|Lee Waters AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore AM|
|Vikki Howells AM|
|Anthony Barrett||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Papurau i'w nodi||2. Papers to note|
|3. Ymchwiliad i blant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 1||3. Care-experienced children and young people: Evidence Session 1|
|4. Ymchwiliad i blant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 2||4. Care-experienced children and young people: Evidence Session 2|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting|
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.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:03.
The meeting began at 14:03.
I welcome Members to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Please ensure that any phones are on silent. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We've received one apology today, from Neil Hamilton. There's no substitute. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No.
Item 2: a couple of papers to note. First of all, the minutes from the last meeting. Happy to note the minutes? Yes. Secondly, the Minister for Environment has provided further clarification on the timetable for the coastal risk management programme. I suggest we request a written update following the mid-programme review scheduled for the financial year 2019-20. Are Members happy to note that response? Good.
The Permanent Secretary's provided a comprehensive update identifying work that's been undertaken in taking forward issues identified in the auditor general's discussion paper on the relationship between the Welsh Government and arm's-length companies. We need to note that response. Also if we'd like to receive further progress reports from the Permanent Secretary, I can communicate that to the audit office. It's not too far to communicate it to. Did you want to say—?
Just that I think the papers had the desired impact in terms of acting as a catalyst to get Welsh Government to look at this. They're taking action, doing a review—or have done a review—and they're looking at the actions arising from that. I think it would be timely to write back to the Permanent Secretary and get a further update in the autumn with how things are going and that could inform anything further the committee would wish to do.
Okay. I should at this point formally welcome our guests from Bermuda, who are here as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit. It was good to talk to you earlier over lunch and to see some of the areas where we have similarities and differences, but it has been really good working with you today, and hopefully you will find this meeting interesting.
Item 3 is the first evidence session scheduled for this inquiry into care-experienced children and young people. Can I welcome our witnesses to this afternoon's meeting? Would you like to state your names and positions for our Record of Proceedings?
I'm Sally Holland and I'm the Children's Commissioner for Wales.
I'm Rachel Thomas and I'm the commissioner's head of policy and public affairs.
Great. Thank you for being with us today for this first evidence session. There are a fair number of questions for you today, so when I'm moving things on it's not because I'm not interested in what you've got to say, it's just to try to cover as much ground as possible.
The first question is from me. In relation to spend and value for money, in your written evidence you advocate for a child's rights approach to be taken by public services to improve how they plan and deliver services for children. What evidence can you share that this will result in improved services for care-experienced children?
Would you allow me to just give you a couple of minutes to explain what a children's rights approach is, and then I'll go on to explain why I think that would work better? Last March I published a document called 'The Right Way: A children's rights approach in Wales', which I developed alongside the children's rights observatory at Swansea and Bangor universities. It gives five main principles for implementing the 42 rights that children have under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They include that, in all of our public services, whether we're a Government or a very local service like a school, we should embed children's rights throughout everything we do. So really we affirm to the children that we serve, that they have a right to services, that they have a right to fulfil their potential, they have a right for us to remove the barriers they may face, and the children who are under consideration today, of course, face many barriers.
The second key principle is equality and non-discrimination. Again, there are lots of issues in this field where, if careful attention is being paid to which children may face more discrimination than others, then, again, we'll have more efficient and better services. The third key principle is empowerment, and with empowerment it means that children must know about their rights and be given the opportunity and experience of taking them up. The fourth key principle is participation, and I think that we make all of our services better if we involve and give opportunities to those who receive the services to participate in them, both giving feedback on their efficiency and effectiveness on themselves and also in developing them at the very beginning. I would like to see us following much more the principles we have in the UNCRC but also in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to involve those who receive our services in shaping and developing them, because I know we will have better services if we do so.
The final key principle is accountability. I think that's something that, of course, this committee has got a key concern with, and we all should—that we're accountable to those that we provide public services to. That means being clear to children and young people why we're providing services, what our aims are, how well we feel we did, what we did with the information they fed back to us about how they'd received the service, what we intend to do next, and what didn't go so well.
I think all of those five principles will help us make better public services, and I think they're very important principles when we're thinking about providing the most effective and efficient services for our looked-after children.
Could I just come in on the evidence point in particular—so the second aspect of your question—and just to highlight the 2015 report from GSDRC, which is the Government, Social Development and Research Centre? It's about youth participation in accountability mechanisms, and one of their findings was that participation can lead to better informed and more effective policy, planning, budgeting and programme management, and that better results and greater awareness of young people's needs and aspirations will come from that participation. So, that links a couple of those principles together.
And I think that, as I hope I'll have time to try to expand on during this session, we still too often, right across our public services, expect our children and, I think, adult service users to fit into the services that are there, and if they don't fit in then they get sent a bit from pillar to post. We must try to work harder to fulfil the very sound principles that we have in our existing legislation to ensure that our services much more are examining what needs the children themselves have and how we can meet those needs, not the other way around.
We often talk about putting the citizen at the centre and putting the child at the centre, but that hasn't always happened in the past. So, that is your aim at this juncture, to try and ensure that that does happen in future.
Yes. And I think that the more that public services all pledge to take this kind of approach and actually get that interaction and get feedback from the children they're there to serve as to whether that is working for them and the families around them, the more likely we are to have much more effective services. I'll be able to give you more examples as we go through the evidence today, but I still see that, particularly for this group—particularly for looked-after children—they're not seen to quite fit in. For example, they have a clear need for therapeutic support but don't have a diagnosed mental illness.
Just before I bring Lee Waters in, in your annual report, you put a lot of emphasis on not-for-profit delivery. Do you think that is a way forward in terms of improving the experience of the child?
Well, there are two aspects to that. One is value for money and one is a principled approach in terms of the message that it gives to children and young people. So, if I take the latter point first, children, as I've said in my written evidence, have brought up with us that they're very well aware of the high costs of services provided for them, and we know from the evidence from some other bodies that you've had in to this committee that the costs of those that are privately provided are particularly high. There are a number of reasons for that, of course. Children are aware of that. We had children saying to us things like, 'I feel a bit like a commodity because I know that people are actually bidding to offer me a placement.' So there's that principle point that children felt uncomfortable knowing that profit could be made out of their distress and need for care.
But the other point is value for money. I'm concerned, as I think we all should be, about the very, very high costs of private placements and the fact that the supply is so low that it's not so much a marketplace as local authorities trying to find a placement that will meet this child's needs, almost whatever the cost. I feel sure that, with better commissioning and better planning, we could provide not-for-profit—it doesn't always have to be by the state—services that can meet these children's needs.
Yes, just to link those two last answers together, if I might, in a question, we've had evidence from the National Youth Advocacy Service and Tros Gynnal Plant that the wishes and feelings of young people are not always taken into account and that foster placements are seen not as a long-term solution but as a stopgap measure. Now, to link to that, on the point you've just made about the for-profit sector, you cite favourably the Scottish model where it is not-for-profit, and suggest that we should consider something similar here. I would support the principle of that. Is it one of the dangers of that that they will remove capacity from the system? It's quite clear from the range of evidence we've had that one of the real practical challenges of the system is that you just can't simply get enough placements so there isn't a choice. So, is the unintended consequence of moving away from profit that we could actually end up harming the choices young people have, not improving them?
I think that is a real risk, and that's why I fell short in my annual report of saying that that's something that should happen now. I think it's something that I would like to see our public services in Wales moving towards on a gradual basis rather than saying, 'We must pass a piece of legislation or regulation or strengthen our regulations or strengthen the implementation of the social services and well-being Act—because it's in there—to make sure that happens immediately.' I think then there would be a real risk. Clearly, many of those placements that are provided by the private sector are excellent. I think the question to be asked is how the quality is assessed, by the way, of these placements, but I'm sure that some of them are very important. We don't want children to have to move all of a sudden because we've decided to change our model of delivery in Wales. So, that is a risk, and that's why I don't think it's something that could be done overnight. But I do think it's a direction that the social services and well-being Act expected us to go with our care services, and I haven't really seen that happening yet it in these services.
And you certainly can't rip up the system and start again, but there are opportunities with this inquiry, with the work of the national fostering framework and the task and finish group on residential care, which are all happening now. You can have your ideal model, but it is a case of looking at what the needs are and trying to see whether the service can be better suited to those needs, so there are a number of opportunities to look at that and, as Sally says, gradually make that change, rather than just an overnight system change.
What we've had too much of, I think, so far, is local authorities individually, all 22 of them, trying to find very highly specialised placements for small numbers for whom they cannot provide for their needs in-house. So, the work that's going on now under the ministerial advisory group, I hope, will lead towards more regional and even, where necessary, national planning and commissioning of highly specialised services, because there are some very distinct shortages for distinct needs.
Just to continue down that thread, then, with regard to some local authorities—for instance, Cardiff has over 700 looked-after children with everything that that entails—would you say then that, in Wales, we are needing to move towards a more child-centred delivery, rather than historical, 'This is the capacity of delivery that we've got'? So, we need to move in that direction. But would you also then say, on top of the task and finish group that is going to report shortly, et cetera, et cetera, that we do need more of a national strategic direction in terms of residential care settings? Because those numbers are very small, there is, within our procurement agenda, a huge benefit to be able to do things on a more strategic level.
