Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd

Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Darren Millar yn dirprwyo ar ran Nick Ramsay
substitute for Nick Ramsay
Gareth Bennett
Jenny Rathbone
Lynne Neagle
Mohammad Asghar
Rhianon Passmore
Vikki Howells

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Adrian Crompton Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office
Albert Heaney Cyfarwyddwr Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol ac Integreiddio, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Social Services and Integration, Welsh Government
Alistair Davey Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Galluogi Pobl, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Enabling People, Welsh Government
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Megan Colley Pennaeth Cefnogi Cyflawniad a Ddiogelu, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Supporting Achievement and Safeguarding, Welsh Government
Steve Davies Cyfarwyddwr, Cyfarwyddiaeth Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Education Directorate, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Claire Griffiths Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Fay Bowen Clerc

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 13:14. 

The meeting began at 13:14. 

Penodi Cadeirydd Dros Dro 
Appointment of a Temporary Chair 

Good afternoon. The first item on today's agenda is the election of a temporary Chair. Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 17.22, I call for nominations for a temporary Chair for the duration of today's meeting.


I therefore declare that Darren Millar has been duly appointed as temporary Chair for today's meeting.

Penodwyd Darren Millar yn Gadeirydd dros dro.

Darren Millar was appointed temporary Chair.

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

Welcome to today's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. It's great to see everybody here. Of course, today, we're going to be returning to the committee-led inquiry on care experienced by children and young people, and this follows up on the work that the committee has done in producing its report in November of 2018. I'm very pleased to be able to welcome Lynne Neagle here today. Lynne, of course, is the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, which has also taken a great deal of interest in the care of looked-after children, and we decided that we wanted to invite Lynne to be part of this particular evidence session and our work going forward.

If I could just remind everybody that we do have headsets available for translation purposes and sound amplification, and if everybody could switch off their electronic devices, because, of course they can interfere with the broadcasting equipment—. In the event of an emergency, we should follow the instructions of the ushers. And, in the absence of apologies—. In fact, we've had one apology, and that was from Adam Price. I don't think there were any other apologies, but Adam Price has given his apologies, so we'll note those. Can I ask whether any Members have any interests that they want to declare? If there aren't any then we'll go into item 2 on our agenda.

2. Papur(au) i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

We've got a number of papers to note, the first of which is on hospital catering and patient nutrition. We've had a letter from the Welsh Government providing a final update on the remaining two recommendations from our report published in March 2017. All, it would appear, of those recommendations have now been implemented and, of course, there's some information in there on the ongoing work that has been undertaken to develop an electronic record. Are there any comments you wanted to make, Auditor General for Wales? No. Any comments from anybody? Jenny.

I think it's good that we've hot this single digital device for ensuring that people are looking after—that nurses are using it to look after all the well-being needs. But I think that on this issue of the catering, the proof of the pudding is in the eating on this one and we—

It certainly is when it comes to catering. [Laughter.]

It is, yes. So, I think we've got the processes in place, but it's the outcomes that are the most important. So, we might want to come back to this, but we need to have something specific to drive us in that direction.

Well, I think in terms of the work that we've done with the recommendations that we made, it draws a line underneath it. But I'm sure that Members who want to revisit again in the future will have the opportunity to do that. Can I take it that the correspondence is noted?

Yes. And we've got another piece of correspondence, another letter from Welsh Government, dated 20 December. This is following the commitment from the Permanent Secretary during the autumn scrutiny of the Welsh Government accounts in relation to the evaluation report on the flexible funding programme. This is where they were consolidating a number of grants and allowing local authorities to determine how they spent those within a financial envelope. It looks as though that evaluation report deems that that's been quite a successful project, so far, in the seven local authorities that have been undertaking that work. Auditor general, did you want to give any feedback?

Not specifically, Chair. We'll be keeping an eye on this area through the course of a range of studies that we're undertaking. So, we'll obviously bring that back to the committee as and when necessary.

And, of course, the Welsh Government now are considering how to take this forward, or whether to take this forward, and it's suggested that we might want to seek a further update from the Welsh Government in July. Are Members content to do that? Yes. Okay, I'll take it that the correspondence is noted and we'll seek an update in July.

3. Plant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
3. Care experienced children and young people: Evidence session with the Welsh Government

Item 3, then: care experienced by children and young people. It's my pleasure to be able to welcome to the table today our witnesses from the Welsh Government. We've got Albert Heaney with us, the director of social services and integration, Welsh Government; Alistair Davey, deputy director, enabling people, at the Welsh Government; Steve Davies, education directorate, Welsh Government; and Megan Colley, head of supporting achievement and safeguarding at the Welsh Government. Welcome to all of you.

As you can imagine, we've had lots of papers and lots of data to be able to absorb in advance of this particular meeting. So, I'll start with the first question, if I may, and perhaps you can respond as you wish and provide some context to some of the papers that we've received from you.

One of the things that the Welsh Government has made clear is that it wants to see a reduction in the number of looked-after children. We're told that there have been discussions with local authorities about obtaining a reduction in the number of children who have been looked after. Now, the briefing paper suggests that there are around 591 places that local authorities expect to be able to reduce over the next three years. Can you tell us, Mr Heaney, if we start with you: are these plans costed? Do they require any investment? And, are they bespoke reduction plans, or has someone just stuck their finger in the air and taken a guess at it?


Thank you very much, Chair. Good afternoon, committee. The journey around looked-after children in Wales really started many years ago in terms of the numbers. You will see that, on our journey of change over the last 20 years there has been a steady increase year on year. You will all be very familiar with the First Minister's manifesto commitment, and you will also be aware that we started a couple of years ago, as a Welsh Government, putting some investment into children's services around prevention. Hopefully, during this context, I'll be able to able to explain a little bit more of that detail.

The recent journey has been to really focus with each of the local authorities. We went about this in a co-production way, which has often been in the social services integration world and what we've found to be the better way of doing things together. We co-ordinated a technical steering group—a meeting of professionals across Wales. One of the issues at that stage, and you'll be aware of some of the discussions around targets, and were we setting targets and from discussions, we ended up in a very clear way that we would have each authority developing its own expectation reduction plan. To assist that process, we developed templates and things that would bring some consistency across Wales.

We also set up a very detailed process of visiting each of the 22 authorities. Although that was a very time-intensive piece of work, it actually gave us a rich conversation with each authority to really look at how realistically and feasibly they could safely reduce the numbers of children within their looked-after area over time. So, as a direct response to your question, we as a Government see those plans belonging to each of the local authorities. Each authority is in a slightly different position. So, some of the areas that they will be able to move quicker upon are defined and decided by those authorities. Therefore, we haven't, as a Welsh Government, costed each individual plan, shall we say. But, importantly, what we have done as a Welsh Government, which we see as complementary and leading the way, is we have invested finances into areas that will help local authorities, with partner organisations, begin to tackle what has become quite a detailed trend.

So, if I could just outline some of those for the committee. You will be aware that, a couple of years ago, we went down the investing £9 million route. Traditionally, that was defined as around £5 million for edge of care, but then there were other services that we funded out of that—the Reflect service, which this committee will have heard about previously, helping mothers who have been through care proceedings regularly to actually break the cycle and work on their outcomes and define a different relationship with those mothers. So, we'd invested that £9 million. That £9 million has now gone into the revenue support grant from Government to local government.

Importantly, one of the significant features again was the St David's Day fund, and this year, although I've talked about the £9 million figure, there's an extra £1 million being invested from our housing colleagues in Government into the St David's Day fund. Then, alongside that, we've invested money into the—. We've defined and invested for the first time in the integrated care fund. You'll be aware that that allocation increased this year by £30 million: £15 million for adults, but £15 million designated and bespoke to the children's agenda.

Then, of course, Chair, there are other funding streams that local authorities and their partners have been able to exercise. For example, there have been a couple of very creative proposals that have come forward from the transformation funding. So, while each authority has its plan, our approach on a strategic basis is to help the wider system change and support that and enable that to move us into a different period and a different journey within Wales.

So, just to be clear: every local authority has a plan now, does it—not just the 18 that you referred to in your paper?


All 22 authorities have a plan. The only issue of the 18 is that, for the 18, the 18 have put a numerical figure. Some of the narrative within the other plans is particularly rich and focusing on some really important areas within those local authorities. So, all 22 authorities have provided a plan to Welsh Government and are currently working through that through a range of mechanisms.

So, of the 591 children that they expect to be able to take out of care arrangements, how is that split by local authority? Are some local authorities doing a lot and others doing very little?

There are. So, if you exclude the four that have a plan, there are some local authorities that feel that, because of their circumstances, in year one that will be a very hard ask for them in terms of reductions. So, they're looking at more in year two and year three, and we do have a breakdown from each local authority of their aspirations and their intentions. We do recognise that, in a mature country, there will be variations and there will be a need for adjustments as we learn and grow together as colleagues supporting each other.

But you feel you've provided sufficient challenge to them to get that number as big as it possibly can be, in terms of a reduction in the number of looked-after children.

