|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Jayne Bryant AM||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jack Sargeant|
|Substitute for Jack Sargeant|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Sian Gwenllian AM|
|Suzy Davies AM|
|Allison Hulmes||Cyfarwyddwr Cenedlaethol Cymru, Cymdeithas Gweithwyr Cymdeithasol Prydain yng Nghymru|
|National Director for Wales, British Association of Social Workers Cymru|
|Jeff Cuthbert||Comisiynydd Heddlu a Throseddu Gwent a Chadeirydd Grŵp Plismona Cymru Gyfan|
|Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent and Chair of the All-Wales Policing Group|
|Matt Jukes||Prif Gwnstabl Heddlu De Cymru|
|Chief Constable of South Wales Police|
|Samiwel Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Bil Plant (Diddymu Amddiffyniad Cosb Resymol) (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 6||2. Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 6|
|3. Bil Plant (Diddymu Amddiffyniad Cosb Resymol) (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 7||3. Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 7|
|4. Papurau i’w Nodi||4. Papers to Note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. I've received apologies for absence from Jack Sargeant AM, and I'm very pleased to welcome Jayne Bryant, who is substituting for him. Can I just ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay, thank you.
Item 2, then, this morning, is our sixth evidence session on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome Jeff Cuthbert, who is Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent and chair of the all-Wales policing group, and Matt Jukes, who is chief constable for South Wales Police. Thank you both for attending and for the papers that you provided in advance. We've got a lot of ground that we're keen to cover with you, so if you're happy we'll go straight into questions from Members, and the first questions are from Siân Gwenllian.
Bore da a diolch am ddod atom ni. Dwi'n gweld yn eich tystiolaeth chi eich bod chi o blaid y ddeddfwriaeth newydd sydd ar y gweill. Dŷch chi'n dweud yn fan hyn:
Good morning and thank you for attending. I see from your written evidence that you support this new legislation. You say here:
'We...support the approach to removing the physical defence of Lawful Chastisement of a child in Wales.'
Fedrwch chi egluro beth sydd yn bod efo'r gyfraith fel dŷch chi'n ei gweld hi ar hyn o bryd?
Could you explain what is wrong with the legislation as you see it currently?
Well, thank you very much for that question. If I could start and just maybe quickly explain the relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable. My job as a commissioner is very much, formally, to hold the chief constable to account for the delivery of local policing services, and also in terms of raising the money and various issues around that. I'm very happy to deal with that initial question. My colleague Matt Jukes will deal generally with all the operational side of things.
I think what we need to make clear is that, of course, the police are not implementing new legislation. That's a decision, in this case, for the Welsh Government. We will work with them in terms of any of the practicalities that might be associated with it. So, it's not really for us to say whether or not there's anything wrong with the current state of affairs, but we—
Yes. Yes, indeed.
You support the approach that the Welsh Government is taking with bringing legislation in.
Indeed we do, because we recognise the role of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and more countries are moving in that direction, so it seems to us the logical thing to do. But, as I said, we don't make the legislation.
You are, it seems, saying something different to what some senior police officers in Wales are saying today. There's a BBC item here this morning:
'Senior police officers in Wales have warned a smacking ban could mean children are removed from their family home while cases are prosecuted.'
So, are you speaking on behalf of everybody? Or as you explained now—?
I will ask my colleague. Before—
Yes. Can I say, I was interviewed this morning at 6.30 a.m. by Radio Wales on this very subject? They began with that statement. I think I did my best to stress that, look, they're taking that a little bit out of context, because that's dealing with exceptional cases, much of which applies now through partners, and that, really, our view is focusing on the well-being of the child and not, in any way, criminalising parents or making it difficult for families. But in terms of your question about other senior police officers, with your permission, Chair, perhaps the chief constable could answer.
Chair, Members, thank you very much and thank you for the opportunity. I think it is important just to underline the point that Mr Cuthbert can't speak on the behalf of all of us, because operational and independent police leadership need to comment separately. But the BBC reporting is drawn from a submission made to this committee jointly by the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables, and I believe that what is being referenced and picked up there are signals around the potential consequences of implementing this legislation. And Jeff's signature appears underneath that, as does the signature of the chair of the Welsh chief police officer group, Mark Collins. So, I think we are together on these points, that we need to highlight the potential consequences—
So, just for the record, the principle of introducing a Bill is supported by both sides.
Yes. And you asked a question, which is, 'What was wrong with the legislation as it stands now?' I think it is—. I should, for the record, say that the police forces of Wales have not sought a change to the legislation because we felt there was a deficit in some respect in terms of our ability to deliver operational policing and protect children in that sense. However, we are working extraordinarily closely with a range of partners, including Public Health Wales, local authorities, Welsh Government, indeed, on tackling adverse childhood experiences and childhood exposure to violence, which is one of those experiences that we know has consequences in later life. So, in principle, we have, after very careful consideration and many cycles of these conversations, settled that we feel the direction of travel can be supported, at the time as saying, 'It is for legislators to legislate', and you should do that if you choose to, in full knowledge of some of the potential consequences that we've laid out, one of which has drawn some bold headlines today.
And I'm sure we'll delve into some of those unintentional consequences, as you perceive them, later on. But thank you for clarifying that the principle is supported. That's important this morning, I think. Suzy, you wanted to—
One question: there was a vote on the principle of this Bill when you were an Assembly Member, Jeff Cuthbert, back in 2011. You support it in principle now, but back then you abstained. Why have you changed your mind?
I thought this would come up. [Laughter.] Well, I think things have moved on, and, certainly, in the previous Assembly, when I was the Member for Caerphilly—
—it was not, of course, in my party's manifesto as a commitment at that point, and, therefore, it wasn't supported by the group, and I abided by the group's decision. Things have moved on now considerably, and, as I alluded to, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has become more and more embedded. It's also within the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. And as a consequence of the role and my understanding now of the work that the police are going to do to support this, I think that the circumstances have changed significantly enough for me to be supportive of this Bill.
Yes. I think there's been a change of heart as well from the Cymdeithas Prif Swyddogion yr Heddlu, the Association of Chief Police Officers. They also have outlined that there is a change of heart there, presumably for the same reasons.
We have spent considerable time on this question over, certainly, the last 12-month period, working with Assembly Members and officials in Welsh Government. So, we are happy now to describe a situation where we understand better the consequences that need to be laid out and can put those before you. We're ultimately in your hands in this instance, in terms of the legislation being delivered, but, yes, our position has developed because we've spent more time on understanding those consequences.
The explanatory memorandum heavily references the role that the police will have in implementing this Bill. In what ways, if any, have the police been involved in its development?
Well, one thing I can say is that we've had—both commissioners and the chief, and the chief will talk about their involvement—discussions with Ministers, first Huw Irranca and then Julie Morgan, on the issues around the Bill. We've offered our support to work with them in terms of the way that the chief constable has already outlined. I will be representing the four commissioners from Wales on the implementation group, which met for the first time earlier this week. That implementation group is setting up a number of task and finish groups to look at a whole range of practical issues that need to be addressed. So, certainly from the commissioner side and, indeed, from the police side, there will be full involvement.
Thanks. Could I just underline the breadth that's required in that next phase? There will be a moment, going back to the more lurid headlines that will arise from these things, where we find ourselves justifying actions that have been taken in individual cases. And it's really critical that, on the journey to that point, we are alongside a broad range of partners in planning for the next steps and implementation, and those include not just police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service, but bodies like the family courts and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and others need to understand what will happen if these changes come about. We are well used to being in the centre of those conversations, but, actually, we should go forward together in that respect and plan for those consequences.
Thank you for your answers, but that's talking about going forward in terms of implementation. My actual question was: what involvement have you had in the development of the Bill?
Okay. So, if we speak very specifically, we've had a series of meetings with Welsh Government officials at senior practitioner level and at chief officer level and meetings with the relevant Cabinet Secretaries and then Ministers as well during a period of at least 12 months in relation to it. Advising on the Bill, we've responded to the formal consultation, which was opened up, and we've made further submissions again since then. So, I hope that the perspectives of police are reflected back in the way the Bill has been formed. If I was to signal—I have no concern about progress to date on that point, but I think we do need to go forward—hence my emphasis on going forward—with the same concerted effort. I appreciate it is the task of the Assembly to consider legislation, but the consequences will live long after that decision.
Especially on the back of Janet's question—you said that you thought that that 12-month period had gone very well. What changes have you seen reflected in what is a very short Bill that you can attribute to the representations you made to the group previously?
Well, let me be absolutely clear: we haven't spent time on drafting the Bill.
And I think the change we've seen is largely reflected in the understanding and appreciation of the consequences. A question, maybe, for this committee, but certainly for the Assembly, is how well the submissions we've made are reflected in that Bill, because, of course, the Bill won't carry all of the potential consequences and, no doubt, there'll be guidance and other supplementary work. The kind of issues that we've identified include the need for recognition that diversion and other interventions, other than criminal justice, will be key if the intention of Government is to not bring more parents directly through the core criminal justice system. But we'll have also been at pains to highlight that, if people—if I can put it plainly: if you call the police, you get the police. So, if the police are engaged in issues where they were not previously engaged—and there is a moot point on that that I'll come back to, if I might—then we need to think about consequences afterwards for family courts processes, for disclosure and vetting and barring processes that happen afterwards, all of which are being managed now in many, many cases, absent of this change, because, of course, dealing with allegations around assaults on children is not something we're not already doing in many, many cases.
On the moot point about whether we will see more cases entering or not, I think it's worth recognising that, essentially, this question is about a defence being removed. That may change public attitudes to reporting, but, at the moment, we already see a relatively small number—perhaps hundreds of cases across Wales a year—where the defence arises and, to put that in context, my officers in south Wales alone identify, on 18,000 occasions a year, interactions with a child that they believe is at risk. So, we're talking about, in the case of south Wales, maybe something in the region of 100 of those being cases that might fall into this territory.
