Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd26/02/2018
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Lee Waters AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore AM|
|Vikki Howells AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Anthony Barrett||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Dave Thomas||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Geraint Hopkins||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
|Huw David||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
|Matthew Mortlock||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Naomi Alleyne||Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Welsh Local Government Association|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Meriel Singleton||Ail Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 15:05.
The public part of the meeting began at 15:05.
I welcome Members back to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Please ensure that electronic devices are on silent. In an emergency, please follow directions from the ushers. We've received a number of apologies today: from Neil Hamilton and also from Adam Price. Rhianon Passmore will be with us a little bit later. We have no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make at this point? No.
Okay, item 3, and we've a number of papers to note. First of all, the minutes from the last meeting. That's pack pages 58 to 60. Happy to agree the minutes? Good.
We've received correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, pack pages 61 to 193, on the intra-Wales, Cardiff to Anglesey, air service. The Cabinet Secretary has advised that the review of the public service obligations air service was published in November 2017. This was an inquiry undertaken by the previous committee. Anthony, did you want to—? Or Matt.
So, Members may recall that in November 2016 we took some brief evidence from the Welsh Government on the air link and that followed work by the committee in the fourth Assembly. I suppose our observation on this report is that it raises as many questions as it answers, mainly around what the Welsh Government's response is to the recommendations that are set out in the report. Also, I think it struck us that the report—you'll have noticed it—has a revision history on it that crosses about eight months during 2017 and there are aspects of it that seem a bit out of date, because during that period there were also issues with the company providing the air service as well. So, it's not fully up to date. So, if nothing else, the committee might want to seek clarity from the Welsh Government on the current contractual position and its plans for the future, but also perhaps its response to some of the recommendations set out in the report now. Whether you do that in writing or whether actually you want to simply get the Welsh Government in to do that quickly in oral evidence is up to you.
I agree with that. I think we should do it. I have an open mind about—
An evidence session?
I'm ambivalent about how we do it but I think we should do it.
Have we got time? Yes, we've got time in the diary when we can call the Cabinet Secretary and, so, I think we should do that in the first instance—Andrew Slade, I should say, the officer. Okay, good.
Secondly, we've got correspondence from the Welsh Government on Cardiff Airport. They've replied to my letter regarding the appointment process of the independent non-executive director of the board of Holdco. Are you happy to note that response? An update on the implementation of the remainder recommendations from the previous committee's report is expected in November. At least that was the agreement, so we'll hold them to that.
Andrew Slade, director general for the economy, skills and natural resources group in the Welsh Government, has written with further information on a number of issues highlighted during his introductory session with committee. Are Members happy to note his response?
I have a problem about the section of his letter on the Welsh Government's relationship with the UK Government's digital service, GDS. Again, there are more questions than answers. The flavour of the letter is that all is lovely, we're co-operating and involved, and on committees, and—. But it's silent on the question of how much we're actually using these frameworks. The Government in England have taken quite a proactive view on the role of digital. I don't see what reason there is why we shouldn't be directly using these procurement frameworks ourselves rather than trying to create our own. Apart from trying to assure us that there are strong relationships between the Welsh Government and the GDS, there's not much evidence in there about: to what extent, how much have we spent on it, are we using their frameworks to actually buy things, how much have we spent on them? One of the big issues in philosophy between the Welsh system and the English system is the approach to procurement. In England, they've gone for these new mechanisms, which are touched upon in the letter, which go for quick procurement and an iterative, experimental approach. We go for old-style, large IT contracts over many years, which take ages to procure.
So, there's a real point of substance here that this letter doesn't really address. I'd like us to know what are the lead-in times for our procurement frameworks compared to the English ones. Why aren't we using them? Or, if they're saying that we are co-operating fully, how much money have we spent on the English procurement frameworks? We've discussed before our concerns about the digital strategy and this, in a more granular fashion, Chair, is further evidence that all is not well here. The Welsh Government, who told us they'd given themselves a two out of four rating for this, again, for my mind, are showing a degree of complacency. So, I'd like to go back to Andrew Slade and ask for further details, as I've just described.
So, you don't just want a flowery response; we want to know exactly why the system is different to that across the border in England and why we've got different standards.
I'm not buying it.
Okay, we'll tell them that—we're not buying it. Oscar.
[Inaudible.] agreeing with—
That's part of it.
The skill set report around—. So, that's why there are three.
Okay, we'll get back to him.
Correspondence from the Welsh Government on the Welsh Government Supporting People programme. Tracey Burke, the director general for the education and public services group, has written with further information from the evidence session on Supporting People. She also responded to a number of questions committee had but did not reach on the auditor general's report on homelessness, which I forwarded to John Griffiths as chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to assist with their inquiry into rough-sleeping, which we agreed we would do. Lee, did you have a comment?
Yes, I have a comment on the section of Tracey Burke's letter on coding in schools. Similarly, when you look at the detail of what she's suggesting, there's very little they're doing. There's about £2 million-worth of spending they're putting on two different initiatives, which seems fine, but the scale of the Government's activity in this area compared to what we need to be doing is just dwarfed. So, again, it's warm words but the detail is not impressive. She talks about the Minecraft in education pilot, which is great, but it involves 10 schools in Wales. You know, this just isn't good enough. So, I'd like us now—it's a question for you and the team to decide whether or not we're the best committee to keep pursuing this, but the letters we're getting back underline the concerns I have that the Government's overall approach to digital is not sufficient to the scale of the challenge we face. It's helpful to have this information from Tracey Burke, but it just compounds my anxiety.
It compounds your fears. What's the issue, then? Ten schools have been—
There's an overall coding club, Cracking the Code project, which has had £1.3 million over this Assembly term, and then a further £930,000 for Technocamps, which is fine, but it's small. Then, Minecraft in education, which is in 10 schools. This needs to be in every school in every class, and so there's a profound disconnect between the scale of what we need to be doing and the trivial, I think, level of activity there is.
Yes, we've been less than reassured on the whole issue of digitalisation. We can either look to have more evidence with them, or we can write to them with our concerns in the first instance.
Yes, we should certainly do that.
And say thanks for the clarification, but it's just exposed more concerns than we had before.
Yes. Perhaps we can have a further discussion in private about whether we're the right committee to tackle the digital issue more generally.
Yes, it's either that or we pass it on to the economy committee, or we ask them if they can—. We can tell them the concerns we've had, and they can pursue it—
I think that would be appropriate.
—in the first—. Are you on—?
We're both on it.
Well, there we are, okay. So, either way, you're going to get to look at it, aren't you? There we are, that's the issue with the number of Members we have.
Okay. And, finally, we've had correspondence between the committee and the Welsh Government on working practices and procedures. Happy to note that correspondence? Yes. Okay, got there in the end.
Can I welcome our witnesses to this afternoon's meeting, from the Welsh Local Government Association? Thanks for being with us. Would you like to give your names and positions for our Record of Proceedings?
Prynhawn da. Good afternoon. Huw David, leader of Bridgend County Borough Council, and WLGA spokesperson for health and social care.
I'm Councillor Geraint Hopkins. I'm cabinet member for adult and children's services in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and I'm the deputy spokesman for WLGA on children. I'm also a foster carer. I want to just put that on record, since we are discussing this.
Naomi Alleyne, director of social services and housing at the WLGA.
So, you're at the coalface, in more than one sense in dealing with this.
Not, I should point out, in my own authority, because that's a conflict of interest, but Councillor David has been kind enough to send some of his cohort my way.
Councillor Hopkins is looking after my children for me. I think I need to declare that interest.
As you know, this is a large inquiry that we're carrying out, with different phases to it, so it's really useful to hear your view from the WLGA. Thanks for your written evidence. In that written evidence, you said that the local authorities' financial commitment to looked-after children has become unsustainable, and you've mentioned external pressures on families and on the workforce. Can you expand on why you believe that's the case?
