And I know that in Westminster they have procedures in place, but I think that is in place for far more serious issues, rather than that they're poorly performing. You know, some of them have been triggered now for, like, contempt of court, lying to Parliament, and I definitely think there should be procedures to do that. But I'm conscious that we're in the process of looking at how we elect our MSs in future, and I think that maybe that's something for them to look at, so maybe we can pass this petition straight on to them and leave it to them to get on with, I suppose.

Thank you, Joel. Any other comments from Members? No. Okay, thank you, Joel. So, we will write to the special committee looking at the future election process of Members of the Senedd. We do thank the petitioner and we will close the petition, therefore. Diolch yn fawr.

Item 4.8, P-06-1269, 'Don't let the plan run out for dying people in Wales':

'Every year, thousands of people die in Wales having missed out on palliative and end of life care.

'The end of life care plan for Wales was working towards fixing this, but in March it'll come to an end. Right now, there's no new plan ready to take its place.

'We urgently need a timeline, funding and staff to deliver a new plan.

'Don't let the plan run out with no replacement. Please sign today and help us make sure families in Wales aren't left in the lurch.'

There is additional information for Members and members of the public in this petition. And it was submitted by Marie Curie and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, with 2,195 signatures. And it was great to meet colleagues from both Marie Curie and MNDA on the steps of the Senedd during the petition handover. So, I would like to bring Members in to discuss this petition, and we'll go to the Rhondda and Buffy Williams.

Thank you, Chair. I noticed in the extra paperwork that came with the petition that the petitioner set out in great detail the next steps that they would like to see happening with the end-of-care programme. So, I think they need reassurances on what's going to be happening from March when the end-of-life programme comes to an end. So, I would like the committee to write to the Minister seeking a response to proposals put forward by the petitioner, and also clarify exactly in detail what is going to be happening from March onwards. I think it's very important. This is a very emotive subject. The quality of care that is given at end of life must continue, and people must know also what is out there for them to access when end of life is near. So, I think they are questions that the Minister needs to answer. It's very important.

I'm very much in agreement with that, and I can see Members are too. Luke? Yes. So, thank you, Buffy.

15:35
5. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
5. Updates to previous petitions

Item 5 on today's agenda: updates to previous petitions. Item 5.1, P-05-1112, 'Help Welsh Communities Buy Community Assets: Implement Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011'. This was submitted by Daniel Evans, with 655 signatures. And, again, I'll ask Members to discuss this, bringing in Buffy Williams first.

Thank you, Chair. I know Rhys ab Owen led a really strong debate in the Chamber, not so long back on taking back control of community assets. I think this is a really important subject. I know that the Minister has said that there is funding that communities can tap into and loans that communities can tap into to buy community assets, but I think it's really important that we find out exactly how that works. I wouldn't like to close this petition just yet, I'd like to keep it open and write to the Minister and find out whether they're going to be putting a toolkit together or something that communities can look at that helps them, then, to know what skills they need to run these buildings, because what I don't want is for buildings to be given back to communities and then six, nine, 12 months down the line, the people running these buildings just haven't got the skill set to maintain them. It's very, very difficult then, when you've got communities relying on these buildings for things such as foodbanks, parent and toddler care, and other agencies use the buildings too, like people for work and things like that, and then the building is taken back. I think it's really important that we find out exactly what the Minister has in mind when we look at—like Scotland, they're already doing this, and they're doing it well. We are not doing that yet, and it's very important that we do. So, I'd like to write to the Minister if we could, please, and get some details on this.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I just wanted to echo a lot of what Buffy said there. I think we sometimes underestimate the work that goes into maintaining some of these community assets. I would be very interested to know where the Minister's looking to take this, and, as Buffy has already said, whether there's going to be a toolkit available to train people who are going to be involved in this, because, again, these community assets, more often than not, provide a lot of services that a lot of people rely on. The foodbank example—if we had a community asset taken over that then shut down because they weren't entirely sure how to run it—because it is complicated, there's no denying that—and then that foodbank went as well, that would be disastrous for whatever community that was based in. So, I agree with Buffy on this, I'm not yet ready to close this petition. I support what Buffy has recommended.

I agree with what's been said, really. When we look at what's happening in Scotland and in England, we are a little bit behind, so it would be interesting to see what the Minister is doing.

I think we've got agreement from all Members there. We also should note that the Local Government and Housing Committee have agreed to undertake an inquiry into community assets, perhaps later this year, so perhaps the response we could share with them too. But we will keep this petition open for now, and I remember the short debate led by Rhys ab Owen in the Senedd with fond interest and great memories.

Item 5.2, P-06-1190, 'Ban the use of peat in horticulture and all growing media by 2023'. This was submitted by Jake Rayson, with 1,014 signatures. Again, I ask Members to discuss this petition and any actions they may wish to take. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair. I understand that the Department Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are in the process of consulting on this and that report will be made available shortly. I think it closed in March this year. So, it might be a case that we just hold back from doing anything with this now until we get that report, and then we can see what we can do and that sort of thing.

Thank you, Joel, for that suggestion. I can see other Members are in agreement too.

Item 5.3, P-06-1210, 'Stop the Welsh Government introducing a blanket 20mph speed limit':

'Speed limits should be set by local authorities and should be only 20mph where necessary.'

This was submitted by Stephen R. Matthews, with 161 signatures. I will bring Members in to discuss this petition, but it's also worth mentioning, I believe, that the clerking team also received four other petitions regarding the 20 mph speed limits introduced in Flintshire, in my constituency, as part of the trial areas. There is an active campaign group in Buckley in Flintshire, and they have been raising their objections to the speed limit being implemented on some local roads. So, that's certainly happening in my own consistency at the moment. But I will bring Members in to discuss this particular petition. Luke Fletcher.