Absolutely. For residential care in particular, and, within that, I would include secure care as well, and those who need highly specialised care but just short of secure, I think we would really benefit from a national strategic look at that. The residential care task and finish group arose out of our residential care support [correction: report]. We've been keeping a close eye on its progress. We pressed in the autumn for it to have more resources, because we were worried about its progress. They came in—those extra resources were provided for it, which I was pleased to see. As you say, several things now that have been commissioned by it are due to report by the end of March, and we're sitting on the task and finish group as independent observers, but we'll also be looking forward to seeing those reports. Because we can't start from scratch, as Rachel said, but there is a real opportunity now, with all of these groups meeting and this important inquiry, for us to really stop and think who's all this for, what's all this about, and to avoid the situation that local authorities get into, which is making 80 or 90 phone calls desperately trying to find a place for a child. We're never going to be able to afford having, in public services, an oversupply, so it's still always going to be tricky, but I feel like we haven't got it right at all yet.
Chair, just to follow up what you said about secure accommodation, obviously, the same pattern occurs there, but in even more depth. So, would you say that, equally, we need to be exploring around the need for more secure residential settings for our looked-after children that need that?
It's not just about quantity, I think. Would you agree with that, Rachel? It's not so much just about quantity, but it's also about how decisions are made to allocate secure places, where that's controlled from across England and Wales, together, and perhaps why we might be suddenly having to send children from Wales a very long way away, because we've got less control, perhaps, over some of our places in Wales. But I think there almost certainly is an undersupply, as well. But that's not the only aspect.
I'm also really keen to see some, just short of secure as I said, intensive therapeutic support. I think there's a temptation sometimes for the courts to issue secure orders, where, if there was that level just below it, of really safe, rather than secure, therapeutic intensive support, then they may feel less inclined to have to give a secure order.
In your written evidence, you've expressed concern about the cost of out-of-county placements. Can you expand a little on that and why you have those worries?
Well, I think that the evidence from—was it the Association of Directors of Social Services or the Welsh Local Government Association—ADSS on costs for independent agencies—they're not always out of county, but they often are—just really illustrates the concerns. So, about one third of our placements for children, which are with independent agencies, they're more likely to be—. The local authority ones, of course, will be in-house. So, these are more likely to be out of county, although sometimes they are in county. That third of placements costs twice, in total, what the—. Sorry, I'm not making this very clear. So, a third of the placements are local authority, two thirds are independent—they're where all the out-of-county ones would sit. The cost of that third is—
Yes. Have I got that right?
It's a third. So, the local authority one is two thirds, the other one is a third, but the two-third placements in-house cost a third of what the independent ones do, which are a much smaller proportion.
It's clearly laid out in the figures. I got it the wrong way round the first time.
That doesn't take account of sort of the extra costs of, then, additional services when you try and then bring a child back to their home county, which is usually the desired aim—to bring them back. Particularly, there are a lot of young people who will end up gravitating home when they leave care anyway. I think that about half of children end up going back home after they leave care. So, there's often then an increased cost of services to support them when they find themselves in an area with very little support networks and links and things to do.
We may come to this later, so apologies if it is repeated. So, in regard to that split, it doesn't seem equitable in terms of that ratio. So, is that optimum in terms of value for money and, therefore, in terms purely financial is there a benefit to changing that current modus operandi?
Almost certainly. I do acknowledge that independent agencies are often used when children have additional needs and perhaps are required to be placed out of county, perhaps by the court, to say that it's going to be safe and to stay in the local area. So, it's not completely straightforward to say, 'Well, it costs twice as much for the same thing', but it still seems, to me, quite disproportionate, which goes back to our earlier conversation about, really—. It's hard for me, for example, to assess exactly what level of profit there is, because some of the particular residential care services are provided by very large companies that may provide huge numbers of different services, including health services and completely unrelated services as well.
Thank you very much, Chair. Before I ask my question to the commissioner, I would like a little bit of information on this policy context diagram on page 39. If you look at it, there's a graph there, and if you look at the three bottom ones, which is 'Asylum seeking children looked after', 'Advocacy services for children looked after' and 'Secure accommodation (welfare)', not a single penny being spent in the last five years on this. Did you know that?
I'm not sure I've got that document in front of me.
Was it my own evidence?
Yes. There is not a penny being spent on these three areas, Chair, and I wonder whether the commissioner is well aware of it. Before I ask the question, that is my concern.
I'm afraid I don't have the briefing in front of me. So, I'm not—.
To be fair, it is an internal research brief for the Assembly. [Laughter.] So, we wouldn't expect you to have x-ray vision. [Laughter.]
Okay. I was worried that it was something I should have had with me.
My question to you: do you believe that Wales could benefit from having a ring-fenced adoption support fund, where the money is protected and only to be used for specific purposes, and are the Welsh Government's desired outcomes for care-experienced children and young people being delivered by the current levels of public expenditure?
Particularly for adopted children who are, of course, care-experienced children. Yes, it's been a really interesting one to follow how support services for adoption have developed in different ways in England and Wales. You talk about the adoption support fund. I presume you're referring to the one in England. I've been following both models quite closely. I've been quite clear for some time, and I've said in my annual reports, that adoption support services have been inadequate in Wales, as they have been in England too over the years. There are advantages and disadvantages to having access to individual funds. We certainly continue to have casework in our office of families who feel quite desperate that they wish to access therapeutic support that they're not getting now. I've discussed that. That's been in my annual reports. I've discussed it with the National Adoption Service as well, and with Welsh Government.
There is a bit of a risk in having individual accounts and an adoption support fund. One is to ensure that families get access to the best evidence-based services. Actually, if you're feeling quite desperate about how best to care for your child and difficulties in the home, then I think you could be quite vulnerable to the next thing that looks like it will provide a solution, and it may not be the best evidenced thing for you and your child's care.
There's also the case of what happens when it all runs out. How is that decided and what's in place? But, I do take your point. I think that, up until now, adoption—in the last few years, adoption support has been better funded in England than in Wales. There have been some recent encouraging moves forward in Wales on adoption support. An adoption support framework has been brought forward by the National Adoption Service that, to me, looks quite sensible. It's again going back to this issue of whether we have national or regional and local commissioning for different levels of need.
I think Wales is a small enough country that we can plan in that way. Obviously, the situation in England is quite different. So, I support this framework—and there has been extra funding given towards that—but I still don't think we're there. I still don't think there's enough adoption support. I'll be looking and following closely to see whether more funds follow the needs that are being mapped out and identified at the moment by the National Adoption Service.
Of course, it shouldn't all be down either just to adoption services themselves or to social care services; our national health service will play a key role here, as will education services. I suppose a point that I hope to be able to make during the evidence this afternoon will be about how far our new structures, such as public services boards and the regional partnership boards, are successfully analysing the local care needs, including the needs of adopted children and making sure that they're working together, pooling resources and budgets to provide for them.
I'm not sure whether individual adoption support funds made directly to families would help that process, although I can see the attraction to individual families when they feel quite desperate. I do think it's a complex situation. I don't think there's one—
Thank you for that long answer. Further to the Chair's question—I'll just come back on that—there's concern being shown by various heads of organisations for the youth, which care about the youth, that the budget spent on certain organisations for looked-after children—they are profit-making organisations. That is the scenario, where the money goes for profit rather than care for the child. What are you doing—? There shouldn't be some organisations that make a profit; the money should be delivered for the care for the child.
Absolutely. As I've been saying, that's certainly a principle that I would support. That was in my annual report this year, because that's a principle that is in the social services and well-being Act—
Do you think you are going to achieve it, because there's a pattern of profit-making organisations already there?
Yes, as I was saying, we wouldn't want to change that overnight because we wouldn't want to remove the rug from under the feet of children who are currently receiving services from profit-making services. On the other hand, I think we have the opportunity, with this inquiry and the work of the ministerial advisory group, to ensure that we can move towards making sure that we have the best value for spend to child-centred services, and to ensure that money isn't being siphoned off for profit, because that's not what anyone would want for our most vulnerable children.
Okay. And now, finally, what evidence is there that the pupil development grant of £1,150, I think it is, per looked-after child, is delivering value for money and the best outcomes for the spend on this group of children?
So, the specific grant for looked-after children.
Yes. It's an important piece of funding for schools. I'm aware that this is one of the specific areas that this committee is going to go down, and I'm looking forward to seeing what evidence you draw from local authorities and the regional consortia as to how that spend is most effective. It's something I, myself, have asked Welsh Government about. I know there was a change in how it was delivered—that that specific part of the pupil development grant for looked-after children was to be placed regionally, mainly, rather than directly to the school. And, again, it's a bit like the other conversation we've just had: where's the best place to put that kind of funding? Is it so that regional or local authority level support can be put in that will benefit a group of children? But then that's quite hard for the individual family—or the individual school—to see where that money's gone. I think it's a key question: whether that change has been the most effective way of delivering for looked-after children. I know the consortia who are looking at this, who have some control over the spend, are looking at the outcomes at the moment. So, I look forward to seeing what your inquiry finds out.
