Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus

Public Accounts Committee

30/04/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Adam Price AC
Lee Waters AC
Mohammad Asghar (Oscar) AC
Neil Hamilton AC
Nick Ramsay AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Rhianon Passmore AC
Vikki Howells AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

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
Huw Vaughan Thomas Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru
Auditor General for Wales
Matthew Mortlock Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office
Mike Usher Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru
Wales Audit Office

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Claire Griffiths Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Meriel Singleton Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 15:10.

The meeting began at 15:10.

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

I welcome Members to this meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. As usual, headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Can Members please turn their phones onto silent? In an emergency, follow directions from the ushers. 

We've received no apologies. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make? That's fine.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note

Okay, item 4. We have a couple of papers to note. First of all, the minutes from the meeting held on 23 April. Do you agree those? Good. Secondly, Andrew Slade has replied to my letter of 23 March regarding the ongoing review into public procurement, and he's provided additional information about overall capacity and capability across the public sector. I shall be referring to these issues during my statement in Plenary on Wednesday. Happy to note that letter? Will we return to this issue in the autumn on the publication of the Government's review. 

5. Plant a phobl ifanc sydd wedi bod mewn gofal: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 9
5. Care-experienced children and young people: Evidence session 9

For the next item, can I welcome our witnesses? This is our ninth evidence session looking at care-experienced children and young people. I welcome our witnesses from the Welsh Government. Would you like to give your name and position for the record?

Good afternoon. My name's Albert Heaney. I'm the Welsh Government's director for social services and integration. 

My name's Alistair Davey. I'm deputy director within social services and integration for the enabling people division.

Great. Thanks for being with us today. I'll kick off with the first question. During the course of our inquiry, the young people we've heard from have told us about the major challenges that they've faced as care-experienced young people, including having numerous social workers, needing to move placements frequently and at short notice, and not being treated with the dignity and respect that they felt they should have been treated with. 

In what ways does the Welsh Government take young people's views into account when setting its expectations for services for children in local authority areas?

Thank you, Chair. I'll take the first question. The Welsh Government places at the centre of its work inclusion of the voices and the views of children and young people. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act in 2014, implemented in April 2016, actually places, enshrines in law, duties in relation to including the voices, ensuring that the wishes and feelings and the voices of children and young people are explicitly included in the work of local authorities, and our central approach around the United Nations convention on the rights of children has also been embedded within our framework for improving outcomes for children and young people. So, it is absolutely a cornerstone.

Just a couple of issues that may be helpful for the committee today, again in taking that into some actions: we're very pleased that Mr Dan Pitt, a care leaver himself, is the vice-chair of the ministerial advisory group, and indeed provides a great critique of the approach of the Welsh Government and others in terms of developing, so it brings a reality check to the work that's currently in play but also puts a significant challenge in. Alongside that, Chair, there's the whole host involved in the ministerial advisory group work improving outcomes for children with the third sector. So, we have a very strong voice coming forward in terms of the work. 

You mentioned the experiences of children and some of the disruptive factors. So, as to what we're currently doing, the children's commissioner is very committed to an approach around Bright Spots, and the ministerial advisory group has done a survey around Bright Spots, and the learning from that is due to be published in June. Again, that's including the voices of children and care-experienced children and young people directly in terms of their experiences, so we can use that knowledge directly from themselves in terms of the improvements that we need to take forward. We do know as a Welsh Government that stability for children in their lives is crucial, and we have as part of the ministerial advisory group undertaken a major piece of work around placements, especially for those children and young people who have been in the care system for four to five years. That particular work has come to conclusion.

In terms of timing for the committee, it's actually just due to be published after this committee, on 15 May, but one of the highlights that's coming out of the report is that around three quarters of children in the care system have more stability in placements, so nought or one placement moves. And that, again, is something that we want to see embedded throughout the whole of Welsh care.  

15:15

On the issue of placements, because that was a key concern that the young people that this committee spoke to raised, and just to go through some of that evidence, one young person told us, 'I had 14 different placements in a year'. Another said, 'I'd been at the placement for four or five years and then all of a sudden my social worker turned up on a Friday, and I was told, 'You're being moved on Monday'. Another young person told us they had maybe 40 placements over 12 years—so, over the five-year period you spoke about—. So, this clearly has come up again and again. Are you confident that, going forward, these issues can be addressed, and that local authorities will be left in no doubt that they really should be putting the young  person at the centre of this process, as you said? 

Absolutely, Chair. What we've got to do is that we've got to acknowledge the fact that some children and young people's experience just isn't acceptable, and that we've got to work harder and more effectively. I think that brings us into some of the challenges sometimes that children and young people themselves face, and care-experienced children come from a variety of backgrounds with different experiences. Some of those experiences have been through abuse and neglect and, sadly, that has a dramatic impact. So, the whole focus of the work is about timely and appropriate interventions on a support level but also on a therapeutic level that can sustain and enable placements to be much more successful. 

So, the platform that we have built and starting to build through the ministerial advisory group really does begin to sharpen our focus across the nation for working with local authorities but also some of the expertise coming from our partner organisations, such as the third sector. 

I think that, as part of that, advocacy services play a key role because, obviously, they're listening to the views of young people about getting those placements right and hearing from them about their experiences, and that's all critical in terms of representing the voice and control of the young person. 

Just in the private session prior to this, we had Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, and she spoke about the importance of advocacy. There've been quite a few inquiries over, well, the previous Assembly and over a number of years, and yet we don't seem to have got to a point where it's right yet. Do you think that, with the establishment of the group in 2016, there will be a much more focused dealing of the issue of advocacy? 

Thank you, Chair. I actually chaired the high-level steering group that led to the work around the national approach for advocacy and the active offer. I think one of the things to start with is that, for Wales, Wales can be proud of its approach, although it has had to refine and develop and enhance as we've taken some of the issues forward. But we must look back and remember that it was the Waterhouse report that led to our approach in Wales around advocacy, around safeguarding, ensuring that the voices and children's experiences are pivotal and supported.

On our advocacy approach in Wales, I think this active offer really puts us in quite a unique position in terms of us taking this forward, so that every child who's actually in the looked-after children system within local authority care will have an automatic and active offer. We have refined that recently, working together with local authorities and our advocacy providers in Wales, where they will actually be ensuring that the advocacy providers will be directly contacting those children and young people to offer them their services. 