15:40

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I can see the Welsh Government have clarified that there is an exemption or exception process available for local authorities to pursue if 20 mph isn't considered appropriate for a particular road in their area. I note the concerns that a number of people have raised and the fact that we've had a number of petitions on this, but I think with that exception process now providing sort of that route forward for these groups to raise their concerns directly with the local authority, who can then, of course, review their own decision on this, it's as far as we can go on this now, and I would recommend or suggest to the committee that we thank the petitioner, that we point them in the right direction and that we close this petition.

Thank you for that suggestion, Luke. Are Members in agreement? I can see they are. 

Item 5.4, P-06-1220, 'Increase funding available for Women’s Health Services, Education and Awareness'. This was submitted by Larissa Richardson, with 242 signatures, and I'd like to invite Members to discuss this petition, bringing in Buffy Williams. Buffy. 

Thank you, Chair. I know that at the beginning of this year, the health Minister made a commitment to look at a women's health strategy, and from that became the women's health plan. I know at the moment that officials are in the process of developing this plan, so I think we should keep this petition open for the moment and monitor the pending Health and Social Care Committee's discussion, because they're having meetings on this at the moment. I think that will be in May, the end of May, and just keep monitoring how the plan is developing for the moment, because I know, through the British Heart Foundation, that they've come back saying that this plan is something that is needed and needed urgently for the health of women.

Thank you, Buffy. I can see Members nodding, and as a Member of the Senedd's Health and Social Care Committee, I can assure you that this is very near the top of our agenda and actively on our list of topics to discuss in that committee. 

Item 5.5, P-06-1226, 'Remove barriers to entry to Social Work and encourage parity of esteem between Social Care and Health'. This was submitted by the Cardiff University social work Master's cohort, with 475 signatures. I'd like to bring Members in to discuss this petition. Joel James.

Thank you, Chair. I know this is an issue that's very important to the social care sector. I've met quite a few within my region and it's one of the things that they worry about, that disparity between NHS nurses and then the private sector social care, and how, especially with the discussions we had in the Chamber the other week, I think, just before recess, we can better pay, not just in wages but in terms of benefits and entitlements for the social care workforce in Wales, really—. I know from the report of the petitioners that they are happy with what's happening in terms of social care students being allowed access to new bursary schemes, and I know it's tinged with a bit of worry about how much debt that that could incur before they actually then get into employment. But from a Petitions Committee's point of view, I don't think there's much more, really. We can just go back to the petitioners and say that they have achieved some success with their petition, and congratulate them, and then just close it then, I suppose. 

Thank you, Joel. I can see Members are in agreement with that, and I think we should note, certainly for the record, the success of this petition and the fact that this petition won't affect the petitioners themselves—they're doing it for the future cohort of social workers. So, I think we should certainly recognise their achievements there and thank them for engaging with our committee, and congratulate them on their success.

Item 5.6, P-06-1227, 'To get a specialist mental health mother and baby unit in North Wales', was submitted by Nia Catrin Foulkes with 7,706 signatures. Again, I'd like to bring Members in to discuss this petition, and I look to Luke Fletcher to lead.

15:45

Diolch, Cadeirydd. First of all, I want just to note that there are plans in development of a service, in progress now, and I think that's something that a number of Members across the Chamber have really helped push along—some during this Senedd, some before my time, in the last Senedd. So, I think we need to recognise the work that's already been put into this and the positive here—that there are plans being progressed. Some might say it's not quick enough. I'm one of those people, and I know there's a number of other Members who would agree on that point.

I have seen as well that the Minister will be providing future updates to the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. I think it's not disputing here at all now the trauma and challenges faced by mothers and their babies who require specialist mental health support and, of course, the genuine concerns raised by the petitioner, because I can't begin to imagine the struggles that they're facing on a daily basis. But I do feel now that it seems that it's going more down the Children, Young People, and Education Committee's route rather than ours, and we've sort of come to the end of our—what's the word—wardening of this petition and, really, we should be looking to pass that baton on now to the Children, Young People, and Education Committee. So, on that, as much as I don't want to close the petition, as I said, I think we've come to the end of what we can do here now. So, we can thank the petitioner for highlighting this matter with us and close the petition, and, of course, for us as well as individual Members to keep pressing on the Government to resolve this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to agree with everything Luke said there, and I'd like to thank Nia as well, because it couldn't have been easy for her putting this petition together. I've spoken to Nia and I've worked on this as well. I just wanted to give assurances that, like Luke has said, we will not let this go. Across the Chamber, we will keep fighting for this, and we will make sure that there is adequate provision in north Wales for mothers who really need that extra support after they've had their babies.

Thank you, Buffy. I can see Joel is in agreement, as am I. So, I think, just to finish, I'd just echo the words on behalf of the committee of Luke and Buffy, and thank Nia for engaging with the committee and the progress she's made with that.   

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitem 7
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from item 7 of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitem 7 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 7 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

That does conclude today's public business, so we will now go into private session to discuss the evidence we've heard today and the future work programme. So, can I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for item 7? Are Members content? They are. The committee will, therefore, next meet on 9 May. I thank the clerking team, I thank those giving evidence today and, of course, those petitioners who've signed or submitted a petition and engaged with our process. So, diolch yn fawr, and see you on the ninth.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:49.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:49.