It's also worth linking up to the call for evidence from the Children, Young People and Education Committee. I think, earlier this month, or around about now, there's a deadline on submissions of evidence around a variety of different funding streams in education, but including the pupil development grant. Nothing will have come out formally from that and, as I say, I think it was closing quite recently, if not at the moment. But it would be worth linking in with the evidence that they've gathered as well specifically on that.
Okay. Moving things on to—. Well, Rhianon, did you have a supplementary first before I bring you in on transparency?
Yes. I'll say it briefly: in regard to the announced—it's good to see that there seems to be cross-party support in terms of the themes around profit-making. In regard to where we are at and that capacity issue again, and not moving suddenly into any other model that displaces current availability, what needs to happen to plug that gap in terms of moving towards a different future and a different future model?
We're going to need some—. I think we're going to need some strategic drive nationally, which may well come out of the ministerial advisory group, because I think that's going to be a difficult, nay impossible, move forward for individual local authorities to take on their own. So, it's going to need a national steer towards it, and then I think it's going to need work with the commissioning bodies that there are at the moment—there's the 4Cs commissioning body, for example—and the regional partnership boards to ensure that they start to really plan for the need and have the confidence to take forward a commissioning of non-profit or state-provided—the two, I think—services to do that. But I think, really, it will need that national steer that this should be the way forward, and I would love to see that.
It's fair to say that that work is at a fairly early stage. The task and finish group on residential care is commissioning work at the moment on the availability of placements and capacity. So, really, without that raw data to start from, anything else is, sort of, a bit unknown, but it is something that the group has found particularly important and is being moved forward in the next couple of months.
Thank you. We talked previously around participation and the importance of looked-after children's engagement within that process as service users, and it's the common language across local authority and the looked-after children world. So, in regard to the current mechanisms that are there to engage young people, one of the things from my past working in local government is the issue around the lack of therapeutic therapies, where we identify a need and that there seems to be a deficit in terms of being able to plug into whatever therapy is necessary. So, in terms of that, that comes across quite clearly from young people. So, what other mechanisms need to be put in place so that we can not just trawl information from young people, but then that's actually turned into actions, and that's then turned into deliverable policy?
So, I really want to talk about and pick up the therapeutic bit, but if I could talk about the participation bit first, because I've got things to say about both. Yes, I think that this does provide a method, this 'The Right Way' approach that I have provided. Two things, really: I think that we've got a really highly principled legal framework in place now for what should be person-centred, joined-up preventative services. We've got the public services boards, we've got the regional partnership boards, we've got the principles of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. So, all of the legal framework is there, but—there's a 'but' coming from me on that—it's not yet operationalised in terms of producing joined-up, person-centred, especially child-centred, care.
There are a number of challenges from me. One is that I don't think yet it's been fully worked out, the accountability structures between all of these new structures. So, do regional partnership boards report into public services boards or the other way round? Where does the local authority sit within that? What are the governance structures in all of the new, very well—'well-meaning' sounds patronising, and I don't mean that—very principled new structures. But I don't think we've quite worked out as a nation yet how they all sit with each other, and that's been partly people waiting to see the local government reorganisation, I think. So, that needs to be sorted out, the accountability and governance of these different boards, completely.
The second bit is, I think, that they risk being very adult-service dominated, which is particularly why I'm pushing this framework, because it will ensure that all of these structures, whether it's a local authority, a public services board or a regional partnership board, will have to focus in on, 'What are we doing for children, what are we providing for children?' Let's not have children's services as the last item on the agenda when we've almost run out of time, which is how I've heard sometimes that these boards are working. Health boards are also—these all have that risk as well. So, they're adult-service-dominated sometimes.
The other issue is that it's a big ask to ask these public services, who all feel under strain—they all have had their budgets cut—to not push to hold on to their budgets and structures, but actually to take the time to think about how they could break new ground by bringing resources together, pooling structures, pooling budgets and expertise together, to really bring forward efficient, child-centred services. I don't think that, without having children's voices as part of that, they will do that most effectively.
It could like—you could have at county level a strategic board that could be parallel to a public services board or parallel to the local authority, which formally advises and supports. It can also be much more local. It can be making sure that children are always routinely, and not just as a tick box, checked out as to how their individual care is being experienced, and whether there should be change. So, it could be individual, it could be at a local authority board level, and it can be nationally as well.
Can I go on to the therapeutic issue? Because for me there were two big issues. On a therapeutic level, again, if you look at it from a child's experience rather than what services we have out there, and how children should fit in or not to those services; if you look at a child-centred stage, what you see, particularly for this group of children, is a group of children who almost all have experienced some sort of trauma or separation or difficult experience—a primary separation or a difficult experience—yet they may not meet the criteria to have a mental illness. They may be just under the diagnosis level for several conditions or mental illnesses, but they may not meet them. They will not in those circumstances—well, rarely will they have a service from our national health service mental health services. And it's not just up to the NHS to provide that, but nor is it just up to social care. Probably, if we could, at that local level or sometimes regional level, bring together the expertise and resources of our social care services, our education services and our national health services, perhaps our policing as well in some circumstances, and plan to ensure that every child who is looked after has at least the opportunity—they won't all want it or they won't necessarily all need it, but they all should have the opportunity—to have a chance to recover from their experiences and to thrive in care. Well, that should be a basic right for them. It is actually one of the rights under the UNCRC to recover from trauma—
It's not there.
Existing structures, for instance, consortia, potentially, and we've talked about public services boards, do you think, without adding further layers to an onion—
Oh, yes, I'm not suggesting that we build new structures.
But, we have structures there at the moment that could be more co-ordinated, and particularly around other multi-agency working, I think we cannot leave the police out. So, in that regard, there is potential for that new type of thinking, that new type of working.
Absolutely. One example I've been following closely with the children's committee—and some of you sit on both—is the reform of mental health services. Together for Children and Young People, it's called—the programme. We have seen through that programme a reduction in mental health waiting lists, for example. But, many of these children who have many needs for therapeutic support will not reach referral criteria, so it doesn't matter to them if waiting lists have gone down; they don't fit into the service that's there, and that's not how we're meant to do things with these structures.
I suppose the difference with the new structures is that, whilst we've got these extra boards in place, we no longer have children and young people's partnerships, so that kind of automatic voice for children and that feed-in of that system is just that little bit harder to do, which is why, as Sally said, some of the feedback now is that children's issues can get lost down the agenda because there's no automatic way to bring that in.
So, if I may, Chair, in that regard, there was a lot of concern about this at the time in terms of where that would then be replaced or what that would then be the mechanism for in the future. So, has that effectively, from a young person's perspective, been replicated yet in terms of what there was?
Some local authorities, whilst they're not required to have the partnership, have gone back and put them in place—
Absolutely it isn't, no. There are some pockets. Gwent is one—
So, there's obviously something there to dig into.
Right, finally, we were talking earlier about the amalgamation, potentially, of different grants in the revenue support grant. In terms of the announcement around the £8 million from the Welsh Government budget, do you believe that, with looked-after children and preventing children going into care, this is the right way forward in terms of that £8 million allocation from different work streams?
Was that the £8 million for edge of care services?
Oh, rather than being ring-fenced.
Yes. I know you're seeing the heads of children's services next, and I'm sure they'll have strong views on this as well. Certainly, they have sometimes expressed to me a concern that, where they've had for a year or two some specific funds to do something specific—the St David's Day fund, at the moment, for care leavers is one example of that; it's specifically at the moment ring-fenced to provide individual grants to care leavers and that's expected to go into the RSG, I think not this financial year, but the year after—they are worried about how they'll manage to hold on to that. You've got to have a balance, haven't you, between local democracy and the Government not carving out every bit of funding to say, 'You must spend it on this or this'? But on the other hand, again, the overwhelming needs, often, of an ageing population mean there's that risk that funds that are not meeting absolute statutory needs will be lost and will have to go elsewhere because budgets are so tight in local authorities.
But in regard to your previous point about pooled budgets, if I may, Chair, that tension is there, isn't it, in terms of being able to plan widely and obviously not losing purposeful, targeted outcomes within that work stream?
Absolutely. So, that is a tension because, on the one hand, I think local authorities often feel tied by some specific grants and would like to be able to flex them more and, on the other hand, they worry about losing money that is ring-fenced—
So, what is your view in terms of that £8 million budget allocation now?
This is the one that's come from mainly edge of care—
Generally for the budget, as far as I know. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
For it to be ring-fenced?
The RSG, sorry. If their structures are working well—the public services boards—then that flexibility will allow local, imaginative planning that is child-centred and can meet the needs and perhaps try some things that haven't been tried before. Because we are going to have to try some new things when we look at the recent rise, again, of looked-after children figures—
Yes, I did. I did, on purpose. But there is a concern—
I would like to see more ring-fencing for children's services in general, in mental health services and other preventative services. There's a new, interesting programme, the Children First programme—children's zones, they were called, and now it's called the Children First programme, which is being piloted in about eight areas—
—six areas across Wales at the moment. In those small areas, and they're smaller than local authority areas, apparently there's almost complete flexibility of all the grant funding there. But that's different funding again, that's—
Just for that zone.
Okay. So, the verdict's out, then, I think, in terms of where that goes, but you preface it that those systems have to be working in order for that to be optimum. Okay, thank you.
