|Adam Price AM|
|Lee Waters AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Neil Hamilton AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Anthony Barrett||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Colin Turner||Y Rhwydwaith Maethu|
|The Fostering Network|
|Kate Lawson||Y Rhwydwaith Maethu|
|The Fostering Network|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Meriel Singleton||Ail Glerc|
|6. Plant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5||6. Care-experienced children and young people: Evidence Session 5|
|7. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod||7. 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. Mae hon yn fersiwn ddrafft o’r cofnod. Cyhoeddir fersiwn derfynol ymhen pum diwrnod gwaith.
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. This is a draft version of the record. The final version will be published within five working days.
Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 16:16.
The public part of the meeting began at 16:16.
We are in public now for the first time this afternoon. I welcome Members back and welcome our witnesses to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, continuing our evidence sessions this afternoon into care-experienced children and young people. I welcome our two witnesses. Would you like to give your name and positions for our Record of Proceedings?
Okay. Prynhawn da. Good afternoon. My name is Colin Turner. I'm the director of the Fostering Network here in Wales.
My name is Kate Lawson. I'm the policy manager at the Fostering Network, based in London.
Great, thanks for being with us. We've got a number of questions for you, so I'll kick off with the first one. Can you elaborate on your written evidence that drastic cuts to local authority budgets have placed a growing pressure on the care system in Wales? Who wants to do that? Kate.
Yes. As we said in our evidence, I think across the UK has seen a really increased demand for local authority children's services, through the increased number of children coming into care. And it's not just the increase in the numbers coming into care, but also the increase in the complexity of the needs of those children, which have maybe been witness to, you know, sexual exploitation, gangs. There are just far more complex issues around now than there have been previously, and therefore the therapeutic support that's needed for those children that are coming into the care system has to be highly skilled, and it's foster carers that are having to offer that therapeutic support. So, you know, well over—. I think, in Wales, 85 per cent of looked-after children are in foster care. So, obviously, it's foster care that has taken quite a lot of that pressure in terms of the increased demand. Then again at the same time, in terms of austerity measures, as in all public services, children's services have seen drastic cuts to their budgets, and it's around the early intervention and more specialist or residential units, and foster carers had to plug that gap through those cuts.
If I could add, on a personal basis, I've formerly been a chief officer for children's social care here in Wales, I'm now the director of the Fostering Network, but I also have the joy of being a foster carer with two children currently in placement. Well, one, actually; one's just moved on to an adoptive placement from Cardiff. So, in all of those professional guises, with different hats on, I can personally speak about the impact of having to advocate for resources for foster children.
I can certainly advocate for having to answer to county council members in terms of spend that I've been accountable for in the past and, as Kate said, this is within the context of austerity, where budgets for local authorities appear and are diminishing, but within the context of more children coming into care, with more challenging antecedents. You'll be familiar with the saying 'ACEs', where there have been effects from early childhood adverse experiences. Drugs, alcohol and domestic violence are really common features in the children and young people, and I think what we're seeing, as foster carers, but also as service providers, is that very often the absence of robust prevention, early identification and family support services often means that children come into care with these complexities, which, for foster carers, causes formidable challenges. We're concerned about the stability of these children once they are in care.
Many of them are placed in an emergency, with the absence of clear planning in terms of placement matching, and that's often because, simply, there are not enough foster placements to meet the individual needs of those children when, and if, we're aware of those needs. But the harsh reality is lots of placements in foster care are made knee-jerk-ly, in reactions to crisis situations on an emergency basis. I can speak from my own experience of the children that I've had as a foster carer. Rarely do you have the luxury—and this is not knocking social care because this is the way it is. With the current children that I have, it was a phone call at midnight, saying, 'We're desperate, can you look after them just until Monday?' Two years on, they're still with me. And, fortunately, we've got the resilience, the support and the training to deal with—I'm not going to talk about their individual needs—but very complex, challenging children.
And it doesn't come cheap, so I'm sympathetic with local government. Their funding has been, obviously, diminished from central Government, but it does mean that when we're offering services to children, they've got to be as quality assured as possible: we have to have carers with the right skills and abilities to look after them and the planning stages of making placements have to be second to none. That proves to be a real challenge in the current climate because of high, rising numbers and, as we've said, austerity measures.