Well, first of all, obviously, the evidence you've seen is that the expenditure has risen by 65 per cent in 10 years, a 35 per cent increase in real terms. And that's because of, basically, a long-term increase in the number of children who we're having to take into care, because they have been the victims of abuse or neglect. It's obviously a last resort for any authority; it's not a decision we take lightly. It's not a decision we take on our own—it's a decision that, obviously, we take to the courts, and routinely and unfortunately what the courts are telling us is not that we shouldn't be taking any of these children into care, it's that we haven't taken them into care soon enough. So, if anything, we probably should be taking more children into care. So, that's the pressure we face.
We obviously work hard on early intervention and prevention, and, in actual fact, we're more successful now than ever before in keeping families together. How does that sit with an increase in the number of looked-after children? Well, if you look at the complexity of the cases, every front-line professional that you speak to will tell you that the complexity of the cases has increased, and the needs of the children who they're working with have never been so significant. And that's because we've been successful in using early intervention and prevention services to work with those families. So, they're not working with the statutory social workers but they're working with family support workers, et cetera.
So, that level of increase in expenditure is not sustainable, because our overall budgets are obviously not matching that increase in expenditure on social care. The two are not keeping pace with each other, and it's not just in children's social care as we're seeing acute pressure in adult social care as well. It's the second biggest part of our budget, and we see no sign of that pressure easing; it is only growing. Some of those external factors we talked about are that—you know, we all celebrate the fact that we're raising awareness of, for example, domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation. Whenever you work with and identify a family where that is taking place, then, obviously, what you'll find, for example in terms of domestic abuse—and we're finding this increasingly—is that the child is a victim too. And when you find that a child is a victim of that abuse, whether it's in the form of neglect, or whatever, then you've got to act. So, that's one of the pressures that we're facing. I don't know whether Councillor Hopkins wants to come in.
There's a correlation, really, between this question and your own decisions around the proportion of the budget this Assembly spends on the health service in Wales. I think the predictions are that somewhere between 56 and 60 per cent, if it continues, of the Assembly's budget will be spent on health services in Wales in the future, and it's about the pressure that that's going to put on you in terms of what other things you would like to do as an Assembly. It's exactly the same pressures that we're talking about at local government level. The more that we spend on adult and children's social care, the less we're able to spend in other areas, other areas, of course, which, arguably, prevent children and families from coming to that crisis point at which they need to have more intensive services. So, there's a double whammy really of austerity, I suppose, in that it's putting more families, more individuals, more communities at risk of crisis. It's making them less resilient, and that makes them, of course, more reliant on the services that we as local authorities provide.
On the other hand, the local authorities, the public authorities that have to meet this increased crisis are, of course, under pressure themselves. So, we have to do things in very different ways, and it's arguable that local authorities, over the last five to 10 years, have had to and have responded by changing the way we do things, but it's getting to the point of: how much more can you do when the demand continues to rise? It's been mentioned, the rise in demand in the last 10 years, of about a quarter increase—a 25 per cent increase—in the number of children coming into care and the huge expense that that has generated for local authorities, which has required, of course, in times of austerity, for us to shift our priorities from elsewhere. Day centres, libraries, swimming pools et cetera have all suffered, and you all know about those situations in your own constituencies. And the more money we take up in the social care budget, the worse it's going to be.
So, it is at crisis point, if you like, and we're having to manage that crisis. You yourselves as an Assembly have asked the question through the future generations Act—the Wales we want in 50 years' time, isn't it, that's what you're challenging all public authorities to think of. Well, if we say, 'We want a Wales where no children have to come into corporate care'—we know it's unlikely to happen, but let's say that's our bold aim—wouldn't it be marvellous if no child had to come into care in 2050, into corporate council care? What are we going to do now as a country to try and achieve that? Because it's not just a financial burden, which is essentially what you're asking about; we are also creating a situation where these children will become adults and will not be fully functioning adults in the future. And that's not the Wales we want, is it?
Naomi, do you want to—? You're happy with what's been said. Okay, looking through some of the figures, Cardiff spent around £64,000 per looked-after child compared to Denbighshire's spend of a little over £27,000 in 2016-17. So, there's a big discrepancy between the amounts spent across Wales. What's the reason for that variation? Is it an issue, and is it better if more is spent on a child, or is it better value for money if it's not?
Well, there will be differences due to demographics, obviously. That's an obvious point I'm sure I didn't need to make. There was evidence presented to last year's social services conference, which is run through the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru and the Welsh Local Government Association, a partnership between the two, which it might be worth the committee getting hold of, which provides that sort of correlation between the more deprived areas and the size of the looked-after children population.
So, you're talking Cardiff, where there are significant pockets of deprivation within Cardiff, so you would see a higher proportion there. Perhaps it isn't quite as simple as that, but that's a fair point to make, I think, when you're trying to compare between the different local authorities in Wales.
Naomi. Oh, Huw, I should have said.
It can also depend—. Literally a handful of children can cause a huge impact upon the average cost of your placement, because there are care packages in place—you know, the most expensive ones can be £0.25 million a year, so you can have a handful of children and suddenly the average cost per placement rises very rapidly. I think the most expensive placement that we're aware of currently in Wales is one that costs £16,500 per week, so if I was better at maths I'd work out how much that is per year, but just one of those placements for an authority could increase significantly their costs as an average compared to another authority. So, we can look at the data, but that can explain much of that difference.
I was just going to pick up that it's very difficult to compare those kinds of figures. The demographics have an impact, but so does where the availability of placements will be. So, Cardiff's looked-after population is very high at the moment, so it may be that they have very few placements locally, which does mean placing people further away. I think it's difficult just to compare those overall without looking at the cohort of children and the needs that actually appear with those children within those costs within a home—those overall costs as well.
Okay. Lee Waters. Oh, on the final point I made, do you think there is a link between the level of local looked-after spending per child—authority spending per child—and whether a high spend results in better outcomes?
I don't think you can make sweeping generalisations about that, no. Because the more costly the placement, naturally, the more complex the situation with a child. So, you might talk—. I don't know the individual situation that you're talking about, but if we're talking about a late teenager with a whole range of perhaps that toxic combination of experience of abuse, neglect, maybe substance misuse and all those toxic combinations, yes, the placement is going to cost more, but also it's much more difficult to resolve, then, the issues that you're talking about and achieve the outcome that perhaps we would all want.
Yes, I think we need to be realistic about the outcomes for the children with the most complex needs, because to have that level of support will mean, more often than not, secure accommodation and literally a team of individuals just to support that one young person or child, and the behaviour is incredibly challenging. And they're never placed in those establishments as a first resort; it's always as a last resort, because you try and support those children first of all at home—obviously, they haven't been able to stay at home. They've then probably been placed or will have been placed with a foster carer, because we want them to have as normal an upbringing as possible. That's broken down. Then probably we've tried a different foster carer, and then we would have tried a local children's home, and that would have broken down. And then we would have looked at the out-of-county as the end of the road, if you like, because what we want to try and do wherever possible—and we are successful in doing that with the vast majority of our children, so 95 per cent of our children will be looked after in their local community, because what we're very mindful of is that those children, when they grow up, they're going to come back home and they need those links and those relationships with a peer group and with families and friends to make sure that their transition into adulthood is a good one. So, obviously, we want to support children in their local community wherever possible.
Good. So, that's clear. Lee Waters.
Yes. Thank you very much for the paper, which I thought was excellent and really sets out the issues very clearly, albeit a very depressing read. Can I just ask—? There are a number of things I want to ask. Touching on the point that Geraint Hopkins made at the beginning about the longer-term projections of the pressure on increasing spend, I was very struck by a figure you quote in here, that, over a 24-year period, the costs of adult social care are estimated to increase by 114 per cent, but, under the preventative scenario, they're set to increase by 108 per cent—so, less, but still a whopping amount. Now, you then go on to say that
'investment in preventative services requires an invest-to-save approach and there are very real challenges that local authorities face in making this a reality'.