Thank you, Chair. Clearly, care-experienced children are a very vulnerable group, but I'd like to dig deeper within that to perhaps more vulnerable groups within them. So, firstly, if we look at minority groups of children within care, what—well, do you think that the needs of children from minority groups who were taken into care are being taken into account through the current funding levels and the delivery of public services?
Do you mean of any type of minority?
I'm trying to think where the different funding streams would apply there. I don't think there would be any specific extra funding in the social care system for different minority groups. There's obviously been in the news last week issues about the cut to the ethnic minority achievement grant in education, which applies to a range of minority groups. I'm not sure about the social care side. Have you got any—?
No. I was wondering whether there were any particular groups that you would have a concern about. It's hard to conceptualise that in the round.
Well, I was going to start off broad, but then my second question was going to be about children with a disability, for example. Twenty per cent of looked-after children have a disability, so do you feel that their needs are sufficiently transparent within the way spending is arranged across public services for them?
Okay. Well, again, I suppose I would say that, whether they're looked after or not, the responsibility for funding and providing services for those children wouldn't fall in one area, and that's where we would require and hope to see a willingness, really, to develop and fund services together across, perhaps, in the case of those children, health, education and social care together. Clearly, quite a lot of resource and time are wasted between the different sectors debating who is responsible for the funding of different aspects of those children's care.
We do have the integrated care fund now, which has the potential to help with some of these issues and to move imaginatively forward. I think, until recently, it was being rarely used for children's services. I've heard of some encouraging pilots since. There's been a pilot in the Caerphilly area, I believe, which has been well received by families, in particular. I think the agencies have found it quite challenging as a new way of working for them, but it's been so well-received I've heard they plan to continue with it. Some of those children will be looked after and some will not. But, in those cases, wherever they're living, they and their families have really suffered from going around from pillar to post, both to receive services but also where there have been debates about who would fund different aspects of them. That would also include children with a mental illness as well, where there can be real debates about who's responsible for their care when they have, perhaps, a mental illness and care needs as well—who's responsible for funding that.
In terms of the origins of the question itself, those are the children that should be most prominently known to all of those services. So, children with a disability are automatically considered as children in need of care and support under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, and they are likely to be known to health services and other services as well. So, in theory, their needs should be on the agenda of all those agencies automatically, but then it just comes back to the point of whether that integrated provision is coming together.
Okay. Thank you. And the final question from me: in your written response to us, you highlight the Nuffield Trust's work in connecting social inequalities and children coming into care. What response would you recommend from the Welsh Government and local authorities to this report?
Sorry, I missed whose report it was.
Oh, yes, Professor Bywaters. Yes. Clearly, that's a bit of a wake-up call, really, in terms of—. In some ways, people would say, 'Well, of course, we expect children from the poorest backgrounds, the most economically deprived backgrounds, to be coming into care'. But what was very interesting and worrying, really, was that the gradient—the social gradient—of the inequalities faced by the poorest children was steeper in Wales than elsewhere. So, if you were poor living in Wales, you were even more likely to come into care in Wales than in the rest of the UK. There are lots of issues around that and about the additional stress that poverty can place on families. But, clearly, to me, this also provides us with yet another indication of the desperate need, really, to improve our record on tackling child poverty in Wales and reducing inequality, as well, between different groups.
We haven't had much chance yet to talk about prevention, but, obviously, our looked-after children figures are much higher in Wales than elsewhere in the UK. It's easiest to compare with England than Northern Ireland, and we're 50 per cent higher than England. I was alarmed to see the latest figures that we have—nearly 1 per cent of children were looked after in March last year. There's nothing to say what the right level is, and certainly our family court judges are saying that, by the time cases come in front of them to make care orders, they're very rarely dismissing a case—these are children who are reaching the threshold for care orders. But the key question is how we can, as a range of public services, prevent families getting to that state, and how many of those children could be enabled to stay within their birth families if we could help prevent things earlier. That's not just down to our social care services, although they will have the key role there. It's down to all of our services working together through those structures we've been discussing during this session.
The Nuffield work also makes the link, not just with tackling poverty, but also adverse childhood experiences, but it's really clear, and certainly evidence that Sally's given to other committees previously is that it's not about identifying the fact that these children have experienced these ACEs; it's about what you do about tackling those.
Very briefly. In regard to that, then, in terms of the poverty indicators and what that means for looked-after children in Wales, does that mean that you would welcome more structural initiatives—for instance, Children First—more state intervention in terms of mopping up what is necessary around a lack of provision, potentially, for those coming into care?
I think children having a requirement to be looked after is the sharp-end symptom, really, of poverty, and we would see benefits to children living in poverty across the board, whether they come into care or not, if we reduced poverty and if we reduced inequality. So, we know that, health outcomes and education outcomes, also there's this same social gradient, so we would hope to see improvements right across the board. Clearly, children becoming looked after is the acute end, but the numbers are becoming really very high now in Wales.
Thank you, Chair. My question to you is that we spend, each child, quite a lot of money—where he is in care or she is in care—and on special needs for children. It's nearly equal to the salary of an Assembly Member. Newport City Council spends nearly £64,500 per child, and those children still don't achieve the educational standards that the normal children do. Is there any reason? Where are we going wrong in the system?
For how we don't manage despite spending—
This is serious money we're spending in Wales. How come our children in care are not achieving the educational standard that—? They don't get the full potential of life to participate in—
Absolutely. Obviously, that's a concern, because that affects them for life. I think the issue of educational and other outcomes for children and young people who are looked after is a similar challenge across the whole of the UK, as are the costs of placements. But, as I've said, we do have higher numbers—a higher proportion of children in care in Wales. I don't think there's a simple answer to that. Educational outcomes for looked-after children have improved a bit with quite a lot of focus on it in the last few years and, as we were discussing earlier, some extra grants for each child. So, they have improved a bit, but so has the general population, I'm pleased to say. So, the gap remains the same. It's been upward for both but the gap remains the same.
The key issue is, I think, what I was talking about before, which is a recognition that many of these children have suffered early adverse childhood experiences, and I'm not sure that, either before they come into care or after coming into care, we're helping them enough to recover from those sufficiently to succeed in other areas of life, including education. There has been an issue as well about low expectations of looked-after children. I think that is improving. There's been much more focus on that in education, but it's something that will need to carry on in terms of outcomes for very many years, and that's why, really, I've focused so much over the last couple of years on assisting young people as they leave care as well. Because it might be that, at 16 or 17, they're not ready to sit GCSEs and to work at the same pace as other children who perhaps haven't experienced as much trauma, but they might be ready a few years later with the right support. So, I've asked for that door to be held open longer. That was in my 'Hidden Ambitions' report, and I was pleased with the response to that.
What I'm trying to say is that I don't think there's a simple answer to that, but I agree with you that it's a concern. It's not all about having enough cash but I think that more help for children to recover from early trauma would make a big difference to educational outcomes.
Thank you, Chair. My question again is that we spend between £45,000 and £65,000 per child in Wales. This is serious money, so what I'm saying is that the children do not achieve. When you look at their educational achievement, they're well below the ordinary person. I understand that their needs are different, but the health service is equal for everybody in this country—
I can add, slightly, something else, which is that we know that, when children are looked after, they do very slightly better educationally than children with very similar life circumstances who stay at home, who don't come into care—the children who are just either side of the threshold. So, it probably helps—. Living in care helps them do slightly better on educational achievement but, of course, we'd like them to do even better again because we're providing them with, we hope, very good care. That, I think, again, is down to helping them recover from trauma. It's not all about the schooling or whatever.
I have no doubt that you're doing your best to put the children on the right track, but my question is: how effective has the Welsh Government’s ministerial advisory group proven in developing and improving outcomes for care-experienced children?
So, the ministerial advisory group, obviously, is a large group. We meet in a room with about four times as many people around the table as this. It's a very ambitious group. It's got a very ambitious programme. It's a very broad-ranging group; it's covering everything from preventing children coming into care, their experiences whilst in care, and their experiences after leaving care—a bit like this inquiry: trying to look at the whole system. I think some real positives about it are that it has got just about everyone round the table, or representatives of those groups round the table who are trying to deliver on ensuring that these children have the achievement we've just been talking about in all aspects of their lives. So, it is inclusive, which is good to see. Young people themselves have some representation on there. Their vice-chair is a care-experienced young person. I've been trying to encourage there to be more involvement of young people, and I'm pleased that it's now taken on my idea of doing a well-evidenced well-being survey of children to feed into this. It's called the Bright Spots survey. So, it's got probably a good inclusive range of people around the table. It's got ambitious aims. I think, in terms of where it's got to, it still probably needs to work more towards really identifying what outcomes will be success, how it will identify what success is. It's very easy, I think, to start working on processes rather than outcomes, but I do think that, as a group, it has improved over the last year, becoming more outcome orientated and less process orientated. The proof will be in the pudding as to whether it actually makes a difference.
And with that positive note—the proof being in the pudding—I'll move things on, because we've got to—
I feel more positive about it as it's gone on—that's a summary.
We've got about 20 minutes left, and still a number of questions. Lee Waters.
In terms of outcomes, and in terms of your work as being a voice for children, have you been able to identify particular good practice that we can spread around the system?