So the pressures on the care sector in general are feeding through into the fostering—. They're taking up the strain, so to speak.
Yes, and the committee will be aware that, in Wales, there are generally three cohorts of foster carers: there are those directly employed by the local authority, between 50 and 60 per cent—my guesstimate; there are those foster carers provided by independent providers—that's the independent sector; and there are those who now, in Wales, have formed a charity coalition, so, the charitable sector that provides foster placements.
The reality is that I don't believe that anybody, at any one time, truly understands where all the vacancies are; where the particular pressures are on individual placements in individual communities. We know that there's a shortage for sibling groups, for parent and child placements, and for placements for children with disabilities. But, what is missing, I believe, is a national register that could—. Every approved foster carer could be listed and then, alongside that, could be any vacancy rates that they have, but also then, if there were local needs analyses of the types of foster placements that are required, when we were actually embarking on recruitment campaigns for foster carers at least we could be targeting those foster carers for the children where there's a demand in local areas. So, there is a case for regionalisation, but, again, all at a cost.
Yes, just on the figures: so, we've had figures given to us that show that 75 per cent of all looked-after children are in foster care, but of the money spent by the system, only 45 is spent on fostering. So, on a very superficial reading of that, there does seem to be a curious mismatch. Now, what might be the explanation for that?
First and foremost is that foster carers always are first choice. If a child is unable to live at home or with extended members of their family, then they would come into foster care. It's the nearest that those children are going to get to an alternative family-normal lifestyle. We know that there are lots of children that have lots of successive fostering breakdowns, which can prove harmful and be even more compounding on their general behaviour demeanour. There comes a stage where decisions are made that it's no longer appropriate to place children in foster care, so alternative provision has to be considered. If you were to take the average foster placement costing a local authority perhaps between £700 and £800 a week, you compare that to a residential placement, which will probably start at something—and I don't know the figures, so don't quote me—from £2,000 up to £5,000 or £6,000 a week depending on the nature of the individual child who needs that targeted support. So, although there's probably a smaller cohort of children placed in residential care or the secure estate, the cost for an individual child is probably five or six times more than that of a child in a foster home.
Just completely backing up what Colin said, once you move away from foster care into other more specialist residential units, it's so much more costly per unit.
And that accounts for the disconnect between those two figures I quoted, you think.
Okay. Just in terms of the different costs, we heard a couple of weeks ago from the directors of social services about the costs, just elaborating on the point you've made, Mr Turner, about some of the very high costs for very complex young people—£16,500 a week was one example quoted. Can you tell me about the cost variation between the local authority placements and the independent fostering providers and the charitable? What might be the differences we're looking at there?
One of the things the Fostering Network would praise Welsh Government for, and something that we've campaigned for on behalf of all our members for many years, is a national minimum fostering allowance paid to all carers. What used to happen was that there was a postcode lottery, as to depending on where you lived depended on what fee you would be paid. So, all foster carers in Wales, apart from one local authority that is putting its house in order, pay an agreed Government national minimum allowance. That's approximately £180 a week, depending on the child, but on top of that they receive a fee that reflects the specialist skills and abilities that foster carers develop as a result of caring for the most challenging children and young people.
The true answer to your second question, I hasten to add, is really difficult, because I don't think anybody truly knows the true comparative cost of an in-house foster placement compared to an independent provider. Yes, you may pay a foster carer in-house £400 a week for dealing with a very challenging young person, but if that child was placed with an independent provider, the local authority would have to pay at least twice as much to that provider for that service. It wouldn't mean that that foster carer would get any additional, but the justification is that that pays for the support and the infrastructure for foster carers to have a supervising social worker. I don't think—and I think it would be a really good exercise and it's something that we would advocate needs to happen—anybody's really done a cost analysis of the true cost of an in-house placement within a local authority and the cost of a placement in the independent sector.