Can I ask you just to elaborate on that, please?
The point is relatively straightforward, I hope: that, while we are trying to shift spend from the crisis end of the expenditure to early intervention, we still have to meet the costs of the crisis. So, you're trying your best to invest in early intervention services and you've got a finite amount of money to spend, you're spending it, we all acknowledge, at the higher end of need, you're trying to move spend for early intervention services, but you simply don't have the money to do that while you're also still dealing with the current crisis.
And you say that you've been using reserves
'to support the development of preventative "Edge of Care"'
in particular as a way of trying to ease this pressure. But, going back to that figure of there still being a 108 per cent increase in spend even if the preventative approach is successful, which is a big if, there's still going to be an over 100 per cent increase in spending. So, from a cost point of view—it may be a better thing to do anyway, to do these early interventions, for all sorts of reasons, but, from a cost point of view, it doesn't really help, does it?
The other question, which is almost unanswerable to the point, is: what would have happened if we hadn't invested in the early intervention? How much more crisis would there have been to deal with if we hadn't intervened early? Which is an almost unknown quantity, isn't it?
But the point that strikes me—
Even with the early intervention measures that we've taken, obviously demand has still increased. That says more about the increase in demand, really, than it does about the response.
But what strikes me from your evidence is that, in whatever scenario, there's an inexorable rise in costs coming, and your testimony is that you've reached the limits to absorb them, and you're now dipping into reserves, which clearly is not a sustainable approach. So, what's the plan?
Well, the plan is—well, the hope is that more resources are provided, and, look, it's not just us saying that. We've had independent research by the Health Foundation that has actually said that the growth in demand and expenditure will be higher, faster, in social services than in the health sector, and, as you know, there's been a significant increase in expenditure in health services as compared to investment in services in social care. So, we actually spend less per head on social care than we did 10 years ago. We're spending less, and, as you said, the problem we face, even with that prevention, is that the overall costs will rise. So, it will appear as if—to some people—we're not being effective and successful, whereas, even if we are, the budget will rise, particularly around older people, because I think those statistics were around older people—
Yes, they were.
But it's just—. You know, if there's going to be a doubling in the number—which there will be—of over-85s in the next 10 years, with the best will in the world, there are going to be cost pressures there, because one in four older people over 85 require some sort of care off the state.
It seems to me—again, reading your paper—that the two long-term preventative things that really need to be done are to retain and recruit more social workers and retain and recruit more foster carers. Because, going through the detail of your evidence, a lot of what you describe in a sense, are the costs of failure. So, the cost of placements we've discussed before—up to £16,000 a week in the most complex cases—is because there is a lack of supply of alternative measures. The crisis in support workers and in agency workers being used and the pressure that puts on the workforce, on the average lifespan of a social worker being eight years, for example, all that goes back to the ability to get and to hang on to good social workers. So, in terms of long-term preventative spend, isn't that really—? I may be stating the obvious here, but this is what really strikes me from the paper. Isn't that really—? What we should be crystallising a look at is lots of good social workers and lots of good foster carers. When it comes down to it, is that not the fundamental?
It's important, but, actually, what we're saying is that we don't want them to reach the stage where they need a social worker. We'd rather they were working with a family support worker. We don't want them to be in child court procedures. We want to get to that family before they reach crisis point. We want to be working with them before they're on the edge of care; we want Flying Start or Families First to be working with them and identifying the problem early on. So, whilst that's fundamental to good quality care when they're in the statutory care system, our emphasis is also on stopping them from getting to that stage. So, that's part of it, but it's not the most important thing, in one sense. Long term, the most important project for us is early intervention and prevention, is working with families. Because once they've reached that crisis point, for whatever reason, it is very difficult to go back and it's also very expensive, obviously, to place a child in care. We want to work with the families before they reach that stage, because that has better outcomes for the children, it's better for the parents, and it's better for the state, as well, not to actually become the corporate parent. The evidence is that, in most cases, you can do that. I was looking at evidence this morning: 85 per cent of the families that we've worked with in our edge of care programme in Bridgend over the last four years, the children have stayed with their families. They still get a level of support with that. Let's not kid ourselves that these become poster-boy and poster-girl families where everything's hunky-dory, they still need a level of support, but we haven't taken the children into care. They're not being looked after by other people; they're getting support from a family support worker or educational psychologist, or education welfare officer or some additional support like that.
The two points that you make are quite right. Essentially, more social workers and more foster carers deal with the problem, don't they, not the symptom, isn't it? Sorry, they are the symptom and not the cause. They are the symptom and not the cause. The long-term solution, as I've already said, is the anti-poverty agenda: what are we doing to increase prosperity in our communities that makes for stable, secure families? That is something that we, as councils, can't do alone. We would press you, perhaps, to have a think, as you've changed your anti-poverty schemes—. You've discussed, I'm sure, in the past, the changes to Communities First that have been made. What's going to come in its place? Under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, how is this Welsh Assembly going to help local authorities combat the situation with poverty in our communities, and deprivation, which is, essentially, the root cause of this instability that causes children to have to come into care?
Just a final point—I think the issue around the social workers is that Social Care Wales, which has a role in terms of workforce development, has identified this as an issue and will work its way through, with the universities, around that, but, obviously, there's a time lag before those social workers not only are trained, but also then gain some of the experience that's required to deal with some of these complexities. So, yes, in terms of we need more social workers to be trained in this way, but there is something around the time lag that that would bring. And, with the foster carers, local authorities have been trying to recruit more foster carers for quite a while now, and there are some authorities that have actually done quite intense recruitment and very, very little is coming back in terms of people willing, or wanting, to stand as, or to take the role as, foster carers. With the national fostering framework, which is being developed and rolled out, the recruitment of foster carers is a key issue because I think you'll see in the evidence as well the difference in price between in-house foster carers and the independent sector as well.
Can I just jump in there? I'm sorry, there's an awful lot I want to get through and I'm conscious I'm pushing my luck with the Chair.
That's not like you. [Laughter.]
It's never stopped you before, so I don't know why it's worrying you this afternoon.
The point in your evidence about the lack of support and prioritisation for foster carers and adopted children in accessing child and adolescent mental health services and in-support services. And also, your proposal for a new preventative integrated care fund for Wales. I'm sorry about this, but if you could be relatively brief because there are some other questions I want to ask you too.
Maybe Naomi can talk about the last point. We did give evidence, Chair, to the other committee, the children and young people—is that what you call it—committee of the Assembly, a month ago, that was focusing specifically on CAMHS and support services, so you may want to look at the evidence we provided them.
We'll have a look at that.
But, yes, clearly, from a children's services point of view, we need access to a good, timely CAMHS service. The courts require it when we're doing psychological assessments and, also, we need it in that ongoing support that we give to children who need CAMHS. I think everybody has agreed that CAMHS could do a lot more than it is. To be fair to everybody, they're under pressure, just as we all are, and we need to consider that. So, it would be worth having a look at the evidence we did give to that committee.
And I think the other point that a lot of our social workers will make, particularly around CAMHS, is not just the formal CAMHS system, but a lot more counselling within schools and emotional support provided at earlier stages, if you like, rather than, again, when things get to crisis point.
Around the fund that we called for, it was around the same time that England established their better care fund—and I understand there were some issues with that—and Wales established the intermediate care fund at the time. I think, obviously, the ICF has been hugely influential and impactful in terms of being able to respond to some of the issues, but it's been particularly focused on older people in the past, although it opened up last year, particularly around children. I think the idea behind it was some kind of fund that would allow that real focus on prevention and developing those preventative and early intervention services, which, as we said earlier, because the funding is being used to deal with the demand, and the increased demand, there's no scope at the moment to really look at some of those early interventions.
Is there any additional evidence you could provide for us of what that might look like, that fund?