In written evidence, you say it is clear that there is no legislative competence to impose duties upon the police. What, if any, are the implications of this position for the implementation of this Bill?
Shall I deal with that directly? The opportunity to give evidence to Welsh Government and Assembly committees is always very welcome, and we recently gave evidence to the Thomas commission on criminal justice in Wales. Obviously, policing in Wales is not a devolved function and the Assembly's got no legislative competence in relation to policing directly. We are seeing increasing divergence in these kinds of examples between the legislation that operates on these matters in England and in Wales. It's impossible, I think, it's fair to say, for the Assembly to direct policing to undertake certain other actions, but this change will change the criminal law that we're working with.
What we would like to see is, fundamentally, a commitment across a range of partners to work to that goal that we all share, which is to safeguard children and promote their well-being for the future. Now, you could argue—of course, it's been argued in the last couple of days—about what other legislation may or may not do that. We would like to see drivers that make sure that other partners are with us in those cases, in the same way that safeguarding legislation already requires those partners to come together to make sure that, in these cases, there are alternatives to criminal justice outcomes. I don't know whether that's a very clear answer to your question. I think the point is that it's impossible for the Assembly to direct the police to take certain actions, or for Welsh legislation to do that in this particular context. We would actually like to see that operating in relation to the agencies and bodies that the Assembly does have competence in relation to.
Thank you very much. Just to add to what the chief constable has said: the issue of legislative competence—that's been clearly stated. However, of course, the Welsh Government will impose requirements on the devolved public services who are key partners with us. Although provisions in the future generations Act will not apply to policing directly, we are statutory invitees. We work very closely with those partners who will be involved in this as well. And, indeed, we have now formed a policing and partnership board with the Welsh Government that will look at this, and other issues, to make sure that there's a joined-up approach. So, not just legislation on the police, but a recognition of what the new duties will be on key partners as well.
In your written evidence, you say the explanatory memorandum refers to joint working between partner agencies to include the police. You go on to say,
'we presume that the further clarification to be provided will impose duties upon local authorities and other partners to cooperate with us.'
Can you give us more details about what clarification is needed and whether this needs to be issued in new guidance?
I'm not going to attempt to draft it just in this session, but just let me say this: we want to see that in the planning phase now for the implementation, there are a range of partners who commit at a serious senior level to working through this, and then, whether it's reflected in the Bill or in the guidance that follows, that the operation of this legislation should be monitored and should be developed and evolved by a serious multi-agency commitment. Now, that might be by way of reference to our existing safeguarding structures or it might be by creating an additional forum for that to take place locally and nationally.
We've looked at international evidence to understand the consequences, and without criticising other jurisdictions or impugning the intentions of anybody here, the evidence and the monitoring and the evaluation of impact is limited, as far as we have been able to find, even though the political and cultural signals are clear. So, we all understand why we would want to signal this intention. What we would like to do in Wales, with a sharper focus than we've been able to identify in other jurisdictions, is follow through the consequences of that and work with bodies like Public Health Wales to see whether this change actually is making a difference, and whether the more doom-laden predictions, whether they're ours or those of commentators, actually come to bear. So, I think our plea—and sorry to the Member for extending the answer—is that everyone doesn't see the moment when the legislation's passed and then walk away, on to the next issue, because we will be living that. And, more importantly, families will be living that in consequential decisions and in actions that take place afterwards.
Do you mind if I just start with you, Jeff Cuthbert? One of the roles of PCCs, of course, is to reflect the public's policing priorities, have you and your fellow PCCs ever had a lot of correspondence on this particular issue?
I haven't asked my other PCC colleagues if they have, but, no, I've not had a lot on this particular issue. I expect to get quite a bit now—
But, look, certainly, when we determine—. I'm actually in the process—this is an interesting point—of updating my police and crime plan, and that's because a range of issues have now occurred, since it was first written, that I think are not reflected adequately in it. And we also have to be alert to changes in national and Welsh priorities to make sure that, if there is a change in the law, as this will be in terms of removing the defence, the police are equipped in terms of resources and abilities to respond appropriately. So, it is important that we take account of that; it's a change that's going to happen. Whether I need to adjust my plan further is another matter, but it is something that's going to impact upon me in Gwent, as it will with my colleagues. So, it's not just a question of the public awareness of these issues—that will grow. It's got to be part of the implementation group, to make sure people are aware. I then expect that I will have comments from both points of view on this. But public engagement is very important. It's not seen as a major priority at this point, but, quite frankly, until recently, neither was serious and organised crime, which is now very much in the public psyche. With things like county lines and human trafficking, people are far more aware of the impact of it. But that wasn't the case just a couple of years ago.
Okay. It's helpful to know that. We've talked a little bit about the sort of things like training and extra capacity that might be needed, which is not clear at the moment. All that's going to be based on is what we, or, I guess, you will be anticipating as the level of growth of demand, based on the back of this legislation if it goes through.
We have a range of figures, as you've said, which are quite-difficult-to-get figures, based on some information we've had from New Zealand and some unpublished UK police data. Actually, I don't think we're an awful lot clearer ourselves now. There's an estimate using the New Zealand data that this could result in 38 extra prosecutions a year. You mentioned yourself that there are hundreds where the question of reasonable defence has come up as an issue in deciding whether to prosecute or not. We've been given a figure here of about 1,370 cases over five years as a projection. But it's all based on—[Interruption.]—I am coming to a point, but, yes, carry on.
No, no. Just before you answer, just to say that both figures relate to a five-year period.
Oh, yes—five years. Yes, sorry. And, actually, we've had a suggestion that there might be about 270-odd cases per year.
Yes. So, I think we are in the territory of judgments here and assessments, because we've not tracked this question for this purpose, but based on looking at cases where we have a victim—a case that's already reported to us where we have a victim under 18 and a perpetrator over 18 and then working through what we understand to be the ratio of where lawful chastisement may arise in those cases, we would estimate that, currently, Welsh police forces have taken something like—I'll be very precise on the number, but the method to getting there is an estimation—274 is the number, but somewhere between 250 and 300 cases a year, where lawful chastisement has or could arise as a defence.
It's that distinction there that I'm trying to get to, because, obviously, there is a process before you get anywhere near the Crown Prosecution Service, which includes arrest in the first place, and, as you said, when the police are called, the police turn up. I'm wondering if there's any data—I appreciate it might just be anecdotal at this stage—that says that, actually, the police have been called to an incident, but just on the basis of the initial interviews they think there's not even a cause for arrest, because it has turned out to be what we would currently call a defensible smack.
It might be helpful just to talk about two or three stages in the way the reports are handled, but also talk about that particular instance, because I think that is a key one where decision making takes place. Most of our work, and I speak universally for policing in Wales, comes through contact from the public. We, South Wales Police, get 1.3 million calls from the public every year, so most of that is dealt with at call handling, so there's a decision-making point there about the level of risk that is associated and the decision to deploy or not deploy officers to attend. I would suggest that in most cases of an alleged assault against a child, an officer will be deployed. The urgency of that will depend on the circumstances.
Officers will attend and engage, and they make a series of decisions there: arrest; don't arrest. And it is worth saying that our use of arrest powers has reduced over the last period, because there have been legislative changes that mean that we do a lot more of our work through voluntary attendance and interviews, and many of the cases we might imagine under this legislative change would probably fall into that. So, I'm not sure that the officer's decision is always going to be arrest or don't arrest; it will potentially be about, 'Am I recording and reporting a crime, and how is that going to go forward?'
There are then two directions in which those kinds of cases reach some form of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, and we in south Wales, in most of our areas, have got multi-agency safeguarding hubs, and there are similar in the other force areas. Those reports from officers attending incidents reach those hubs, but also reports from other services—social services and so on—reach those hubs and are assessed.
Why do I lay that out? Because at each of those points, there's decision making about the nature of the issue that's been dealt with, the risk that's being presented and whether a prosecution is going to go forward. All of that is why it's very difficult at the moment to analyse how we break down those decisions and the part that the existence of lawful chastisement has played. But I will say this: going back to the 18,000 notices that are raised in south Wales, my colleagues don't go to incidents in homes where there is an alleged assault and walk away and take no further action. They go to those incidents and, even if they don't make an arrest, they refer those incidents to those multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, where they'll be assessed. So, already we are creating police records, if you like—and I'm not talking about criminal records, but records in policing—of parents who have been engaged where the question of lawful chastisement arises. So, it is not clear to me that we're going to generate—unless community attitudes change significantly—a huge number of fresh reports. What we are going to do is, at the end of all of those processes, have a different question around prosecution or not when we get there.
Again, Chair, sorry, but it's a long way of explaining the fact that we can't really say what that number is, except to say I don't think we should anticipate hundreds of additional prosecutions, not least of which because we are, in many cases, now looking at diversionary interventions in a whole host of different ways, and we would look to divert people from the criminal justice system anyway, but also because the bar, even now, for not just evidence but for the public-interest test in prosecution has to be crossed. That's a crossing point for the CPS, but we use that same test in our decision making as well. We will no doubt, in some cases, conclude that the public interest is not served by—and the CPS would—prosecution but by some other form of intervention. But I think there are situations where that will be very tense, and if I can get that—.
Finally, really, on the points at which these things come to us, I think we should recognise that the family courts and contested situations between ex-partners and estranged partners generate these allegations. I make no judgment about how they come to generate those, but they generate them through genuine concern, they generate them through vexation, which takes place in those situations as well. And so, whilst the numbers might be very small, I think the tension around those cases will be acute. And, of course, the public focus will be on how we all collectively handle those after this legislation is passed, if that's the case.
Well, a long time ago, as a family lawyer, I recognise what you're saying there. So, it strikes me that, at the moment, we've got a situation where violence that isn't exceeding the threshold at the moment—. If that's repeat, the system, if I can call it that, is already picking it up. So, if there are repeated complaints against a particular family, even if the complaints aren't particularly serious, they're being picked up and those patterns are already being spotted—so, if that could always escalate within a particular family. What I would like to know is: are you picking up any evidence at all about where smacking, which is currently protected, is the only thing that's being complained about? Because I'm getting a sense that, actually, it'll be part of a bigger series of concerns raised by somebody, be it a neighbour, or whoever, or a partner.
At present, because there have been no conditions to invite someone to report smacking in isolation, I think, overall, the question of parenting, neglect, abuse—all of those things sit around many, if not most, of the reports that we're dealing with. And it's worth saying that we, as I said, haven't suffered for lack of legislation to take action, because we are prosecuting people for—. We are prosecuting parents every year for cases of assault against children, as we should. So, that threshold does get crossed, and they tend to be in those cases where there will be a set of features around it.
I think your point about the repeated instances is really important and why some people who have campaigned, if I can use that word, for this change say, 'Well, can't the police deal with these things'—in those instances that are at the lowest level, as we might describe them—'informally, and won't they be there giving words of advice to parents?' Well, there are 3,000 police officers in South Wales Police. I can't tolerate a situation where one officer goes today and gives words of advice but we don't call it because we don't want to put a parent on a system, and then three weeks later we're there again, and three weeks later there again, and actually what we're doing is missing an aggravating and escalating situation. And this is why I've got to be really plain: if you call the police, you get the police, and if you get the police, information about those families goes on to police systems, not because we wish to surveille the families, but because we wish to protect the children who are living in them.
Well, this is the very basis of my questions about identifying what is the problem that everything here that we're talking about is trying to solve. And whether it's using—. It's nobody's fault around this table that all this is sitting in the criminal law, and is playing with the criminal law the best way to solve the problem? You may not have a point on that, but that's what's behind my question.
The evidence doesn't help us on that point, and I could talk about evidence or I could talk about research or the experience elsewhere, but it is ultimately a decision for the legislators to decide whether using legislation in this case is the best intervention. It is for others to talk about the range of goals you might want to achieve, and one of them is to bring about more law enforcement, but, as I understand the Bill and the proposal, the intention is not to bring about more law enforcement per se, but to achieve a wider shift in terms of attitudes to the rights of children, and that is what we are full square behind.
Thank you very much. I think the training questions have come up—[Inaudible.]
Okay. We're going to move on now, then, to talk about the importance of awareness raising, and I've got some questions from Jayne Bryant.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning. How important do you think awareness raising will be in terms of successful implementation of the Bill?
I'll just start, if I may. Very important. When I attended the inaugural meeting of the implementation group, that was right up at the top there, and there will be a task and finish group that will look in more depth at the issue of awareness raising. As you know, there are similar measures happening in Scotland, and they'll certainly be going down that same path. But it's absolutely crucial. If we draw parallels with different things, for example, I was quite involved with the ban on smoking in public places. That was then led in by quite a lengthy period of explanation and understanding, so that when the provisions came into force, it was a bit of a no-brainer and it was clearly the right thing to do.
So, the issue of preparing people for the change, to understand that this is about protecting the well-being of children, and the development at the same time of the diversionary schemes—which, incidentally, I think should be on the face of the Bill—it's clearly important that all that happens.
Okay, thank you. As you mentioned, similar legislation is being considered in Scotland, and that's placing a duty on Scottish Ministers to raise awareness. Welsh Government Ministers say it's not necessary.
Well, as I've said, in the implementation group that the Deputy Minister has set up, one of the work strands will be on the issue of awareness raising. Whether that changes the Minister's point of view on that, I can't say. Regardless, the principle of awareness raising I think is absolutely embedded, and it will proceed.
I won't comment too much on that, except to say that there are some particular dimensions to the awareness raising. I think you might have hinted at a question later on capacity, so I won't talk too much about training. But, clearly, we're going to be operating different legislation in England and in Wales in these circumstances, and so there are particular issues. There's a particular question about not just people visiting from England, as people, thankfully, choose to visit Wales from a whole range of other jurisdictions. So, how will people visiting Wales understand this? Do they need to understand it? They are questions for the implementation, and when we get to the point about capacity raising, there are instances where police officers are deployed and transfer across that border as well, and we need to consider that.
But I do think, for me, public awareness is incredibly important, and it's important on the point that I've already touched on: I have no problem with the police being in the line of fire over taking bold steps to protect children. We do that all the time and we make tough decisions every day. In my area, there are 1,900 children at risk on registers. We are making decisions to remove kids from their homes. In urgent and immediate circumstances, we're arresting parents. We're doing all of that to protect kids every single day. But we need to be sure that the public understand what the intention of any legislative change is, how it's been driven, and the basis for any actions we take, and we'll have to take our responsibility within policing as well. It would be a lonely place to be if we were having to answer all the questions that arise from that, and it would be good if Ministers and Government were also very focused on that question.
I wonder if I could just add a very quick point, if I may. It's not just the public, of course, that we need to raise awareness with; there are other statutory agencies. Yesterday, I gave a brief overview of this Bill to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, to their Wales advisory group, to explain what was likely to happen. They are extremely interested, of course, because it could form part of their inspection regime of forces within Wales. So, there's quite a number of organisations that will need to be more aware of what this could bring.
Just before you move on, Jayne, Jeff, you said that you'd like to see diversionary schemes on the face of the Bill. Can I just clarify that that is exactly what you would like to see, and also get the chief constable's view on whether there needs to be something in the Bill on that? Because what the Government is saying, of course, is that they want a really short, simple Bill, and so I'm particularly interested in what you just said, Jeff.
Okay. Certainly, on behalf of commissioners—the chief will speak on behalf of his colleagues—I think that would be the right—. Incidentally, we don't necessarily always agree on everything; there is a division. On this, we're more or less—. On the general principles involved, we're more or less on the same page. But that's not bound to always be the case. I need to make that clear. I think that if the diversionary schemes, like positive parenting and other schemes that will come forward through the work of the implementation group, are on the face of the Bill, then it will also give that message that this Bill is about the well-being and safeguarding of children. It is not about the penalising and the criminalising of parents. So, I think that's an important message.
Chair, if I could, because I think it picks up on a question earlier as well about the duty on partners. We've been through this period of austerity. It's over or it's not over, depending on your judgment. But we've seen an atrophy in youth work. We've seen a whole range of support services for people in various states of vulnerability and need shrinking in terms of capacity and, without judgment, we've seen a whole range of organisations in the health sector and in local government make choices because they needed to sustain their core services.
If the intention of Government is to provide a pathway that takes people from the identification of an issue in their family that needs support around parenting, and ultimately, potentially, leads to prosecution in the very worst cases, then the bodies who are responsible for providing those steps along the way have to be compelled to do that, because, if not, the kinds of interventions we've talked about, for all the good intentions that exist, would be the casualty of the kinds of decision—could be the casualty, sorry, to be fair to colleagues—could be the casualty of the kinds of decision we've made, and we will be left with zero action or prosecution. And we must nail into this—. The implementation of this legislation, it's for others to decide whether that's in the Bill or in guidance, but we must nail into this process now the provision of that pathway, otherwise my colleagues and I will be left at this end of the spectrum or at the lowest end of the spectrum, with nowhere to go in between. And I think that would not achieve the goals that the legislation intends to do.
So, I'm supportive of a strong driver for bringing about those multi-agency capabilities and capacities that are needed to make the implementation of this effective against the goals that have been laid out.
Okay. Thank you. Suzy, you've got a supplementary on this before I bring Jayne back in.
Yes, on this, because I find this very interesting as well. Are either of you saying then that you would consider it interesting perhaps to include on the face of the Bill a presumption against prosecution for activities at the level that are currently protected by the defence? And, therefore, that means that the Crown Prosecution Service, when it comes to their guidance, would have to look at a higher threshold. I personally think the public interest threshold is pretty high on this one, but we could be looking at changes to the CPS guidance to raise the bar for them.
If I give a very quick answer, it's because I'm forming it whilst you ask a very direct question. And my answer is, no, I'm not sure that we would need to move to a presumption against, because of where the thresholds are now for prosecution. And I've drawn on some experience here in relation to issues like aggressive begging or street sex working. In both of those cases, we have tiered, escalating interventions in place. So, for women—and it's principally women—who are street sex working, at the end of a tiered set of interventions, you might see prosecution, but, actually, there's a whole set of other interventions that come in, and actually almost no-one moves through those, or a minority move through. So, I think we've got a good track record of showing that you can have tiered responses, and that, actually, the thresholds for prosecution are a test and a test that has to be met. So, we haven't required it—. The best way for me to summarise it is that we haven't required it in other areas.
Just to add, I share that point of view. Yes, taking a little bit—. I was trying to think as well of an answer to your question. The CPS are part of the implementation group, and will indeed, undoubtedly, have views on this, and we'll see what comes of that. I don't know if they've appeared before you yet.
Thanks, Chair. I just want to take you back a couple of steps now. You mentioned visitors from England and how would they know about it, and I think that hit the press last week as well. But just to perhaps get a bit more clarity on this: what approach do the police currently take if a law is unintentionally breached by a visitor from outside of the UK while on holiday here, for example?
So, by and large, as you know, ignorance of the law is no defence, so we, of course, investigate people who are visitors. In south Wales, we get 18 million visitors a year to the area. They don't all come from outside Wales, but many, and probably most, do. I think there are groups that we can pay attention to and we do work specifically with foreign students, for example, when they come to us to spend significant periods of time in our communities, and we do spend time—. Obviously there are questions around citizenship education for people who are migrants to the UK and migrants to Wales in that sense. So, I think there are formal opportunities through things like citizenship processes, and I'm no expert on those, but there are opportunities for people who are going to be settled.
I think to catch the next person getting off a plane at Cardiff Airport and give them a leaflet advising them of this might—. I mean, it may be the decision of the Government and that that is what they wish to do, but I think one of the things we should recognise is, and whilst the evidence isn't as well developed around the world as we might like, obviously people are travelling from jurisdictions where they've got expectations, and I think I'm right in saying that more than 50 jurisdictions in the world have a similar provision to this. So, people will be travelling from places where they expect it to be the way that this legislation will take us. But I think it's worth us just recognising that, at some point, there will be a case, if this legislation passes, of somebody protesting that point, potentially, and we should think about what can be achieved to raise awareness. But there are some communities who are with us longer, from outside of Wales and outside the UK, who we could probably spend more time on than perhaps the next person getting off the flight.
Okay, thank you. Finally, in the written evidence, you say,
'in terms of Adverse Childhood Experiences it is our view that the implementation team should consider that in some cases the evidence of a child against their parent would be needed to support and proceed with a prosecution. In these cases, to prevent interference with the prosecution and as part of a safeguarding measure the child or parent would not be able to reside together.'
Would you be able to comment further on that?
This was what Radio Wales led with this morning. And as you can see, it's an important issue, but it's part of overall information. These are exceptional cases and these would be happening now, I think it's fair to say, where levels of abuse are at that level. So, it's important to bear that in mind. I think all it's trying to say is that, in those exceptional circumstances, where a child is removed, there will be consequences that need to be prepared for, but that is the case now.
Chair, if I may. So, it's absolutely the case that—. Jeff made an important point earlier: we'll do a different evidence session on times when chief constables and police and crime commissioners have disagreed. We'll have a closed session on that one, if we might.
But this is no different than the situation now. In situations where children are witnesses, in matters that particularly go to their parents as the alleged offender, of course we have to make decisions about interference with witnesses, but more fundamentally, we're making decisions every single day about whether a child can remain in the home that they're in now. I think if we had that concern, the driving concern would be the well-being of the child.
We do know that parental incarceration is one of the adverse childhood experiences that has a consequence in later life, and so, I think in that public interest test there will always be a question about whether prosecuting a parent on the evidence of their child is going to be in their best interest, going forward—in the public interest, sorry, going forward in the first instance. The CPS and others will make that judgment.
I think when we consider where the thresholds are for prosecution and we start talking about the tiered process, the cases in which we might consider removing the child for these reasons will not be very different than the ones we're already encountering now. That's a judgment, because we don't know how—. I think that we do this now, we will continue to do it now and in the future, and I think it is really important to stress that we make some incredibly difficult decisions, and necessity and proportionality are always a part of that. So, it's flagged there because it's one of the consequences that may arise. I wouldn't weigh all these consequences the same. The point about vetting and barring, for example, I think is something I would probably see as worth commentary, but it's another of those consequences that already exists now.
Okay. Thank you very much. The next questions are from Dawn on some of the unintended consequences.
Thank you, yes, and you've touched quite a lot on unintended consequences to this. It probably gives us the opportunity just to drill down a little bit more. Shall we just carry on with that last point you were making about Disclosure and Barring Service checks? Because, as I understand it, all reports of alleged criminal behaviour currently result in the recording of a crime, whether that's pursued or not.
And that recording can be disclosed when DBS checks follow, even though somebody hasn't been prosecuted and so on.
So, how significant an issue could that be in these circumstances? I suppose the question that that begs is: if you are a parent living in Wales, do you potentially become disadvantaged compared to living in other parts of the UK?
Okay. Thanks very much for the question. I think we can unpack a couple of issues around that. The first thing to say is that the police had a mixed history in the past of recording the reports that were made to us. So, particularly in instances like violence and sexual violence, we would be criticised in the past about not recording and formally recognising those reports of crimes, even if they weren't pursued. So, our threshold for recording an incident as a crime is very low, and so they will get recorded as crimes.
There's an audit trail there, and they're going into safeguarding structures that need that record to be created. An allegation of assault against a child will never be filtered from the considerations for, particularly, an enhanced disclosure and barring application. But there is always decision making at that point. So, the decision making will be: what was the outcome and was there a series of incidents or was this a single, isolated incident? So, in the instance of a single, isolated incident with none of the other concerns around the welfare of the child that we've talked about, a decision maker will have to say, 'That report'—perhaps it's had no further action taken—'should that be played forward in terms of the disclosure?' That seems to me—. I couldn't prescribe the situation in which you would say, 'Yes, that will happen' or 'It won't', but the more likely disclosures will come where there are multiple reports or the reports have resulted in some action. Your question about, is that—? So, I think we've got to be absolutely plain, and say—
So, there are police—. Firstly, those decisions are made by policing, in terms of the disclosures it makes, and then there are other bodies. The DBS service itself makes decisions informed by our information. We have to know that our disclosure of information into other organisations is proportionate as well. But, of course, we've got some responsibilities and we could probably unpack in a bit more detail—I'm conscious of time—the different decision-making points in vetting.
Would this be different in England than it is in Wales? Would a parent be disadvantaged? I think, in most cases, as I've tried to underline, it's unlikely, suddenly, that people who were not picking up the phone to report things to us are going to start, in vast numbers, picking up the phone to report things to us, because I think those complex situations are already in view. In plain terms, in England, they might be then disclosing the fact that lawful chastisement has been used as a defence successfully in a particular case, but they might still be disclosing that case as part of that. So, we work very hard to contextualise our disclosures, particularly in relation to cases where no further action has been taken. The bottom line is, if you were a parent with a child in school, and a teacher or a teaching assistant had been convicted of an assault on a child, I think you would reasonably expect that had formed part of the decision making in terms of their vetting. If no further action had been taken against that individual in a single instance—and I never try to illustrate these, because it appears to trivialise any particular event—but, you know, we can imagine the things that are at the lowest threshold, they result in no further action. We have to know that we're being proportionate in terms of any disclosure we're making.
But we need to go eyes-wide-open and know that that will happen in some cases where one or two reports—. And I come back to the family courts, because someone asked about whether we get lots of correspondence. I can tell you now—and you know as Assembly Members the correspondence you get in relation to the family courts and those matters, and there will be estranged and ex partners who are rightly or vexatiously raising these concerns, and that will draw a group of people into these equations. But in answer to your question, I think that happens now. That happens now because those reports come to us and have to be considered for disclosure.
You mentioned the time. We have still got quite a few questions. Are you okay if we run over by ten minutes or so, simply because this is such an important session for the committee? Is that okay?
I'm okay for the next 15 minutes, something like that.
Thank you, Chair. Just a couple more questions around some of the cross-border issues, because you share computer databases with England as well, I understand. Now, in your evidence, you talked about, obviously—
‘The removal of the defence may create a situation where different level and detail of information is uploaded and shared according to the country of residence of the person’.
How significant is that? Is that likely? Or is this going to be similar to the DBS stuff in the sense that depending on what action you take, it's—?
I think it's likely to be a marginal consideration. I mean, I don't want to underplay the potential. I mean, we would need to—. At the moment—. So, why do I say that? I think we're right to flag it, but, at the moment, we take reports of cases, some of which result in people raising the question of lawful chastisement in their defence, and that is part of the decision making in terms of the case being resolved, and that decision making is recorded on our local systems and then conviction—. National systems largely relate to allegations, arrests and convictions. So, they're not as detailed as the locally held information. I think the question would arise for us—and there may be some cost if we tried to use our systems to track the impact of this legislation more closely, because that probably would need changes to our systems or some procedural change to make sure that we identify, because we've already described how difficult it is to spot the cases where this is playing out. So, there may be some costs associated with that.
Is that something you'd want to do, Matt, to actually change the system so that there was a field that identified different reporting in Wales to England?
I think that we would—. So, I'm very keen, for the reasons I've described, for us to understand the consequences. Whether or not we go for a systems change or try to capture that over a period of time through other methods—. I do feel like my—. I burden operational colleagues with a whole set of check lists and boxes they've got to tick on a whole range of issues, and we want that to be meaningful. So, if it's meaningful and it helps us understand the impacts, I'm sure we could consider it, but, I think, probably, the four police forces of Wales are coming together in terms of our use of technology but we use some similar platforms in slightly different ways, so we would probably need to spend a bit more time on that. Is it fatal to the prospects of legislation succeeding? No, I don't think it is.
Okay. And can I ask you whether you've been involved in any discussions around the crown prosecution charging guidance? Because, obviously, now is the first time there's going to be this kind of divergence in law between England and Wales, so there will need to be some change to the guidance, I guess. I'm just wondering whether you've been involved in discussions around that.
This issue was raised at the implementation group, certainly. So, there will need to be further discussions, and as I indicated earlier, not just on charging, but with the inspectorate as well, for them to understand the divergence of laws and the implications for all agencies and for policing within Wales. So, I think the issue is those discussions have to take place, there has to be that understanding, and if protocols and rules need to be changed—well, we'll see.
We've given—we're very engaged with the CPS in Wales. We are, as I've hinted at, we've started to get into a space where we need to identify those issues that particularly affect Wales in terms of the criminal law, and that's relatively new territory. So, having separate guidance for Wales I think in this case would be necessary, because the decision making for prosecutors will be different than it is in England, although I think they'll still be operating many of the common things like the evidential and public interest tests, which still prevail. But I think those questions—I know the chief crown prosecutor for Wales will be engaged in this process, and it's probably best directed there.
Can I briefly just ask you about perverse incentives for police, and whether you can clarify—. If there are cases against parents that are not pursued, they're registered as unsolved crimes—if in those circumstances there is any risk of a perverse incentive for the police to charge rather than leave an unsolved case on the record, if you like.
Thank you for that question. I am a veteran of other periods of performance management in policing, which I've not enjoyed at every point. I've lived through the consequences of some of those perverse incentives. So, when we track the data that helps us understand the effect we're making on our communities and the justice we're getting for victims, that is an entirely good thing. When you set a target that says the detection of violent crime requires this number of criminal justice outcomes, or the detection of any other crime, what you end up doing—. I joined the police at the absolute peak of post-war crime in the 1990s, and we criminalised young people during that period partly because we didn't have the availability of the diversionary mechanisms, but I think we have to be realistic and say there was a consequential of systems that were driving certain outcomes driven by targets. That gave us the wrong focus on occasions, and it also had consequences for individuals affected. You'll see in the last period that we have substantially reduced the number of first-time entrants to the criminal justice system and young people don't get criminalised and end up in criminal justice at anything like the levels they did then, and those who do get much more support.
So, I think we need to go in again, eyes wide open, and say—. It's part of the awareness raising and education of my colleagues, if this becomes legislation here, to be absolutely plain that we are not pursuing as a goal any level of target—it plays no part in us trying to pursue performance goals. The risk of perverse incentives is real. What I would say to balance that point—and we made this point recently to the Home Office, who were with us in south Wales last week—is that we used to describe success as either effectively a charge or a prosecution or no further action. It was bad if you didn't take further action—perhaps there were innocent people as well in that mix, of course—but this is the way it got played out. Reds and greens, targets where lower levels were bad, and charges and other criminal justice interventions were good. The world is not built that way, and this issue is not built that way. 'Good' will look like a whole set of potential outcomes, so—
Avoid targets—. I don't think, in this legislation, anyone is saying, 'Let's try and get some convictions in the first year to make the point'. I do think we need to be realistic and say that that's in the mix. On the point of awareness raising and education, touched on earlier, I think this is a little different to things like seatbelts. You know, everyone recognises—. Everyone wears their seatbelt now, broadly speaking, and they wear it because they know it keeps them safe and it has become a cultural thing and it's been done through education. This is not about whether you get in a car and put your seatbelt on; this is about the complexity of the way people parent and about their family dynamic. It's much more complicated than that, and so, the way we measure 'good' needs to be much more complicated than that. I know police colleagues will be very alive to those perverse incentives, and we would look to the support of the Assembly to make sure that that was reflected in the way any change in legislation is communicated and supported.
Very quickly, because you have touched on this a couple of times in answers to others, about malicious reporting—ex-partners and so on. I don't want you to go into that, I think we know that that happens. I'm just wondering whether you've got any thoughts about how, under this legislation, you would address that, or whether you don't feel that there's any need to do things any differently to what you already do if people come forward with malicious complaints.
Shall I answer that operationally? Because that's probably where the decision making takes place. I'm conscious that Jeff will have a perspective. I think it's exactly where we are now. We get well-founded complaints by people who've lived with coercive, controlling partners, who now feel free to make that allegation, because they're estranged. We get malice and vexation within relationships that are dissembling. We already have to work out the difference between the two. We might be doing that at a slightly different level of gravity in terms of injury, for example, but every year—well, I'm sure every month—we take reports across those kinds of situations. So, I think it is about multi-agency safeguarding hubs sharing information to understand the context of families, to understand the rich picture of information and then make good decisions.
If I can just say one thing—if I can use this as a Trojan horse for this point—we don't have multi-agency safeguarding hubs in every one of our areas. Some local authorities and health boards have been more responsive than others. Welsh Government is supporting us in reviewing that situation, but if you want a crude response, which is, 'Have you got your seatbelt on or haven't you got your seatbelt on?', the police are going to be able to really deliver that. We can do a lot of other more nuanced things as well, but if you want to understand what's happening in a family, whether it's malice, whether it's real risk, then you need a range of partners around the table, from education, health, social care, to look at the full circumstance of that family. And that needs to happen, not in set-piece conference meetings, but in everyday conversations in multi-agency co-located teams. Sorry that I'm extending the point here, because I want to land this. Do not leave us standing, with the passing of this Bill, then to sort out the consequences afterwards. My plea to the Assembly and to the Government is to come alongside us and help us build the impetus for the development of those multi-agency safeguarding hubs, which will mean that the goals that Government has, in passing this legislation, are really achieved in communities and in the lives of families.
Can you send us a note for us to understand where those hubs are not being set up, so that we can see—
We've got the national safeguarding board in next week on health, so we can take up those issues, and the research team can check that as well.
When the Government Minister was here giving evidence, there were a lot of unknowns with regard to resources. The explanatory memorandum is clear that the main impacts are likely to fall on police and social services, but it can't cite much evidence from around the world as to the resource impacts from countries that have had this kind of legislation. So, you must have some concerns about resource impact.
Yes. I mean, the issue of policing resources—not just on this issue, but certainly it would include this—is a significant one. The issue of police finances is a public interest matter—I don't need to go into the depth of that. We could definitely do with greater funding levels for this and other things. Clearly, there will be implications whenever the law is changed and it requires fresh training, but training, for example, is nothing new; training happens all the time with the police and new technologies being introduced. But we are concerned about more duties being placed on the police without equivalent rises in police funding; there's no doubt about that. There are two main sources of funding for police, of course: central UK Government, of course, and the local precept. In just about all the four police forces in Wales, we're now at a position where we're almost 50:50 in terms of police funding. In the case of Gwent, it's 52 per cent central Government, 48 per cent the local precept. That's where I have to turn to if I want more money. So, local people will, one way or the other, be paying for this, but we have to—it's the job of commissioners to make sure that we have sufficient resources to discharge our responsibilities. But it's not easy.
So, is it a concern that the Welsh Government is proposing a law that, with regard to the police, they're not funding?
Yes—if that helps. It is, and it's a concern—and that's a point I've made very robustly, not because we don't enjoy an extraordinarily positive relationship with Welsh Government, despite being a non-devolved service—and we're going to be with the Deputy Minister this afternoon and have been with the First Minister in partnership conversations regularly—but we have to get past this point that, as a non-devolved service, we sometimes don't attract the attention of funding. Now, I caveat that heavily on two very important points: we would not maintain our presence in local communities if we were not supported with police community support officers to the extent we are by Welsh Government, and our all-Wales schools programme is substantially resourced by Welsh Government. But you asked a very direct question: should we pass legislation understanding what the consequences are for resources? Absolutely, we should. Now, I say it very robustly, but, if you asked me the same question about the UK Parliament, I'd give exactly the same answer, because there are consequences downstream of these issues.
I don't think we're going to need to generate an army of investigators to deal with these new reports, but we need to monitor the impact; someone needs to fund that. We need to fund training; somebody needs to fund that. We may need systems changes; that might need support, so—.
So, the estimate is £650 per referral for an estimated 270 referrals over five years, which comes to £890,000. Where would that then come from?
So, the reality, as Jeff's described, is of a system that is under increasing pressure. I've talked about a couple of numbers in terms of scale, but let me give you another one, just for South Wales Police: 1,584 registered sex offenders living in our community. So, I'm making decisions and my colleagues are making operational decisions day in, day out, to flex between those. So, actually supporting things like multi-agency safeguarding hubs, properly resourced through local authorities, through any support Welsh Government can bring, would be an enormous fillip to this. The answer to, 'Where will it come from if not resourced?' is it'll have to come from somewhere else and our capacity to deal with all those other issues.
But I just stress the point we're probably dealing with some of those cases already anyway, and I think that's an important—. You asked a very fine question; I gave a very robust answer because I think it's really important, as the legislative competency of the Assembly develops and impacts on policing, which I have given evidence separately to the Thomas commission on, that we understand that this is not—. You cannot make—. You cannot use legislation to make political statements and not have consequential impacts for the organisations who have to then—
But you might not be spending the money on top of what's already existing; what's already existing might actually provide sufficient support, to some extent.
I think in your—. If you were to say, and you've done some maths there that I haven't, but £800,000—
Based on the estimates. I haven't in part done it, because many of those cases are probably already finding their way through, but that's what we should track and test over time more effectively. That picture across Wales needs to be borne in mind, but I certainly think, if I can just—. Sorry, I'll be brisk on this point, but training is—. We do train people all the time, but actually there's a whole host of other things we need to train people on as well, and every time they're in training, they're not on the street, and this doesn't feel like a quick memo you circulate to staff. It feels like something that you need to spend time with staff to explain so that we don't get the perverse outcomes that are a risk. So, I'm concerned that we resource that programme and would welcome any support from Government.
Yes, that's right. And, at the moment, the sources of funding are, as I've described, central Government and the local precept. As the chief constable has said, we do get financial support from the Welsh Government, even though they have no formal responsibility for policing, but they do for community safety. And these are discussions that will continue, and we've given evidence accordingly to the Thomas commission on this, but that's dealing with a whole range of subjects—the whole range of issues about criminal policy in terms of the devolution settlement.
Yes. Just to wrap it up, there's a lot of uncertainty around this. One of the questions people will be asking is: will front-line policing resources be affected by the introduction of this Bill?
So, they must be, to some extent. I think the question is to what extent. It is my view, and that of colleagues, when we work through those numbers, from 1 million calls for service a year, perhaps 100 or 120 cases of this nature. This is not going to—. Unless it absolutely unlocks the floodgates of reports, this is not going to destabilise our delivery of front-line operational policing. Would I welcome Welsh Government support for one or two officers in each police force area to help us manage through these issues, the development of multi-agency safeguarding hubs and support for the safeguarding goals of Government? Yes, I absolutely would. And I think—you know, you can add those numbers up and they come to the kind of figures you've talked about. That would be very welcome support in an area that the Assembly's got competence over in relation to children, and Government has got a fiscal responsibility for the safeguarding of Welsh children, very obviously. So, I think we can—. We'd be able to answer the question better if I could put some resource to actually working on this implementation and developing MASH and, as I say, hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in each police force would be an enormous support for that.
And the whole issue of capacity will be part of the task and finish groups within the implementation group, not just for policing.
Okay. Okay, well, we've more than come to the end of our time, we've gone over our time, and can I thank you for staying on? It was such an important session that we did feel that we needed to cover the ground. Thank you, both, for attending. It's been incredibly useful for us. As usual, you'll receive a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you again, both of you, for your time this morning and your very informative answers. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:48 ac 11:01.
The meeting adjourned between 10:48 and 11:01.
Welcome back, everyone, to our second evidence session today on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill. I'm delighted to welcome Allison Hulmes, who is the national director for Wales of the British Association of Social Workers. Thank you very much for your attendance this morning. We're very much looking forward to hearing what you've got to say. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so we'll go straight into questions from Siân Gwenllian.
Felly, yn syml iawn, y cwestiwn cyntaf ydy: pam dŷch chi’n cefnogi dod â’r Bil yma ymlaen? Dwi’n credu eich bod chi’n dweud yn eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig chi bod y gyfraith bresennol yn aneffeithiol ac y byddai deddfwriaeth newydd yn fwy eglur a diamwys. Fedrwch chi egluro mwy am hynny?
So, quite simply, the first question is: why do you support the introduction of this Bill? I think you state in your written evidence that the law, as it currently stands, is ineffective and that new legislation would provide greater clarity and less ambiguity, if you could explain more about that.
Yes. Thank you. We support a complete ban on any form of physical punishment or chastisement to children on a human rights basis, first of all. It's absolutely inconsistent with the policy direction of Wales and the leadership that it's shown in the UK in being the first country to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Welsh law. We cannot have a situation where the most vulnerable in our society—children—don't have equal protection under the law as adults do.
And also the law, as it currently stands, is open to interpretation. We don't have—. It hasn't been utilised; there aren't prosecutions. I think the range of circumstances when the defence could be used has been narrowed anyway. So, it simply hasn't been used in the time that it's been in force, and we think for social workers who do work in a highly complex and a contested environment, having a complete ban brings absolute clarity. They can say with absolute confidence to parents, and to those in loco parentis, that you cannot, under any circumstances, smack or punish—physically punish— children.
Felly, dwy agwedd: hawliau'r plant ac wedyn gwneud y gyfraith yn fwy eglur. O ran cael fframwaith cyfreithiol mwy eglur, oes gennych chi enghreifftiau o arfer y gallwch chi ei roi inni sy’n dangos sut mae o’n aneglur—in practice, mewn ffordd?
Therefore, there are two aspects: it's the rights of the child and providing clarity within law. Now, in terms of having a clearer legal framework, do you have any examples from practice that you can give us that illustrate how the current law is unclear in practice?
So, in terms of social workers, when a referral is received and the allegation is that a parent has smacked a child, a whole set of complex decisions and assessments have to be made about whether or not an assault has taken place, and an assault that meets the threshold for the criminal law. So, part of those early conversations and a duty to assess would be—. Part of those conversations would be taking place with the police and with multi-agency partners, and, in those circumstances, one of the first questions that has to be asked by social workers is: does this meet the criteria for reasonable chastisement? If we no longer have that in the mix, the only question that needs to be asked is: has a criminal offence been committed by a parent? So, it makes that initial decision making by social workers and the multi-agency team far simpler.
Ocê. Ac mi rydych chi'n cyfeirio yn eich tystiolaeth chi at adolygiadau achosion difrifol ac arwyddocaol yn y Deyrnas Unedig, lle cyfeiriwyd at gosbi corfforol. I ba raddau fyddech chi'n dadlau bod cosbi corfforol yn ffactor allweddol yn yr achosion yma? Ydych chi'n awgrymu bod cosbi corfforol yn than o'r continwwm tuag at ymosodiad corfforol mwy eithafol?
Okay. And you refer in your written evidence to the serious and significant case reviews in the UK, in which physical punishment was referenced. To what extent would you argue that physical punishment was a key factor in those cases? Are you suggesting that physical punishment is a part of a continuum towards more extreme physical assault?
Yes. I think it's highly significant that we do have cases of child death where parents have said that they were chastising a 'naughty child', and that's escalated into significant harm and the death of a child. There are a number of cases to support that as being a factor in the continuum that's led up to significant injury and the death of a child. And I also think that there is a significant body of evidence to support that physical chastisement leads to an escalation in physical punishment.
In fact, it might be something you can send us a note on, actually, because I'm very interested in this evidence about escalation, because it obviously doesn't happen in all cases. And I have to say that one thing that—. I thought your evidence was really, really interesting, but then when you got to the examples that you gave for this, obviously, they're at the very extreme end where children were seriously hurt or died. Without presenting the evidence that went from the, 'Now, if you don't do as you're told, I'm going to smack you', right through to Victoria Climbié, physical punishment in all these instances is way above the threshold for the current offence to apply. And it's the activity below the current threshold that I think we're interested in, to see where does that go. I'm prepared to believe you that it does escalate in some cases, but we need a sense of the scale of that.
Yes. I will provide you with a note on that.
I think we have to look at the circumstances in which social work is happening in Wales. Since 2009, we've seen a significant increase in the numbers of children who are looked after; there's been more than a 60 per cent increase. So, a large percentage of those children obviously are going to be on the child protection register. They will have satisfied the threshold of being significantly at risk of or having suffered significant harm. So, at the lower end of the scale, we're not capturing what's happening. Social work seems to be happening at the most serious and significant end, inevitably, and we're not—. Something's happening around early intervention and prevention. It's not happening, and we don't seem to be capturing the behaviours at that level.
Sorry, I won't labour this, but that suggests to me that the evidence doesn't necessarily exist, simply because you haven't had the opportunity to capture it—that the non-repetitive, non-escalating smacking leads to the type of situation that we're talking about. I'm trying to distinguish between the kind of low-level behaviour that does escalate and becomes something that's really worrying, and the more isolated incidents that aren't necessarily born of anger but are a part of something that's been thought through. I really would like to understand the difference. I'm not making a judgment call on this, but it will help us understand what we do next.
And I think it's really important that we are able to disaggregate that, because we know that we're doing more and more safeguarding, but we don't have enough rich data on what's happened in between the low level. We seem to be going straight to safeguarding, and not understanding and not intervening at a much earlier and lower level.
Okay, so it might be a different problem we're trying to solve. I'll just throw that in there. I don't want to take up time. Thank you, Chair. Sorry, I'll have my own questions later. Sorry, Siân.
So, a little bit of a tangent, but what you're saying is that some Flying Start programmes and that kind of thing aren't really getting there in terms of doing the preventative work with parents.
Well, if we've had a more than 60 per cent increase in the numbers of children who are looked after in the last nine years, we have the highest levels in the UK. There is—. If you just bear with me one moment. Since 2009, also in that same time frame, there has been a 149 per cent increase in the number of court applications to remove children into care. And we know this is set against the backdrop of deepening austerity and the start of official austerity measures in 2010, but these are staggering figures.
But how is this Bill going to change that? If the preventative work isn't actually shown to be happening, how is this, especially if it's without anything on the face of the Bill to do the preventative work around parenting skills, et cetera, how is it going to work?
Well, in countries where there is not a ban on physical chastisement—I'll use Germany as an example—then there's still a high prevalence of parental physical chastisement. And I think, in those countries where there has been a ban—in particular we're looking at Sweden because that's had the longest period—there's a really strong evidence base to show that prevalence has decreased, and also it's effected a cultural change, a change in the normative values. And this is where, again, a removal of the defence is incredibly important and significant. It will support that cultural and that normative change—that it is not acceptable, under any circumstances, to physically punish, physically chastise children.
Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now around the evidence base, from Jayne Bryant.
In your written evidence, you cite studies from the London School of Economics, highlighting the correlation between physical punishment and increased aggression, et cetera. We also had evidence from those opposing the Bill, suggesting that a change in the law can lead to increasing violence from children, citing Sweden as an example. To what extent are you confident that the academic evidence supports removing the defence of reasonable punishment?
I think we've had decades of research and meta-analysis, so I'm confident that there is a strong and robust evidence base to support the efficacy of the removal of the defence.
And there's meta-analysis from Canada, from America, the London School of Economics. Scotland undertook a study as they were introducing the Bill also—the 'Equally Protected' report from Scotland, again, which cites robust and lengthy research to support the removal.
Okay. Thank you. Again, in your written evidence, you say that the legal defence of reasonable punishment could send a contradictory and confusing message to children, and that children may model this behaviour and could find themselves being punished for doing so. Can you tell us a bit more about your view on the likelihood of children copying adults' behaviour?
If I just speak from my own experience as a social worker, I've been in this role, out of direct practice, for two years. Part of my role previously as a consultant social worker was delivering direct therapeutic interventions in families where alcohol and substance misuse were the key risk factors for children, and I witnessed behaviour in those children that was directly modelling the parenting style that they'd experienced from their parents. But, also, part of my role was to support first-year in-practice social workers, and also hold safeguarding teams. And, again, this is narrative; this is my experience, but from many years of experience of having directly witnessed the behaviour, and also supervising and supporting social workers who are, again, directly describing the modelling behaviours of children—so, modelling negative behaviours displayed by their parents.
Yes. As we started with and as you explained, really, the cases that come to you are cases. They're obviously at a particular level of either aggression or behaviour that's worrying before they even come to you. You haven't seen people who would have been in the category of someone who smacks a child and could claim the defence up until now. So, you haven't had the direct experience of those families.
Well I have, yes—
Yes, because part of the role of the consultant social worker was to support family intervention services. So, it was directly supporting and supervising social workers but also social care workers who were supporting families at the lower, early intervention and prevention level—
So, some of the behaviours that hadn't met the threshold for social work intervention were at a level where they were beginning to display the behaviours that we were witnessing and that were being described when concerns within a family were at a higher level. So, they were beginning to describe—early intervention social care workers were beginning to describe those kinds of behaviours, and again I think that supports an argument that we must intervene at a lower level because already they're describing those sorts of behaviours. But, again, we need to understand more of what's happening at that level—
Yes, because it could be a family in crisis, couldn't it, that just—. But the incidental non-repeat-smacking-type families, if there's such a thing, you wouldn't necessarily be called in to those, would you?