What we do know—and I think this is really important because advocacy is and should be a part of our Welsh DNA—from talking to the National Youth Advocacy Services and Tros Gynnal Plant, is that they have told us that where they work around advocacy, some of the benefits, cost benefits and the outcomes are that children and young people who are currently receiving those advocacy services understand their rights and entitlements. They also have been involved in a discussion around their care planning to make sure that their views are enhanced and part of that discussion. They feel more confident in expressing their views and better supported and engaged around their care planning.  And through the advocacy, the advocacy providers themselves are able to show and demonstrate that it has a positive impact. And then I come back to the kind of Waterhouse issue, where we in Wales can then say that we know that all children are looked after, have that access, that direct contact with advocacy, and should there be—    

15:20

Yes, it's not just the services being there, they've got to be aware that they're there. 

Exactly. And that accessibility. And one of the challenges that we found previously was that although advocacy services were there, the actual accessibility didn't always take place in the way that they wanted it to do for children and young people. That active offer turns that around, where it's acutally—. And the safeguarding issues where children have got a concern or a worry, they have that contact with their advocacy provider and can raise any issues in relation to safeguarding. 

Just that, obviously, we've invested a lot of money in the service—£550,000 to get the social services regional collaboratives up and running. So, that has been a big challenge for us, but now that work is well under way, and as Albert was saying, we're getting really positive feedback now that that's really starting to bite, and we're driving that consistency across Wales. 

Thank you. In regard to those children who have access—and looked-after children should have that access across Wales, and that is a major step forward—but in terms of children who are in need or about to become looked-after children, do you feel that we've got the balance right, and the ratio right, in terms of spend on necessary placements that we currently have the model for across Wales, in very disparate shapes, if you wish, compared to the access to services that will, if we invest at the bottom end—? And we all know local authorities are struggling in terms of access to services. Do you think that balance is right across Wales, and do we need to have a ministerial task force to state that we need to recalibrate this model across Wales?

I think in terms of the ministerial advisory group, one of the work streams that we're now developing is very much around prevention and intervention, because I think you're right, this is about getting the right balance between very early intervention and prevention, going all the way through to edge of care, because the role of the ministerial advisory group is both looking at preventing children coming into care, improving outcomes for children in care, and improving outcomes for care leavers. So, the real focus that we're placing at the moment, as we go forward around that value for money, is on the prevention and intervention agenda. 

And in terms of whether we need a ministerial advisory group, actually, I would say that, from my perspective, the ministerial advisory group has been absolutely pivotal in this, because, at the moment, a lot of the spend gets caught up then in terms of the numbers in the system and the cost around the number. But if we are to be much more effective about the value, then we have to swing that around in terms of looking to ensure the prevention and support, because it does cost more for local authorities for children when they're in the care system due to their particular needs, and—

Do you think, at the moment, the cost of placements for looked-after children is correct? Do you think it can be remodelled and re-envisaged? 

In terms of the cost of placements, obviously, the committee will have the costs in front of them from the evidence that's been provided. I think it's that issue where when you have children who have very complex needs, the earlier the prevention and intervention come in, it can give them a better life course opportunity. So, it's about making sure that we do everything that we can do as timely and as effectively as we can. We certainly do see some children and young people with very complex plans that end up with very high level costs of residential care, for example. And I think that that's why the work of the ministerial advisory group—. And it's not just the ministerial advisory group; it's the energy around the ownership from the different partner organisations. Heads of children's services are at the heart of that. The voluntary sector is at the heart of that, and really beginning to come up with an approach, and approaches, that can begin to lead us. So, if you were looking at whether local authorities have to sometimes pay for a very expensive placements, yes they do. That has a substantial impact then on their budget and their budget availability. What we're trying to do is begin to establish some of the lever changes that can enable them to, hopefully, safely reduce the numbers of looked-after children over the period with much more investment around the earlier intervention. 

Heads of service have said that the costs are becoming unsustainable for the near future. So, in that regard, do you feel that there is the emphasis in the ministerial advisory group and others to say that now is the time that we look at perhaps a model across Wales where we can have perhaps a more consistent application of placement needs

15:25

Obviously, you're pretty aware of the national fostering framework, which is very much looking at commissioning and placement costs. We know that it costs almost double for an independent fostering placement, as compared to a local authority placement. So, we're looking at a national marketing plan, national training, so we've got to look at how do we recruit and better retain our foster carers in Wales, because, obviously, there's a big shift there and saving that we can make to reinvest elsewhere. So, that's one area that we're looking at. Also, we've just commenced a piece of work under the residential care task and finish group to look at new models of care, looking right across Wales, about what's working, and wider afield as well, to look at some of the costs that are associated, some of the cost benefits. And I think, as Albert was saying earlier, the earlier that you get in to that, the more money you are going to save down the line. So, you're right; it's looking at the edge of care, but it's also going right down stream, to look at, for example, on Families First and Flying Start, the difference that they're making, and how much they're focusing. At present, I think about 62 per cent of the children coming into care are coming in because of neglect and abuse, so they're coming in for the right reason, but we need to be going back down stream, to make sure that that doesn't happen in the first place.

Do you accept the point that Rhianon put to you, that the all-Wales heads of children's services said that the system is becoming rapidly unsustainable, and nearing breaking point? Is that a characterisation you acknowledge?

Well, I think we recognise the financial pressure on local authorities, and for that reason I know that we're trying to mitigate against UK-wide austerity. But I think as well we know in the revenue support grant for 2018-19 we'll distribute £445 million on the children and young person's formula, and the looked-after children actual spend over the same period has increased by 15 per cent, from £223 million in 2012-13, to £256 million. So, that investment is there, but it's how that investment is used. Because one of the comments—and obviously the heads of children's services are actively involved in the ministerial advisory group—what they are trying to say is how do we shift that spend down stream, because the money is being spent on children in care, so how can they be helped then to put that money into prevention and intervention, which is why we're looking at how do we better target those programmes. And the flexible funding approach is one way of doing that, in terms of having a single approach maybe in the future; I think Government are considering that.

Do you accept it's nearing breaking point, or is that hyperbole?