I think what runs parallel to that, though, is also the need for—what we talk about, and indeed it's what this whole inquiry is about—outcomes for children and young people. There's no research that's been undertaken to date to establish whether the outcomes for children placed in the independent sector are likely or unlikely to be better than those placed in-house. So, we would advocate that there needs to be some, not just cost analysis, but analysis of the impact on outcomes for children who are placed in the two different settings.
I'm presuming that this is a supply-and-demand issue. Because there's a shortage of capacity, that opens up a space for independent sectors to charge more, because they can.
Sorry, can I just add onto that that there is obviously this tension that is around—and we're quite aware of the tension; I'm sure you are—between local authority and independent providers, with local authorities saying that independent—
No, we don't provide fostering services. We're a membership organisation representing the whole sector.
In England, they've just finished conducting a review of fostering, and the stock-take report, the independent report, was published last week, and they did quite a thorough analysis using accountants, comparing the independent sector with local authority provision. I think it's the first in-depth look that's been done of that kind. They said that when you take into account the types of placements that the independent providers are providing—. Because what often happens is that a local authority will look to its own pool of carers first when they're placing a child, and if they're unable to place the child within the local authority, then they will look outside. So, often the children who are being placed in different providers are requiring highly specialist care, which is what the independent providers were—. A lot of them were first born to fill that shortfall of highly specialist care. So, when you take into mind the cost of providing that more specialist care and the overheads and everything, there was very little difference between the local authority and the independent placement cost. But, as Colin said, I think that would be a really good exercise, actually, and it needs to be done because I think there's a lot of talk and myths that are being created around—.
Okay. In terms of that support, because I've just heard anecdotally from foster parents who say that, in the independent sector, they get a better level of support than a local authority provider might get. This is all anecdotal, but the experience I've been given in constituency surgeries is people who say, 'This local authority is rubbish, but this provider is much better' and so on, then you go with that. So, do you think there's a question for local authorities to look at their own behaviour and practice to see how they can better support foster carers?
So, every two years the Fostering Network carry out a state of the nation survey, and in 2016 we published our last state of the nation. We had over 2,500 foster carers throughout the UK fill out the survey. When we asked the question around the support, it was very clear, when we analysed it between local authority carers and independent carers, that the independent carers were saying that they were really happy with the support and the training. They were getting 24 hours' help, when placements were at crisis point, from their independent providers. But they had a higher vacancy level. They weren't happy with the vacancies that they had because, obviously, they felt that there was more of a vacancy. So, they were moving to the local authority to increase their placements, whereas the local authority—
Why would there be a vacancy if there's a shortage of foster placements?
Well, independent providers are dependent upon local authorities to place the children. Local authorities are both the commissioners of service and the providers of service. So, every independent is dependent upon a local authority to place the child. They have no control over the supply.
So, there is spare capacity in the independent sector that would suggest.
I think, like Colin said, there needs to be an analysis of what the vacancy rate is.
Okay. Could I ask—? I don't know if you want to make a final point there, Mr Turner.
On vacancies, I go on tv at least once a year, during Foster Care Fortnight, saying that we want to encourage normal people who are interested in offering children care and becoming foster carers. I can guarantee, the following day, we have foster carers who ring me up saying, 'How can you say there's a shortage when I haven't had a placement placed with me for three months, and as a consequence of not being paid anything for those three months, I've given up fostering?' They're usually the independent providers because, as Kate said, most local authorities would have a policy where you search in-house first, not necessarily for the best placement but to—. There is this belief—or I've even heard the term 'myth'—that it's cheaper to place in-house. Our view would be you should be searching for the best possible placement that meets the outcomes identified for that child.
The other thing I'd like to say is that I know for a fact there are some foster carers who contact the Fostering Network from local authority providers who also say, 'I'm really happy with the service that I'm getting.' We also get foster carers who foster in the independent sector phoning up our helpline saying, 'I haven't had a visit for so long.' So, it's patchy—
In terms of the vacancies, this is why there's a need for a national register of everybody who's approved as a foster carer, a national vacancy account so that we know where they are, a needs analysis of local authority needs for placements—ideally regional—so that when people are recruiting new foster carers, of which there is a shortage, we can actually say, 'In Cardiff and the Vale, there's a shortage, at least for 25 placements for teenagers or sibling groups', but because of the nature of the geography, there are foster carers who are itching to get children placed with them, and having them, but then there are other children who are having multiple place moves because the matching has not been appropriate from the start.