I'm sure we can.
The analogies with adult services—I'll just speak for the moment parochially. In Cwm Taf, we're using the ICF to put social work teams in the hospitals: in A&E in Prince Charles and in the Royal Glamorgan. That's in your patch, Miss Howells. I can't call you Vikki in the committee, can I? Social work teams and the NHS are working very closely together to prevent the admission to hospital of older people and to ensure that they can come out quickly to have the services in the community, and that's already yielding some results. That's a good example of where a fund, between different agencies, can be used to alleviate pressures. That's a good analogy, I think.
Chair, do I have time to ask the questions I should be asking? [Laughter.]
If you're succinct and there aren't too many supplementaries that wander off.
You're far too generous, Chair.
I just want to ask, quickly if we can, about some of the anomalies in spends between local authorities. I take the point you made earlier that it's difficult to extrapolate, but there do seem to be some startling differences. The figures we have are that Monmouth have increased their expenditure by 105 per cent and Wrexham have cut their expenditure by 30 per cent. What might explain that?
Anybody want to try and—?
Is that something you're curious about within the WLGA?
Yes, I think we'd be curious about it. I don't think we've got an answer for you, though. Shall we look into that?
We can come back to you.
Please, because it does look very odd.
The only other thing I would say on that is just what you include in the—. Because, in different parts of Wales, different services are in different directorates, if I can use that term. So, it might be that the early help and intervention spend in Wrexham is in a different part of the council and therefore hasn't been counted in that expenditure. So, we will go back and we will check that. To be fair to Monmouthshire, it depends, if you started from a—. Because, historically, I think there have been very low levels of looked-after children in Monmouthshire, and it may be that, historically, there have been high levels in Wrexham, because there has been that—. You know, there are differences across Wales.
Okay. Thank you. So, my next question is: the Welsh Government is proposing to move into the revenue support grant £8 million for various different work streams relating to looked-after children and preventing children going into care. I just wondered what your views were on that.
We, broadly speaking, welcome any move of money into the RSG, as long as it isn't cut by 50 per cent before it goes in, obviously. It's mainly because we think it's much more efficient, rather than having people here filling in forms, or us filling in forms and then you employing people to look at the forms that we've employed people to fill in, that, you know, the money is directed to the front line.
Obviously, because there are some concerns that can be expressed when money goes into the RSG, we've been working very closely with the heads of children's services and the Cabinet members so that there is that full understanding within councils around the increased demand around children's services and the necessary spend, if you like, on some of the issues that we've talked about. So, heads of children's services have been working very closely with Cabinet members around the transfer of that money as well.
Okay. And then the final question I have, for now, is the pupil development grant of £1,150, which is paid to the education consortia. What's your feeling, and is there any evidence that this is being well spent in delivering outcomes for the children?
Again, I'd probably need to speak to my education colleagues in more detail, but what we have done, through the National Adoption Service, is look at and highlight, if you like, the requirement for the needs of adopted children within that. I think it's an area that's starting, if you like, to have those detailed discussions around how that funding can be used for adopted children. I don't have that information, but, again, we could check with our education colleagues and come back to you on that.
I think we are intending to come back to that in our future inquiries, so just to make a note of that. So, we are interested in this area.
I know that, in Bridgend and in the central south consortium, the money is being used collectively by schools and local authorities to, for example, provide training across a number of schools. So, they've used that money quite effectively to raise awareness of the needs of looked-after children, and other vulnerable children as well, and the focus now is that they can be better supported emotionally by staff, and that's been regarded certainly as effective by the schools and staff. But, we can get more information on that to you.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Before we move on, Chair, can I just say, in terms of fostering—and we mentioned the national fostering framework—I think, just out of interest, it's worth noting that two thirds of children in foster placements are with in-house foster carers? So, these are the councils' own foster carers. A third are from the independent providers. The third cost as much as the other two thirds, just to give you an indication of the higher cost of the independent sector. The third in the independent sector cost—
The independent compared with the in-house.
—as much as the two thirds that are in-house.
But the evidence we've had previously—and, again, you were talking about misleading statistics earlier—is that those third may well have more complex needs.
Yes, that is a point, but it is a point well worth noting as we consider the commissioning mix: that it is important, as much as possible, that we, as local authorities, recruit in-house foster carers.
Okay. Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you. Before I move on to the fostering network agenda, and in terms of the different agendas within that, you've touched upon the £8 million in terms of the RSG. Is there any concern that by putting that into the RSG there will be undue competition in terms of the demands within that budget and in terms of frameworks supporting around that? Do you feel that that is the best way forward?
I've got no doubt that the money will go to children's social services because that is where the biggest pressure is. Social services is the biggest pressure that any council in Wales faces at the moment, and given where it is in terms of the agenda for every local authority in terms of obviously wanting the best for our looked-after children as corporate parents and because of the financial pressures, I'm very confident that that money will be invested in children. I've got no doubt about that. Perhaps I'd be not as confident about other pots of funding, but I'm certainly fully confident that that money would be invested in children because of the pressures that we're facing at the moment. We could probably double that and it would still all go into children's services.
So, in your view, that is strategic.
There was a concern because part of the £8 million is around the £400,000 for the national fostering framework. So, if it goes to the 22, how do you have that? So, through the WLGA, there's been an agreement to top-slice that money off the £8 million next year to ensure that there is money for the national fostering framework. But that's only to ensure that, rather than getting it from the 22, it was there as a fund. Members are very supportive of that, but very clear that, you know, supporting the money going into the RSG.
Okay. The Fostering Network has told us that cuts to local authority services have resulted in a severe reduction in early intervention children's services. In terms of that type of situation of crisis intervention and the need for an increased spend later on down the line, do you think that this is an accurate depiction?
Well, if they're telling you that, that just reinforces the position that we hold, which is that it's very difficult, facing the demand that we do, to shift spend to early intervention services while we're dealing with crisis. I think that just reinforces our point.
Okay, thank you. And the written response refers to the lack of appropriate placements for looked-after children, again as approaching a crisis position, something that's kept coming to us as a committee in terms of witness evidence. Does that mean that the current commissioning arrangements are effective, in your view, or not sufficient? What is your position on that?
We do come together to commission through the 4Cs model—the Children’s Commissioning Consortium Cymru model. So, local authorities across Wales come together to commission. Obviously, it's not as effective as we'd like it to be, otherwise we wouldn't be placing children out of county and indeed—
So, what needs to happen to shift that, because this seems to be an impasse here? Is there a need for more local procurement? Is there a need for a national—I know we've got the national Fostering Network, but is there a need for more of an in-house national approach?
Yes, there is. So, what we're doing is working with Welsh Government. There is a task and finish group at the moment. We recognise that there needs to be perhaps some invest-to-save and some national facilities located in Wales for those children with the most complex needs. We're probably talking about a dozen children, perhaps—not a huge number of children, but the children in the most expensive placements. We are certainly prepared to work with Welsh Government on trying to develop some resource in Wales so that we can support those children within the country rather than having to place them beyond the Severn.
So, in terms of where we are in that progress and in terms of that strategic direction, if that's what you're saying and that's what others are saying, is that at a fast enough pace? If you look at how much, for instance, Cardiff is spending and others are spending in this regard, bearing in mind that the majority of that is out-of-county placement and because of extreme need, have we got the right approach? Is it moving fast enough?
Well, it can always move faster, and certainly within the WLGA I've raised it with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance that we're prepared to put any resource that we need into that. I'd also say that, at a local level, authorities are also trying to tackle the problem. So, in my own county borough of Bridgend, only last month, actually, we opened a new residential unit for children with complex needs at Heronsbridge school, and that means now that there are three young people from Bridgend that previously would have had to move out of their home town—we're now supporting them locally in a very high-quality placement. It's better for them, better for their families. So, that is happening at a local level, but we are working on that national solution as well.