Well, I met with the directors of social services, I would say a couple of weeks ago—maybe two or three weeks ago—and in that meeting we had this very discussion. There was certainly a variation in the different positions that the different local authorities are in, so I think that's something to acknowledge. The acknowledgement today—. As a senior official, working for Welsh Government, I think this is one of the most critical issues facing us; it is a real pressure point for local authority social services. It's also about making sure we can improve outcomes. So, I think there are real pressures in local authorities. I think, as Alistair quite correctly says, the emphasis that we're working upon, leading through ministerial advisory group work, is creating the opportunities to break the cycle of children coming in to care. There's some really good work beginning to take place in Wales, and that's come from the discussions that we've had around the table. For example, I would cite the Reflect initiative in Wales, where mothers with potential rubbing up against their own—. Let me get my words correct, Chair. Some mothers frequently have their children removed because of circumstances, and the aim of this scheme is to support them and break that cycle. That cycle is both detrimental to them as a person—it has a dramatic impact—but also it has a dramatic impact on the children and young people coming in to the system. In my career, certainly, I've worked with families where nine children have been into the care system, and that brings all sorts of challenges in its own right. What we're trying to do then is look at ways in which we can use new models of care that are tested and that enable us to begin to turn that around and improve outcomes.

Sure, and that will take time, clearly. The ministerial advisory group agenda is very full, but it's going to take a long time to work some of those things through. Back to the meeting you had recently with the directors of social services, you rightly said that, clearly, there's variation within the local authorities. Of those you acknowledge who are really struggling—the phrase that they've used is 'breaking point'—what does 'breaking point' look like, and what will the consequences be? What will that mean for the system, if some local authorities go beyond the breaking point?

Well, it's not for me, in a sense, to try to define their breaking point, because they have statutory duties placed upon them.

15:30

But is there not contingency planning taking place about how the Welsh Government's going to step in if it reaches breaking point?

In terms of what the Welsh Government is doing, it's trying to look proactively. It's trying to work together with those heads of children's services and directors of social services in a constructive way to get the right approach, moving forward. We've mentioned around the different models of care; we've mentioned around the different interventions. Some of those interventions are currently live, so I think to say that it's just about us thinking about the future—. The Reflect project, as I mentioned, which is being actively implemented across Wales, was initially piloted in the Gwent area and has successfully rolled out via Welsh Government funding across Wales. So, again, it isn't waiting into the future until the system, in a sense, has all the edges and cracks; it's actually then being much more productive and working with the parties. And remember that the statutory directors of social services and their local authorities, they have together got those duties placed upon them—

Forgive me, but I'm just trying to get a picture in my head of what happens when the local authority hits what they define as 'breaking point'.

From my experience, the local authorities then have detailed plans. We, as Welsh Government, have asked all of the regional partnership boards to come together to assess their population needs, which include children and planning, and actually then to produce their area plans. The area plans now—six of the seven area plans—have been publicised, and it's within their duties to respond to their population need. What we're doing then, as the Welsh Government, is supporting and enabling and showing that national leadership. And, again, the work of the ministerial advisory group for improving outcomes is highly detailed. Mr Melding is chairing that work and beginning to lead to different opportunities, which should, in the worry about the breaking point, begin to alleviate some of those tensions.

And do those area plans include contingency planning for if they do reach what they call breaking point?

I don't think they include it in the terms of, 'This is our contingency planning', but it includes their effective plan for how they're going to respond to the population need.

Okay. It's meant to be a fairly straightforward question, but I realise that it's an incredibly complex area. I'm just taking them at their word, of what they say. Some of them are saying that they are close to crisis. I know that it's an overused word within the public sector, but let's take them at face value—they're close to crisis. You acknowledge that some of them are close to breaking point. I'm just trying to get a picture of what happens when they hit that. You're telling me, with respect, that there are longer-term plans in place. Does the Welsh Government need to step in at some point and say, 'This is out of control'? What's the contingency planning at your level, given that these warning signals have been sounded?

In terms of the contingency planning, it's for each local authority—their leadership and their statutory director—to have effective plans in place about how they respond to the needs of their children and young people. What we're doing as Welsh Government then is supporting them. That was shown through the £8 million funding that has gone in in the past year to assist them around children's services and some of the pressures, partiuclalry targeting that funding around edge of care and those pressure points that you quite rightly highlight today. We acknowledge the challenges and the tensions in the system—we understand that. But as a Welsh Government, then, we've raised children's issues to the very highest level. 'Prosperity for All', our national strategy—

Are you cheeking these contingency plans to make sure that they're fit for purpose?

We haven't asked—just to be clear and to clarify—local authorities at this stage to provide us with their contingency plans. What we are involved in is their planning of area plans and constructively working together with the local authorities about how they respond to their statutory duties. But how we respond—

You're satisfied that they've got them under control, yes? Forgive me, if I can just interrupt you, because I'm not getting the clarity I'm after: are you satisfied they've got it under control?

We have Care Inspectorate Wales who inspect the children's social services. Where issues are raised—

Sorry, Mr Heaney, that's not the answer to my question. I'm really not trying to be difficult—

No, and I'm really trying genuinely to respond—

15:35

Excellent, so we're both trying to be constructive. So, you're saying it's not your job to have the detailed plans; that's their job. But you have an oversight function. Are you satisfied that the plans they have are fit for purpose if, as they're warning us, they hit breaking point?

At this moment in time, today, I am satisfied with the information I have in front of me that children's services and social services directors are responding positively to the challenges that they're currently experiencing. I'm also confident that we, together, as Welsh Government, local authorities and other agencies, can, by taking the right actions going forward, ensure that we don't reach this critical breaking point that we're responding to, because again it's in no-one's interest, no child, young person's interest—

Yes. We've asked local authorities to look at their wider corporate parenting responsibilities, because also, in terms of care leavers, for example, they're six times more likely to have their children taken into care. So, how are they making sure that their budgets around housing and education support their corporate parenting functions? This is wider than just children's services, this is how they're working as a local authority as the corporate parent to ensure successful outcomes for those children and young people.

Okay, thank you. You mentioned £8 million has been earmarked. That's now been transferred into the revenue support grant, which obviously is unhypothecated, local authorities can do what they like with that, they don't have to spend that on looked-after children. Are you tracking that and has a children's rights impact assessment been undertaken in respect of that decision?

Yes, we are tracking that. We're expecting feedback very shortly from local authorities. Obviously, we gave them the first year allocation on a grant basis because we wanted to make sure that we had set clear expectations about how they spent that money. Obviously, as part of strategic budgeting and planning, a strategic impact assessment was conducted.

That was one part of that. 

That showed that there was not an issue.

That would have been published as part of the draft budget.

We would have expected local authorities to look at that.

And have they fed back to say they're content with that assessment?

We've not heard of any discontent with that.