Of where children are—. Do you mean in any part?
Definitely. I think probably where I've done the most systematic looking, from myself, from my office, has been in services for young people as they start to age out of care, as they say—as they reach adolescence and then leave care. In my report, in 'Hidden Ambitions', I did identify some good examples around Wales. We've seen areas where young people are definitely round the table with planners, trying to make sure that services are shaped for what their needs are, and I've now been encouraging all local authorities to make sure their processes—
Yes, okay, but if young people can identify that services are being provided that meet their needs, then that's an outcome from that process of involvement.
And we are following up some of the things we heard about when we did that report. So, we're working on a follow-up report at the moment that will look at things like, where there are schemes that employ young people in the local authority or provide them with work experience, whether those have gone on to be successful and how many young people have managed to negotiate those placements in the time. So, we'll be able to see that investment in certain types of services has benefited those young people and therefore encourage others to undertake similar work programmes or investment opportunities in young people.
In terms of the looked-after children figures overall, I've referred to the fact that they've gone up again this year. Having been quite steady for a few years, they've gone up again this year, but we do see real variation around—
Sorry, this isn't my question. My question is: have you been able to identify good practice that is good value for money and that we can spread out?
I'm going to come on to that, now. We've seen a couple of local authorities where their rates of looked-after children—they seem to be keeping more children at home than others. That's not just related to poverty levels, or whatever, so it suggests that there is probably some practice difference and some service difference in them. One of those is Newport, for example, where I know that they've got a cross-local-authority programme to make sure everyone is aware of the traumas—schools and police et cetera—faced by children in care, so that the response is similar from different services. They have a partnership with a voluntary agency—I think it's Barnardo's—where they're trying to provide services that cross needs, from preventative right through to provision. It seems to me that things are starting to really join up there. We're also seeing some local authorities where they're using evidence-based schemes, or where there is some evidence towards them, like the Signs of Safety scheme, to work directly with families where children are thought to be at risk of coming into care, where, again, we're seeing numbers either being steady or going down, and Swansea is one of those.
Right. So, Swansea and Newport you've identified as particular evidence of good practice.
Yes. It's always hard to say because sometimes numbers can come down one year and up another, and you need to look at longer term trends, but I was looking at the figures again in preparation for coming today, and both of those, for example, have consistently, over a number of years now, not shot up in the way that others have. I know that they both have some cross-city strategic plans—a shared method across different services in how they're responding to families.
But you're not really able to say whether that's responsible for their better outcomes. There's no real causal link that you've been able to establish there, is there?
Well, I'm not sure that anyone's done—. To have a causal link, you'd have to use quite experimental methods, and we haven't seen that yet in Wales. One scheme where there is some experimental work going on, but the results aren't out yet, is a scheme called Confidence in Care. I'm not sure whether you've had evidence in about that, but it's Big Lottery funded and it's being led by the Fostering Network. It's training that's being rolled out across every local authority in Wales to foster carers and residential care workers and it's using an evidence-based model of training carers to prevent placement breakdown, which is a key concern, obviously, for looked-after children. It's using an experimental model, so it's comparing those who've had the training with those who haven't, and it's due to report, I think, next year, or it might be later this year. That's the kind of research model you need to actually pin down—'This has caused it'—otherwise, we can only say, 'Well, it looks like authorities that have more of a cross-local-authority ethos and method that everybody shares, and they're using something that seems to have a sound evidence base—their numbers also seem to be quite low'. You can't say that's causing it for sure, which is why I'm being hesitant, without using the kind of experimental evidence that the Confidence in Care programme is using.
Have you been able to identify evidence from England or Scotland or other countries that we might learn from?
Again, I have been trying to keep an eye on some raw outcomes like the numbers of children in care—that's one of the easiest ones to compare—and where I know that certain models have been used for a number of years. Leeds, for example, has been using a restorative approach right across its services—youth justice, children's care services and education services—and their numbers were coming right down at one point. I think the last I saw, they had dipped up again slightly. There's certainly no magic bullet in any of these. We know Northern Ireland's figures: despite them having similar or higher levels of poverty than Wales, they've got much lower looked-after children figures. So, in terms of a national comparison, we've got that. We're not quite sure why and we don't know whether they've got the right level and Wales has got the wrong level, but we know that it's not just all about levels of poverty, for example, although there is a clear causal link.
Is there work going on to understand why Northern Ireland and Wales have different levels?
I believe that the people behind the Nuffield report are now looking again at that, because that came out quite—. I know that from their research that that came out quite stark—
Okay. You said earlier that you thought that the legislative framework now was heading in the right direction and that the structures are in place. You mentioned the social services Act, and we have the national outcomes framework. There is, I believe, only one explicit outcome for looked-after children in the framework, and that's the outcomes for 16-year olds attending a local authority-maintained setting. Do you think that is right? Is the outcome framework right for measuring what's going on with looked-after children?
I've been asking for some more subjective data where we can find out whether children feel that they're receiving decent care and whether they feel that there's somewhere where they're safe and secure and that they have hope for the future et cetera. And that's why I've asked Wales to adopt what's called the Bright Spots survey, which is an evidence-based one from England and developed by the Coram foundation and Bristol university. I'm pleased to say that it is being piloted now with six authorities and, if successful, will be, I hope, rolled out. That's been joint funded by Welsh Government, local authorities and myselfFootnoteLink to make sure that happens, because that's been a real missing point because it doesn't tell the whole story, does it, if you're in school or not, or in education or in employment or not.
Would that be—? If that worked and satisfied people, would that then come in under the framework, or would there be a separate framework for looked-after children?
It's currently being piloted within the ministerial advisory group work plan. I'm not sure exactly whether that would become part of official statistics or not.
Certainly, the conversation that we've had is that we were always concerned when the outcomes framework came out that children generally don't feature that highly in it; there's a lot of reliance on the national survey, which is 16 plus, so that direct voice of children generally is missing. And that's something that we've fed back but hasn't changed. So, certainly, when we raised the concept of doing the Bright Spots survey, it was against the background of the lack of data from young people directly. So, we haven't got confirmation that that will happen but, certainly, that was part of the reason for piloting it.
I think we'd be wary about creating league tables between local authorities of children's subjective well-being, but there is the capacity to do that with this. It can compare local authorities both within Wales and with England. One of the key aspects of the Bright Spots survey would be to feed back to local authorities how well they're doing, what children have said and to encourage them to do the accountability bit in the right way to then feed back to children and young people themselves about how they plan to meet some of the issues. If 50 per cent of children say they don't know who their social worker is or they don't feel they see them enough, then they should respond to those children about what they're going to do about it, and that would be as valuable to me as anything else.
That does sound like a good thing, but can I just try and pin you down? There are, in the well-being of future generations Act, several indicators, and in the social services Act there is a single indicator. Do you think that is sufficient, or do you think those other things you've discussed should be brought together to provide a parallel set of indicators for looked-after children?
I think there would be advantages and disadvantages to that; I'm sorry that's not pinned down—
As with all things, that is true, but as the independent voice for children I would like a view from you on whether or not we can make a recommendation to make things better.
I would like to see more subjective indicators from children, and objective ones, but I particularly felt that subjective indicators—
But should they sit within the frameworks of the social services Act and the future generations Act, or separately?
I think they would be—. I wouldn't see any point in creating a separate one. It would make more sense for them to sit within. And that's exactly the kind of data, going back to where we started, that public service boards and regional partnership boards should be drawing on to plan their services. So, yes, it would fit there. Sorry, it took me a while to come round to agree with you, but I do agree with that.
Another indicator that I feel has been missing in terms of measurement has been the number of changes of social worker. It's something that children have talked about several times.
No, I don't think it would be measured in that. It's something I've asked Welsh Government to consider. I don't want to add enormously to the administrative burden of local authorities. I think delivering services is—you don't want to be too disruptive to delivering services by just measuring them. On the other hand, it's a real big indicator of a service to children. If they've had five social workers in the last year, it's been a very, very difficult experience for them and it's not something that we have data on at the moment.
Okay. Can I just finally ask you, just in terms of the data we have and the frameworks, the inspectorate, the CSSIW—I always struggle with those initials—can you tell us whether or not you think they're doing a sufficiently robust job of measuring this area? They're looking at, I think, five inspections of local authorities a year. Is that a broad enough evidence base to be able to draw conclusions?
CSSIW has got a new name now, hasn't it?
Yes, Care Inspectorate Wales, as they are now. We're aware that they're going to do an inspection across Wales this summer, I believe, specifically on looked-after children. I suppose a good example of them getting into the depth would be the warning notice that's been issued to Powys local authority. So, the new powers under the social services Act allow for that warning notice to be issued. I know there was a similar system in the past of special measures and that kind of thing, but it's the first time that those powers have been used, and I'm aware that they are visiting regularly. So, they're not just waiting for future inspections to take place; they're actively looking at whether things are better on the ground for children and children's experiences. And, so, that's an example of them following through on where they've identified their outcomes and—
Sure, but they're only looking at five different local authorities, and this year they're looking at four different areas. 'Do you think that's robust enough?', is my question.
I don't think I've formed a view on that, whether that's enough or not. I've been following closely the reports as they come out. I haven't seen a lack of evidence from Care Inspectorate Wales.