It's also the case that there may well be children who are placed in secure or semi-secure accommodation that could, if we had a better mix of foster carers at our disposal, not need to go in there as well. There could be increased training for certain foster carers who would be willing to take on more complex children with the proper support and training available to them.
I should add as well, quickly, that not all out-of-county placements are inherently bad. I perhaps should have said that at the start. So, particularly where, for example, we're placing that child with family members that perhaps don't live locally—grandparents or whatever—but also if it is a residential placement, particularly where that child or young person is very vulnerable to exploitation, then sometimes it's in that child's best interests to be placed away from the community where they've been abused or exploited. So, sometimes, that move is in the best interests, regardless of availability of local placements.
The Fostering Network has also told us about the shortage of foster placements, and this has always been an endemic issue, and it's the same across the UK. How much of that do you think is down to the fact that it is an extremely rewarding but often very challenging thing to do? Do you actually feel that there is enough local support for foster parents?
Perhaps I should ask the foster carer to answer that question—Councillor Hopkins.
I am a foster carer as well. I said that at the beginning. You answer this for a moment, and I will think about my response to that—
I don't want to go off piste, Chair, but I think this is important.
It's a good question.
Talk for a minute while I think.
The Fostering Network is coming at it from many different angles. It does need a multifaceted kind of approach here. In terms of some of the commissioning arrangements, the 4Cs do very well, but as Huw said, it's the very specialist placements that we struggle with on that basis. I think one of the things that we are looking at through the framework is around the recruitment of foster carers, some of the fees that can be paid at different levels across Wales, and there have been different reports in the media around that. We need a variety of foster carers in terms of their background, in terms of their experiences. So, it's something that we need to keep looking at on an ongoing basis as well, and I do think we need to take some more targeted support, or targeted action, in terms of those areas that we think we have under-represented, if you like. We know our foster carers are getting older in terms of their age profile. There's a lot needing to be done to bring in and to show what the benefits are of foster carers. We've had similar discussions with the adoption service around how we broaden the range of people who want to adopt, and the groupings, if you like—the different experiences that people bring. So, I think the diversity of that is key as well.
I think that's always been an issue. I think the wider perspective is more that young people are coming to us more and more traumatised with more and more mental health difficulties, having had more and more adverse childhood experiences, and if we look at the context around substance misuse, among parents and among younger adults, that is increasing, especially some of the new legal highs. It's going to be a far more challenging job in the future and many children are often in multiple placements through no fault of their own, and many foster parents will turn around and say 'You know, it's all very well and good, but when I needed support, it really wasn't there for me.' So, we can have all of the strategies in the universe, but if there's not enough actual support for foster parents on the ground when they need it, are we not setting foster parents up to fail?
A key aspect of the national fostering framework is, first of all, better training. So, what foster carers said to us is that they need far more training, and we're providing far more training. And you're right; in terms of the other support then, often what they'll say is that they want some peer support—I suppose that's the term I'd use—so, to meet with other foster carers and talk and share their experiences. And I know that more authorities have now set up more groups, and more tailored groups as well. So, for example, we set up a group just for male foster carers, because perhaps they've got different—you know, they wanted to talk to other male foster carers, primary male foster carers. So, there's that, and also, just recognising that—I think you're right—the complexity of the needs and the challenge of foster caring is growing.
We're setting up a scheme now for what we're calling transitional carers in Bridgend, and they will only have one placement. We will pay them more, but they will have one placement, because we see that it can be hard enough just having one placement, can't it, but when you've got two very challenging young people in your home, and perhaps the dynamic there can become quite destructive, then that can potentially lead to a placement breakdown, and it can leave foster carers feeling demoralised and destroyed by that experience. So, it's trying to ensure that we're not overloading foster carers as well. So, that is something that authorities are responding to.
But you are right; they are heroes, foster carers. I don't know how they do it. But what we do need to do, and I'm sure Assembly Members can play a huge part in this, is get across to people, because there's still too many people thinking that they can't foster if they're single, they can't foster if they don't own their own hom—all these stereotypes are still there. And we've got to bust those myths, because we've got to recruit more people into the profession.
Finally, Chair, if I may, in terms of post-18, and in regard to the When I am Ready scheme, if we look at the amount of looked-after children that are going on to apprenticeships, in terms of NEETs, or in terms of higher education, how much of an extra burden is that recognition that we need to support post-18 financially for local authorities?
Well, this was a classic example of the Assembly doing some good work but without providing any support for it. It's a good idea, a marvellous idea. Nobody disagrees with it, but if you could help us pay for it, it would help. [Laughter.]
I think there's an answer in there. Okay.
We hear this often from the WLGA—about the funding to follow the commitment.
I think the point we make is that if, as a national body, you put further demands on us, then you should be prepared to help us pay for them. I don't think that's an unreasonable position to take. And perhaps you will bear that in mind in the years to come when you make new measures to come before us. But nobody disagrees that transition is critical. It is particularly for those who come into care perhaps late or have had unstable periods in care—those who are going to find the transition from 17 to 18 very, very difficult, almost impossible. All the services that have been placed at their disposal have perhaps failed, and they are going to find early adulthood very, very difficult indeed. And I think everybody agrees that you would, with your own children, support them in those circumstances into their early twenties, obviously, in some cases, longer still. But, yes, anything we can do to lengthen that in some circumstances is good, but just give us some help as well when you ask us to do it.
To go back just quickly to your previous question, I think there are just some examples around unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, for example, because obviously Wales has made a commitment around the Syrian scheme and just in terms of world events that have been taken on. We've been having discussions around what specialist training foster carers of UASC would need. So, looking at how you deal with trauma, how you might deal with radicalisation, how you would deal with specific issues and language barriers that they've had. We've talked about how, particularly in response to ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, you actually ensure that foster carers can be trauma-informed so that they can be more responsive to how children themselves can respond to trauma they've experienced. So, I think there is ongoing dialogue around the need of foster carers, but again I think it's an ongoing conversation because some of those issues change quite quickly. Probably, five or 10 years ago, we didn't train foster carers in terms of identifying grooming and child sexual exploitation. That will have changed. So, there is an ever evolving need to respond to the need for foster carers, but I think that, as Huw said, that peer support is key—so they can support each other, not just through agencies.
On post-18, obviously, the children's commissioner, I think it was last year came out with her report, 'Hidden Ambitions' particularly around what authorities could and should be doing more to support those post-18, not just those who stay in care through When I am Ready but those more generally. So, there has been a lot more work done by authorities, particularly over the last year, looking at, for example, apprenticeships or placements within authorities, so taking the corporate parent role broader in terms of what support parents would provide to those post 18. So, there was some additional funding—£1 million across Wales isn't a huge amount on that basis, but I think authorities have been looking at 'Hidden Ambitions' and some of the roles they can be taking moving forward there.
Chair, if I may, that's all very well and good, but do you think that using the goodwill of local authorities—? That £1 million obviously has come out of our austerity budget for Wales and everybody's fighting for that. Obviously this is a very, very important area. So, in terms of that as an approach across Wales, should it be more mandatory in terms of not just one or two local authorities that have adopted a good approach? Should it be absolutely, 'We need to be doing this for all of our looked-after children who are post 18'?
In terms of what, I'm sorry?
In terms of support.
Yes. It's a commitment we've signed up to as the WLGA on behalf of all local authorities. You have to provide that support beyond 18. We've made that commitment; it's there. We've been doing it for a long time in Bridgend. We had a supported lodging scheme for looked-after children before When I am Ready because we recognised that you were investing to save, weren't you? It would be like abandoning your own children at 18 and saying, 'Off you go. There's the big bad world and here's a couple of quid. Make your own way.' It doesn't work like that, does it? You've got to offer them a transition into life. And most authorities are working to offer those opportunities to children.
But I would take the opportunity to flip that round because we're not the only corporate parents in this room. You're corporate parents as well, and I would ask the National Assembly for Wales: how many care leavers have you offered work opportunities to? How many care leavers has the Welsh Government, which employs over 6,500 people—how many care leavers have you worked with? I can tell the answer is probably, 'None'; why is that the case? You're corporate parents too, just as I say to my local health board, the local police service. The state took these children into care. In actual fact, the courts made the final decision, but there would have been police officers, nurses, doctors—you know, everyone else sitting around the table when we were making the decision about whether or not we'd take that child into care. So, that corporate parent responsibility is a responsibility for everyone, but I don't get that sense that other parts of the public sector are taking that corporate responsibility—and it's a very serious legal responsibility as well as a moral responsibility—as seriously as we are taking it in local government. We need to do more, but we need everyone to do more on this, because some of the people we talk to say, 'Well, I don’t want to work for the local authority. I’ve had enough of the local authority, thank you very much. It’s the last place I want to work.' Lots of our own workers are telling us that, mind, so we need to offer a range of opportunities for our care leavers.
Not in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Not in Rhondda Cynon Taf. [Laughter.] Of course, not in Rhondda Cynon Taf— the land of milk and honey, yes.
Linked into other issues, obviously, that we're dealing with, we've seen an increase in homelessness and an increase in rough-sleeping, so I think that reinforces Councillor David's point that these are multifaceted that require multi-agency responses here as well. Because we don’t want 18-year-olds leaving local authority care, finding that they haven’t got accommodation, so they end up rough-sleeping, because it puts pressure—. As well as the negative impact it has on them, as individuals, it does put pressure on public services. So, I think what we're trying to do—and the WLGA are very supportive of the homeless campaign, for example—is actually make sure that if we can take the action there, you’re preventing longer term problems as well. But I think, as Councillor David said, we did sign up to the 'Hidden Ambitions' with the children’s commissioner last year, but there's probably still more work to be done to address all the different issues that children coming out of the care system can experience.
Can I just say, from my own experience of fostering—and I’m talking of late teenagers with complex problems—that I think, if they are in serious trouble at 17 or 18, it's very difficult to turn the supertanker around then, which re-emphasises the importance of getting in early? Interestingly, we have seen—I don't know about cross Wales, but certainly in my local authority—a shift in the profile of children coming into care to the infants and early years, rather than the older children, which is probably a good thing because it means that those more permanent arrangements, which are obviously better for the outcomes of the children, can be put in place.
I want to fly a little flag, if I may, for adoption, because that hasn’t been mentioned so much as fostering, and that tends to be the case, by the way—and I should say I'm chair of the National Adoption Service. A lot of work is being done at the moment to look at post-adoption support for families who adopt children, because we tend to think that, once adoption has taken place, everything is hunky-dory. It’s not. It requires just as much careful planning and ongoing support as other forms of help and support.
Also, Wales needs to recruit more adoptive parents—adopters. We haven’t done so well in the last few years, doing that. In fact, we have not, in any way, kept pace with the number of placement orders that the courts have been making for adoption, and that's something that we really do need to look at. There is a review of the National Adoption Service about to begin, and I’m sure this committee will want to keep an eye on that as well.
I think—. Rhianon, very briefly, because I’ve got to bring Vikki Howells in with her question.
A tiny one. In regard to that, and in terms of the importance of adoption, very briefly, can you just outline what needs to happen in order to be able to increase (a) that support, and (b) the numbers?
Well, we need to look at the ongoing support, advice, the training for adopters—all that suite of services that we could provide for adopters. CAMHS, again, comes into it. We were discussing CAMHS earlier, and I mentioned to Mr Waters earlier that we had given evidence, about a month ago, to your other committee about CAMHS services. But also, we're looking at having a more uniform approach across Wales to allowances, for example, for adopters. And also, frankly, the regions, the new National Adoption Service regions—we're now into about the third year of the National Adoption Service and those regional arrangements—the regions need to focus much more, in the future, on the recruitment of adopters. It’s not meeting the demands of the courts in any way at the moment.
What's really useful through the adoption service at the moment is that they're actually able to track how many adopters have been there in terms of the needs from children, if you like. A couple of years ago, the number of adoptions fell because of court decisions, so it was taking longer to place children with adopters—you had more adopters waiting longer. Now that's flipped, so, actually, children are there, ready to be adopted and there aren't enough adoptive parents there. But it's useful to track that so that we've got a much better idea about what's needed in terms of numbers moving forward, and, actually, actions can then be taken to recruit, hopefully, the people who are there. So, we're working with the adoption agencies across Wales. Again, it's a joint approach—a partnership approach.
And there's a particular shortage of adopters prepared to adopt sibling groups. Obviously we want to keep brothers and sisters together, and also children with more complex needs, particularly with disabilities. So, we are focusing our recruitment on adopters who are prepared to consider children in those groups.
Okay. Vikki Howells.
Thank you, Chair. I've got a series of questions based around outcomes for children that very much build on some of the answers that you've given us already. So, if we look at foster care, nearly half of children's social service funding is allocated to that, so I'm interested in looking at how value for money and children's outcomes are monitored in respect of that spend. Obviously, we understand it's not an easy or straightforward thing to do and you've already alluded to the fact that you've got two thirds of foster carers in-house, a third externally, but the spend is comparable between the two. Obviously, as a committee, we understand the reasons behind some placements being particularly costly for the more difficult cases. But broadly, is there a method of trying to correlate value for money, looking at what kind of scenarios could be prevented? So, for example, saying, 'Well, this particular individual child has likely been prevented from perhaps a criminal future', or looking at the impact on their mental health, their physical well-being; the value-for-money aspect of that in terms of a preventative measure. And then, thinking about outcomes, probably educationally is the easiest way to measure it, but obviously, there's a more holistic side to that as well.
The youth offending services are quite good at producing evidence—certainly notional evidence—of how they have prevented children from going into the criminal justice system. They're quite good at being able to demonstrate the impact they've had. I don't think that we, as children's services, are anywhere near that. It's very difficult, obviously, to know which bits of the interventions produce that result, or if we hadn't intervened, was that the cause of their—? It's very complex; I don't think we're anywhere near being able to answer that complexity of question. I don't know, maybe that's just me.
Can I just interject briefly? Would you say that this situation we're looking at is so human and so fast evolving and so individualised that, really, it's impossible to look at it in terms of a value-for-money spend?
I think the Early Intervention Foundation have provided some estimates about cost avoidance, if you like, then. I think that we do have a very strong focus, actually, on outcomes. So, it's very much outcome based, and in actual fact, there are lots of checks and balances in the system through the social work profession because you have regular reviews. Once a child is taken into care, it's not a question of saying, 'Right, okay, they're placed with that foster family; that's it, we'll see you when you're 18.' It's almost regular, routine reviews, and all the professionals will sit around the table and they will look at the health outcomes, the educational outcomes, then the reports from the foster carers about how that young person is doing. So, there is that focus on the outcomes for the child, but it isn't always easy to translate that into value for money, if that makes sense.
One of the key things is how many times does a child move placement, for example, now that we know that that has an impact on the child? So, they need the fewest moves possible—everybody agrees with that. The fewest moves possible gives a better outcome for children. If it continues to break down and a child has 10 foster carers, then, clearly, the outcome isn't going to be good.
It's not that long ago that we took evidence from young people in the care sector, at the last session, and we were astounded by some of the numbers of placements that some of these young people had had. I think 10 was a conservative estimate for some of them. So, I mean, something has broken down there, hasn't it, it doesn't just threaten to?
Yes, it has. You're quite right.
Sorry, could I—?
Sorry, I interrupted. Naomi.
Councillor David referred to the Early Intervention Foundation. I'm not sure that that was included in our paper, but some of the evidence that we've got is that the cost of late intervention puts the cost in England and Wales at almost £17 billion, with £6.2 billion falling directly on children's social care. So, that's from the Early Intervention Foundation.
I think one of the difficulties around correlating that value for money with the outcomes is where the children start when they're coming into the system, if you like, because by that time they will have experienced abuse or neglect, or had many adverse experiences, which, actually, could have detrimentally impacted on their start in life. So, we've been working closely with Public Health Wales under Cymru Well Wales, to focus on the first 1,000 days—the importance of that real foundation from pregnancy through to the first 1,000 days. So, it is difficult to easily—. You know, each child will be different in terms of where they start, what their experiences have been and what the outcomes are. I certainly feel it would be an interesting piece of work, but there is nothing that I'm aware of that we've got in Wales that I can point to for that.
Again, it's one of those issues around comparing the education outcomes of children in the looked-after system and their peer group, but, again, it's what experiences they've had and at what point they've come into the education system with appropriate support to do that. So, it definitely sounds like an area that needs more research, so that you can look at some of those individual outcomes for the children. Because you can say, 'This is the experience of a group', but that hides so many individual experiences or outcomes or the journey that an individual child has had. So, you need the quantitative, but I think the qualitative here would be very useful in terms of learning what interventions for those children have worked or not at different times.
But again, as Councillor Hopkins said, one of the issues is around the placements, and with the best will in the world, sometimes those placements break down and they do need to be moved, but I think people are so aware of that now, it is something that we have to do—reduce the number of placements and the number of disruptions that children have.
Yes. That leads me very neatly on to my next question, actually, which is about care leavers and the number of those who are not in education, employment or training. The latest published data shows that, of the 465 care leavers in the year ending 31 March 2016, 180 of those 465 were not in education, employment or training. Obviously, you covered some of the issues around that and I think, particularly as a former secondary school teacher myself and having taught many looked-after children, the issue of moving placements, which can lead to moving schools during key stage 4, is a huge barrier to attainment. To what extent are the current spending levels on that group of looked-after children delivering the best outcomes and what more could be done there?
Just in terms of care leavers, I think as Councillor Hopkins said earlier, the When I'm Ready scheme is a good scheme, but I think it's about having a range of different options for care leavers. So, it could be supported lodgings, it could be supported living, or it could be that some care leavers are actually ready—I think it's probably a small number, but they are ready to make their own way in the world. One of the difficulties we do have is, obviously, when they reach 18, they have personal freedom of choice, and sometimes they simply just don't want to know. The last organisation that they want any contact with at all is the council, because sometimes they blame the council for them being in care and maybe they haven't had a good experience, and we're not able to support them in the way that we'd like to. And despite our best efforts of contacting them and offering them support and advice, they'll turn that down. But we do need more placements. We do need a better range of placements to support those care leavers, and I'd like to think we're getting better at ensuring that their education isn't disrupted. We spend a lot of money, so I get scrutinised by my members, 'Why are you taxi-ing this child in Neath Port Talbot or Swansea, or whatever?', and we'll say, 'It's because, for whatever reason, that child has come into care in Bridgend, but it might be that they were starting their GCSEs in a school in Swansea.' We're saying that if that child wants to continue in that school, then that child stays in that school even if it's a long journey, because it's right for that child.
Hopefully, as you touched on earlier, the pupil deprivation grant is making a difference. It probably isn't enough, but it's better than nothing in terms of giving those children and young people better support. And with those apprenticeships that I talked about earlier—but not just apprenticeships—what we're finding in Bridgend is that we've offered apprenticeships but some of them are not ready for apprenticeships; they almost need that course before. So, what we're looking at in Bridgend is work experiences, internships, whatever, with much more intensive support so that they can then perhaps move on to an apprenticeship or another option.
Some children in care are faced with regular appointments with perhaps over a dozen individuals—a dozen professionals wouldn't be an unreasonable number of individual professionals, perhaps, that a child, particularly a late teenager, would have to face: CAMHS, careers adviser, police, foster carer, social worker, youth offending officer. You name it, they've got all these people. Very often, education is one of the very lowest areas of priority. Being safe, being secure, being free from harm and neglect are clearly going to feature higher in their priorities than perhaps sitting down and doing their revision for their exams, but it is obviously the route out of poverty. It is the silver bullet, as everybody says—education and skills and employment being the route of poverty. But, obviously, at that stage in their life it cannot be one of the lowest priorities, can't it? So, we just need to remember that, when we look at the figures of educational attainment, there is a story behind it all. It's not to say that we aren't looking at it; there's a huge focus on educational outcomes for looked-after children. It's one of the things that has been talked about in the ministerial advisory group. I chair the corporate parenting board in Rhondda Cynon Taf. It's a regular feature on our agenda there, but it's one of those—do they call them 'wicked issues' now?
'Wicked issues', which I think comes from some sort of leadership course that somebody's been on. But, anyway, they are issues that are very, very difficult to resolve.
It comes back again to what I was saying earlier in terms of the individual approach there, because the educational outcome is usually around your five GCSEs. Well, actually, if people are getting apprenticeships or they're getting national vocational qualifications, that could be as good as the five GCSEs, but it may not be clearly within the statistics.
But I think, as Councillor David said, the range of options are important. So, how we work with our partners. We've talked about Supporting People and the role that Supporting People provides for those at that point, and the role that the third sector will provide in terms of different levels of support in terms of the funding. So, it is a range of options. I think what's important is that children don't slip through the net, whether that's through council services, through the third sector or any other partners, so that people can be there to provide the appropriate advice and support at the time, because sometimes children leave at 18 but actually want support at 20. Life isn't just an easy trajectory either, is it, so I think we need to look at a range of options and, again, multi-agency and partnership within that.
Thank you. And very, very briefly, because I'm conscious we're almost out of time, and I think I know the answer that you're going to give to this, based on what you said already—you could just make it a 'yes' or a 'no', I suppose—is there a comprehensive and consistent set of data that monitors outcomes for children and young people in care at a local authority level?
'No' is the answer to that.
Oh, I was going to say 'yes', so there we go—perhaps it is 'no'. Welsh Government have changed the data sets this last year. Up until that time, there was a—so, what we haven't got—. Actually, I was talking to my corporate management team, with the rest of the cabinet, today about how we compare current performance with previous performance. Because the data sets have been changed, we haven't got that benchmark. We will have that benchmark next year, so we'll have the data on the number of placement moves, et cetera, et cetera, so we can compare ourselves to our previous performance and our performance to other local authorities across Wales.
So, please don't change the benchmark again.
Because whenever you change benchmarks, it makes it impossible for us to compare like with like.
That's a good message for our inquiry. Are you finished there, Vikki?
Last but not least, Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you very much, Chair. Many thanks to all of you. We're learning there are more questions than answers anyway. Looking to all these looked-after children, and everything, they haven't achieved anything. My first question is: why the children are not getting that educational attainment in their future life? There are all the statistics—the housing ladder, any ladder you think of—and life achievement is not there for them. Why? That's one thing.
And emotional education. You mentioned just now that education is the last in the priority list. I think that is a failure—you two, not her. Basically, that is the department you should be giving them—emotional education right at the beginning, when the child comes in. They need that desperately. I've been told by a child—you mentioned this toxic combination—and I don't want to go into detail who they were, and they are very sorry to say that, but children go through with these scenarios, and they need urgent help. Emotional education, and we haven't got expertise in Wales, that is for sure. So, you have failed there. There is local government, and you also said there are not enough foster parents available. There is a very good reason for it. At the moment, you know about Jimmy Savile and hostel affairs, what happened to the children—many parents and many families I met don't want children any more. So, there should be a system change, somewhere along the line, to make sure the public is aware. So, lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, lack of sending the right message across. So, I think that is the local government issue. So, where we are failing it, we have to rectify it. And I'll ask the next question of the Government later. You two may answer first.
Well, I'm surprised you want to point the finger at us. I'll be quite frank with you about that, because if you want to talk about failure, the initial failure, the initial wickedness, is that there are adult human beings in this country who are capable of abusing or neglecting the children that they have produced. So, there's the first failure, if you want to point fingers. There is the thing that exercises me daily in my mind, and I have to control myself sometimes in how I express my opinion about that. And children come into corporate care, they come to school abused, neglected, shocked—any superlatives that you want to use. They come to school—if they even get to school, of course—with all that baggage that they bring from home. And, as I said, maybe services aren't sufficient to meet that, maybe in some cases there aren't services that could sufficiently meet that. So, I say schools, educational psychologists, looked-after children co-ordinators in the education system, and in children's services, together with all these people who are professionally engaged with those children, are doing the best that they can, using their expertise and knowledge to try to provide outcomes.
Now, yes, you can point to failure. Let's admit, any child in care is a failure somewhere, isn't it? But I think, rather than just pointing fingers, we're around this table to try and resolve things. So, that would be my response to that.
Can I just put on the record that you're not here to have the finger pointed at you?
Well, it did rather feel like that, Chair.
No, you're not here for that reason; you're here to provide evidence for the inquiry and that's totally our reason for doing that. So, I'm sorry if you felt uncomfortable.
I didn't feel uncomfortable at all, Mr Chairman.
He's enjoying it.
I am enjoying it.
You robustly made some good points, actually, on the back of that.
I have one point to make and that's just to reinforce the importance of safeguarding for local authorities across the piece. Obviously, there's been a lot of focus on safeguarding and there's a lot of training provided for foster carers in terms of their safeguarding responsibilities and putting the best interest of the child first, with regional safeguarding boards that reinforce that and now a National Independent Safeguarding Board to give advice and assistance across Wales. So, I would just like to reinforce that there is no more important issue for the safeguarding of children in terms of the processes that we follow for looked-after children, which also then are around the training and the responsibilities that foster carers have as well.
Can I also make the point as well that, just in terms of educational outcomes—and I'm sure that Ms Howells will have found this as a very long-standing teacher—one in two of looked-after children, compared with one in five of children who have been brought up by their own parents, have additional learning needs? And they have additional learning needs because of their abuse and neglect. As Councillor Hopkins has explained, if they got to school, half the time, it was a victory and, quite often, they experience quite significant developmental delay because they're not receiving any proper parenting or proper care and support, and it's very, very difficult then to close the gap, isn't it, when they've fallen so far behind, and quite often in their early years?
So, that neglect and abuse—they are interchangeable because neglect is a form of abuse—will often start when these children are babies, and it is difficult to narrow that gap. Any teacher and any social worker will bust a gut to try and close that gap, but it is a big gap to narrow, and sometimes when they've got additional learning needs, it's not realistic to expect them to be getting A-levels. That said, you've still got to be aspirational for those children and young people. It might be a victory for that child just to walk away with an E in a GCSE. If they've got that, for some of those children, that is a huge triumph for them over the circumstances that they have faced. As Councillor Hopkins has said, when you've been passed from pillar to post and you don't know which school you're in or which home you're in, it's difficult for them to focus on education and to have a real chance.
We're always reflecting on ourselves in local government: are we doing enough? It's human to do that. And sometimes I feel a sense of failure with those children, but it's a failure of society. It's a failure of those parents in the first instance, but then society as a whole that we haven't acted and intervened earlier sometimes, and that might be ordinary people, such as neighbours—whatever it is—and family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, who haven't spoken up and said, 'This isn't acceptable'. I think the NSPCC have done some research and it's about five or six times that people go to ring the NSPCC and they don't. It's only on the sixth time that they actually make the call, by which time a lot of damage could have been done to that child.
My question was on emotional education, and you eloquently answered. Now my question to all three of you is: how effective has the Welsh Government's ministerial advisory group been in its work to improve outcomes for care-experienced children?
Well, we're both members of it. Maybe you should answer, because we're both members of the ministerial advisory group.
That wasn't mentioned at the beginning. [Laughter.]
I think it's been a helpful forum in bringing stakeholders together from across government, if you like. The advantage of that group is that it isn't just local government; there are representatives there from certainly all the different parts of Welsh Government—it's surprising how big the meeting is, actually. Health are invited as well, though not always is the attendance good—that's the polite way of putting it. But, I think it has come up with a series of recommendations that have been helpful. They've looked at the national fostering framework, for example. It's chaired by a backbencher, which I think is good. David Melding has always taken a keen interest, to be fair to him, in the outcomes for looked-after children. That has been a useful forum for us.
I'll ask now—
Hang on, Oscar. I think Naomi wanted to add a point.
Just very quickly. It does have a very comprehensive work programme that addresses the range of issues that we've touched upon today and others. I think there are some areas of work—for example, the task and finish group that's looking at placements—that, as we said earlier, we probably need to speed up a little bit. In terms of the impact, it's difficult to say how effective it's been because it's delivering a number of different things and a lot of things are in train in terms of its development. So, I think it's certainly useful to bring all those partners together and to have those discussions, and have a detailed action plan that is there and is being delivered by the many partners moving forward. So, I would still say give it time to achieve what it has set out to achieve, but probably a little bit more speed in some aspects of it.
I think you've already given the answer for value for money, so I don't need to ask you anything else.
And very briefly, Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you. You made some points earlier, Councillor David, around corporate parenting responsibilities across all the public sector and all the public agencies. I'm slightly concerned when I feel that there isn't full engagement from all of those that are involved in this very multifaceted area. So, what needs to happen from your perspective in the WLGA and from local authorities in regard to getting that full engagement perhaps from other agencies that have also got that dual mandate in terms of these children and the responsibility for them moving forward?
That's a good question, which normally means I haven't got the answer. At a local level, we've got a corporate parenting committee. I've only got two committees of cabinet in Bridgend, one focuses on equalities and one focuses on corporate parenting. Every cabinet member sits on that and we have representations from each and every political group, but what we don't have is representation from the local partners like the health board, like the police service. So, that's something that we're going to consider, because I think it is an area that is undeveloped. I think some of the partners don't even realise they have that corporate parenting responsibility. It just doesn't occur to them. We need to raise that awareness of their responsibility because, as Councillor Hopkins touched on earlier—and we've all talked about it, haven't we—the support and services that these young people need and these children need are not from just one agency, they're almost always often from education, from health, from police, from the local housing association.
So, in terms of public services boards and their well-being assessments in regard to moving forward, surely that should be their mandate, and also in terms of well-being objectives.
I think the regional safeguarding boards have improved things immeasurably in terms of safeguarding and the realisation of different agencies of their responsibilities. So, on a regional footprint, I think things have come on a lot, actually, since the legislation required the setting up of the safeguarding boards. So, I would give that as a positive. They work particularly well. Each council has its own corporate parenting board. There is also this regional arrangement as well, which does involve all those partners, but it would be useful to see how involving them at the council's corporate parenting board would improve things as well.
Or, as you suggested, at the public services boards. I think that's a good idea. We'll certainly consider that in Bridgend. So, I think agencies are much better at understanding that safeguarding is everyone's business, but that's a different responsibility to corporate parenting. Safeguarding affects a bigger group of children, obviously, it doesn't just affect looked-after children, whereas corporate parenting is specifically about children that have been taken into care by the state.
We are well and truly out of time now, so thank you for your answers today. Can I thank Huw David, Geraint Hopkins and Naomi Alleyne for being with us today? It's been really helpful. We'll feed that into our inquiry and we will send you a copy of today's transcript before we finalise it.
Thank you for your engagement. It's been very interesting this afternoon.
Chair, sorry—if you could send us a note for the additional evidence that we've promised, as a reminder.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod, ac eitem 1 y cyfarfod ar 5 Mawrth, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting, and item 1 of the meeting on 5 March, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Under Standing Order 17.42, we will meet in private for item 6 of this meeting and item 1 of next week's meeting.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:46.
The public part of the meeting ended at 16:46.