Okay, and just a final question from me. You've just mentioned the variation. We've been seeing the figures on the different spend on average per looked-after child, with huge variation between Cardiff on the one hand and Denbighshire on the other hand. Why is it do you think there is that wide variation between different local authorities?

We've worked very closely with the local authorities. They experience different issues around the demographics, so different population needs. There are different issues in relation to the complexity of the cases that they sometimes face. Those can be movement between authorities, they can be the size of families, and some of the complexity around drugs and alcohol, so substance misuse—really quite difficult issues. So, in terms of the variation, what we have seen is that some authorities have worked really well to integrate services, to bring them together. That seems to be more effective when they bring partnership working to respond. But it's very difficult, even with the analysis that takes place, for the committee, it isn't necessarily that one authority is performing well or worse depending on the kind of spend per head, because it can be sometimes the uniqueness of some of those issues—

Sure, but many of those issues—. For example, looking at Wrexham, they've just seen a decrease of 30 per cent in the last five years and I think they've been in touch with the committee to say that figure really doesn't reflect the complexity of the changes they're doing and whether or not it's captured in the right way, but many of the reasons you gave for explaining some of the variation would apply to somewhere like Wrexham, in terms of deprivation and so on, and yet they've had a 30 per cent fall in spending. That does seem curious.

Yes, indeed, and this is part of what we're trying to do through the ministerial advisory group: work to understand that in more detail in terms of then assisting local authorities, working together, about the types of approaches that they take, because I think sometimes the issue of child safety means that—. What we wouldn't want to do—and I think that's probably one of the most crucial messages to bring across—we don't want local authorities not to safely look after children where they're required to be looked after. But, we do want to work together with local authorities to see where we can learn from each other and see how we can ensure the right models of care are delivering better value for money and better outcomes for children, young people and their families. 

It's just this has occurred over five years and the ministerial advisory group's been going for the last two. So, why the lag?

15:40

I don't think there's been a lag. I think the ministerial advisory group is dealing with a number of issues. As we said earlier, it's looking at prevention and intervention, and it's also looking at—

But didn't you just say that you don't understand why this variation is—? This is not a sudden realisation. Why has that not been investigated before now?

We have investigated this. I think Cordis Bright did some work for us, probably three or four years ago. There's no single silver bullet for this or no explanation. It can come down to individual authorities; it can come down to: do they have a plan for managing looked-after children? What is their strategy? It's about how they share information. It's about their workforce and their capacity and capability. There is a whole raft of factors here that we have looked into. There's no one, single reason. So, part of this is working with heads of children's services to look at what is working and how we replicate that across Wales. We want that information to come back from the £5 million on the edge of care and we're looking at new models, and we're looking across the UK as well at what's really working and what's making a difference.

So, finally from me, would you say that there's been a failure to spread best practice over a number of years and to address these things that have been known to you for some time?

I think you always have issues about best practice being spread or not spread. I think part of this is about making sure that we know what's working and the circumstances around that, because sometimes it can come down to the people involved, maturity and the particular issues they're dealing with. So, it's a difficult question to answer because we've got to understand the particularly unique circumstances in some local authorities. So, there is a comparison that we're doing and, obviously, the feedback that we get on the edge of care models now will be really important for us, going forward, to look at what is working out there and, more importantly, why.

You've mentioned edge of care and that's the next area that we want to discuss. I realise that time's moving on. Neil Hamilton, do you have a quick supplementary first and then I'll bring in Vikki Howells?

I have just one question, following on from what Lee Waters has just said about variations in spend around local authorities. Looking at the figures—and I suppose it's pretty obvious really that urban areas generally tend to have more looked-after children per head of population than rural areas—and ignoring the outliers, Cardiff being the most expensive at £64,000 per head and Denbighshire, I think, being at the bottom end of the table at less than half that at £27,000, if you look at an authority like Torfaen, for instance, which has the highest proportion of children in care, per 10,000 of population, at 166—and that's about 360 all together, which is half as many as the whole of Cardiff has—they are way down the table in terms of cost per child at £37,000 per annum. So, although I take your point that you can't generalise these cases because the needs of children vary enormously and it is inevitably a very cost-intensive need that we'll be trying to address here, it seems to me that, if an authority like Torfaen has a large number of looked-after children and has the largest of all percentages of looked-after children per 10,000 people, then there may be some lessons to learn about the way they are doing things, and other authorities may have elements of that as well. Has nothing been done, hitherto, to look at the problem in this way to see whether there's anything that we can learn, which is valuable, from this process?

Two things I would say: one is that heads of children's services frequently and regularly have meetings and conversations to look at what they can share and learn from each other. So, I think that's very important. I do think that the ministerial advisory group now has developed its—. It's always one of those challenges, when you set up a new group, to then begin to move forward. I think that where it's reaching now is the maturity of the ministerial advisory group, which gives us that pivotal moment to be able to do that analysis. And again, part of its work plan is to really shift into that learning and more detailed work now around prevention and earlier intervention to begin to assist in terms of both the value for money, in terms of cost, but also the benefits then in terms of outcomes and improving outcomes.

Just on that subject, you mentioned the individual children's rights impact assessment on the decision to move the funding into the revenue support grant, is it possible for us to have a copy of that assessment?

Do you need to be clear on what you're saying, Alistair?

Yes. That was part of what was published, part of the budget, in terms of the strategic impact assessment. In terms of the transfer into the RSG, that would have been an operational consideration, and as such, because there was not a policy change or change in circumstance, no such impact assessment would have been required.

15:45

At the transfer stage.

At the budget stage, yes. But at the transfer stage, because of no change of policy, it was not a requirement at that time. 

What sort of requirement would there have been at that point? Or would that purely have been an operational matter without any—?

Purely an operational matter. The agreement between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association is to reduce the burden of grants, moving then into the RSG and again has followed that particular route. As you have quite rightly outlined today, the pressures and issues around social care, especially for children, it's really important then that the priorities are met, in terms of that investment.

Thank you, Chair. I've got some more questions about edge of care services. They're very important, but it can be quite difficult to measure progress in that area by the very nature of how disparate the interventions necessarily are. So, I notice that the Welsh Government's paper states that £5 million additional funding has been provided to local authorities, and that could prevent around 300 children entering the care system annually. I was wondering what the basis is for that kind of estimate.