Let me put the question in a different way then. Are you content that the inspectorate side is broadly fine and that we should be focusing on improving success through other means? Or do you think we should be tightening up the inspection?
I haven't raised any specific concerns about—
Right. It hasn't come across your radar that the inspectorate is not sufficiently robust.
No, it hasn't. And I think the Powys example is one that we're following very closely, as you can see, to really see whether the use of those powers is effective at improving outcomes for children, and we'd be happy to be asked about that again in the future because we're following it closely.
It's worth saying that the inspectorate and ourselves are both prescribed whistle-blowing organisations, and so, if there were any concerns that weren't being addressed, then it's open to anyone to blow the whistle, either to our organisation—
Lee, did you have a question under the last section, on future generations?
I could do, yes, happily. It's striking, looking at this and listening to the statistics, how much of an intergenerational problem this is, how it cascades from one generation to the next. One of the concerns I've spoken to care-experienced young people about is how, once you've been in care, you're more likely to be watched like a hawk by social services, for understandable reasons, when you have children of your own, and there's a feeling that people who've been in care are held to a higher standard than people who've not been in care. And they certainly feel that social services are on a hair trigger waiting to take their child off them. Do you feel that enough work is being done to break the cycle of children in care having their children taken off them, or do you feel that the children who have been in care are being unfairly treated?
Okay. So, I don't think I have evidence that they're being unfairly treated, although I agree with you that that is their experience and perception.
About the evidence, there's been some work by Cardiff University, which has been to all the local authorities and looked at how likely you are to have an intervention when you have your own children if you've been in care, and the results were hugely varied. And, so, I don't think there's an automatic—. Whilst I think there can be a case that you're automatically under that spotlight, the evidence actually shows that there's a huge range of how likely or not you are, depending on how the local authority individually approaches the support that they offer to their care leavers and the way that they look at them having a child, as to whether it's automatically a child protection concern or whether it's something that they can work with and only develop it into a child protection concern if something concerning happens.
So, put that another way then: there isn't sufficient consistency for those children who've been through care to help them break that cycle. That's another way of interpreting that same evidence, isn't it?
I think it would be fair to say that, currently, there are different experiences in different local authorities. So, your likelihood of having an intervention and then perhaps your child removed is different in different local authority areas.
And we're waiting to see more results from that research, because it's coming out gradually, to see more detail about how that's experienced. And certainly our 'Hidden Ambitions' report does show a real range of different services around Wales, and I was looking for more consistency, and that's why we're following it through again this year. We've also got the evidence from the Wales adoption cohort study, which shows that, when children are placed for adoption, more than a quarter of the birth mothers were themselves in care and about a fifth of the birth fathers. That is a cycle, obviously, that concerns me, and it gets back to the point I've tried to make throughout, which is that, if we don't help young people recover from the trauma that they've experienced, then they will almost inevitably carry on struggling with life as adults. They're also more likely to have children very young—younger than the rest of the population—as well, but, in particular, may struggle to provide the parenting needed for the children because they haven't been given the support they needed to recover from their early experiences.
Can I just ask you about that? In our evidence, we've had two specific suggestions related to that point. One is in terms of adoption, pointing us towards, in England, the adoption support fund, where money is ring-fenced to help families who have adopted a child. And then a separate call from the WLGA for the establishment of a new preventative integrated care fund for Wales, which would focus throughout the life course, to give local authorities more flexibility in how they apply this, bearing in mind the experience we've had recently from the Supporting People fund of, on the one hand, accepting the principle of greater flexibility, and then, in practice, that causing great anxiety in the sector. Sorry to ask you such a big question in one, but just in terms of those two practical suggestions of different approaches that could help, I wonder whether you have a view.
Well, on the adoption support fund, obviously, that's what I was discussing with Oscar, that there is this tension about whether you provide individual funds to families, or whether you plan them strategically at a local and regional level, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each. I don't think that overall funding is high enough for adoption support in Wales. But I'm at the moment inclined to think that, rather than providing individual funds for families, we respond better to local need.
On an integrated preventative fund, again, that would fit with a more integrated approach under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and it does make sense. But, again, I agree with you that there is a tension when specific programmes might get lost.
Thank you, Chair. In regard to intergenerational cycles and the NEET data, which has had some mild improvement of late, what is your perspective and position in regard to the 65.2 per cent core subject indicator at key stage 2 success, compared to just 14.2 per cent at key stage 4? Why do you feel that there is such a huge gulf between those two bits of—?
We have to remember that it's not always the same children who are passing through those different stages. So, children are coming in and out of care, so we're not necessarily following the trajectory of individual children. So, I think that's one important thing to think about in terms of those statistics—that we have another peak of children coming in, becoming looked after at key stages 3 and 4, who may have already had many struggles with education. However, that's a kind of caveat, really.
I'm aware of what you're talking about, but, outside of that, there is still follow-through for looked-after children and there is a massive differential between those at key stage 2 and key stage 4. In view of the initiatives around Families First and Flying Start, which taper off majoritively by the time we get to key stage 4, is there any link from your perspective in terms of the impact of that lesser support moving forward, or is there no link?
I don't know whether I could make that link, whether I'd have the evidence to make that link, but clearly those figures do indicate a clear need for key stages 3 and 4 intensive input around the child's whole need, including their educational needs, but their whole emotional need.
I think that many schools have struggled to meet the holistic needs of their most vulnerable students, including looked-after students. Some do it very well, some do it—
Is that kind of a roundabout way of saying you don't think it's satisfactory? Falling short?
I think that we could provide much more wraparound support to schools to provide for all of the children who have got the most complex needs, and of course looked-after children are key ones. That's something I've been really pressing on the education reforms and the Together for Children and Young People reforms. It's not just down to the school to deal with it. It just sounds too obvious to keep saying people need to join up more, but they do. We need much more planning across service sectors. This is not just down to schools and the other side isn't just down to social care and—
So, in terms of potential for improvement in processes, services and support available, would you say that there is great potential for moving things forward in the future?
I really do think there is. I think we've got the potential structures here in Wales around public services boards in particular, and also the reform we've got going on at the moment of the education system, the reform of the mental health system. I've been saying, more in the children's committee, that I'm really concerned that we may lose the opportunity to join up our health and education and social care services to provide services that meet children's needs, rather than children having to slot into one or the other.
No, you're done. Great. Thank you, Sally Holland, children's commissioner, for being with us today, and Rachel Thomas. That's really helpful in this our first session of many I'm sure. We will put together that transcript and we'll send it to you to check before it's finalised. Thanks for being with us today. We'll take a short break for five minutes or so before the next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:27 a 15:36.
The meeting adjourned between 15:27 and 15:36.
I welcome Members back to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Can I also welcome our numerous witnesses, I should say? Would you like to give your names and positions for the Record of Proceedings? Who wants to start? Irfan.
Irfan Alam, assistant director children's services, Cardiff.
I'm Gareth Jenkins, assistant director for children's services, Caerphilly.
I'm Kate Devonport, head of service, children, families and safeguarding in Conwy.
I'm Sally Jenkins, and I'm head of children's services in Newport, and I'm currently the chair of the all-Wales group of heads of children's services.
Great. Translation is available, for any of you who need it, on the headphones in front of you. And I need not point out that there are a fair number of you, so please don't feel that you all have to answer each question, otherwise we'll be here until midnight, and I'm sure you've got lives to lead.
If I kick off with the first question: in your written response you state that local authorities' financial commitment to looked-after children is becoming unsustainable, pointing out external pressures on families and those on the workforce. What measures need to be taken to provide a sustainable basis for delivering effective services to care-experienced children?
I think we could probably spend the whole of the rest of the session just answering that one question, to be honest. I think this layout—
Yes, it's a really big issue. What we are all aware of, as heads of children's services, and our colleagues, is that the increasing numbers of looked-after children and the increasing costs associated with them are placing a pressure on children's services in local authorities, and we can't see how that can be sustained. And all of you here will be aware that the budget pressures within local authorities are significant and we're all playing our part in that as heads of children's services, to a lesser or greater degree. What we're really clear about is that almost a two-fold approach has to come in this. One is about safely ensuring that our numbers of looked-after children are the right numbers for Wales. I don't think there's a magic number for the numbers of children we should have; it should be the safe number of children that we have who are looked after in Wales. And then the other is about how we safely ensure that when we are looking after our children we get good value for our money.
We have listened to a little of the evidence that the children's commissioner has given before us, so we've heard some of the questions you've posed to her. And what we're really conscious of is that we're currently in a position where a great deal of how we fund the services that we are accessing for children are not value for money and are very expensive for what we get, and we recognise that. So, in terms of solving that, which I suppose is the nub of this, there are a number of things—
Just on that point of value for money, there's a variance across Wales, obviously, between the amounts that different authorities are spending. When you say that you're not getting value for money, would you say that that applies to those authorities that are spending the most on children's services or the least, or is it totally random?
I don't think it's to do with the total amount that local authorities are spending. I think it's to do with what we have to do with the money that we have. So, I think it's primarily placements, and then I think it's the other services that we have to buy to wrap around the children that we're looking after. We can all talk at length about the costs of placements, but, clearly, that cost, in and of itself, is placing an inordinate pressure on us as local authorities.
So, in terms of how we move forward on that, I think, clearly, there are a number of steps that have already been taken with the ministerial advisory group, the national fostering framework and the work that's been undertaken by the residential task group. I think one of the things that we're very clear about is that it's building some capacity in the system to be able to do that work and to be able to achieve that. I think, honestly, we are struggling with that capacity as local authorities currently. We do work together. We work as 22, we work as regions, we work very effectively together in some of our regional arrangements, but what we are struggling with is both the actual operational capacity, in terms of our time and our resources as local authorities to invest in new models and how we develop that, and then the money itself to do that, because we can't stop doing what we're doing currently. There's not a point where we can just shut and stop delivering services. Some of you will be aware today that Rotherham has recently been through a really positive inspection after a really troubled period. I think one of the points the director there made very clearly is: whatever we do, we have to do it while carrying on with our existing work. So, I think the nub is about looking at how do we build that capacity, and we don't have an easy answer to that currently.
Okay. Did you want to comment, Irfan? You were looking like you wanted to.
Just to reflect what Sally said, really.
Thank you for that. In that regard then, for instance, for example, Cardiff—obviously with the largest amount of looked-after children in Wales—is there a point whereby you will ascertain as local government or local authorities that it is timely to bring in-house placement within your local authority jurisdiction? And in so doing, in terms of more regional or national procurement around placements, is there a need, from your perspectives, for a more national strategic directive in terms of procurement around placement?
Yes, absolutely. Placements are a significant issue for all local authorities and I suppose it's fair to say that there isn't a single local authority that's not doing anything in terms of trying to create capacity within the sector. The challenge we have is in terms of the complexity of the children that we're supporting and finding the suitable placements for them. We're competing against internal provision and also in relation to agency placements. At the end of the day, it's very much down to individuals making decisions. So, you have foster carers who chose to be carers for an independent fostering agency as opposed to a local authority. That's not because they get a better service from IFAs, it's just an individual's choice. That's one of the key issues that I think local authorities are grappling with in terms of trying to make that change and encourage foster carers to become local authority foster carers.
There is a lot going on. The national fostering framework is working really hard to establish a national brand. Local authorities are trying to work towards a regional brand and to try and ensure that we've all got a consistent offer for foster carers.
Sorry—can I just challenge that? You seem to think that local authorities have nothing to learn to improve the offer or the relationships you have with foster carers. You're saying they're simply choosing because it's an arbitrary personal choice.
That's a significant element in it, absolutely. I think the other issue with it is that it's a complex situation. So, you have a number of individuals who make individual choices, so you as an individual could choose, in Wales, to become a local authority foster carer and/or an agency foster carer.
There are so many anecdotal conversations and I'm hesitant in drawing too much from an anecdote, but just to challenge you're point, from personal experience, a foster carer who's dealt with two neighbouring authorities will say that one is much better to deal with than the other and therefore they make a choice based on that. So, if you were to say, 'This is not something local authorities have much power to control; it's a subjective judgment', I'd struggle with it.
It's a subjective judgment. I think there's also some realism in that as well. So, that's the first-hand experience and the feedback we get from carers individually, so you can't ignore that. What the fostering framework is trying to do is get some consistency across Wales so that all local authorities have a consistent offer. We're not in that place at this moment in time. What we're trying to do is have a consistent offer. But at the same time, as Sally said, we can't stop the status quo and concentrate on something else. We're trying to do both. So, we're trying to manage the external market and the IFAs whilst we're trying to increase capacity internally. That's a challenge in the context of children coming through the system quicker, so children needing placements, whilst also trying to create more capacity.
The other thing, just very quickly, is that we have an ageing foster carer population overall, so we have a much bigger problem than just, say, for example, trying to recruit to match the increasing numbers of children that we have coming in. We actually have declining numbers of foster carers, as they do in the rest of the UK, and I think that's a real challenge for us. There will be differences, and there is learning that we can take, but I think that we also have to be aware that this is a very difficult world in which to recruit foster carers currently. Despite all of the best initiatives, the support and the finance that we as local authorities can offer, there are just not enough foster carers or people who wish to be foster carers out there currently.
Can I just jump in and reassure the committee, really, that it's not that we're not trying to do anything about this? I think you've heard reference made to the 4Cs, which is the children's commissioning consortium Cymru. It's a consortium that procures and tenders on local authorities' behalf for placements with private providers. All of the local authorities are signed up to that. It has worked really hard to bring in a framework cost for each placement, depending on the variables within that. So, a foster placement will cost x amount and residential will cost x amount, and providers get on to that framework so, in effect, we're all paying the same thing.
The reality is, though, that we have difficult-to-place challenging young people, whom providers refuse to take unless we pay additional costs for them. So, they will add on services that we may or may not receive, but they will add on services based on the needs that are being presented by the child that take that provider then off the framework. Unfortunately, we have to pay those fees.
So, we're trying to manage that, but I think anything that we can do nationally, as Irfan mentioned, so that at least the local authorities themselves are not competing with each other—that we have national criteria and a national framework that each of the local authorities is signed up to. We'll then still be in competition with the private sector, but at least it puts us in the same position, so you won't have that situation where a carer chooses to go to a different local authority—the only choice will be a local authority or the independent sector.
Just one last comment, really: in terms of recruitment of foster carers, I think my earlier point in relation to individual choices is so important in this, because there's a small pool of people in this country who want to become foster carers. Two thirds of those are with IFAs at the moment, and a third are probably with local authorities. So, it's not a case of recruiting new carers, because my experience on the ground, having 800 children in Cardiff at the moment who need placements—my experience on the ground is that there aren't any new people out there who want to become carers. The issue is around transferring carers from IFAs back into local authorities, and that's how we can reduce and manage costs.
Thank you. With regard, then, to the wide variety of reasons why children need residential care, bearing in mind particularly the case of Cardiff, is there a potential possibility that there could be more internal residential care homes that Wales is providing itself, rather than for-profit providers? If so, what's stopping Cardiff, for instance, doing that now, in terms of cost and in terms of a national directive, to go back to my earlier point? What is needed to be able to propagate more capacity in the system in terms of residential care, rather than fostering?
I think in terms of residential, the residential task group is working on all of these elements. There is in-house residential care in a number of local authorities. Certainly, at least three of us at this table have got our own residential—
They are small. Nonetheless, I think what we can demonstrate is that we can, as local authorities, deliver good residential care. I think your question is really well made. I think there are a number of initiatives that are going on across Wales. It's the speed with which we can bring them online that is the challenge for us. So, in Gwent, for example, we are looking at regional work to deliver more residential care on a regional footprint. That works for us, in terms of the complexity of the children that we're looking to care for. No one local authority is going to meet their needs, but the five of us together have got a chance of being able to develop a model—that's one.
Cardiff is going down a slightly different road in terms of looking at how you work with the private providers to commission something that's fit for purpose. So, I think there are models out there that we can look at. It's about having an alacrity to bring them online quickly enough, and that's what we're having trouble with.
I think some of the steps that have been taken under the ministerial advisory group are helpful with that, but I'll go back to our very first question—it is quite simply the capacity in the system when we are managing what is a real crisis now. We just don't have that capacity currently to be able to do this quickly enough.
I think that some of the money that the Welsh Government's put in to support the work of the residential task and finish group is really welcome. Most of that work will report by March. I suppose from our perspective, what we would ask for is a continued support for that work from Welsh Government to ensure that we continue to develop that. The first stage of that has been working with 4Cs, which Gareth has already mentioned, and ensuring that we have a proper understanding of our residential world, because we don't currently have that in Wales. We have a number of external providers. We have a number of English children who are in our beds. We don't know, at the moment, because nobody has single responsibility for that.
There will be.
There is some. There's the information that 4Cs holds—
Yes, for Wales. There is some information that 4Cs holds. There's information that Care Inspectorate Wales holds. We will have, by the end of March, that overall picture. And I think it is distorted by the number of children who come in and are placed with private providers from England. So, that creates extra challenges for us. We'll have that by the end of March, and that will be local authority and private providers—Welsh children and English children. We'll have that full picture. That will then place us somewhere that is, I think, much stronger, in order to look at what do we need to develop in Wales, and I suppose our plea, then, would be to continue the funding that we've already been able to access to do that piece of work for the next piece of work to develop those resources across Wales.
In the interim, we're all doing whatever we can to meet the demands that we've got, both regionally and locally. So, for instance, I am on the verge of opening a second residential unit within Caerphilly. Because of the demands that we've got and because of the types of behaviours that we're seeing with the cohort of children, we feel confident that we can provide that service better, better quality, and at much lower cost locally. There are examples across Wales of us all doing that.
So, in terms of a model of that in-house provision, in terms of recognition of the proportion of spend that is going out of county, and for some very good reasons, there are recognised models out there across Wales where that's already happening.
It's being disseminated partly through 4Cs, partly through the work we've referred to. There was an event held earlier this year by CIW and South Wales Police, with some earlier models, including one in Newport that we've looked at, so that work is being disseminated and is being shared. It's getting to a point where we've got enough, given the rapid rise of children that we've got coming through the system. It's our challenge.