No, not at the level that I was supporting families.
Yes, yes. But, like I said, there was some experience of supporting those social care workers who were supporting families at that level and some of the behaviours described.
Where something went wrong. That's brilliant. Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Oh you've finished, have you? Okay. We've got some questions now from Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you. Good morning. The explanatory memorandum heavily references the role that social services will have in implementing this Bill. In what ways, if any, have you been involved in its development?
I haven't personally been involved. Our previous director was involved—Robin Moulster.
I'm sorry, I can't answer that.
So, the information or any of the influences that he might have been able to make haven't been passed along the chain?
They haven't been passed along. There was a set of circumstances around his leaving and—.
But I could send you an explanatory note on his involvement.
Yes, that'd be great, thanks. If this Bill becomes law, what practical changes will local authorities need to make before the legislation's main provisions come into force? And are you confident that local authorities can deliver what's needed in time?
My biggest concern is the lack of resourcing to local authorities. We have the Welsh Local Government Association consistently saying that children's services are in crisis. We've had nine years of retrenchment of local authority budgets, and they have to focus on what their statutory duties are, and that's safeguarding. I know that Welsh Government has been investing—particularly there has been investment in the transformation fund to support new models of working, but it's that early intervention and prevention that needs supporting. I think that, if we're looking at the number of children who are looked after and the numbers of care referrals that we've seen in the last nine years, something is not happening at the early intervention and prevention end, and there is no money in the pot. Local authority budgets are stripped back to the bone, so where's the money going to come from? We have a set of circumstances where we've had some very recent research on working conditions for social workers. Social work is in crisis. Social workers are working on average 11 hours above their contracted hours per week. And what they're telling us—. We have 2018 research that was commissioned by BASW and the Social Workers Union, undertaken by Jermaine Ravalier at Bath Spa University, and that's actually been commissioned as global research now. What social workers were saying is that two of the highest stressors are too high a caseload, but also not having the opportunity and not having the resources to properly support families. Social workers are spending, on average, one day a week on direct work. The rest of the time, they're spending on administrative tasks.
So, on that note, two questions come from that. First, out of hours, because things happen in the home and things could happen out of hours, how do you think that's going to, with all the pressure—? And if social workers now are struggling with caseloads, surely there's some likelihood that this is going to increase the capacity and caseload requirements, so how do you square that circle?
There needs to be a rebalance. Social workers need to spend more time on direct work with families. We clearly don't have enough social workers in Wales, if social workers are working, on average, 11 hours above their contracted hours. So, we need to invest in the numbers of social workers we have. We need to invest in key roles. We have the wonderful development of consultant social workers in Wales, but, again, their ability to fully realise their potential has been compromised by, again, a lack of resources. So, instead of spending their time supporting social care workers and social workers at the lower end of the risk spectrum, to be delivering direct family interventions, like parenting and family support, they're spending their time plugging every single gap that appears.
So, do you think that we'll be able to, across Wales, recruit enough of these additional social workers who will be required in time for the implementation of this Bill?
If it has resource implications, it has to be resourced—
So, are the current resources—? I don't want to steal anyone else's thunder, but are you concerned about the resource implications and the resources that have technically been allocated to the provision of this Bill?
I'm concerned about the resource implications because I think, again, the research has shown that the change in law is most effective when there's a sustained, publicity campaign, and the emphasis is on 'sustained'. That needs to be sustained.
But also, in Sweden, there was an increase in—I know that different countries have different systems—early intervention and prevention. So, there hasn't been—. The evidence doesn't bear out that parents are being prosecuted, but I think, in Sweden, there has been an increase in the number of referrals, but that's been dealt with by an increase in resource to family support. So, we need to increase family support.
Could you give us your view on what type of training front-line social workers will need to make sure they will be acting to support the implementation of a change in the law and are there training systems already in place within local authorities to deliver what is needed?
Again, it needs to be communicated across every area with social workers who are working with children and families that there is a complete ban. I don't think that's going to be necessarily resource-intensive. But in terms of training, again, social workers leave university with incredible skills and knowledge, what they need is the opportunity to put those into practice. That's not what's happening. So, we have this incredible resource that's underutilised. So, we need to create a set of circumstances and an environment where social workers are able to put those skills into practice.
Again, I'm going back to principal social workers and consultant social workers, who have huge amounts of training in therapeutic interventions, in parenting, positive parenting and in family support, and part of their role is upskilling the wider workforce in those particular intervention models, but they're not having the opportunity to upskill the wider workforce, because again they're being used to plug every gap in the system because it's under so much pressure. A lot of the skill, a lot of the knowledge, is already there; it's creating the opportunities for those to be put into practice.
Okay, thank you. Dawn Bowden's next—[Interruption.] You did want to come in, did you? Sorry, Suzy.
I don't know if you heard the evidence session we took with the police just before your session. We were asking pretty much the same questions to them about capacity, and you might get other questions on capacity. But, effectively, what they were saying is that a lot of the cases they expect to be picking up would probably have come their way anyway because the question of punishment was part of a bigger picture, families with other issues, and you've said pretty much the same thing. Would you say that's actually going to be true in your case as well, speaking for all social workers as you are? Is the problem of new entrants, extra work, as big as we think it's going to be, because some of these families would have come your way as well?
I don't think so. They would have come our way anyway.
For the majority, yes.
It strikes me as unlikely. The one-off 'I'm terribly sorry, I didn't mean to do it' type of smacking is not going to come anywhere near social services, is it?
No, and if that comes in as an inquiry, social workers are making that assessment anyway. So, I don't see that suddenly the floodgates are going to be open and we're going to have a huge number of referrals. I just don't see that happening.
So, the implications for changes to guidance and things, rather than have you got enough people and have you got enough money, are probably not that huge,
I don't think that's significant, no.
I can't remember the name of the actual—there we are, it's the all-Wales child protection procedures. It probably won't need a huge amount of attention.
It's being updated anyway, because it needs to be reflective of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. So, it's in the process of being updated anyway. Again, interestingly, it is wonderful legislation, we're very proud of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act and the principles that underpin it are absolutely sound, but at the heart of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is early intervention and prevention. It sits there in our legislation.
So, we have to create the environment where social workers are able to support early intervention. Social workers don't want to spend 80 per cent of their time in front of screens. It creates mental distress, they want to be out. Again, they have a sense that they're not validated in their professional role. They want to be delivering—either delivering direct interventions or supporting social care workers to be delivering those interventions.
But there is a chance actually for that very early intervention stage with families that you won't have seen before. We heard from the police—basically, they said if you're on a call out and there's nothing that they see that's worthy of anywhere near prosecution, it still goes into the system. Then actually the other agencies, which will include social workers, are then the next point on the recording system. So, there probably are going to be a greater number coming in right at the bottom in terms of seriousness, if it's safe to call it that, that perhaps you wouldn't have had before. Are you prepared for that, knowing that we don't know what those numbers are?
We don't know what those numbers are. Again, I don't feel that there's going to be an opening of the floodgates.
There's no evidence to support that there's going to be an opening of the floodgates.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to get your views on some comments that we've received as a committee about interference in family life. The comments that we've had is that the state should really only interfere in the most serious of circumstances. Do you see any likelihood of that changing as a result of this Bill?
No, the threshold for state intervention is already high. It's set high and it's set high for the right reasons. But, I think we still need to go back and think about how the state has been intervening in Wales in the last nine years. During that time, when we've had deepening austerity, we know that the looked-after children rates have increased by over 60 per cent and the numbers of care applications by 143 per cent. So, the state is intervening in family life in Wales, and we need to understand what's in that. And I'm not suggesting for one moment that that's a straightforward—. There's an incredibly complex picture there and a set of circumstances that sits underneath that. So, even though the threshold is set really high, the threshold test for intervention is high, we have over the last nine years increased our intervention in family life. But I don't think that this—.
This is not going to impact on it.
But that increased intervention could be, as you say, for a whole host of factors, including raised awareness, I guess, in terms of people reporting and so on.
Absolutely. There are a number of variables, and that could be one of them.
Okay. Before I go on to my next question, just to pick up on the services to be put in place for assisting families that might fall into this category. You've talked about early intervention, preventative services. We haven't talked about the services that might be available to direct families to, in terms of good parenting and so on, and I think your association has raised some concerns about that not being in place at the time that the legislation—. Are you as concerned about that as the preventative services? Have you got some concerns that we're not going to be in a position to direct parents to those kinds of services that might help them?
I am concerned that we're not going to be able to direct, because, again, if services were available to direct families to—families who were under stress and having challenges, but not reaching the threshold for social services intervention—if they were available, I suspect we wouldn't have the numbers of children that we have and the number of applications for care proceedings. We're intervening more and more. Is it because of the consequences of austerity and the year-in reduction of local authority resources, so that they have to focus on safeguarding at the expense of early intervention and prevention?
I see it as all part of—. Absolutely.
Yes, I understand. Okay. The assistant directors of social services have also said that members of the public should be encouraged to contact social services if they see a child being smacked. That's already covered by current legislation. I'd be interested to know what your view on that is. But do you see or anticipate that, as a result of that and this legislation, that more people might do that—more people might report than currently do?
I don't think it's going to be siginificant.
I don't think it's going to be significant. We have to monitor. There have to be robust mechanisms to monitor post implementation. Again, I think it's really important that there's that clear and unambiguous message—that cultural shift. But I already think that that's also quite well embedded.
Yes. So, again, I don't see that it would be anything significant.
That's fine. You'll have seen the report on the BBC this morning—concerns that more children might be taken into care. But I'm guessing, in terms of what you're saying, that you wouldn't see this legislation as being a reason for that happening.
I don't think that that would be the driver. The numbers of looked-after children, the numbers of applications for court proceedings are clearly a priority for Welsh Government. We need to understand the whole range of circumstances that are behind that. I don't think this, in and of itself, will be a driver.
Will make a major change to that. I understand. Okay.
The Scottish Government are introducing something similar at the moment, and they have put an awareness campaign on this on the face of the Bill, which the Welsh Government is not proposing to do. What are your thoughts on that? Would you like to see that on the face of the Bill, or are you satisfied that the implementation group have given enough assurances about how the awareness campaign around this piece of legislation will be delivered?
I would like to see it on the face of the Bill, because I think the evidence supports that—having a very clear campaign. So, I would like to see it on the face. We would support the Scottish approach.
Okay, you think that's a better approach. Okay, that's fine. My final question, Chair, is just—just to wrap all that up—whether you think that there are any other unintended consequences of this Bill that we perhaps need to think about in terms of reporting back to Government, or recommending to Government.
No, I don't think there are any unintended consequences. The reasons why social work is in crisis are not related to this Bill, and I don't think it will add, necessarily, to that complex picture, so—.
Yes. Can I suggest one unintended consequence, which is on the back of some evidence we received from an individual right at the beginning of this inquiry, that there may be people in the social worker cohort, the profession, who actually don't support this Bill, particularly, and are afraid to speak out and say that? Would you recognise that at all?
It's not a picture that I would recognise, no. Social work is underpinned by a strong ethical value base with human rights at the heart of it. All BASW members have to sign up to and abide by our code of ethics, and human rights and equality for all sit at the heart of that. So, it's not something that I recognise, no.
Okay. So, if an individual, obviously, signed up to everything you've said but thought this was perhaps a step too far and interfering with the rights of others, and felt able to express that, they wouldn't necessarily be treated any differently.
I don't—. I don't think that we've created an environment where social workers would fear expressing their views. So, that's not a set of circumstances that I really recognise. And also, if those views were held, they are so in the minority. I'm confident that they—
Well, that's why they wouldn't say it out loud, I guess. No, as I say, we had that evidence and I just thought I'd test it with you, so thank you.
Yes. No, I don't think, no—.
Okay, thank you very much. The next questions, then—we've got to probe this issue about capacity and resources—from Hefin David.
Yes. We've already—. Thank you to my colleagues for raising this already—resource implications. [Interruption.] I'm fine with it. One of the issues that was clear with the ministerial evidence, which I also said to the police witnesses, is that there doesn't seem to be clarity as to the cost, because this is an unknown quantity, to a great extent. Doesn't that really concern you?
Well, what concerns me is—. The evidence, I think, is quite clear that the intentions of any legislation to remove this defence have been supported by early intervention and prevention support. That comes with a resource implication. So, in order for this legislation to be successful, it's the sustained public awareness, combined with support—early intervention and prevention support. That needs to be resourced.
And—. So, that needs to be resourced, but doesn't this Bill then add additional resource requirements?
Well, if the Bill is to be successful in its own intentions, then it needs to resource—. Where the research is saying, 'This is where it's most successful,' then they need to resource those areas. It needs to be resourced.
Yes, but we can't quantify that resource with regard to this specific piece of legislation.
Not being able to quantify is problematic, because we know that social services is buckling under the strain.
Yes. So, the introduction—. I'm trying to understand whether you feel that the cost of this Bill will divert resources from other areas and the very introduction of this Bill will lead to a reduction in things that you're already doing.
Well, if it isn't going to result in increased resources to early intervention and prevention and a sustained public awareness campaign, and there may be implications for additional training—if that's not going to happen, then the change in legislation is meaningless.
It won't achieve its own intentions.
Yes. And is the amount of money that would go towards training—? That would be an additional budget on top of what has already been received by social services.
If additional training is needed, then that's going to have resource implications, because it's additional training, and, again, training budgets in local authorities are slashed to the bone. Most provision is in-house, it's not necessarily of great quality, social workers aren't benefiting from experts—independent experts—coming in and delivering, and we also know that, just because of the high caseloads and the pressures that social workers are under, accessing continuing professional education and learning just simply isn't happening in Wales. The attrition rate is hugely significant and worrying. The continuing professional education and learning framework's on its fourth iteration. So, social workers—. So, there are couple of things in there. They may need additional training, but also they need to be released to undertake that training, and they're under so much pressure at the moment that they're not—. Even where opportunities become available, social workers aren't able to take those opportunities because they're under pressure from the number of cases they've got; they're working 11 hours more than their contracted hours per week. So, they're really scared—if they go and take some time out to undertake some training, what are they leaving behind?
I don't think it will add significantly to that pressure, but any pressure has to be factored in. I think I've already said that social workers have a whole range of skills and abilities that they're not able to put into practice. I think—. Oh, actually, maybe we have an intended consequence. I'm thinking aloud. An unintended consequence may be that we do need more social workers, so that—. Well, we do, we know we need more social workers, but social workers who have those skills and abilities could be released to upskill the wider workforce, probably at a lower cost than commissioning in that training.
So, do you see the consequence of this Bill as leading to pressure on the Welsh Government to add more resources to social services?
I think it has to, yes. Yes. Because, like I said, if you're looking at the evidence of what worked, what made the change in law successful, in those countries where it's already happened, it's support—it's parenting and early intervention support allied to sustained public awareness. That has to include a resource implication, and where is that resource going to come from when local authorities are already under huge pressure, and as—
So, you're making an assumption that the Government will fund the Bill on top of the resources that are already available. That seems to be the assumption.
I'm not making an assumption that they're going to, but—
—what I'm putting out there is, in order for this legislation to be successful, it has to come with a resource implication.
Thank you. If I could just ask you: you've said very clearly that something is going wrong with early intervention and you also said how proud you are of the social services and well-being Act, but, of course, early intervention is a key tenet of that Act. So, that's quite concerning in itself, really. I just wanted to ask about the other support that's available. You've clearly said that social workers are dealing with the sharp end of the system. So, can we take from that, then, that you think that things like Families First are not picking up where they should be the earlier intervention side of things?
Something isn't going right. Either we're saying that—. Something isn't going right. The numbers are telling us that something isn't right at the early intervention and prevention end. So, either we're not doing enough of it, either we're not doing it right, or we simply aren't doing it. The answers have to lie in there somewhere. And, again, it is a hugely complex picture. We've had nine years of austerity, we've had welfare reform, we are in a position in Wales now where we've got the highest level of child poverty in the UK, we've got increased—. We're normalising—. The use of food banks has become normalised. We have school holiday hunger. We have families who are under so much stress and pressure. When you put parents under stress—. And it's not just—. And this has happened over a number of years, so we have not just a nuclear family under pressure. So, if a nuclear family is under pressure, you would look to the wider family to offer that support. And also, in terms of positive parenting, you would look to more experienced members of a family—grandparents—to model that behaviour. But we have significant intergenerational difficulties that add to that complexity. So, we don't have resilient families, we don't have resilient communities, necessarily, to support positive parenting.
You talked about Families First, which is targeted to certain areas, isn't it, geographically. But there's also Families First, which is supposed to be catching those people under the threshold of the social services. But what you're saying is that is not working either.
I think we really need to do some research to understand what's happening at that end, because something isn't happening. Because either we're saying that there's an increase in abuse and neglect and harm that is over and above—. Something isn't happening there, is it? We're not getting it right there. And we need to really understand the reasons why we're not getting it right there. Because we know what's happening is that social workers are intervening more and more in family life as each of those nine years has gone by. And we're in a place now where, like I said, the figures since 2009 have increased by 60-odd per cent of looked-after children. So, clearly something isn't right at that lowest level.
Yes. And then, the point is, of course, if that isn't actually working now, it's not going to be working whether or not we pass this legislation anyway. Do you think that, therefore, on the face of the Bill, there should be a necessity for Ministers to look at the preventative side as well? We talk about raising awareness being on the face of the Bill. What about making resources for the implications on parenting skills and Families First et cetera—the preventative work? Should that actually be on the face of the Bill if this is going to work?
That's for—. A whole host of things need to happen—you know, we're talking about a poverty strategy for Wales, the First Minister is talking about welfare being devolved—
I know we don't. I know, but again—. So, it's a bit more—. I think it's a bit more—. There are a lot of things happening, and I think Welsh Government has to cope with the resources that come from the block grant from Westminster, and do what it—you know, it has to prioritise what it can prioritise within the confines of the block grant that comes. And I think it's tried a number of initiatives to improve things for the most vulnerable in Wales. It certainly would put—. It would be very clear and unambiguous if it said on the front that, as well as a public education campaign, resources have to be diverted into early intervention and prevention. It would be clear and unambiguous, yes.
And just one final question. Families First is available to all parents across Wales in theory, yes, but Flying Start, then, has got a range of targeted parenting interventions, but that's only available in some communities. Are you aware of—? Have you got any direct evidence that Flying Start is helping in the kind of pressures that you've described, so lessening pressures on social services to actually intervene at that sharp end?
I don't think that we have any clear evidence that it does, because I think the figures are quite stark. So, something isn't—. We're not getting something right at that lower level.
Okay. Thank you. Are there any other questions from Members? No. Okay. Well, we have come to the end of our session with you. Thank you very much for attending and answering all our questions. As usual, we'll send a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you very much for your attendance—we really appreciate your time this morning.
Thank you very much.
Item 4, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Youth Parliament on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill, informing us of the outcome of their consideration of the Bill. I'm sure that Members would want to place on record our thanks to the Members of the Youth Parliament for undertaking that piece of work for us; it's very much appreciated. Paper to note 2 is an update from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 'Mind over matter' progress, and he'll be in to discuss that on 20 June. Paper to note 3 is an update from the Together for Children and Young People programme on the emotional and mental health of children and young people—a follow-up, again, to our inquiry—and the chair of the programme is attending committee on 26 June. Paper to note 4 is a letter from the Minister for Health and Social Services acknowledging our response to the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' consultation. Are Members happy to note those? Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.