Is it the case that that data just exists at a local level and isn't shared, or it's just not collected anywhere?
Before the establishment of the national fostering framework, I would say it wasn't shared, and we certainly didn't know because there wasn't appropriate data, performance management information, collected. I sit on the national fostering framework, and I'm really pleased with some of the developments that they're taking there, one of which is to collect routine, regular data that would identify trends, themes, placement needs. So, that is actually happening, and the shift towards looking about what we can do nationally in terms of fostering—what we can do regionally and what needs to remain locally, both in terms of saving money but also in terms of improving outcomes for children—is greatly welcomed by the Fostering Network. So, that's really important.
It's working on it, yes.
It is happening, but it's only in its early—green shoots, shall we say.
Okay. Can I just move on? There are a couple of other questions I want to cover. We've heard about the variation in spend in local authorities, which, on the surface, seems very hard to understand. Cardiff's spending on average £64,000 per looked-after child. Denbighshire's spending £27,000 per looked-after child. Do you have any insight into why that would be the case?
Well, again, if there was a breakdown—. If you had the benefit of a cost analysis as to how those figures were identified, I think that would be really helpful. I know for a fact, as I'm sure many people around the table here will be aware, that Cardiff, particularly, has a relatively higher number of children who are fostered placed outside of the authority. And inevitably, whenever you place a child in a foster placement or a care home outside of your locality, there are costs incurred. Almost inevitably, you're having to purchase placements from the independent or charitable sector, which, as I say, will come as a double fee than if you were placing in-house—although I'm repeating myself—nobody really has done that cost analysis. So, that's the biggest challenge. And obviously, for a social worker visiting a child from Cardiff—if you're a Cardiff social worker visiting a child who's placed in Abergavenny, there are all the oncosts for travel and—.
So, in terms of performance measures, then, is there enough—? Because we heard from the social services directors, again, that there's a big pile of data being collected. We pointed out that in terms of the national outcomes framework of the social services Act, there's only one explicit indicator for looked-after children, and that's the number of young people attending local authority maintained schools at 16, which seems to be a very crude measurement. So, do you think enough data and the right granularity is being collected, and what, in terms of the framework of the outcomes measures, needs to change there?
There are other measures that are being taken into consideration here within Welsh Government and within the sector. For example, the number of placement moves that a child would receive within its first year—we know that the impact of children moving foster placements is often harmful to their overall general development and their outcomes. If you have to change schools regularly as a foster child, it can impact on your educational attainment. We know for a fact that looked-after children fare less well in terms of academic qualifications when they leave school—still less than their peers who are not looked after. We also know that children who move about in placements often suffer from emotional and mental health needs, and it's really difficult to access consistency of mental health services and support if you're moving placement to placement, because different health boards may take on previous assessments if they've been lucky enough to get one started in the first place. So, all those can compound on outcomes for children.
In terms of whether we know enough, I think if we were to consider an analysis of the number of breakdowns of foster placements, even in the local authority or the independent sector, that would be an interesting piece of work to do. Why are placements breaking down? Is it because the carers are not being supported appropriately to manage difficult children? Is it because foster carers are not receiving enough background and understanding of the child before they are placed? There are a range of factors that I think we could—
So, given that highly fragmented picture, given that we're only talking about 6,000 people, which, on the one hand, is a tragedy, but still, in a population of 3 million, is a relatively small number, do you think this is best done at a local authority level, or would there be a case for having some kind of national picture that contracts so that if somebody does move out of county, they're still having some consistency?
I think nationally it would be really difficult because of the scale and the geography and the different community types within Wales. Definitely regionally—I think the Fostering Network would support that the regional commissioning of placements would be appropriate. But also, linked to that, there would need to be a regional needs analysis, so that we're only recruiting the foster carers who we've identified are in need in particular areas.
In terms of making those placements work, it's about affording foster carers the respect and status, that they are professionals, they know the child, they live and breathe children, and it's about listening to carers. But it's also about providing them with the pre-approval training and then robust post-approval training for their development, so that they're constantly being kept up to speed with trends and developments that can help them cope with these most challenging children.