It's also about recognising that a very small number of young people actually do need to be out of area for their own safety, and therefore we either have to commission from each other, or we need to commission from the independent sector.
Just on that, could you just give us something so that the committee can get some sense of the scale involved here? Because I'm conscious that if there's a court order or if there's a crisis, the local authority has to respond. It's impossible to plan this. There may not be capacity in Wales or in the state sector. What kind of figure would a child presenting as an emergency like that be? How much could they cost to the local authority, which you wouldn't have budgeted for?
The average cost is anything between £3,000 and £5,000 for a residential placement—
Per week. But some of those costs will be much higher than that. Caerphilly has got the highest costing placement at the moment, at £16,500 a week.
For one child, under deprivation of liberty safeguards, and court ordered. It was against the advice of the local authority, but it was the only placement in the country that would take that young person from secure.
It's in London—one of the London boroughs.
Until we can find an alternative placement. We've been searching every day, every week, every month, which is why we're opening our own unit in Caerphilly for that one young person.
It's probably the most extreme. It's the most extreme I've ever come across in over 30 years in social work, but some of the numbers are creeping up there: £10,000 or £11,000 a week.
Yes, routinely. Only last week—and it wasn't on a Friday—we were searching for a placement: 52 searches for one young person between Monday and Wednesday. There were no placements for this young person at all. We finally found a placement in Essex at £11,500 a week. By the time I rang the provider to understand why it was £11,500, that placement had already been snapped up within 15 minutes by another local authority. So, it is routine. Some of our most complex young people, on average, cost around £6,500 a week, and these are bespoke-type placements, so single placements, for example. These are children who are probably just below the cusp of secure orders.
Can I just take the example you quoted there, Mr Jenkins? You're thinking of opening up a secure unit, is that right? Not a unit, a home, just for this one child, which you would be able to provide for less than £16,500 a week.
Yes. We think it will cost us £11,000 a week, which of course, for the council, is a significant saving. The placement will have declaration of liberty safeguards in place because the young person can't have liberty at the moment, but the judge is very clear that they shouldn't be in a secure unit. So, they will technically be in secure, but not in a secure unit.
Yes, certainly. Until they're 18.
And that has to come out of your standard social services budget. There's no way of being compensated for those extreme circumstances.
There is no money available from anywhere else for that.
So that's taken, presumably, from other looked-after children or from outside the social services budget.
The reality for Caerphilly is that it's an overspend of £860,000 for the year.
If you look at the children's services budgets across Wales, almost all of us are looking at overspends for this reason, perhaps not all to quite the extent of Caerphilly, but all of us are looking at those overspends.
And in the context of local authority budgets being squeezed through austerity and so on, I presume this is concentrating the minds of the leadership of the council. There is clearly work going on at Welsh Government level through the task and finish group to come up with solutions, but, as you've said, none of this is going to be able to be done quickly. So, what kind of pressure are you under as leaders of social services to deal with this pincer movement?
I think the heads of children's services—and not just us; it's our senior staff throughout local authorities and individual social workers—are under enormous pressure. I think one of the interesting challenges in this is that what we have to do is go with the best placement for a child and sometimes the only placement for a child. You can't have a child just not having a placement, so we don't have options in this. I think the other thing that, again, we would all say is what we always absolutely ensure is that, perverse as this may sound, money is not a barrier in this. We have to find placements for these children. So, we are all, as are all of children's services, under significant pressure within the system to try and find a placement, to find the right placement, to continue to support that placement, knowing that, from a budgetary position, that is going to tip us and take us into a position of extreme pressure within our own local authorities.
Finally, Chair, that's what you were alluding to earlier about the system coping with the crisis at the minute but not having the capacity to do new things. That's the paradox of this, isn't it?
Yes, it is the paradox. I suppose one of the challenges—and we all, I think, have been here—. Irfan referred to the Friday afternoon syndrome. I think we've all reached the point where we've actually thought, 'We're not going to secure a placement for a child. What do we do then?' There is almost an incipient sense of panic for many of us when you're looking down that barrel. Now, to date, we've all found ways around to do that, but that's a very, very frightening place for individual social workers and heads of service to be in.
For me, I think one of the messages in this is how well children's services are doing against this backdrop and how effectively they're managing to care for the children that we have. I suppose one of our real pleas would be to try and really get that message across—the amount of work and the amount of pressure that people are under is substantial and yet the system is holding, children do have allocated social workers and, by and large, they are well cared for without knowing any of this backdrop that's going on. Children won't know this; they won't know that this is happening around them. We have a child who was placed in secure accommodation on Friday night in Scotland. She will have no concept of the weeks that have gone on to take us to that point, and nor should she. But, in terms of pressure in the system, that is huge.
That's costing us £9,000.
Thank you. In that regard, bearing in mind the context where we're at—the core business that doesn't stop and the scenario in terms of austerity and what that means for inequality and poverty growth—what needs to happen in order to be able—? You mentioned a word in terms of—. 'Clarity', I think. I've not heard that before. A very interesting word. What needs to happen with the national strategic direction to be able to give more welly boot in terms of speeding up a process that needs, in a sense, to speed up when all engines are currently running and everybody is doing their utmost to be able to fulfil the work in front of them?
Ultimately, the most aspirational is that we have to find a way—. I think we would all say—I think people would disagree, but we would say that we are at the end point. We're not responsible for creating the children who come through our door. We accept referrals; we have to. We work with what we have in front of us. We can't stop. We can't close our front door. Some of you may have seen a report the week before last that the Department for Education published that said that, every 49 seconds, a child in England or Wales is referred to children's services now. That feels very alarmist, and there's an element of catastrophisation in there. But, for us, you have to really look down stream. You have to look at universal services in education and health to improve that. For us, we can't undertake that. That's not our role.
So, for this committee's purposes, in terms of what we're doing in terms of looking across the piste in terms of, in a sense, value for money, which is not the reason why you are sat here and the reason why we came into politics—but what needs to happen on a national strategic agenda to be able to fulfil the outcomes that we all want?
I think the first thing is that we need to recognise the pressures on children's services and resource accordingly, and I think that is really challenging within current local authority budgets, but we have to recognise this isn't going to go away. There isn't a quick fix to this; so, we have to resource what we have, and then we have to resource the capacity of the local authorities to build solutions to it, because we can do this.
So, do we need new structures in place? That's what I'm getting at.
I'm not sure that we need new structures. I think we need additional resource within our own teams and our own services. You could say that we would say that, wouldn't we. We would say that we are able to do this—. But I really think, when you look around at some of the creative and innovative work that is going on against this backdrop, in most local authorities we have solutions if we had the capacity to be able to drive them. So, I think that's the first thing.
It's very much about getting in much earlier. This should be from birth. We've done some work very recently in the locality where we've looked at health visiting and frequency of visits to newborn babies, and it's significantly reduced because of the pressures on the health service. Midwifery visits have reduced, and that's where you get the early signs and you're able to spot needing to put some early interventions in. We've got the anti-poverty programmes, which are really successful, but we feel we need to have much more influence over the agendas for those programmes, so where some of those sit within children's services we're seeing some really good outcomes in terms of avoiding statutory interventions.
So, you would tend to move along the principle that there needs to be more intervention, far earlier on, which, as everybody knows, is good, but more programmes and more initiatives that are child centred.
And the real plea from me—I think it's a message you've picked up anyway—is that every child that has to come into the looked-after system suffers trauma and requires some level of therapeutic support. It doesn't have to be directly provided by a health professional, but there needs to be some kind of therapeutic assessment that identifies what is best in that care plan that will best meet that child's needs. It doesn't matter what age that child is. We should be able to rely on the health service to provide us with that support.
There have been some concerns with the recent Welsh Government budget—from some witnesses, anyway—about less money being ring-fenced and more going into the revenue support grant. Is that something that you would be concerned about as well?
Clearly, the consequential funding has been touched on earlier this afternoon, and I think one of the issues that we had is that we really welcome the allocation of that £8 million for children's services, and obviously edge of care, support for care leavers and Reflect, so preventing repeat pregnancies and repeat care proceedings. Our concern is—. We absolutely recognise that the control needs to sit with the local authorities, but it's also how do we ensure that that money, which has clearly been designated to be spent in children's services, can be spent there against that backdrop of other cuts. That's been really difficult for many of us. I think, by and large, local authorities have worked really hard to support that money staying with children's services, and to be able to undertake the work that it was allocated for, but that is a continuing challenge for all of us.
Thank you very much, Chair. I'm very shocked to hear that some children cost £11,500. Is that a week?
Unbelievable. You could have a carer or a security guard and leave them in a five-star hotel and it would cost you less than half. I can't understand why something—. Does the public know about it? You're telling us now about this serious expense, but the thing is, there's something wrong in the system. I can't believe it. How come this money—. I'm pretty sure that a lot of families, if they knew what finances are available—a qualified family, with the right people there—. I'm pretty sure there would be very generous people to accommodate these children.
But my question to you is very straight. Youth offending team managers—you know, YMC—and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales have stated that a high percentage of budgets is spent on children within profit-making organisations in local authority bodies. That stands in contrast with the therapeutic needs-led services. Is it worth exploring, in a Welsh context, that the value for money—that all adoptions agencies and fostering agencies must be not for profit?