I think the conversations have been challenging from all sides to all parties, whether that be conversations across local government, health, partner organisations in the judiciary—the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru. There are a number of levels. And I think in terms of the Public Accounts Committee today, one of the most important statements that I would make is that it will be all those partners contributing that can make a safe reduction to looked-after numbers in Wales over the next three years.

I just wanted to ask for clarification about the four. As you know, Albert, Torfaen is one of them, and I've supported them, as constituency AM, in the stance that they've taken. In relation to the four that haven't set a numerical target, is that something that the Government has accepted now and you're just going to move on with the plan, or are there going to be further efforts to get those authorities to set a target?  

I think the first part of the answer would be that I think—I don't think; I  know—that the Deputy Minister will continue to have discussions with those authorities. I think as we move into a more mature and trusting environment, things will emerge, because even in the authority that you've mentioned, what's really important with our own work, probably if we go into—we've asked for plans for year three—if we go into year four, their own intentions are to turn the curve in relation to the demand upon them as well, as an authority. And I think alongside that, there will be other important areas of work, for example, committee members, there will be peer support by local authorities that have been tackling these areas over perhaps a longer timeframe.

Indeed, the First Minister did two visits, Chair, to local authorities last week that have had some significant challenges in the past. Both of those authorities, over a number of years, by working across a number of functions, areas and departments working together, actually, in the trend of us going up in Wales, they have gone in the other direction. So, I think there's a real opportunity for us as colleagues to learn from each other where we are having more success or enabling the support of more children and families.

I just wanted to ask about the differential in expenditure, because, obviously, the bar charts indicate that there really is a huge difference between individual authorities, and there doesn't appear to be any particular pattern based on levels of deprivation in that local authority. So, how much has that been part of your conversation?

Alistair, would you like to come in on this one?

Certainly. Obviously, going out to do the visits, we had quite detailed conversations about their expenditure; about the prevention and intervention; about how they were performance monitoring that and what it was telling them about their gateway processes; and about the costs of residential, particularly where it was out of county or out of country. I think you're right: sometimes, when you look at those figures, you can have a higher spend but it's not necessarily giving you better quality for the child, because it could be just an expensive placement cost. So, it was something about having the—. I think you're right in terms of whether there is rhyme or reason across Wales, looking at some of these figures. We know that deprivation and austerity probably accounts for about 60 per cent of those rates according to the Institute of Public Care research, but overall, it's about having those tailored conversations with local authorities, particularly looking at out-of-county placements where they could bring those children back closer to home, because generally that would have a saving, as would, in particular, bringing back children from outside of Wales as well.

So, those sorts of profiles, when we went out there—and obviously, local authorities have their own costing profiles. Part of that is about looking at the effectiveness of the prevention and intervention and at issues about reunifying children back with their families and then reinvesting those savings back into the prevention and intervention to make that sure we're getting a virtuous circle there around how they're spending their money.


So, what's the top-line learning from Carmarthenshire, which, I think, has the lowest per-child numbers of looked-after, and is also one of the lowest spenders?

A couple of observations. One is that, from the visit to Carmarthen, the director, all of their senior team and their practitioners are all committed together to an agenda. That agenda is, I think, probably best put by describing it as they believe that working in partners with their other agencies, they can support children and families to remain together. So, I think they have very much a vision. As a part of that vision then, they've been quite creative over many years, and I think that's the important message here. For them, it was never a quick fix. It was a hard, dedicated, thoughtful journey. And, so, they've been able to put together preventative resources and very much see—.

One of the issues—and it's interesting that we have Steve with us today as well at the committee—that they've described to us is a very, very strong relationship between themselves and education, because they believe that some of what they've been able to do around supporting children and families has been based upon a wider community ethos within those areas, and that meant that, actually, as they've—. As a principle, I think it's one of the issues for all local authorities to reflect upon, but one of the principles across the authorities that have been able to make the trend downward, which we recognise is considerable and important, they've been able to reinvest. So, when they've been able to save from the expensive placement, in those authorities, they've reinvested that money into the prevention side. So, there is something that we have been trying to do as a Government, which is invest in prevention and early intervention. And in those authorities as well, I think it's an important message that they've been given from the political leadership, from the professional leadership—that ability to reinvest as they've created placement savings for some of the more expensive placements that we find often take place at a longer distance away from the local authority.

Just before I bring Gareth Bennett in, can I just ask you about this £9 million that you say was invested? It's now gone into the RSG. How confident are you that it's actually being spent in terms of an additional resource on dealing with the challenges presented by looked-after children arrangements? And on what basis did you split, as a Government, the £9 million between the Welsh local authorities in the first place when it was originally given? I assume that it was a discrete grant initially.

Yes, it was.

Yes. So, how did you carve that up, because, clearly, some local authorities have got bigger challenges than others?

Yes, of course. I think what was interesting was that before we started that particular grant funding, not every local authority had an edge-of-care service. So, what the grant funding did was allow them all to move into a place where they all now—all 22 authorities—have an edge-of-care service. So, each local authority was able to invest and take that—. We allocated on a traditional formula, so we didn't go down any kind of different, bespoke route, because we recognise that in all of children's services and social services departments, there has been considerable pressure—

Even though you said that some didn't have an edge-of-care service, others did. I mean, wouldn't it have been better to invest in those areas where you were starting from a much lower base?

I think we recognised at the time, in terms of opportunity and fairness to all local authorities, all children's services departments were saying to us as a Government that they were struggling and they were under intense pressure in terms of their budgets. And so, for us, at that particular stage, it was much welcomed from Welsh Government to put additional funding in to support, and, I think, for us, having more consistency—. Because one of the challenges I think we face as officials and as a Welsh Government is that often, there's wide variation and by bringing this together—. So, for example, another part of that money was invested in—which we've talked about—the Reflect project. That was initially, in England, the Pause project. It was implemented first in Newport, and some of the evidence then showed us, from cascade, that it was successful. We used that money, then, to roll that across—


But forgive me, Mr Heaney, you didn't tie it to any particular activity, though, did you, the £9 million? You said it was for looked-after children, but you didn't expect it to drive consistency per se, you were just releasing it into their budgets, yes, as a Welsh Government.

No, the grant initially—. I'm talking about, initially, the granted terms. The initial granted terms. So, some of that funding initially was for Reflect.

It was dedicated to saying, 'We will have a Reflect service across all of Wales.' So, there was an element of what we were trying to achieve in reducing variation and gaining consistency, especially when we could see from the evidence the things that were working well. It was important for us to step into that space. 

Okay, but in terms of the £9 million now it's just within the revenue support grant, you can't really track where it's being spent. 

But these services are all in place, and I think what's important is, certainly when I've been at the table where Ministers have had discussions with the political leadership of local government, local government has continued to reassure the political leadership of Welsh Government in relation to their spend on children's services, and they see that as a priority for them. 

Thanks, Chair. Statistics from 2018 show that alcohol or substance misuse was a parental factor for more than 2,000 children in the care of local authorities in Wales, and also parental mental health issues was a factor in the care of a similar number of children—that is, more than 2,000 children. So, over and above mainstream services, what is the Welsh Government doing to address these factors, given that they appear so fundamental to efforts to prevent children entering the care system?

Thank you. Obviously, we know that alcohol and substance misuse is a major factor in terms of children coming into care, particularly as we know that about two thirds of children are coming into care because of abuse and neglect, and obviously you've given us some figures there. In terms of some of the things that are already in place, we have the integrated family support services; that's £4.57 million and that's in the RSG, and has been there now since 2015, and that very much empowers parents through multi-agency professional input to ensure that children can stay with their parents. We also have the substance misuse strategy, from 2019-22; I think the budget was increased 10 per cent by Welsh Government last year, so we're now investing about £53 million and, of that, £2.75 million is ring-fenced for children. I know that's overseen by area planning boards. 

In terms of some of the new things that we're looking at in particular, I think it's around—and this came out in the recent justice commission—family drug and alcohol courts, which have a very good track record of delivery in England. I think that's something where, under the family justice network in Wales, we are looking now at a pilot. There's going to be a sub-group established very shortly, I think in the next couple of weeks, that will look at what we would see as far more of a problem-solving approach. I don't know if you know the background around family drug and alcohol courts, but generally there you would have the confidence of just having one judge who would be seen throughout all of the progression of that case. Generally, legal representatives wouldn't be involved, and there would be far more of a problem-solving approach. Obviously, there would be drug and alcohol testing as part of that, but it's really done there in far more of a— . It's not adversarial, it's really about trying to make sure that parents are addressing their particular needs and working with the families and having the multi-agency support around that family. So, family drug and alcohol courts in particular would be one area that we would be looking to progress this year. 

Thanks. A report from Care Inspectorate Wales last year did not find evidence of children becoming looked after who should not have been. It also referred to an increase in the number of children being supported to remain with their family or with their parents under legal looked-after arrangements, and that local authorities increasingly felt driven to accommodate children in these circumstances due to the expectations of the judiciary. Alistair was just mentioning the family drug and alcohol courts, so we've slightly touched on this, but how significant is the influence of the judiciary and how involved are they in exploring the variations across Wales in the rates of looked-after children?

Thank you very much for the question. I would start my response by saying that we believe in Welsh Government that all partner organisations have a role to play in the journey of reducing looked-after children. All organisations have set about their business to protect and safeguard children. As the Care Inspectorate Wales report shows, the children currently coming through are appropriately being placed in the system. We believe, from the discussions we have had with many colleagues—and I know that the president of the family courts, Sir Andrew McFarlane supports this—that we can safely reduce the number of looked-after children. And that doesn't mean that the description is wrong; what it means is that our efforts have to change focus and move into prevention, earlier intervention, the things that create the conditions for more families to be supported earlier and stay together. We believe that, if we take certain actions, that will have an impact: appropriately supporting. 

The judiciary, we believe, are part of that in terms of the discussions, and we have held discussions with the judiciary. The Deputy Minister has met with Justice Francis, who is the chief family liaison judge for Wales, and held some very open and helpful exchanges in relation to the different roles that organisations play. At the last family justice board [correction: network] that was held, just before the Christmas period, in November, there was a very constructive conversation. The judiciary are very positive about the learning and the positive learning of the family drug and alcohol courts. So, they believe that that is a good approach, that when families, and certainly parents, are at a very crucial stage in proceedings that that can be very helpful to them in helping them understand the risk that there is of losing their children into the care system. 

But there are areas in which we know that, by working together, we could begin to build trust and confidence across the sector, and I'll give you some illustrations today, committee. So, for example, if we look at the 'Born into care' report and the findings of 'Born into care', we will see that we take a lot of children into the public law outline, into the care proceedings, at birth. And a lot of those are placed immediately with their families and carers, under a care Order. And, again, the conversations that we're having is: are we able to create the conditions where more of them could be supported, for example, on supervision Orders? Are there other conditions in which we can safely support those children and young people? So, again, with the judiciary, we have agreed to have a sub-group of the family justice network to actually do this work together, but very much looking at how we can build that trust and confidence across the system.

And the one thing I will impress, probably, upon the committee is that all partners feel that this is the right thing to do for children and families, but all partners are actually having very open and honest conversations as well. So, not missing out on a really detailed conversation about what some of the hard challenges are that we, together, must overcome. 


I just wanted to go back to the earlier question from Gareth Bennett around the co-presenting issues of substance and alcohol misuse and mental ill health, which are the biggest factors. In my mind, the substance and alcohol misuse are merely the presenting factors in people's mental unhappiness. So, I suppose, in terms of your preventative agenda, how do you think we are going to be able to beat this enduring mental health issue, which obviously is in danger of causing that generational cascade of the children of people with mental health difficulties becoming the new parents with difficulties in proper parenting?

I think there are probably a few things, and others may wish to come in on this one. I think that the first thing is that there are some really hard challenges, and the investment that we have made as a Government around the intensive family support services and drug and alcohol has been really supporting and enabling families at an earlier stage. The family drug and alcohol work, in terms of the courts we've talked about, comes in at a more crucial stage. But there is something about the overall well-being of our families, and I think there are two levels to well-being. One is the parental support. And if I use Reflect, one of the things that impressed me—after years of working in children's services—about the Reflect work was how it supported mothers in relation to the first time of looking at their own issues.

So, whilst we may have started from the concept of reducing more children coming into our care system, fundamentally, what it changed was looking at outcomes of the individual—what was going to help a mother's well-being, or what was going to help her in terms of her work, her career, her life chances. And actually, it was something really quite striking to me that was an important message about the focus being on individuals as well as family and systems. So, I think that would be one point to make.

I think the other point that I would make, and I think that this is something we are making strides forward on but we have a distance to travel on, is in terms of the support for children and young people. I think, sometimes, children and young people have gone up an escalator into mental health needs, and I think it's really important that—thinking of future generations and well-being—we as a country then look at how do we de-escalate, how do we get therapeutic support at an earlier stage to children and young people, and of course their families, who support them. 

This is some of the learning that we're having now around better targeting of the integrated care fund, using transformation funding for therapeutic services, which previously wouldn't necessarily have been the first focus. I think that's where we would hope, then, that we can begin to, in a sense, really prevent some of the chronic things happening—that will happen if that journey on that escalator isn't switched direction, in terms of de-escalating.


Okay, we'll come on to some of the issues around young people's mental health and well-being in a few moments. Lynne Neagle. 

Yes. You referred to the 'Born into care' report, and that, of course, showed that the rates of newborns subject to care proceedings have more than doubled since 2015. What is your understanding of the reason for that increase, and what is the Government doing to tackle the root causes? And I'm not talking about the reduction target here, I'm talking about the fundamental root causes.

Thank you very much. I think the first part of the question relates to what are the root causes, and I think there's quite a wide variation in practice. So, I think that's one thing to say: there is variation in practice.

I think the second area is that we know from research as well, especially around the risks to children and newborns, that there is a vulnerability, so I think in terms of practice over many, many years, practitioners and multi-agency practitioners have seen the need to protect by moving into the care proceedings.

I think that also there's another issue in relation to—. I mentioned earlier there is another issue in relation to potentially—and my wording may be not the best wording today, and I may be challenged on this—I think we've become risk averse, so we move into that removal cycle and move into the court cycle. A good illustration I mentioned earlier was that we will find children subject to care proceedings rather than voluntary placements, and there's something around us thinking both long term for those children and seeking the conditions that help support them and help give them healthy and safe childhoods. But equally, there's a way that we can begin to tackle some of these issues. 

We've mentioned a few things, and I think I can probably say some of the things that we are beginning to tackle. There is some good work, and I'll mention some of that. We've mentioned Reflect, and I would cite Reflect, because I think there are some really positive stories that have emerged. I know that 244 families, I believe, were managed in the last year through Reflect. Indeed, to the half point this year, I think we're looking at 130. 

There are also really important initiatives taking place, and certainly Ministers and officials have been out to visit. For example, there's the Caerphilly parental advocacy service. What we're seeing is that their radius [correction: range]—. Again, third-sector led, which is really important. It's using practice to support parents in a different way, and enable parents to succeed. Certainly, on some of those visits, committee, we have been impressed, as a Government, around changing some of the outcomes. One parent told us how their child had been removed but by working together, then, they were able to reunify.

I think it's important that one of the solutions as well is not to think of it always as an end point. So, in other words, 'We've taken a child into care, that's the journey', and to think about at what point we can review and reassess in terms of the potential for reunification. I know for some children that won't always be possible, but for some children that may well be possible. And we do see, of course—and we know this to be true—that the older a child gets, certainly in adolescence and teenage years, the more likely they are that they will want to return to their family and to their communities. So, again, it's always worth us focusing—. They're some of the conversations we're having with heads of children's services and other colleagues across Wales. 


We also picked up during the visits there around family conferencing principles, about—. I think every local authority now with the new moneys is looking at that. Some already have them. Just about having those conversations to provide support to parents or a parent so that they can keep their child. So, I think that's something that's growing across Wales and we're looking at that in the round. 

And I know I haven't mentioned it today, but I think, again, health has a big role to play in the 'born into care' to help us in terms health visiting and other services that can be—very much those first 1,000 days.

Okay, thank you. You've already told the Children, Young People and Education Committee in your paper to us that £311 million spent by local authorities, of that money, the majority is spent on the more expensive end of the spectrum rather than on preventative services for care-experienced children, but it also referred to social impact bonds as an outcomes-based investment model to reduce entry into care for looked-after children using repayable finance invested to achieve a social as well as financial return. Can you tell us what progress has been made to date on that and what kind of investors you would anticipate being involved in that?

Certainly. Obviously, social impact bonds, a bit of a track record there. I think they were first introduced in the UK in about 2010, usually around projects around prevention and early intervention and about how you, sort of, reduce demand. We've been working with Social Finance UK, a not-for-profit organisation, and I know that discussions have been held with a small number of heads of finance, and WLGA were keen to identify partners to do this. I know that Ministers are very keen as well. So, that work is progressing at pace. I do know that there have been issues in the past around, I think, the Troubled Families project in England, around gaming. So, it's really important when we're doing this that we get the success criteria right. So, really make sure that we're going to do this and start on a scale that we know is manageable. But there doesn't seem to be a real appetite out there, particularly given local authorities really want to shift the spend towards preventative. 

But it's at a very early, early exploratory stage, so I think there's still opportunities, both in terms of the potential areas in which we would consider investing in, and we know that Essex was quite successful. But, again, any views of the committee on that will be welcome to us.

And what potential ethical issues have you identified with potentially using private finance that way?

I think what Ministers have asked to do at this stage is just to look at all options, but you'll be very familiar that, as officials, the Government direction has been for not-for-profit, third sector organisations. There's real opportunity here potentially to look at not-for-profit and third sector organisations that could be offering something really quite rich in this particular area as well. So, we're very minded to those, given the direction of the Welsh Government.

Can I just ask—? You haven't got a timeline for some work in terms of these sorts of bond approaches. Have Ministers given you some direction in terms of how soon they'd like to see some sort of social bonds?