I think there are two things, following on from what Colin said, that can be done at a local level, but might require national oversight. So, the first thing is around the fact that the most effective use of resources starts with doing really high-quality individual assessments on what the needs of that child are. And once you start from that point of view, once you have that firm understanding of what the needs of the child are, then, from that point, you can plan the services that are needed, because you then aggregate all those individual assessments locally, and then plan what services are needed. That defines and drives your recruitment of foster carers, because you're recruiting based on the needs of your local looked-after children population. That also defines your commissioning and your work between the local authority and the independents about what you need the independent services to be offering, based on that. But that might require some more national oversight that those sufficiency statements and that planning is being done at a local level.
The other area, following on from what Colin said, is around placement disruption. I think it's really important, and I think we find, across the UK, that there's a real lack of scrutiny around why a placement is ending. So, in Wales, before a placement ends, there should be a placement review that takes place, unless it's an emergency ending. There should be a placement review that takes place that involves the independent reviewing officer chairing that. It involves all interested parties there to say, 'Is this placement ending in the child's best interests?' and 'Are there not any other motivations or drivers that are ending this placement?' And I think that feedback from our helplines and feedback through our state of the nation clearly shows that that placement review isn't systematically taking place before the end of the placement to fully understand whether the placement is ending in the child's best interests, and that there aren't any other financial motives or other things at play there. So, I think that might—
Well, maybe, for instance, if the local authority wants the child to move to an in-house placement, but they might be very well settled elsewhere.
It can include the child and should include the child. It should definitely include the child's views and voice if the child can't be present in the review. But the actual review needs to take place in the first place and be independently chaired to make sure that the reasons that are being given for that placement ending are really scrutinised. Because, as Colin said, every move has a trauma and an effect on that child and their potential moving forward. So, it's really important, I think, that there needs to be some national oversight so that those placement reviews are happening.
A final question from me, briefly, if you could. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 has a duty on local authorities to increase the range of not-for-profit services. Is that happening?
It might be a play on words—I know for a fact that the charity sector in Wales has come together and they've established a charitable collaboration, which is working well—Action for Children, Barnardo's, and I think Team Around the Child may be in there. They've come together to collaborate and co-produce to offer charitable fee status. Now, if you'd have asked me, 'Are their fees any lower than the independent sector?' I wouldn't know, but it would be an interesting question.
That doesn't quite answer my question. Do you know the answer to my question? If you don't, that's fine.
I'm not aware of any, no.
No, I don't know.
Thank you very much, Chair. And thank you very much, Colin and Kate. My question is very straightforward and very simple. The cut in local authorities' budgets has had a lot of impact on various services. How big is that impact on fostering in your local authorities in Wales?
Is it having an impact—sorry?
The impact of the cut in budgets, and that budget is cut, and, you know, it's severe, and you're also saying it might come to crisis intervention in the end. So, I need to come on to that level and how you made that statement.
The answer to that question, quite simply, is that if ever there's a child in Wales that needs a foster placement, I think a placement is made. As the directors of social services association—if they've identified identified a child needs to be looked after, they will find a placement for them. The challenge is whether it's the right placement at the right time the first time. So, because of the lack of choice within geographical or local areas, children are often placed in emergency for a few days, then we're running around to try and find a better, more suitable placement locally that would meet the desired outcomes of the care plan for that child. So, that child could be moved a second time, quite soon after the first placement, and then, hopefully, it could be stable.
But what we also know is, for a lot of foster carers, because of the lack of prevention, early intervention, a lot of these children are coming to care in crisis. You don't often know as a foster carer, neither do the social worker or the social services, what you're going to get in your home until they actually settle down and they start talking about their experiences, or you start observing or coping with their behaviour, because all behaviour is communication when you have children in. You might be getting aggression, you might be getting smearing, you might be getting absconding, whereas if you were to read the histories that are presented to foster carers, they don't often represent the child that you get. Sometimes it's because information simply hasn't been shared, but it's very often because you were not aware of the history of that child. I've looked after children who have disclosed quite horrific child sexual abuse that was never reported to any social worker—it's when they feel safe, when they feel stable. I've had children reporting horrific acts of violence that they've encountered, of violence that they've witnessed. It's at times when they wake up having nightmares, screaming at night, that these sorts of things, when they feel safe, they'll tell you. That's never recorded. I've had children and young people speak to us, or young people who have said they felt like there have just been mistakes written on pages. Even young people themselves will say, 'What's recorded doesn't often represent what has actually happened to me.'