Certainly. The estimate, as you say, was developed building on our experiences of interventions and outcomes, primarily seen through integrated family support services, where, I think, for example, in 2015-16, around 350 children were engaged by teams. That was effectively costing about £4.5 million. So, a similar comparison was done there and that equates to about a dozen children in each local authority and we thought that was a very realistic figure in year one for them to tilt at. And, obviously, we're asking them to come back to us on the models that they're using, what they are reinforcing and what might be new, to give us a better idea about what is working in their local authority as part of sharing that information amongst others. And, obviously, different local authorities are in different places and might be using different models. So, there's some complexity to this that we need to sift through as well with them, and that will be one of the roles of the ministerial advisory group. 

So, would you say there's a shift currently, where the Welsh Government is shifting more of its expenditure to prevent children from going into care?

Yes, I think that's right. Obviously, we've got the flexible funding approach, which has been piloted in several local authorities, which is looking at the consideration of an early intervention and support grant. We've got money spent on Families First and Flying Start and, as Albert pointed out earlier, there's the money, the £8 million, that we now have of recurrent funding for edge of care services. But also in terms of prevention and intervention, we've got to look at the end as well because, obviously, things like the St David's fund are supporting care leavers coming out and ensuring that we decrease the number who are not in employment, education or training, because they're six times more likely to have their children taken into care. We've got to look at all parts of the system here, about how it reinforces prevention and intervention.

So, how do we know if we're putting the right amount of money in? If we put in an extra few million, could we prevent even more children from going into care?

I think there is, obviously, some logic around that, but it's about how wisely you spend the money, about value for money in the first place, looking at placement stabilities. It's not always about spending more money—it's about how we're using the money that we've got more smartly. For example, as I said earlier, maybe if we could have more local authority fostering placements than independent, with the savings there, you can reinvest. So, part of this is being clever about how you move the money around and how you invest that. And sometimes it can be very small sums of money. I think we're helping about 400 children and young people with the St David's fund, and sometimes that's a few hundred pounds. It might be for driving lessons, it might be for tools, but it's really helping to change a child's and a young person's life. So, it's not always about big sums of money—it's about how we target small sums of money and spend that money wisely.

So, is edge of care services the area where longer term financial savings and improved outcomes could be achieved? Or is it just part of the jigsaw then, based on what you've said?

I would say it's part of it. I think we're talking about early intervention and prevention all the way back through to some of our family support programmes and positive parenting. We know that, in terms of children being taken into care, about 50 per cent are coming from parents with drug and alcohol problems. So, there's a holistic part here and we've got to think about how we are supporting those parents in the first place. We've got to think about how we bolster edge of care to ensure that children don't go into care. How do we do more for the outcomes of children in care in terms of better educational attainment, better supported housing, so that as care leavers, they have a better future and they're not fuelling back in? So, it is a complex system, but I think it's one that you have to take as a whole.

15:50

Thank you very much indeed, Chair. I think part of my question has already been answered about placement costs, but I've got a couple of other questions to ask the panel, if you can give me the answers. Could you tell us how many children are waiting for fostering in Wales, please? How many children are waiting for fostering in Wales?

What we could do, Chair, if it's helpful—. In terms of waiting for fostering, obviously if a child needs to be accommodated into the care of the local authority, the local authority will take the action required. So, I'm not aware, in that sense, about waiting lists—. We've got to just make sure—. If we can provide any information after this meeting in terms of the clarity, we'll be very happy to do so.

Thank you. My question, to relate to this directly, is because most of the people are putting it off—good families are putting off, or decide not to have children for fostering, with high-profile cases in the court, very recently. Have you done anything about this, to let people know that fostering is a good job, or to look after a child is a noble job? So, what the Government is doing here—[Inaudible.] 

Thank you very much for that question. We have the national framework around fostering. That's been a major piece of work, done together with our partner organisations. It really has promoted a number of work streams to enhance the offer around foster care, and also ensuring that we develop foster carers coming into our services and are able to provide. Alistair, I'm sure, will want to add a little bit of detail.

Sure. We're just in the process of scoping out a national marketing strategy, but you've probably seen recently, across Cardiff and across Wales, campaigns for foster carers. We're really actively driving at that—not just about attracting foster carers, but explaining what foster care means and the sort of people who can foster care, because sometimes those are very mixed messages, so we want to break them down. And also it's about how we retain foster carers, and the support, and the new national training package will also be coming out shortly. So, this, again, is about having an approach where we're really trying to increase the number of local authority foster carers, both, as I was saying earlier, around the cost benefit of that, but also to really demonstrate what a fantastic job it is to be a foster carer. 

Thank you very much. The Reflect project has been operating in Gwent for over a year at this point, and is in the process of being rolled out to all seven Welsh regions. Has the Welsh Government evaluated the success of the project in Gwent with respect to rehabilitation? Is the project's objective to eventually see parents who have experienced a compulsory removal of their children reunited with their children and family? Or is rehabilitation focused solely upon supporting the adults?

Okay. The Gwent initiative, the evaluation around the Gwent work, is very positive. Indeed, it's worth acknowledging at the committee that the Pause project in England preceded this learning, and was then transported in terms of taking that knowledge and learning into our approach. The roll-out across Wales has occurred. Indeed, 88 parents have been supported through the scheme to date, which is showing the size of the issue and the support. One of the things that I think is really important here is that it's making good decisions for children, so keeping children safe, but equally, also, we're supporting the parent and giving them a different offer that they weren't getting previously. For some parents, it may be that, through the work and intervention, it will lead to them being able to be successful parents with their children, and we would all want that to be the case. For some parents, it will also lead to the situation where their children will need to be supported and cared for by local authorities, and, again, we want to make sure that intervention is in place.

One of the learnings from the work that's been done to date, which I think is heartening, is actually for the mums. It's actually been, sometimes, the first time they've really been able to look at their issues in themselves and their own self-worth and their self-esteem and their confidence. So, there's been a real bonus in terms of the ability to actually enable them and the focus upon them—not just focusing on safeguarding, but for them as a person as well. I think that, again, is a real positive outcome in terms of then giving them life chances and opportunities to have success going forward.

15:55

Just to build on that—it might be helpful—I went down to the Gwent project with the previous Minister a few months back and I think one of the real issues is working with mothers to understand the reasons why their children were taken into care in the first place. I think sometimes—and this was the feedback from the social workers and others we were working with—the focus of the individual is very much, 'I just want to be reunited with my child', and it's not about that. The first step is understanding why the child—and to change the circumstances and to help that individual with therapeutic support, in terms of any future children they might have, but also in terms of any sort of reunification that might take place with their children. But I think the primary focus, when I went along, very much as Albert was pointing out, was about supporting the mother, getting them to understand, because that is the first step in that journey of being reunited, or keeping children in the future.