In relation to this, there have been a number of meetings with Social Finance UK, who have come to us and shared with us some of the learning from other countries, and especially sharing some of the real in-roads that have made a difference. For example, I've referred to Essex earlier. Ministers have clearly looked at—. This is something, with the right approach, that could be implemented within—. You know, we're not looking at years; we're looking at a shorter time frame, but I think what it is for us as officials, what we've been asked to do is go away and work up some options that can go back to Ministers, so they can give that their full consideration. But, certainly, discussions were followed through before the Christmas break, and we see those recommencing early in the new year with a potential opportunity here for us to invest differently.

Just touching on this ethical issue, you're not talking about potentially prohibiting private individuals from purchasing a bond in some way, in terms of that then being able to be invested in a service in order to make savings and improvements, no?


Ministers have not ruled anything in or out at this stage, so it's at an exploratory stage. So, we haven't got into a stage where we're saying, as a Government, 'We're doing A or B.' But I think it's just important that we recognise the direction around our strengthening—. Some of the expertise in this area is certainly—. We've got some very good third sector organisations who deliver in the preventative space for children and young people that could be an asset to us. We have local authorities who clearly have assured commitment to change the numbers of looked-after children.

In terms of the model, there are different options that could be applied. Some of it, we're basically on payment by outcomes, and there are different options that could be explored around that that could be helpful, depending on the final decisions that need to be made.

Before I come on to the big-ticket items as a way of getting more money for prevention, I just wanted to ask about the different ways of working amongst children's social workers. So, I wondered what consideration you've given to the Buurtzorg way of working in social services. I know we're piloting it in health, but here, we're mainly talking about children's social workers, and in England, they're planning to roll it out in quite a large number of local authorities, which it is estimated will increase the amount of time that social workers are spending with children and families from 16 per cent of the working week to a quarter. So, that is quite a significant, and, I understand, it is making a difference in terms of the retention of experienced social workers. I just wondered whether we in Wales are looking at this, given that England seem to be jumping ahead on this one.

Do you want to just give us a little bit of an overview of that way of working, I'm thinking for the benefit of other witnesses, Members and members of the public who might be watching this committee?

I know some limited detail about this and, obviously, we can provide you with further information. I think, as you said, this is about a model that—it's a bit like social pedagogy—is about how much time you can spend with the families and in a multi-agency approach. So, I think those are discussions that I know that our colleagues in health have already had, and those are conversations that we can now have with the heads of service as they go through, looking at their action planning.

I think one of the things that we looked at when we went out to each local authority was their practice models, about the amount of time that they were spending with families, how they were recording that, so that's something that's actively under consideration, and I think that's something—. Obviously, there are a whole range of different models, these can vary, so I think this is something for heads of service to discuss. We would be minded to start leading that conversation, bearing in mind we're trying to learn some of the lessons from England and also from our health colleagues.

It's just on the back of that, we did do a piece of work where we were able to identify a range of models that seem to have much more effect. So, we certainly through—

Well, around a range of models, so this would be one of those, but there was some really good work that we looked at that was taking place, for example, a committee in Leeds, where they'd started around about 2009 from a very low base with lots of—at that stage, they had considerable pressures through inspection reports. What they've done over the last decade is really turn their whole focus onto the well-being of and outcomes for children. So, there are a number of models that we identified that seem to show for children's social services and their partners that investment in those models is a much better way of taking our business model forward.

In terms of where we're up to at the moment, we held a learning event to share some of this work back in October, which was an all-Wales learning event. We had some good examples in Wales itself of things that people are doing that are very positive, and also we had outside speakers who were focusing on some of the learning. So, we're very much in that space. I think, at the moment, what we haven't done is say, 'This is the one model for Wales,' respecting that different authorities and different partners are perhaps in different places at this particular time.

Okay. It was just that the head of Children England, which is, obviously, an umbrella for all the children's charities, was saying that this really is a source of inspiration, and clearly there's something we ought to perhaps be looking at on that front.

I just wanted to ask you about whether we can say anything further on the outcomes from the uptake of the Reflect programme. You mentioned 244 families last year and then another 130 in the first half of this year. At what point is it possible to say that this has had a really beneficial effect on the learning for the families, for the parents who've had their child removed?


Thank you very much. Thank you for the question. With Reflect, we talked about the fact that it came from Pause in England, so there was a learning from Pause. When it was implemented in Wales, it was first implemented in Newport, and the Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre did the evaluation of that initiative, from Cardiff University. That report was published around about, I think, autumn 2018. So that again gives us the beginning of an evaluation base, and that was the basis on which we then decided to roll that out across Wales. 

We have regular communication with Newport and Barnardo's, who both work to co-ordinate the information from across Wales. So, in terms of our roll-out, we have a co-ordination hub. In the discussions with Newport and with Barnardo's, what we have had is a number of stories that tell us about positive outcomes for individuals. What we're now working with them on, and I know that they're working on this, is that we're investing in them to actually look at how we can co-ordinate evaluation that gives us a richer picture, going forward. And I know that work is currently planned. In the meantime, they have been focusing a lot around the fact that their approach is on results-based accountability. So the approach they use is on results-based accountability. Where we hope to be for the committee, which will be helpful to come back on at a future point to the committee, is to be able to show, then, evaluation across the whole of Wales that gives us that rich picture that you've asked for. 

Okay. Thank you for that. Moving on, now, to the big-ticket items, the ministerial advisory group's annual report refers to residential care for children with the highest needs and is indicating that the emerging consensus is that this needs to be developed on a regional, multi-agency basis, given it's a very specialist service. I just wondered what you can tell us about how we're endeavouring to use very large sums of public money to achieve better outcomes within Wales as well.

Can I just interrupt here? I'm looking at the clock and the number of questions that we'd like to pose to witnesses; can I ask you to be brief in your responses, if that's okay, to these questions? These are important questions and we want to get through as many as we possibly can. Thank you. 

Thank you. I think you've put your finger on one of the biggest issues for us, and this was identified about 12 months ago in terms of the work of the ministerial advisory group. We set up a residential task and finish group and, in the first six to 12 months, that's done quite a lot of heavy lifting, looking at some analysis of what residential provision we've got across Wales, looking at the different types of provision that we've got and whether or not we've got that provision in the right places. Also, as part of the work on the reduction of expectations, what it will mean in terms of supply and demand for bringing back children and young people from out of county and/or out of country. 

This ties, then, into different models of trauma, the different models of practice that can be used and also around some of the capital investment that's gone out through the integrated care fund. I think one good example is they're setting up a multi-agency hub with enhanced therapeutic support in Monmouthshire. I think Rose Cottage in Newport has been developed, which is about supporting up to four children who have experienced significant trauma. So this is really about trying to analyse it, and these were some of the conversations we were having with each local authority about what were their particular needs. 

I think you're right, if you look at that and our approach, it's around de-escalation and prevention. So, if you're looking at fostering and residential, you're then looking at high-end, children with complex needs in residential, then you're getting into secure provision, which can be both welfare and mental health. So, because we were concerned that we needed a better picture there, we needed to talk about what's in place and what additional provision we need, we're about to launch, this week, a piece of work, a project, that will report in the next four to six months on that very issue, going out to work with local authorities and even looking at some individual cases. Because I think there's some real learning there, particularly around secure and step-up and step-down and the sort of support that's in place, and how we can do that, exactly as you say, on a regional basis, and how we can ensure that the integrated care fund moneys and transformation moneys are appropriately used to meet regional needs to avoid things like spot purchasing, to avoid things like having to place children both out of county and out of country. 


Because, in 2018, when we took evidence, we heard that Caerphilly were paying £16,500 a week for one placement. So, are we still getting some local authorities having to resort to this level of expensive care?

There certainly is—. We do come across, certainly from time to time, very expensive placements. What I think that the integrated care fund capital element is benefiting us on is allowing regional provision to be developed. So, you mentioned Caerphilly, and we know that Caerphilly now have brought forward proposals through ICF capital to then develop their own more specialist residential provision, which then aids and assists across the region. And we've mentioned Newport. The beauty of creating that type of service isn't just about it being more local; it is about it having a much more enhanced package around the therapeutic support needs to meet the needs of a child. And also, it's having good educational links with other colleagues, because we know that to create the conditions for successful placements, it really requires us to begin to put in that particular energy. We believe that, actually, by doing those more local, cross-regional initiatives, it will prevent us spending large sums of money that sometimes have not produced the outcomes for children that those local authorities would have wanted to have seen. 

Okay. In England, we've had some desperate local authorities actually placing young people in placements where they weren't even registered. In some cases, they were in a caravan. What assurance can you give us that this hasn't been happening with Welsh children?

Certainly, with Welsh children, the conversations that we've been having across the country have been very much focusing on how we improve outcomes for those needs. So, where children have been placed, they have been responded to in terms of social work visits and other—. Because it's not just about a placement; it's about effective care planning. I think that's the bit where, for us, we have got the 22 heads of children's services and the 22 directors of social services committed to that agenda. And, indeed, I think that's why the Welsh Government strategy of bringing together investment in capital that goes alongside revenue funding allows the resourcing in a different way to meet those needs. And, Alistair mentioned Rose Cottage, and that's really great because when we've been out and Ministers have been out and visited, what they have seen is not just about a cost reduction, but, actually, a real focus on that child or young person's needs. And we've seen them then be de-escalated back into the community and supported in a different way. And I think it's that bit that gives me the real strength about the Welsh approach, taking this agenda forward. 

Okay, So, no child in Wales has been placed in unregistered residential—

There have been times where—. The one organisation that would be able to answer that question would be Care Inspectorate Wales. There have been times when there have been discussions about the type of placement and bespoke placements. So, certainly, all I'm aware of is that there will, from time to time, when children are being placed, be discussions about the type of facility that would be helpful to them. But I don't have any details in terms of issues of concern that have been raised with me at all. 

Can I just ask, Mr Heaney: is there any requirement for a local authority to disclose exceptional costs, or exceptional circumstances where a child might be placed in an unregistered facility?

There are two things. When it becomes an unusual situation—. Care Inspectorate Wales has been set up and run the registration of establishments. I have come across where, sometimes, a child has been in a secure placement and needs a bespoke package, where local authorities have then tailored their staff and a facility and need to register. So, I have been, certainly, around where bespoke packages have been created, which are about meeting those children's needs. All of the circumstances I've ever been familiar with have also been through a court process as well, so it hasn't been something under the radar; it's been very much within that—

But they're not required to disclose those arrangements to you. So, for example, if you've got something that is costing £16,500, you're talking in excess of three quarters of a million pounds per year. Is there a threshold per week that needs to be disclosed to the Government so you can bring some challenge, if you like, to that placement, to make sure that it's appropriate and in the interests of both the child and the taxpayer in terms of getting the right placement?


The challenge in that context would usually be within the local authority itself. So, usually, the route would be through the local authority scrutiny committees, the political examination. And it is fair to say, with the amount of discussion that we have with our colleagues, where there are expensive placements or high-level issues, those are usually in discussion with ourselves. So, although we don't give the stamp, and we're not the commissioner, we would often be in discussion with them around the approach we're taking. And I think that's the bit for us as a Government now—and I mentioned the ICF capital—beginning to think about what is the landscape. And we've commissioned, Chair and committee, a piece of work, where we have two colleagues—and I know you've said about keeping it brief. We've commissioned a piece of work for two colleagues to actually map the landscape around residential provision, looking at what exists, what provision needs to be in place, what the specialist provision is. So to make sure we can do this smartly as well, so that all areas in Wales have the right type of provision to de-escalate. And we've seen some children go out to very expensive placement, but come back in and be much more successfully managed, in terms of reunified into their local communities.

Obviously, we're aware that, in exceptional circumstances, there may need to be multiple placements—people with complex needs. But we read that, as of March last year, 630 children had had three or more placements in the preceding year. And, obviously, this is one of the things that young people regularly say is hugely disruptive. So I just wondered what the Government's strategy is for endeavouring to ensure that, when a child is placed, that is the placement that is going to be good for them for the time required.

Exactly. And I think that that's absolutely crucial. So, one of the strategies, working through the improving outcomes ministerial group, leading into, then, the Welsh Government's framework and programme around children, is really to look at placement stability—so, increasing placement stability. There are different ways in which stability can be created, that's why the types of therapeutic support to those children and young people—so that you enable them to create the conditions. Good educational stability is crucial, because we know that if there's an educational breakdown, that's more likely due to a placement breakdown. If there's a placement breakdown, that's more likely to lead to an educational—. So good working across education and local authorities.

The national fostering framework I would cite as one of the key areas of development in terms of Wales, not just in terms of recruiting the numbers of foster carers, but the types of support that carers get. We have invested in Rhondda Cynon Taf a pilot, or an initiative, around pedagogy, in terms of the foster carers, specialising in skilling up foster carers so that they're more able to cope with the demands and the modern demands of children and young people. We're also using different organisations to help us in this. So we have Voices from Care, for example, who are working with young people, to discuss their wishes, needs and feelings, so that those are directly fed into good placement planning. So there's a range of focus.

And then, the last area, which we just highlighted a few moments ago, is really the focus on the children's residential, because we do believe that placement stability isn't just about thinking about stability within foster care, but it's also stability within residential care. Now, there may be times, committee, where children will need to move, and they can be for good reasons; they can be for reasons that placements are closer to sibling groups. So we realise, in the last year, of course, the statistic that you highlighted is an improvement of 1 per cent. So, again, that is a helpful direction. But there will always be—I would imagine there will always be certainly some placement moves, but they should be minimised, and for us, to create the conditions of stability is absolutely key.

It would also cover emergency and crisis moves as well, so that would need to be factored into those figures.

Just focusing on cost again. Our report highlighted that the average cost of a local authority placement was just over £23,000, compared with a private agency placement of over £43,000. So, in the work that's been done to try and get this joined-up approach, and a regional approach, as well as more local services, how successful have you been in removing the element of profit from children's care services in this regard?


Certainly. Obviously, we know that rebalancing is one of the First Minister's priorities as part of the visits that we conducted last year. When we were talking to local authorities, we were trying to get a feel for the degree of in-house provision, and that varied across Wales from some local authorities, in terms of how much they had independent fostering, where it was virtually nothing, to other authorities where it was almost up to 80 per cent. So, there was a challenge, because of that spectrum across Wales.

We know that our own legalisation very much is encouraging social enterprise. We know that in Scotland—as you know the Minister has been there—they've been looking at not-for-profit models. They're not without their own issues around management fees, so that's something that you'd have to carefully explore. I know that that piece of work that we're looking at now with the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru is about to report shortly. The one on children, I think, is actually reporting this or next week. So, that will be very interesting to look at that provision.

We also know that we have the national fostering framework, which is really looking at the whole brand of fostering—how we recruit more foster carers, because part of this is about supply and demand as well and about having sufficient foster carers across Wales. And we also need to factor in the issue of bringing children back closer to home to make sure we have the right provision. So, it is something that we're actively looking at and we've got that work coming back. And we've been in active conversations with colleagues about that, from ADSSC and others. So, we will be looking at that work with interest, and that report.

Okay, but at the moment, you can't tell us how successful we've been already, because this is one of the key factors.

I think what we can say is a couple of things to add to that. One is that we know that the national fostering framework is very positive in terms of setting the conditions for supporting foster carers better. So, if we support local authority foster carers better, we begin to create the conditions, because I think that, in terms of the independent sector, having been around the sector for a long time, I can remember when, years and years ago when I started—which shows how old I am, Chair—we didn't have a big, independent sector for foster care. That was something that happened over time, and has a real share of the—if we call it an environment or marketplace. 

The national fostering framework is quite crucial, because supporting foster carers—giving foster carers the right level of support is absolutely fundamental to retaining, because one of the things that we know that works well is good word of mouth in local communities—that is really quite powerful. 

Alongside that, one of the products that I think we've been able to deliver upon in Wales is that bit where, with the national fostering framework, there's a brand. So, there are some things that should be at a local level, but there are some things that we can agree are ones for Wales—the brand, the imagery and the recruitment. And I was really delighted—whilst I recognise there were lots of New Year honours pages in terms of discussions at the beginning of the year for people who have done very credible work—to see the headlines in the national news around the national fostering approach in terms of recruitment. And the offer that we're aiming to make in Wales to those foster carers hit the headlines over the Christmas period as well. So, I think that's something for me to see in terms of a different message and a different—. Because those are the conditions that we need to set.

Yes. Lynne Neagle, you wanted to come in on this breifly.

Yes. You've placed a lot of emphasis on the national fostering framework, but I've been asking questions about that for nearly two years now. When are you expecting this work to be completed?

Obviously, that piece of work has been going on for three to four years, because it's been done in various stages, looking at issues around brand and recruitment. It's now getting into a phase where it's looking at allowances. So, these are big-ticket items, where we need to have very careful and constructive conversations with local authorities. So, that work is in hand; it is producing results, and I'm more than happy to give you a breakdown of what's come out of that work and what our future plans are. It's due to end, I think, at the end of next year.

And the campaign in terms of recruitment of foster carers launched over the Christmas period. So, that's what I was trying to bring you back to about some of the evidence.

Yes, but it's been a slow start—I think you'd acknowledge that in terms of the past few years.

I think the devil's in the detail. So, this was deliberately working with partners and chunking up these pieces of work to make sure that we did this properly, and safely and appropriately. So, we are on track with all the deadlines that we have there. It's just the sheer volume of work and complexity that we've been working through.

Okay. Just looking at the numbers, you've got targets for out-of-Wales reductions, and we're talking very small numbers of children, what you're telling us about are the numbers by which you want to reduce it, but what I'm interested in is to know just how many children we're placing out of Wales. 


Can you also, in responding to that, if you may—there will be some instances where being placed out of Wales may be nearer than being placed in Wales, particularly for those who might live close to the border: what are you doing to make sure that that policy doesn't have unintended consequences in terms of the way that it's implemented? Perhaps you could tell us that in response to the question too.

So, we have all of the information in terms of the numbers placed outside of Wales and we can provide those to the committee. That's—

As well as the numbers placed out of county as well, otherwise the number of reductions, it's not possible to—.

No. We have all of that information. Knowledge and analytical services provide all of that information to us. So, we have quite a rich picture. There are different reasons why children are placed out of Wales. You'll be familiar with some of those. Sometimes, they're appropriate placements—kinship, family—absolutely legitimate, and we would all support that. There's sometimes, as we've mentioned in this committee, specialist residential provision, and that's where we're looking to see what we can regenerate in terms of Wales in terms of our own well-being of our children, and again sometimes quite complex fostering situations that can emerge. The 20 per cent that you reference is directly from those local authorities themselves. This is the forecast—the ambition that they're setting for themselves. We believe, through our programmes, that we can support them in delivering their goals and aspirations.

Okay. I think that's probably as far as we're going to—. We haven't got time to go any further into that, but clearly what we want to know is really how many children are we placing outside of Wales or outside of county simply because we haven't got the right sort of provision, and we're not talking about those—

You can drop us a note on the circumstances by those categories that you've referred to, yes?

I have it in my pack, and, if I can find it before the end of today's meeting, I will, but it is there.

Off the top of my head, it's about 20 per cent of children are placed out of county and about 300 to 350 out of country.

You've basically said—obviously, kinship care somewhere outside Wales is obviously appropriate in individual circumstances, but it's really—. I suppose it's really trying to drill down into those for whom we could be providing a better provision in Wales closer to relevant, important people in their lives, but we simply haven't got the right provision here in Wales.

Okay. We're going to have to move on, I think, to education, if that's okay. So, I'm going to come to one of our education experts on the committee, Vikki Howells, and Steve, you can now prepare yourself. You've been waiting a long time for this bit. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Chair. So, I wanted to start off by looking at the pupil development grant and the way that we invest our money there. So, one of the goals of the pupil development grant, obviously, is to improve education outcomes of looked-after children, and the Welsh Government invests about £5 million a year on that. So, what assessment have you made of the impact of that spending, when we look at some of the raw data such as the fact that only 20 per cent of looked-after children attained A* to C GCSEs, including maths and Welsh or English, compared to 55 per cent of all pupils?

Thank you very much. A number of factors impact on the attainment for looked-after children, but I think two of the most critical are associated with trauma that comes from abuse and neglect before entering care. It can have a long-term impact. The second, associated with that in part, is the fact that 66 per cent of pupils in care actually have additional learning needs. Some of those are related to mental health, well-being; others are related to learning needs. But, again, one can result from or be associated with the other. So, I think we do have to be careful as to the degree of significance we put on this. But you're right: our corporate expectations should be high for these pupils, and we shouldn't accept the fact that you have associated factors as an excuse for that, and we're certainly not looking to do that.

There are a number of things that we're doing across mental health and well-being in response to the CYPE's 'Mind over matter', and there's significant work that we're doing on additional learning needs to address those areas.

Moving on to how do we measure, we're just looking at the raw data. As a minimum, we look at progress year on year: disappointing year in 2017, improvements in 2018, reducing the gap in terms of the level 2 threshold by 6 per cent, from 46 per cent to 40 per cent, and the level 2 plus from 43 per cent to 35 per cent. That said, the cohorts are small. We're still awaiting 2019. So, we've been looking carefully at how we can add value to the monitoring and evaluation by looking at some of the qualitative issues. Now the 2017 results and the CYPE report on the money challenged us in terms of the need to strengthen the arrangements. The regions and local authorities have the resource. We need to know more about what is happening. So, officials now meet with—. First of all, we appointed, two years ago, the regional leads for PDG and, as part of that, looked-after children. We meet with those four on a six-weekly cycle, where we have regular evaluation of progress. The other important part of that is that they share practice, which builds more consistency in their approach.

But, as part of those arrangements, we also have now requirements in place for schools to have tracking arrangements themselves to track progress of different types of vulnerable pupils as well as other pupils across the school. That gives us an opportunity, going forward, to get a richer data set by region and local authority. That said, we continue to work with experts to give us other factors around quality of care, quality of education, and support for care, alongside the data, because the data, as I said, can be quite narrow and is a small, in relative terms, percentage of students. So, it's difficult to have it as a substantial evaluation or monitoring in terms of just the GCSE data.


Thank you for your response there, and I'm pleased to see that you are taking such a holistic view, really, and we know that there are, obviously, differences between regions and indeed between schools in how they chose to spend their PDG, so I'd be interested if you were able to send us a note about some of the best practice involving mental health support, for example.

But, just to go back to one of the points that you raised there in your answer, Mr Davies, when you were talking about the different regions, and building on best practice, how has the Welsh Government responded to the recommendation from the evaluation to implement a national model for the looked-after children PDG?

If I can answer this one, we took the results of the evaluation and considered those with our partners. So, we worked with the directors of education and the PDG co-ordinators to look at the recommendations that came out of that so that we could strengthen our framework across Wales. So, we developed a new framework last year. That includes revised terms and conditions in the grant, and we also set the core purpose for the role of the PDG LAC co-ordinator so that we've got a consistent approach across Wales on that basis. That's been in place in this financial year, and it seems to be working well. As Steve said, we have our six-weekly review meetings with the co-ordinators. That includes our raising attainment advocate, Sir Alasdair Macdonald, who comes and helps us challenge and look at improvement across Wales.

Thank you. I should have said there that I was referring to the evaluation that was undertaken by ICF Consulting, published in January of last year. There are a few other recommendations I'd like to explore—what Welsh Government might have done there. So, one of the other ones was about replacing the existing frequently asked questions document with a single easy-to-use guidance document that would be aimed at consortia, local authorities and school-level stakeholders.

Yes, we are in progress with that work. What we want to do is take the learning from the first year of implementation so that we can feed that back into the guidance document that will form part of wider PDG guidance.

And when would you expect that to be completed, then?

Early in the next financial year.


Okay. And has the Welsh Government drawn together a better evidence base of what PDG-funded activities benefit looked-after children and made this readily available in one place as well, as recommended?

We are making good progress on that. So, all of the consortia now publish their best practice on their own websites. We have, as the Welsh Government, acquired an area on Hwb, so we'll be transferring that best practice across to that area. But while that's in progress we're also continuing to fund CASCADE, with their community of practice on care and education too.

Great. And finally on this, although I do have other questions, Chair, are regional consortia now required to report against regional targets for improving the attainment of looked-after children and to actually evidence how the PDG has contributed towards this?

Yes. Again, the regional targets are set in the annual support plans at the beginning of the year. They're then monitored through our six-weekly meetings, as well as when they input the final end-of-year analysis, which looks at the progress they've made. We will also be having an extended session with them at the end of the financial year to look at the analysis against the data that will be available to us by then on the 2019 figures. And alongside this, then, the Minister also has her evaluation and improvement meetings with senior leaders in the consortia and the directors and chief executives in local authorities, where she looks at progress with them as well.

Thank you. My next question is around the education of adopted children. I'm wondering what assessment the Welsh Government has made of the extent to which PDG is being used to support the education of adopted children.

I think one of the critical challenges we're facing, which I'll come on to, is around actually how do we gather the data on adopted children, but I'll come on to that. We recognise that pupils, children, who have been previously looked-after children, don't overnight when they get an adoption order—all of a sudden are better. So, we recognise we need to do more in identifying and supporting that.

That said, the regional co-ordinators that we're working with, the discussions we're having with them around where they direct the money—. Now, I know some members of the committee would like every penny to go to every individual child. The reality is that what we need is the readiness of the professionals to deal with those children as they come into those schools. So, we need as wide a skill set as possible. So, what we've been working on with the regional co-ordinators is the type of specific training and development and interventions that are associated with adopted children, with many of the associated needs of looked-after children. So, they've been developing those strategies primarily through cluster groups to build that capacity across larger groups, and we've had some real success in sharing practice across the regions in training and development in that area.

The other work that we've been doing is contributing to the work of national fostering organisations £33,000, which is to help the transition from primary school to secondary school for adopted children. The challenge that I referred to earlier—there are three sets of data that we're looking to collect, three critical sets of data on some of the vulnerable children—young carers, adopted children and service children. We've done significant work with our knowledge and analytical services to secure this database. We're making progress. I can't give you an actual date that we'll get there, but we are making progress, and this will be critical to identifying where that resource is needed and then looking at strengthening the monitoring and evaluation of that.

Okay, thank you. One final question from me, then, and that's regarding the Minister for Health and Social Services, who stated in his written paper to the CYPE on the draft budget that the Welsh Government

'is allocating £900k in 2020-21 to take forward exploratory work on an integrated approach to supporting looked after children in education'

and that a scoping exercise to further explore integrated models, virtual schools and whole-system approaches has been commissioned. I'm just wondering if you are able to tell us any more about this.

Do you want to give that detail?

Yes. So, the three-year plan under the ministerial advisory group on the education strand was completed last January, and we did achieve a lot of individual actions within that plan. So, at the end of that, we wanted to look at future priorities because we didn't feel that the work had necessarily been completed going forward. So, the future priorities we looked at with Voices from Care to get the voice of young people and what looked-after children's priorities for education are. We also set up a working group with our stakeholders to have a look at priorities. 

The outcomes from that work were put forward to the Minister for Education and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, and they reflected on the outcomes of that piece of work over the first part of last year. We also looked at the learning from Wales and the UK that included the pioneering work that Albert talked about earlier in Carmarthenshire, but also the virtual school head model in England, which was something that came up in the evaluation too.

So, they decided that they wanted to take a more proactive approach, something more strategic, looking at a single piece of work encompassing all of the priorities, and taking that learning forward. So, we have asked Sir Alasdair Macdonald, the raising attainment advocate, to undertake a short scoping exercise over the first part of this year, ready for the next financial year. So, the outcomes from that scoping exercise will look at developing an integrated approach for Wales.


When do you expect that to be back in terms of a report? 

Because the money is committed for the next financial year, we asked him to report back early in the next financial year.

Okay. So, you'll able to give us an update on that in due course. 

Just before I bring Jenny in very briefly, before we go on to mental health-related issues, Mr Davey, you referred to the fact that we haven't got the figures for the performance in terms of the levels of attainment for looked-after children for the last academic year at the moment. Why does it take so long—you know, it's quite small numbers involved?

I really don't know. In the cycle, it always comes out later in the cycle. But, again, I can look to get that information. 

I think it's actually about that we have to take the pupil identification number and align it with other statistics collected, so it's actually about marrying different data sources together.

The actual full national data set is published in December, so we are one month further on—

It may be published then, but you've got that information earlier than that, haven't you, as a Welsh Government, surely? 

I don't know how that goes through, but I'm very happy, Chair, to give you—

This is a priority. We ought to be measuring it more quickly, that's all, in terms of publishing these sorts of data. Jenny, very briefly. 

Some schools are doing really excellent work supporting looked-after and adopted children. Other schools think it somebody else's business. So, how do we get all schools ensuring that they have a contribution to make to support our most vulnerable students, along the lines that appears to be taking place in Carmarthenshire? 

Okay. I think part of it is about enabling those schools who don't to see what effective practice looks like and the benefits of that practice on children and young people, and the educational outcomes. There's enough good practice in Wales to be shared. We have the co-ordinators working across those regions. We have to enable that practice, as I say, to be shared, but the other piece of work that we're doing on mental health and well-being with the whole-school approach—I would expect over time that the self-evaluation of schools and the interest of Estyn in the contribution that mental health and well-being improvements can do to all pupils, but particularly looked-after children, will be or is already high on their agenda.

Okay. That's sort of an answer I was hoping to have. So, we're going to have a ratcheting up of those schools that are coasting along because they are not in areas of deprivation and don't have many, if any, looked-after children. 

Clarity of practice associated with strong expectations, with support. 

As you're aware, our 'Mind over matter' inquiry by the Children, Young People and Education Committee made a series of recommendations to improve the emotional and mental health support for looked-after children, because we found that there was a particular issue because looked-after children weren't meeting the threshold for a medical diagnosis and were being turned away, and they weren't having their emotional and mental health needs met. What progress has the Welsh Government made in ensuring that all looked-after children receive an assessment of their emotional and mental health and actually have those needs met?


Obviously, there are a number of things that have gone on. I know that an additional £8 million has gone into CAMHS itself, so that's cut down waiting times to four weeks, but also we've got the Together for Children and Young People programme, which I know is now being extended, I believe to March 2022. We've got the CAMHS inreach projects as well, which started in 2016, which now, with education, have turned into the whole-schools approach. I know that about £1.4 million has been invested there about developing frameworks to support children. So, I know progress is—I believe that's due to report later on this year. Also, I think there's £200,000 to each regional partnership board to develop community-based services for young people who do not meet the threshold. And then the health boards themselves are being required to remodel services to support those that don't meet a specific threshold, and an additional £3.2 million. So, there is a lot of money and work going on within that space, particularly around the whole-schools approach, that in particular should be driving progress on this.

There is, as you say, a lot of money, but how can we be assured that looked-after children are not being turned away from CAMHS services because they don't meet the threshold of a mental illness? Because, certainly, the evidence I've seen suggests that that is still happening.

I think this is in particular—again, going back to the visits that we conducted, we talked to each local authority about their relationships with health boards on this very issue about the support that was there, both in terms of within schools but also the feedback and the relationships they were brokering with health colleagues. Obviously now, with regional partnership boards, there is much greater focus on children's services and mental health as well, and the therapeutic moneys that have gone in. So, this is about, both on a local and a regional basis, making sure that the partners are getting together to discuss these issues and to give feedback on that. Obviously, this is something that, in turn, is coming back to Welsh Government to examine.

Yes, just to support—as a former CAMHS therapeutic practitioner, this is really important. I believe that some of the evidence is that waiting times have reduced in CAMHS. I think that's one of things. Not all children will require—

They're not all at four weeks, though, as Mr Davey suggested. Mr Davey was suggesting they're at four weeks at the moment for people to get access to CAMHS services. That's not the case at all, is it?

They have improved—

I would have to verify that, but I was led to believe it was four weeks. I'll get back to the committee to check that. 

Mr Davey, just to assist—I think he's probably saying on an average. I think what the committee might be interested in is what's the range within an average. Because an average can be very helpful, but if there are long waits in some areas, then we have to make sure—. The driver from Welsh Government is to have timely therapeutic support, and that's why the investment the Minister has been making, alongside that—I know time is pressing, but alongside that I think it's really quite crucial that, with the range of services, we're opening doorways to children and young people around the integrated care fund, transformation funding around different therapeutic models, and different therapeutic support is equally important. Because to go back to the statement I was making earlier, it's important that, where children need mental health services, they should have it timely, promptly and effectively. But where children are on a journey in well-being, we should be able to support them at an earlier stage as well. So, I think it's not either/or it's both/and.

Okay. You didn't mention the £15 million new investment for regional partnership boards to develop therapeutic support services, and you've already confirmed that that's specifically for care-experienced children and children on the edge of care. Can you just tell us how you anticipate that money being spent? Is that just going to be for regional partnership boards to decide how they spend it? Has Welsh Government given any guidance as to how that is to be spent?

Thank you very much. In terms of how that money is being spent across the regions, it is being invested in those areas that you have described, which is edge of care or indeed for care-experienced children. The types of work that are currently place: we've got in the Cardiff area the family reunification service that's about supporting families, and we know that a number of children have been maintained in their family settings as a direct consequence of that service. In Gwent we have an enhanced service, which is really showing real benefits in terms of supporting children and families. Equally, across Gwent, one of the areas and one of the models that we believe in is the family group conference, where families can come together and help solve—. Because families—this isn't doing to, this is doing together, because families have a lot of the solutions and have a rich approach, if we open the doorway to those conversations. At the previous committee that you were with, Chair—. The multi-agency placement support service in west Glamorgan is really quite an important one for us. It's a service where they're working intensively with children and foster-care households. And of those, we've seen real evidence of progress, where we're actually seeing data telling us that—. So, direct support of staying in their placements has been enhanced by—. We know that 44 children now have been assessed as having enhanced placement stability as a direct response to those services.

It is always a difficult one. There's a tension about how much does Welsh Government prescribe in saying, 'This is the approach', versus what some of the learning has delivered, and the approach that we've taken is very much an open dialogue with the regional partnership board. So, we've been in quite heavy conversations, and I think it's really quite important that, at a regional partnership board level, those professionals that are dealing with some of the issues have an important input, along with some of the citizens who are involved around the regional partnership boards as well.


Four of the 33 young people who were covered by the review of suicide and probable suicide were looked-after children. What steps is the Government taking to provide support for looked-after children with the most acute needs?

Thank you—a very important question. You'll clearly be aware of 'Together for Mental Health', the 10-year strategy; you will be aware of the delivery plans, then, within that, relating to 'Together for Children and Young People', the programme, particularly in relation to CAMHS for children moving into a more preventative—. On top of the £8 million that Mr Davey described, there's a £3.2 million focus on children in terms of their therapeutic need, and I think one of the strands is, obviously, as you quite rightly highlighted, around the acute end, but, equally, it's quite important, as a society, that we have a range of identifying and supporting children and young people at a much earlier stage. So, again, there's additional money—£7.1 million has been brought into play by the Minister to support children more generally, and then there's the money that's been described around health and education. One of the areas here that I think is quite important is the work across education, and I know that a great deal of work's gone into developing a toolkit and advice so that we can identify the signs and respond much earlier. Because I think it is partly where children and young people end up in sometimes a very difficult situation, but there are often signs that can be identified much earlier so that those children and young people can be responded to.

Just to emphasise—and you will be aware of some this, but perhaps other Members won't—that we did publish guidance in September to support dealing with issues of self-harm and thoughts of suicide in young people, and in December we commissioned Swansea University and Professor Ann John, who chairs the Welsh Government national advisory group, to particularly focus on online issues. That work is ongoing, but one of the outcomes of that is to actually develop resources with children and young people for children and young people, because we know that there are—not in all cases by any means, but there are associated issues related to online bullying and other factors, bystanders. So, we are working together on that, and the Ministers are keen that we continue to work together on that. They're just two issues or approaches we've shared and developed, as I say, more recently.

Okay. You referred to the 'Together for Children and Young People' programme, and the Welsh Government is currently proposing a change in governance arrangements for that programme, with it reporting in part to the outcomes for looked-after children ministerial advisory group. Can you just tell us what the rationale is for that, and do you share my concerns that that risks diluting the focus of both the 'Together for Children and Young People' programme on the general mental health transformation we need to see and also that ministerial advisory group's vital focus on looked-after children?

We feel this will strengthen it in terms of system-wide engagement and strategic oversight. I think, in particular, the chair will also continue to be a member of the whole-school approach ministerial task and finish group, and also the new NHS Wales national programme director for mental health will be on the improving outcomes ministerial advisory group. So, this is about transparency, all working together in a system-wide approach. So, we would see, rather than diluting, it's about pulling it together so that they're woven together.


Chair, can I just add—? You may wish me to skip over and just send it in, but I did find that piece of paper with the data on it and—I knew it was here. So, in terms of out-of-county, in terms of 30 September—not validated by knowledge and analytical services, but the data that we work from, as you say, quite rightly, Welsh Government often has data—out-of-county placements: 1,388, but the significant question in terms of out-of-Wales, which at the 30 September was 243 children, which according to the data we had at the beginning of April, that would have been a reduction. So, we would have, by the look of it, it looks like we might be. But at this particular juncture, they're not validated figures.

Okay. It would be helpful to have an analysis of the 240-odd, just to see for what reason they were placed out of Wales. As you say, sometimes, it would be perfectly appropriate, there may be a family placement made; it may be that that's closer to their home than an alternative provision. But if you can give us some sort of analysis of that, I think it would be very helpful. If we move on, then, to Mohammad Asghar.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you very much. I was listening to you right at the beginning when you said you set targets to achieve some goals in the beginning when you made your initial statement. Do you know what the average income is of households in Wales? It's around about—below £30,000, and we spend over £31,000 per child, up to £58,000 from Torfaen to Newport. It's a big difference. And you haven't—.

I've also gone through all these documents. I don't think we need to see more. There are 22 unitary bodies going in different directions but not achieving. There's still this problem of homelessness once they finish after 18. It increases rather than—. Forty-six per cent—these children sadly don't get homes. And that is 10 per cent, 11 per cent homeless and also then not in education, employment or training.

So, basically, we are not giving services for young children. Whatever funds we are giving, I think there's something that's an anomaly in the system. And I heard Alistair saying that you're going to publish a report next year—end of next year, I just heard you earlier saying. So, when the report is—. Where are the anomalies? When are we going to put these children—? Because we don't want them to end up in the criminal system, which we've also heard about. So, where is the system wrong to put things right? And make it one basic system, which is not fit-for-all, but best-for-all.

These homelessness issues are a significant problem, aren't they, amongst the looked-after children population or those who have experienced time as a looked-after child? Can you tell us where you're up to with improving some of these statistics?

Absolutely, Chair. Thank you very much for the question—really, really, really quite crucial to us. We're working very closely with our housing colleagues, and youth homelessness and especially care leavers is one of the critical features for us. We are recognising the challenges, and I think all of us across this area recognise that one person being homeless is something that we have to work upon.

We have invested £4.8 million into the youth homelessness innovation fund, which is aimed at supporting the 18 to 25-year-old group, and although this is the beginning of progress, it is the start, again, of a journey that we've mentioned. There are currently 25 projects that are being distributed across Wales and in different areas, different schemes are very much—. Swansea local authority is an illustration of currently working with those aged 15 plus whilst they're still living at home for us to create a residential placement with intensive support to ensure that they're actually then enabling children and young people—. We've also invested, as you will appreciate, committee, in two personal advisors because we see this is about the whole care planning for children and young people and making a difference to their lives.

Alongside that, you mentioned the NEETs—not in education, employment or training—again, a great deal of focus across departments to try and work on a reduction in terms of those numbers and getting children and young people through both education or employment, and vocational employment as well. And there are a number of initiatives that certainly have taken place that are now beginning to really focus.

The one thing I can assure committee members on today is there's a really good working relationship across Welsh Government colleagues, and certainly in our housing colleagues. Again, we were really impressed and really pleased that the housing Minister brought in the ICF capital fund, which is £35 million, because again some of the solutions around homelessness have to be tackled through the right type of provision.


Okay. Can I just perhaps close with a few questions in relation to the role of the ministerial advisory group and the whole strategy in terms of trying to improve the performance here? Your written paper referred to some new performance and improvement framework that is going to be launched in April. Can you tell us a little bit more about the sort of data that that's going to be measuring?

That is one, committee members, that has taken us a journey of time, because it's been particularly complex trying to bring that work together. But I'm really pleased that that will be launched in April. The types of things, Chair, is there will be changes in terms of one system where sometimes there's been many systems—that's important. Whereas information's been in different places, this will bring that together. There'll be data on statutory visits, advocacy, Welsh language, children with caring responsibilities as well, and also children and young people who are in When I'm Ready placements. They are some illustrations.

Alongside that, we're building in—. The children's commissioner promoted Bright Spots, and you'll be aware of that being a very successful initiative in terms of getting the views of children and young people themselves. As part of our work, we will actually be commissioning an independent organisation to undertake an analysis of experience and outcomes for those children and young people who require our care and support. 

And then I think, in terms of the data—. I know that time is pressing, but in terms of data—. I know it by its ordinary name, which is SAIL Databank; I did, before coming to committee, think about what that meant, and its terminology is 'secure anonymised information linkage' database. What we're looking to do there is to individually track children and young people anonymously so that we can see their outcomes going forward. So, getting into some big data. And then alongside this, we're actually developing a performance and development toolkit with our local authority colleagues.

So, a considerable piece of work that has taken a time, but it actually should leave us a much more data rich and informed nation going forward in terms of outputs and outcomes, more significantly, for children and young people.

So, it'll be looking very much at individual looked-after children and their progression. 

The data will have a better scope, yes. 

You'll be able to track it back to individuals rather than just cohorts of groups.

The SAIL database will do that on an anonymous basis, and then for local authorities. And that allows local authorities the opportunity to really use their data to inform the way they build their practice communities and their planning mechanisms. 

Can you tell us how the Welsh Government is going to be looking at the role of the ministerial advisory group and how it contributes usefully to the progress that we all want to see? I think the committee previously has expressed some concern about the pace of the work of that committee, but it does feel that there are very useful people at the table there who may be able to contribute something. Can you tell us how they're fitting in with all of these other things that you're doing? 

Certainly. Obviously, it is a very large group, there are probably about 40 to 50 members on there, and I think the reason why it's grown is it's really important to have all the right people in the room. It is about co-production and it's also about not having people going out and doing loads of different things across Wales but having one group there that is actually focused on what are our key strategic priorities going forward.

I would have hoped that—I know recently in November the first annual report was discussed, and you will have seen the wide range, from the documentation there, of work that's ongoing. Also, we've taken the PAC recommendation to make sure that everything is published. You will have seen—I think there's some great stuff there to look at, particularly on the Social Care Wales website.

I think the key priorities going forward: obviously you've heard about education, housing, also about the residential care provision, and I think the final one that we probably haven't touched on as much today is corporate parenting, because I think all that pulls together about how we strengthen the statutory code Part 6 and how we also look at Part 9 around the role of local government and health boards. It's a real opportunity, I think, for us to re-examine our whole approach to corporate parenting, including even the name 'corporate parenting' itself, and really making sure that we've got the voice of the child at the heart of that.

All of those issues are right at the heart of the work of this work programme on the ministerial advisory group. Obviously, it doesn't have an operational role: it's there to advise the Minister. It's done a whole raft of things as you'll have seen over the last couple of years, and I appreciate on some things that progress has required us to do some heavy lifting around getting the stats, getting the research, and taking forward that work, but as you'll have seen from that report, it has really made a difference, and it will really be focusing on these four key areas over the coming 12 months in the final year of the Assembly.


And they're due to produce another update report, are they—in June, I think it said in the paper? And presumably that will be shared with the committee, so that we can see the sort of work that it's doing to hold your feet, as Welsh Government, to the fire.

So just to be clear: it's got no operational role, it's not there to set targets, it's not there to spend any money; it's simply there to get the experts together so they can give you as Welsh Government advice on the action that you need to take in order to resolve some of these concerns that this committee and other committees in the Assembly have had.

Exactly, and I think—. I understand how the confusion can arise, but it is a very educated ministerial advisory group offering advice. Once the Ministers then consider that advice, the Welsh Government programme then is the delivery programme for actually achieving the change, and some of the partners who are around that table are some of the players that need to deliver that change as well, but it is a very clear understanding.

It's more of a ministerial advisory conference, isn't it, given the size of it? Are there any other questions from Members? If there aren't, can I thank you all, as witnesses, for coming in today to give us some evidence, and for the written papers that you've already provided?

You'll receive a copy of the transcript of today's meeting, so that you can let us know if there are any inaccuracies in there that we need to correct, and obviously, you'll see the outcome of the committee's work in due course, but thank you very much indeed.

Diolch yn fawr.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

If I can move on, then, to item 4 on our agenda today: motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of our business. Does any Member object? There are no objections, so we'll move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:02.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:02.