On that question, Mr Ramsay, of whether young people are involved in reviews, it's fundamentally important that they're encouraged to and that professionals try to make them as little stigmatising as possible. We had a young person—his LAC review was taking place in his school, because they thought it would be more conducive for him to attend. For that young person, it was, 'This is singling me out'. Who wants a teacher to come in and say, 'David, your social worker's here. You've got a meeting'?' That's straight away making him different. So, we've got to understand young people and we've got to understand how we can engage and communicate. It's not an easy task.
So, it's that stability, but, in answer, very quickly, I've never come across a situation where I felt, either professionally as a chief officer, where—. If a child is in need of an emergency placement, they will be placed, irrespective of the cost. But, obviously, the budget for that has to be taken—there's no additionality of budgets for unpredicted rises in looked-after children. The context is that local authorities are getting less and less, so they may have to take the money for that additional child from prevention or early intervention, or it may be that they won't have enough money to spend on post-therapeutic support for that child, once placed. It's a harsh reality; the local authorities are really struggling.
Thanks for the answer, but I'll put it another way now. The thing is, there's a shortage of foster families. There are around about 440 needed, you mentioned, in the next 12 months, and also, the foster families—more than half, I think—said the money given to them is not good enough. So, you tell me if the people are not having good money. That may impact on the services they're giving to these children. So, that is the scenario here. How effective are the local authorities' commissioning arrangements at the moment?
How effective are the commissioning arrangements? The issue about commissioning at the moment in Wales, I think, is that there needs to be some improvement in the independent provider coming together with local authorities and the commissioners to sit round a table like this and to say, 'We need to work together to identify where the pressures are in the system, where the needs for placement are'. Local authorities need to acknowledge that, perhaps, we recognise we need 20 placements in Cardiff but we're not going to make it, so we need to work with a provider to go out and recruit, train and support 20 providers, so that they recognise that this is about outcomes for children, not about who's making the most profit. It's about who can provide consistent quality care to the most vulnerable children in Wales. I think the Fostering Network is such that we would like to see the independent provider working more co-operatively and together, identifying the needs of local authorities, identifying the placement needs of children within specific regions and locally so that, together, they can work, and that would avoid foster parents, carers, being in certain regions without placements and so they give up fostering. There needs to be more of a coalition, co-production of services involving the charitable sector, the independent providers and the local authorities.
Have you got any plan to let people know the fostering you need, how to improve or invent, rather, to make sure that people go for fostering rather than not to bother about it?
Every year, we have what's known as fostering fortnight, where we talk about the real benefits of fostering and we encourage members of the public to come forward. It was one of those adverts that brought me along, basically. We know in Wales that the average foster carer—I don't know whether you're surprised—is the same age as me, 55. And we know what keeps people motivated to remain as foster carers, and we know what, from our research and our state of the nation, puts people off either applying in the first place or making the decision that, 'I no longer want to foster'. You could probably count them on one hand. Kate, you might have to help me, but: it's support that they receive from their local authorities, it's training and investment in their continuing professional development, it's recognising the status of foster carers as really important people in the team around the children. Even today, foster carers are patronised, they're treated unfairly, they're not considered as knowing that child probably better than anyone else.
The most memorable experience, and I've already recounted it to Kate today, was when I had a child placed with me for three months. I went to a multi-agency case conference and the independent chair asked us to introduce ourselves, a bit like today, and when I introduced myself and said, 'I'm the foster carer', I was told to leave the room—'I don't have foster carers in my professional meetings'. As I left the room, I looked round the table, and there wasn't one individual—yes, there were teachers, there was health, there was social work—there was not one individual person in that room that had met the children that I'd been looking after for three months. Neither did they know those children before they came to me, because it was one of those scenarios where they came in, it was a quarter to midnight on a Saturday, 'Can you help us out? We know you normally take teenagers, but it's only going to be till Monday'. Two years on, they're still with me, but that's how it happens. But the status of foster carers—we've got to get better at doing that.
Fees and allowances are important. I don't do this to make money. I'm very fortunate to have a second job, and it is a second job; it's not the most important job, because fostering is the most important, and the most rewarding. So, I spend every penny that I receive for looking after those children on those children, and probably more, actually. He's extremely excited at the moment because we're off skiing on the weekend. That's perhaps an unusual situation, but there are some carers that spend and really struggle. If you've got a mortgage, if you're feeding two foster children, clothing them, if you're coping with damage, repetitive damage, vandalism, and that's your only income, for many carers it's a real, real challenge. Whilst there's a cohort of some foster carers that have professions and other jobs, a lot of foster carers see this as their vocation, as their profession, but the fees and allowances, from our survey, they will say that they hardly ever meet the true costs of looking after children. If you think that, as in any profession, you might have paid holiday, foster carers rarely get paid respite care. Very few foster carers get any allowance or fee if there are no children placed with them. So, these are some of the reasons why foster carers don't stick to it.
And the other thing that I will mention—because I'm sure Kate will say if not—is the impact of allegations that are made against foster carers. It's a real issue in Wales, because one of the most challenging, concerning issues for any foster carers is if a child or a young person makes an allegation that I've hit them, that I've touched them inappropriately. We know that more than 90 per cent of any allegations against foster carers are either totally unsubstantiated—or they use the term 'unfounded'. But, for many carers, they immediately lose their foster children, their own children are at risk of child protection procedures, and there's a huge delay in those allegations and investigations. Most foster carers that contact our helpline are really struggling, because, when you're subject to an allegation you don't get any human resources support, you don't get any —. You know, some get independent support provided by the Fostering Network. Often, your allowances and fees are stopped. And not only that, but there is an impact on the sons and daughters and family of those fosters carers, and people say, 'Why are we putting them through it?' Inherent are the delays; the processes can take up to a year from the point an allegation is made to when it's concluded. But, if you bear in mind what I said earlier, most of them are unfounded or unsubstantiated. Foster carers just say, 'I'm not doing this any more. What's the point?' So, these are just some of the challenges.
There are a lot of positives. We meet with cohorts of foster carers that basically would do nothing else. So, it's not all doom and gloom; I wouldn't want to give that impression.
Just briefly, in your written evidence you talk about the challenges around collecting comprehensive data that allows you to measure the impacts of fostering or other forms of care. You touched upon this earlier in how you compare between the impact of independent providers and in-house. Why is it so difficult? I mean, it's a fairly basic thing, isn't it, to actually want to know whether we're having a positive effect. Why do you think it is still such a problem having that consistent means of measuring outcomes?
I do think it's a massive issue here, and I think it links with the commissioning framework as well. We have these quite complex commissioning frameworks that have been developed by local authorities, often quite separately. So, providers are having to meet different aspects of these complex commissioning frameworks. But, ultimately, lots of them still boil down to spot purchasing and lots of the placements are measured on cost rather than outcomes. And so we don't have an outcomes-based framework, so we can't actually measure the impact. We can see the impact foster care has because we meet lots of foster carers, we meet lots of fostering services, we meet lots of children and young people, but, at a regional and national level, we actually need to measure the impact fostering has. And the starting point for that, presumably, is to say what a good foster care placement looks like and what the outcomes of that foster care placement look like. I think children and young people need to be really heavily involved, and there are projects that are happening to involve children and young people in terms of, 'What are the outcomes that are important to you?' We said earlier that one of the only measures is around being at school at 16. Well, what are the outcomes that are actually important to children and young people that we need to be measuring as to whether that foser placement is successful or not, because, at the moment, really, we're measuring it around cost rather than the outcomes that that placement is achieving?
Yes. Could you just say a little bit more about those examples of best practice that are moving towards a more outcome-based measurement system? Are there local examples or, you know—?
I think Colin would probably be better placed to know of those examples in Wales. I know that there are some examples in England that I can provide the committee with.
I don't have them on me, but we can send them on. We're part of an alliance for looked-after children in England, and members of the alliance have been piloting outcomes-based frameworks, so—
We've got some good examples in Wales, which I'm obviously keen to share with you. Many of you might be aware that we've recently, as the Fostering Network, been awarded a grant to develop some key principles of social pedagogy in fostering. What is really positive about this is that within the Cwm Taf area of Wales—Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf—we are delivering five masterclasses that are being repeated three times over the next two years. What's really positive about this is that it brings together just about every professional who would be part of the team around a foster child. So, you've got the teacher, you've got the social worker, you've got the foster carer, you've got the headteacher, you've got CAMHS and other health people. In my 35-year career, as a social worker qualified in lots of different areas, I've never been in a room where you've got multi-agency professionals actually learning together. The learning is about what are the top 10 key principles about promoting the well-being of foster children—so, the well-being of the child in the classroom, the child's emotional and social well-being, the importance of kinship, the importance of ties with the birth family, the challenges for foster carers in working within a sector that, on the whole, doesn't always value the work they're doing, yet they believe they know the child better than anybody else. It was a truly amazing experience to see everybody, 75 professionals, in one room, not too far from here, over a five-day period, lowering their flags. At the beginning, you could probably determine who was a social worker and who was a teacher, but but the end of it, it was just a real synergy, all with the common aim of promoting positive outcomes for looked-after children. It's been evaluated, and hopefully, we can run it out across the whole of Wales in the future.
We made a bid to our best friends in Welsh Government, obviously, because they awarded it to us. We ran, in England—sorry to say it came from England—a number of social pedagogy programmes. One was called Head, Heart and Hands, and another was called Fostering Achievement. They were all formally evaluated. We took the best of the learning from that, and because we're Welsh, we designed our own Welsh version of 10 top key principles of social pedagogy. It's being evaluated by Cardiff University. We've had consultants involved from academia, and it's being rolled out. As an invitation, if people are interested in coming along, whatever status you are, to observe one of the sessions, obviously, if time would allow you to attend, I'll make sure that the clerk or whoever—you tell me—and I'll make sure that I give you those dates, because they are something else.
Great. Thanks. Finally from me, how effective has the Welsh Government's ministerial advisory group been in improving outcomes?
I sit on a—. I could give feedback on myself, really. But I've only been in post a year. I've probably sat—
I might have to declare an interest. I think I've attended three meetings. I think what is really positive is that everybody that sits around that table, whoever the Minister is—I know you've got Huw Irranca now there, who's leading the way—everybody is not necessarily there because their bosses are telling them to be there. They're there because they're committed and they want to be there. And I think there's a common approach to the issues that need addressing, which is really, really positive. I think what's also really important is that you've got a young person who's the vice-chair—massive praise for Welsh Government to even think about it, let alone make it happen.
Oh, was he? Absolutely outstanding. So, that's a very positive initiative. And I think the other thing that's really positive is that a lot of the work streams—. Not a lot of work gets done in that high-level board, but I am aware that the work streams that fall out of that are actually happening. And, indeed, Fostering Wellbeing, which is the programme that I talked about in Cwm Taf, that is one of the work streams that has fallen out of the ministerial advisory group. So, it's really good. I don't know whether I should say, but I don't get a sense of it being political. There's cross-party sign-up, which is really positive. I think everybody's there because I think we recognise that there is a crisis in Wales, that we are struggling with diminished—. It's not our fault, but that's the situation we're in. So it's creative, it's innovative, and I'm hoping that, even if it's just the plans and the work streams for the national fostering framework, because there are some really good positive developments in there, let's just hope we can keep that momentum going.
Great. Thanks a lot for that. Thanks, Colin Turner and Kate Lawson. That's been really helpful. We'll send you a copy of today's transcript for you to check before we finalise it.
Fabulous. Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move, under Standing Order 17.42, to exclude the public from the remainder—well, there's no public up there—the remainder of the meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 17:05.
The public part of the meeting ended at 17:05.