Thank you very much. Finally, for the sake of value for money and good practice, are you involved with other devolved nations—Scotland, Northern Ireland, England—and learning something from them or teaching them something?

Certainly, committee, our discussions are frequently with our UK partners and beyond. Indeed, we've referenced the Reflect project in Wales that commenced life as the Pause project in England, so taking that learning across. Indeed, just the week before last, I was up meeting with the Scottish Government in terms of their approach across children and young people and families as well. So, again, we're very much in that process of learning and taking that learning forward in the Welsh context.

Another example might be the Scottish Government has introduced legislation around independent fostering agencies operating on a not-for-profit basis. I think that's something that we would really like to closely examine to see how that operates.

Thank you. In regard to placements of children who are being fostered and looked after, either a short-term emergency or wider too, how would you address some of the concerns that have been raised with me, particularly in my constituency, around support and getting that support so that it's intensive enough, so that, where a placement breaks down—and there's an awful lot of good work, I know, going on out there at the moment—but in terms of those placements breaking down, often the reason is, 'Well, I didn't get enough social worker time' or 'I did not get enough of this or enough of that'. Those are very simple mechanisms to put in place. And bearing in mind that local government at the moment is coping with statutory services, but will say that the time isn't there to be able to do more, how would you address that as an issue?

I think one of the things in some of the conversations that we have with heads of children's services are very much around that contingency planning, making sure they get in at a very early stage. We spoke earlier about advocacy, so making sure we understand the needs and wishes of the child, and obviously you've got to balance that with their best interests as well. So, I think it's very much a process where we would want to work with the local authorities, with the heads of children's services, and get their feel around their workforce capacity and capability and their skills about how they support, particularly because the cost of placements is so high and this is about cost avoidance, so making sure that they're putting the right resources into their workforce to ensure that doesn't happen.

One of the things that we are doing that is really important, responding to the Member's question, so thank you for that question—the issue is around that some of those children end up in residential care. So, one of the work streams that we currently have under the ministerial advisory group is specifically looking at the residential care needs, and that gets us into, then, the type of provision that we have in Wales. Do we have the right level and do we have the therapeutic support, which isn't just what a social worker should do—it's the type of support that goes in around that child and young person. So, where children sometimes move through and escalate in terms of concerns, it is looking at the models in terms of our residential provision. So, that work is active at the moment in one of the working groups of the ministerial advisory group. So, we very much look forward to coming back and talking about that in a bit more detail in future. 

I think it would be very interesting in terms of also that collaboration with health in regard to that corporate parenting angle, because we know that our budgets are fixed and we know that we have to work within those limitations, whether it's statutory responsibilities and finance, but in regard to recalibrating that, it seems to me something that needs to be looked at.

We'd also expect there to be a key role, and there is a key role for independent reviewing officers within local authorities. We're setting new standards and have been working with them to ensure their role is sufficiently professionalised, that they're really working with social workers and that they're really providing challenge in the system now, feeding back to service managers if they feel that that rigour isn't there. So, we would see that as key grit within the system to make sure that things are happening.

16:00

I want to ask a question about looked-after children's experience in education. Evidence provided by Estyn to the Children, Young People and Education Committee of the Assembly showed that, in 2016, the fixed-term exclusion rate for looked-after children was 201 per 1,000 compared with only 32 per 1,000 for all pupils. Clearly, the disparity is huge. One can well understand why children with the disturbed backgrounds that they have have behavioural problems and so on that give rise to this, but have you had any discussions with the department for education regarding addressing this substantial difference and therefore improving outcomes?

Thank you. I think one of the issues here is that we do know, as we've talked about today, the complexity of the circumstances, but, despite the complexity, these figures are unacceptable, and we have to work with a real energy to improve. We have been in discussion with our education colleagues. We have been assisting around the education strategy in terms of attainment. The three-year plan is currently in active implementation and being taken forward. One of the issues, I think, that clearly concerns us here is just this low, low number of attainment. Whilst we know that, from different factors, that will play a part, we do believe that, together, working across education, social services departments and also with our colleagues in child and adolescent mental health services and other professional fields supporting children and young people, we can make a difference.

We have now got the national strategic group. This group is with key education partners and representation of social services, and its primary focus is to assist us in delivering the commitments in the education plan, sharing good practice, influencing national policy. Interestingly, the national strategic group has been instrumental in progressing pieces of work already, creating a standard reporting template, presentation of the educational data for looked-after children to corporate parenting panels, ensuring and shaping training modules—'Making a difference—A guide for the designated person for looked after children in schools'—piloting a new tracking system to better monitor educational progress of looked-after children, and also shaping the new-look personal education plan, which will also incorporate the individual development plan for children with additional learning needs.

It's really, I think, supplying good-practice case studies, working together—education and social services—and planning together for more innovative models. Again, there's an online community now of good practice in terms of being able to access—. So, it's absolutely critical for us to work together, and that work is certainly taking place.

My knowledge of this is only superficial—I'll admit that straight away—but my instinct would tell me that one of the biggest problems for children in these circumstances is the instability of their home life. They're moved around such a lot, from the evidence that we've received. It's very difficult for children in those circumstances to focus upon their education and making a success of the opportunities that they're presented with. And just to put another figure into the mix, to back up what you were saying a moment ago, only 21 per cent of looked-after children achieved the level 2 threshold in 2017, compared with 67 per cent of all pupils—so, that's less than a third—and 41 per cent of all pupils eligible for free school meals, so that's half of that. Only 12 per cent of looked-after children achieved level 2 threshold inclusive, compared with 55 per cent of all pupils. There's a huge gap there that needs to be addressed. What more can be done to try to avoid this—perhaps 'merry-go-round' is entirely the wrong word to use in the circumstances; it's not very merry at all, but children moving from one carer to another or in and out of institutions or whatever, if you're going to provide this stability, which should be the bedrock and foundation of better achievement?

You are absolutely correct in relation to the instability of—. Placement instability creates educational instability. So, using that knowledge that we currently have around placement stability, supporting the placement. If we support a placement, that helps in terms of security, supporting education, but then it's using that good practice—so, the new models on working together with educationalists in terms of support, actually, the fact that there is now much more proactive identification in terms of the needs of children and young people who are care-experienced to enable them, within the education setting, then to have their needs more bespoke-tailored to. Being sensitive—I think the learning of being sensitive; you have to have emotional resilience to be able to learn, and it's using that in terms of awareness that there may be other things. So, sharing information, good communication, good partnership, good planning to create that stability. There's no doubt that, although children come in sometimes with very difficult backgrounds and circumstances, we can, if we work together, do much better. The Ministers, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Minister for Children and Social Care, are meeting on 9 May—and Mr Melding will be part of that meeting as well—to discuss how we can further integrate our work in terms of the next three years.

16:05

And I think it's building on the training of foster carers as well, really ensuring that they're going along to parents evenings, they really understand the curriculum, they're properly trained to support children sometimes with very difficult needs—children that might be abused or have been neglected. I think it's working with teachers themselves so they understand the particular needs of the children, because sometimes I don't think that's always understood. Because I think whilst—as I think you picked up earlier—permanent exclusions are the same across the piece, the rate for fixed term is much, much higher; I think it's about seven times, as you highlighted. I think there's a sub-group working on that as part of the education national strategic group, and they're reporting in the summer. So, I think they'll be key to look at good practice across Wales, because, obviously, that is not acceptable and it's something that we really have to look into—the reasons behind that—and work as a piece across local authorities, education and with foster carers.

Yes. Allied to this, I'd like to ask a question about the pupil development grant. In England, it's much higher than it is in Wales, at £1,900 per child, compared with £1,150. I realise you can't comment on that but in England also it is given for adopted as well as looked-after children, whereas that's not the case in Wales. Has any thought been given, or is any thought being given, to moving to a model closer to the English one?

Thank you very much for the question. What we have done in Wales is that we have allocated—the Cabinet Secretary for Education has allocated—support for looked-after children, and you are correct, it is based upon the calculation of the looked-after children population. One of the criteria, however, and I think this is really important for the committee—. The eligibility criteria since 2015 recognise that many adopted children will experience similar challenges, and therefore what it does mean is that that funding can be used for children who have been adopted and have come into the need. So, again, it is being made available for those children.

Just on that, if the funding is available for adopted children, the difference is, in England, that is reflected in the formula, so they get additional money to compensate for the fact it's used for both looked-after children and adopted children, whereas, in Wales, it's not—they're expected to fund even more people from the same amount of money. That's right, isn't it?

Well, without getting into the money question, because, as officials, with the political decisions, what we've certainly tried to do is make sure then that the criteria together are wider, which they are. Also—

Sorry, this is not a political question; it's just a matter of fact. Is that not the case, that, in England, the funding formula reflects the fact that it also applies to adopted children, but not here?

Yes, but the criteria here do enable it to cover—

Sure; there's just no funding for it. They can spend it, but it's just that they won't get the extra funding for it.

But we're also supporting through other measures as well around adoption and adopting support. So, there is, actually, funding being made available directly for adoption support. We do have third sector grant schemes that are currently in place as well within a Welsh context.

So, you think that, in the round, it's equivalent to England, is it?

I wasn't—. Because we're not the officials responsible for the pupil development grant. So, it's not that I'm trying to be evasive, but we don't lead on that policy side. From our discussions and working together we know that it's clearly—. What we have also done is make sure there's post-adoption support. So, for children and young people who've been adopted and need that support, we're making sure then that through the National Adoption Service and the agency—

I think, to be fair to the officials, if pupil development grant isn't specifically within your remit, then you'd be—

16:10

But this silo working is precisely one of the points we're trying to get at.

Yes, and we can reflect that in our report, but, at the same time, if they're not responsible for that grant, then they can't answer your question. I understand why it's—

Yes, perhaps they can get us that information, but the point I'm making is that, in terms of what you are responsible for, if it's being spread thinner by allowing it to be spent on children and adoption, that's less money available for children who are looked after, which is your responsibility.

Yes and what I am confident in is that the Cabinet Secretary has made moneys available for the pupil development grant that is wider in terms of children we're also supporting through other third sector schemes, so it's a wider picture in relation to making sure that we respond to those children's needs. So, although the funding is in one place a pupil development grant, there is other funding that we are clearly, as a Welsh Government, making available to support those children's needs.

Additional money was put in as part of the consequential funding—£125,000 for adoption support on top of the third sector grant moneys already identified.

Right. It'd be useful, I think, perhaps in a note to the committee, to look in the round at how that spending compares, please. Thank you, Chair.

I'm aware that we're nearing the end of our time. Adam Price, last but not least, has a couple of questions.

Yes. I just wanted to ask—. The improving outcomes for children ministerial advisory group has now established a sentinel indicators task and finish group. What are sentinel indicators? How are they different to indicators?

I think they are, effectively, performance indicators. Some of the examples—. Obviously, we're working through this and this is a task and finish group that is being chaired by David Melding himself. I think an example would be the number of care leavers in education, training and employment, the number of children supported by edge of care, the availability of housing options, workforce stability at practitioner level, which I think we picked up earlier, corporate parenting and participation, stability of placements, health indicators—so, they are key performance measures. The word 'sentinel' there I wouldn't get too hung up on. I think it's really about key performance.

Can I gently suggest, though, maybe if they are just indicators, it might be worthwhile just calling them indicators?

I think that's very helpful and something that we'll take on board and suggest to Mr Melding.

To be fair to David Melding, he did say previously that the title was a work in progress.

Yes. It's not an original term, is it? I think it's out of ecology or something like that, you know, 'sentinel species change' and this kind of thing, but I think it's best, wherever possible, to avoid jargon and I think there's a bit of complexity theory chucked in here as well and certainly we don't want to go down that route. So, they're indicators.

It's a year on from the establishment of the advisory group and yet we're only now having the task and finish group to come up with the performance indicators. Why has it taken so long? If the ministerial advisory group had its own performance indicators, probably it would score quite poorly on that basis, wouldn't it?

I think part of the work of the group has been in establishing the national framework and, as part of that, looking at the complexity, as I was trying to highlight earlier, because, obviously, you're looking at preventing children coming into care, you're looking at measures for children in care and looking for care leavers, and I think most of these measures might be somewhere within Government statistics and reporting. I think this was about bringing them together and looking at whether they were the right measures. I think always there's a concern that you just think about, 'What is the number of looked-after children and has it gone up?' and that is your measure of success or failure within Wales, and it's far more complicated than that. I think there is no right number, so part of this is about looking at those other measures in there to make sure that we have milestones in terms of the work of the group as we go forward to show that those things that we are introducing—those initiatives, those strategies—are being successful and, longer term, those numbers are coming down.

And, just finally, this is a general public administration point, really, but a ministerial advisory group is effectively a sub-group working underneath the Minister and department officials. Now we've got another sub-group below the sub-group, effectively, the task and finish group. Doesn't this sort of tiering of decision making actually impede agile, transparent good governance—to use my own jargon there?

16:15

Thank you very much. I would say I think it's a very complex arena, so it requires a layered approach. I think it's very difficult for us just in one meeting, so—. If you look at the—. So, the Minister's leading. The Minister frequently meets with Mr Melding as chair, goes through the work programme, goes through the critical issues, so very much taking that leadership role. The group itself—. Now, I didn't come in today—and it's one of the things perhaps I should have done—I didn't count how many were around the table, but certainly in meetings I would say 30 to 40 participants in the main ministerial advisory group itself, because of the work and the complexity and the amount of work that's going on. So, underneath that we do need work streams, and, as part of that, we will always try to balance that, but it's been quite important to take forward, and this was one that Mr Melding himself was particularly keen to lead from the front on. 

I think one of the great success factors of the ministerial advisory group is that we have all the right people from across Wales in one room. They might number 30 to 40, as Albert said, but they're key players there. Those groups do get bigger and bigger, so we have tried to look at controlling those numbers, but under the four work streams now we've got about 27 separate streams of work. This is highly complicated, but we're also keen to drive that work. And you will find, within those groups, various people who are both on the ministerial advisory group or who, if not, we might we want to second in or be working to provide their expert knowledge. And I know the heads of children's services particularly value the work, and they chair, I think, the majority—I think they chair all of the work streams. So, it's really key that we've got the right people there, but it's also about that cross-representation so that we're getting all the ideas in to really drive progress in this area. 

David Melding told us that it's—I think you're right, that it's around 40 people, so he said sometimes it feels more like a conference than a group. But having it that size means that you've got that representation that you need.  

The bit of complexity theory that I do remember is that they call it 'getting the system in the room'. I think that's a metaphor, but in your case you're actually literally getting them in the room. 

We literally have done that. 

And may I just say for completeness, actually, the participants, the different partner organisations, they want to be in that room, and they want to be contribute so there's an ownership. I've been in many meetings over the years, and many groups and many working groups, but, this one, they bring a passion and a commitment to it that is exceptional to see.   

We spoke earlier about cross-cutting working. Obviously, we've got education, we've got health, we've got housing, we've got the judiciary, we've got CAFCASS, we've got the police commissioners—you know, a wide spread. There are the WLGA, health and the third sector. So, already you can see how it would grow then with probation and all manner of the things, because of the tie in with youth justice. So, it is a complex arena, but we feel, by being cross-cutting and involving all these representatives, we're really driving both rich conversations in there but also making sure that what we're putting in place is going to be fit for the future, and is involving the right people so we're not having to duplicate, so that the advice we give to the Minister then is very considered.  

So, in these areas that are cross-sectoral and intergenerational sometimes in the terms of the scale and ambition, then this kind of approach—and presumably cross-party as well, because no matter who's in power it's going to be there as a factor. Okay. So, they work in those specific areas quite well. 

Thank you. This group—. We've talked to the chair earlier on today, and one of the questions I asked was: how is this information—and it's very valuable that you have this forum, I'm absolutely convinced about that—how is that disseminated and distilled down so that there's a direction of advice to the Minister, so that it is a fit-for-purpose body? Because, as I said earlier, it's very easy to set up advisory groups and boards; it's what comes out of the end of that sausage machine, because, as I've also said today, I can go and talk to any number of people in the field of looked-after children and they will say, 'We need x, we need y, we need z', and they will give you a menu—I won't go through the points that we talked about earlier—of what they think needs to happen. So, bearing in mind the cuts that have come into Wales and the stringent conditions that local authorities are working to, do you feel that this ministerial board is now ready to report on these work streams, because there does seem to be a need for more urgency and pace in terms of some of the issues that local government and social services heads are facing in this arena?

16:20

I think the first thing to say is that the pace and energy is really quite crucial to this, because the work, as any formation of a new group, takes time to build. The first phase really looked at the whole relationship and the independent reviewing officers et cetera. We're now in phase 2. There is an absolutely clear framework in terms of the actions that are required. That's in place. I think the formal publication of that is due to happen, but the work programme is there for the Minister. The Minister is in agreement with that work programme and has actually commenced that. Some of the work streams will take us probably more time than others. I think there may be areas where you can go out quicker—the ones around prevention, early intervention, the models. We've done a major piece of work around models of care, and what we've had back in is that there are lots of different models of care, and some of those models of care seem to be effective, some less effective. I was reading around the North Yorkshire model—as the Member raised other different models—and, again, they've introduced models that have produced reductions in cost but improved outcomes. So, again, it's looking at what's going to work within a Welsh context. So, that work is certainly committed to and in progress, and I think, over the imminent future, we'll be able to come back to this committee and report back that particular progress. 

That's right, and it's not all jam tomorrow. There are things actively—. For example, in June, we've got the publication of the national practice standards for independent reviewing officers and independent visitors. We've got the new regulations and code of practice on special guardianship orders. We've got the publication of Bright Spots, which is a report into the care experiences of looked-after children, and we've got the national framework. So, just to give you a cut of the next four weeks, there are four major pieces of work that are being delivered. 

And the national framework I do think is a commendable piece of work that's been done. I think it will lead to significant changes in the way we approach fostering and fostering support in Wales. 

Very briefly. Thank you very much indeed. When does the Welsh Government plan to launch its all-Wales brand for fostering, and does the Welsh Government believe that the branding offers value for money to children in care?

All the branding in terms of the national framework will be out in the summer, so that is very soon in terms of marketing, also in terms of training. So, all of these things are very imminent. As you know, we're in the implementation stage, and that's over the next two to three years. So, we're right in the heart now of delivering that. We've just delivered the commissioning guidance that has gone out also to local authorities, and they're working up their plans for June. So, all this is coming together in the summer. 

Okay. Very good. Thank you to our witnesses. That's great. We are just three minutes over, and we got a lot of information there. We'll send you a transcript of today's proceedings before it's finalised, just so you can check for accuracy. But, Alistair Davey, Albert Heaney, thanks for being with us today. 

Thank you very much, Chair and committee. 

Great. Thank you very much.

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

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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.

Okay. I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 to meet in private for items 7 and 8. All happy? Yes, we're happy.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:23.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:23.

Archwilio Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru