Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

08/05/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AC
Hefin David AC
Janet Finch-Saunders AC
Jayne Bryant AC Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jack Sargeant
Substitute for Jack Sargeant
Lynne Neagle AC Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Siân Gwenllian AC

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alastair Birch Uwch-arweinydd System Cydraddoldeb a Diogelu, Cyngor Sir Penfro, a Chynrychiolydd Cymdeithas Cyfarwyddwyr Addysg Cymru
Senior System Leader for Equalities and Safeguarding, Pembrokeshire County Council, and Association of Directors of Education in Wales Representative
Huw David Llefarydd Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru ar Iechyd a Gofal Cymdeithasol ac Arweinydd Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
Welsh Local Government Association Spokesperson for Health and Social Care and Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council
Sally Jenkins Cadeirydd Penaethiaid Gwasanaethau Plant Cymru Gyfan a Chynrychiolydd Cymdeithas Cyfarwyddwyr Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol Cymru
Chair of All Wales Heads of Children’s Services and Association of Directors of Social Services Representative

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Lisa Salkeld Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy 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 09:34.

The meeting began at 09:34.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Okay. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received apologies for absence from Suzy Davies and Jack Sargeant and I'm very pleased to welcome Jayne Bryant back, who is substituting for Jack today. Are there any declarations of interest from Members, please? No. Okay, thank you.

2. Bil Plant (Diddymu Amddiffyniad Cosb Resymol) (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 6
2. Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill : Evidence Session 6

Item 2, then, this morning, is our sixth scrutiny session on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses this morning: Sally Jenkins, who is chair of All Wales Heads of Children’s Services and is here representing the Association of Directors of Social Services; Alastair Birch, who is senior system leader for equalities and safeguarding at Pembrokeshire County Council, who is here representing the Association of Directors of Education Wales; and Councillor Huw David, who is the Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson for health and social care and leader of Bridgend County Borough Council. So, thank you all for attending this morning. We're very pleased to have you here. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so, if you're happy, we'll go straight into questions and I'll start just by asking about your general support for the Bill, which is outlined in the evidence. Can you just explain why you think the current law is ineffective or unclear?

09:35

Bore da—bore da, bawb. So, I'm Alistair Birch. The statement, really, from ADEW is that the rights of the child should be educated and achieved, really, under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The current legislation has been criticised, obviously, by the UN concerning the defence of reasonable punishment still being within our current legislation. So, we will always—ADEW will always—advocate that the rights of the child be upheld, so that is really the fundamental aspect in terms of the statement from ADEW, and the position of ADEW is that the rights of the child are fundamental in this process. And there are certain articles—. I know that the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 made sure that article 3 and article 4, article 12 and article 37 were a focus in terms of making sure that the best interests of the child were put first, that children expressing their views and opinions was a priority. And we know, for safeguarding purposes, that the express opinions of the child and the voice of the child are a fundamental aspect of any safe environment, whether it be a school or college. So, that is—the position is really following that legal position under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure. 

I'll just add, on behalf of ADSS and on behalf of children's services and social services more widely, for us, this is not a change in our position, this is not new; this is a position that we, on behalf of the leaders of social services across Wales, have taken over many years, going back 20, 25 years. I think what we would say is that we really welcome this Bill and we welcome the proposed change for the clarity it would bring—the clarity that it would bring for children, for parents and for professionals.

I think what we would recognise is that this is a very little-used piece of legislation, so it's rare, it's not as if this is something that is going to cast great change across the scene for children and families in Wales, but what it will do is represent a change in the reality of how we care and nurture our children. I would echo absolutely what Alistair has said in terms of the rights of the child, but equally, in terms of all of our policies in Wales in terms of promoting well-being for children, this has to be key. So, for us, this is about a natural progression of change in how we care for our children in Wales. For children's services at the very sharp end of this world, for us, it brings a true clarity. This continues with an ambiguity in how we treat our children and how we care for our children, and the shift for us brings that very much needed clarity.

Okay, thank you. The committee has already heard different views about whether there's clear evidence that physical punishment is harmful to children. What evidence does the work of social services provide about whether physical punishment is actually harmful?

Obviously, what you'll all be aware of is that, as part of the consultation for this Bill, the Public Policy Institute did a further piece of research to look at the impact of physical punishment on children. A number of things that we know—we know from across the world that the evidence is that introducing legislation or changing legislation in this way improves children's positions within their families. What we know is that children themselves, as Alistair has already referred to, really find physical punishment demeaning and harmful, and for children it is an emotionally damaging experience. Now, there may be disagreement about that, there will be different views on that, but that's the voice of the child in this debate. The voice of the child is very clear that physical punishment is for them harmful. I think what we would also say is that, in the world that we work in, it's part of a continuum, and, whilst this is an element of how children are cared for, what we see is a continuum where an acceptance of how we treat children in a particular way perpetuates throughout our work. By changing this, it helps that shift to that absolute recognition that our children must be cared for in a way that is physically safe in all dimensions for them.

09:40

Okay, thank you. We've had evidence from the equal protection network that the reasonable punishment defence undermines child protection and fails to protect children because it permits an arbitrary level of violence, which invades children's physical integrity, making it a potential pathway to more serious physical or sexual abuse, and you did refer to that just now. Is there anything you want to add on that?

I would echo that. I think there is something in this that is about our culture, about how we see our children. It is about how we see our smallest and most vulnerable people, and if it is acceptable it opens the door to those other, more extreme versions of violence, which then complicates the issue for us. This is about clarity, and, whilst there is an argument that this is a small episode for a child, it's not a small episode for a child, it is a major episode for a child, and I think absolutely, as you said, the potential for it then to lead on, and over gradation and time to increase the risk for children, is clearly there.

Okay, thank you. The final question from me: your written evidence emphasises the need for greater clarity around the definition of what constitutes corporal punishment, but that contrasts with what we've been told by the children's commissioner and the equal protection network, who've emphasised the importance of simplicity in the Bill. How do you respond to that view, and is what you're calling for essential to be on the face of the Bill?

It's not essential for it to be on the face of the Bill. What we would like to see is discussion within the implementation phase for that nuancing. Absolutely agree in terms of simplicity—I think that is really important—and I've already mentioned clarity. What we don't want to do is further confuse the position. We know that the legislation in different countries has done that, and there are ways that you can do it, but what we would welcome is an opportunity during the implementation phase for discussion.

And, as a principle, obviously we would welcome full involvement, and we know there's the commitment from Welsh Government to full involvement in the implementation, because, as with every piece of legislation, implementation is the most important part, and we would want to ensure there is that commitment to a major awareness-raising campaign, and there is that from Welsh Government, because we need to take families, carers and parents with us on this. Also we need to ensure that there is that support available to parents and carers that do sometimes struggle with parenting, and that needs to be a universal offer across Wales. If we're to progress with this, that has to be an option that is offered to every parent in Wales.

Local authorities have already been very heavily involved in terms of looking at this Bill and exploring what the issues are and the discussions and looking at what the implications from a local authority perspective will be, as Huw describes, both in terms of the awareness raising, early support and intervention and prevention services for families against the backdrop of the current issues that we have in local government, but also awareness raising—because absolutely it is key that families come with us on this journey. This is not an imposition. This is embracing a culture and a value system for our children.

Okay, thank you. I've got some questions now from Dawn Bowden on the implementation of the Bill.

Right. Sorry. I've got good eyesight; I can't see—. [Laughter.]

You've already said, obviously, that you're looking towards working with Welsh Government in terms of its implementation. What's been your role so far in terms of the implementation of the Bill—local authorities generally, now? Have you had a role? Has Welsh Government been involving you in discussions around the introduction of the Bill so far?

Yes. So, obviously we were consulted—a key consultee—but also our officials have worked very closely with Welsh Government officials to make sure this is implemented successfully, if it is progressed. 

09:45

Our involvement with this, from a social services perspective, goes back over two years, directly in working towards this point, never mind the history in terms of work towards this area. But, very directly in relation to this Bill, we were first involved at least two years ago, to recollect, and that was in a series of workshops with other agencies, for example Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru and the police, and looking in real depth at what the implications would be for us as agencies to look at what the likely trajectory would be in terms of our pathways for referral into our services and what that might mean for us. And then particularly, for example, with CAFCASS Cymru in relation to private law, what the fallout might be, and then what, if anything—and that's the discussion that we need to have—that could mean for children's services in particular, given the pressures that we're already under. So, we've been in constant, I suppose, involvement in terms of the Bill already, as part of the consultation, in terms of the focus groups and in terms of direct work with Welsh Government officials to take this forward. And we are absolutely committed to continuing with that work. 

Okay. You touched there on the pressures that you're already under, which we fully appreciate, but you also mentioned in answers to Lynne Neagle earlier on that you welcomed the Bill in terms of its clarity. So, are you confident that the Bill can be implemented without any major impact on your capacity to deal with it?

We've done—. A number of local authorities—my own included, Newport City Council, has done some work to look at what the likely impact would be and then actually to look at what some of that costing would need to be. Further work is needed on that area, and that needs to be carried out during the implementation phase. I think what we've done is we've looked internationally at what the impact has been elsewhere when similar legislation has been introduced to try and gauge, but that's difficult to do in terms of comparable nations and size and also different systems. And obviously our approach in terms of children and pedagogy is very different from some of the nations that have already done this. 

I wouldn't like to say one way or the other, because I think, in terms of that culture shift, it could be a double impact on us in terms of increased referrals because of increased awareness, but it could also be, I suppose, as Huw alludes to, that, if we're looking at ensuring greater awareness of preventative services and support services for parents, actually people coming to the fore and asking us for those services as well. So, at this stage, I think what we would want to say is that we continue to be fully involved in the implementation phase, to look at what the cost implications for that could be, and not just for the local authorities but also the police, CAFCASS Cymru, for third sector organisations involved in preventative services. I don't think any of that should undermine the position in terms of children and their rights within our society. So, a difficult answer, in the sense that—

No, I understand. What you're saying is that this is a piece of legislation that, in your view, is a good piece of legislation. It's setting out to, hopefully, achieve what the purpose of it is and you will deliver what you need to. Can I ask you whether, then, you've also given thought to the impact on—we've talked about social services, but the impact on other services, like housing, education and so on? You're obviously coming at it from slightly different angles in other sections.

We are part of the universal service for children, and we very much work in co-operation with the WLGA and our social care colleagues, and we've been part of that consultation. In terms of education, the main changes, or adaptations, would be around training and awareness. And, in terms of the Bill, there needs to be the clarity—ambiguity would be bad—in terms of making sure that safeguarding leads within all schools have the right training and support. So, really, that's the key element there, and then obviously the preventative services for the parents that schools can signpost, and sometimes possibly even host, in terms of being community schools. These positive parenting approaches that—. I have colleagues who have worked in that area for many years and see the benefits in how those positive parenting approaches make a difference to families.  

It's awareness raising; it's making sure that professionals are fully briefed on necessary changes, that there's very little ambiguity, that we are aware that—. We still have that duty to report whenever there is any safeguarding concern. That'll still be part of the all-Wales child protection procedures. That won't change, and that duty is always going to be there for all our professionals. But that awareness raising and training will be the key, and then, obviously, working in co-operation with our colleagues.

09:50

Okay, I understand that. Have you been given an indication of how long you've got between Royal Assent and implementation, and whether you've thought through any of the key milestones that need to be implemented? 

There's a group proposed that would be a strategic leadership group in the steering group that we're part of, which is now laying out what would happen after Royal Assent if that is given. So, we will work towards that. 

Okay. My final question, Chair, is about some of the responses we've had to this committee that say that the state should not get involved in family life—I'm sure you've heard those views—unless it's in the most serious circumstances. To what extent do you think that this Bill undermines the existing local authority responsibilities, or don't you?

The state's paramount role is to protect children from harm. That is our legal responsibility, it's our moral responsibility, and we will discharge that. And there is obviously a view—it's a view that is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—that physical punishment, physical harm to a child is harm to a child, and we should be preventing that and act to prevent that. That would be the position of the Welsh Local Government Association, and we also respect the mandate that Members of the National Assembly for Wales have too. And we believe that children can be raised by parents without recourse to physical punishment, effectively, and we'd support parents in that. We do not believe that in the 50 nations across the world where such legislation exists that the state is interfering in family life unnecessarily. We believe this action reflects a cultural change, a sea change that's taken place in Wales over the last 30 to 40 years, where the vast majority of parents now say that they do not use it themselves, they do not support it, and we believe this is actually a reflection of what has happened in Welsh society. We support Assembly Members in the view that the natural progression of that is that children's rights are protected across Wales.  

So, I've got largely positive feedback from you in terms of the Bill and its intentions, and so on. Do you foresee any unintended consequences for this Bill? 

If we implement it carefully, if we implement it with the right resources, then I hope not. I think not. But as with every piece of legislation, it is about the implementation, it is about the cultural change as well, and that's why I cannot overstress the importance of making sure that resources are made available, because our social services departments—children's social services in particular—are overstretched. They are at breaking point—make no bones about it—and they are dealing with children who are facing serious harm and neglect. We are having record numbers of contacts from police, from teachers, from doctors and, of course, from children themselves who are experiencing that harm and neglect. And obviously, we want to focus our energy and our attention on those children. Equally, though, we don't want to lose sight of those families and children that are experiencing significant problems, but who we want to support through our early intervention and prevention programmes, and that is why it is important that there is investment in those programmes, so that children do not end up in that terrible position where we have to, for their safety, take them from their birth families to protect them. And the reality is, in Wales, that we are doing that to more children than we've done for a long time, and the numbers are growing across Wales. And that is only because of the most appalling neglect and abuse, because there is no way that any judge would permit us to act to make a child safe if it was not for that fact, and the facts are there. So, I don't want that focus to be lost, but, of course, we welcome and understand the need to progress this piece of legislation.

09:55

That rise that you talk about here, is that due to more interventions, greater awareness, more incidents? I'm trying to link this to the Bill in terms of whether the Bill is actually going to give you more work to do in those areas. 

On the reasons for the rise in the numbers of looked-after children in Wales, which are higher than those in England, and also the numbers of contacts that we have across the local authorities, the work of the care crisis review, which was completed last year; the work of Isabelle Trowler, who's the chief social worker in England; countless research and reports that have taken place in the last 18 months; and currently the public law working group, under the auspices of the president of the family court, would all indicate that it's multifactorial. So, what you have is a range of reasons that have led to the increasing numbers of children becoming looked after across England and Wales. What you can't do is identify a single reason.

There have been headlines that have said, 'Is it increased austerity?' That is clearly a part of this. Is it in Wales an increased awareness of adverse childhood experiences and the emphasis of the impact on children of, for example, domestic abuse? Is it because of our understanding of what happens to children in those households? All of that research would say it's all of those things. And then, when you also add in changes in our practice with our colleagues in the judiciary, changes in our police service, but also changes in our preventative services, you've got that whole range of elements. And there is going on across the local authorities and Welsh Government a huge amount of work to try to address and understand that, and then to ameliorate that. Children who need to be in care for safety need to be in care, but what we have to do is get to a point where fewer children come into care and we're able to protect them, firstly, and secondly where those children who are in care are cared for in a way that delivers the best possible outcomes for them. So, there is no simple answer unfortunately.

I think, in terms of this Bill and unintended consequences, I agree absolutely with everything that Huw has said. My job is around children at that far end, but what this Bill does is it brings clarity. It brings a clarity even for those children at that very far end. It takes away even that point of discussion that this could possibly be okay, and I think that's important to hang on to.

One unintended consequences is that I think that there will be an increased focus on the UNCRC. And, in terms of children having a discussion around this point, children need to be part of that discussion. It's something that affects them. And a key aspect of education is the voice of the child. It has become significantly—. It's changed completely in the last 10 years, and it is one of the key things in terms of us driving improvements. 

Would that be something that you would be looking to do in schools?

Anything that improves the voice of the child in any educational context is good and it's very powerful for the children. And it improves their educational experiences, encouraging the opportunities for them to discuss the issues, the adverse childhood experiences that they encounter, which are significant, and it's our educational professionals that are facing this day-in, day-out. They've become a very highly trained workforce, they're ACE aware, they're trauma aware, and anything that focuses, even increases, their professionalism and understanding around a particular point, and also—. So it's a positive unintended consequence, shall we say, that it could reinvigorate some of the voice of the child discussion within various contexts.

10:00

We've got some specific questions now on implementation for social services, from Janet Finch-Saunders.

Thank you, Chair. If this Bill becomes law, would you encourage members of the public to contact social services departments if they do see a child being smacked?

We already encourage members of the public to contact social services or the police, depending on the circumstances. Interestingly, I'm picking—

Yes. If a child is being smacked now, we would ask that people contact. We have a duty to report, as professionals. But if you were walking out, and you saw something happening to a child, in the same way as if you saw something to an adult.

So, I think that the challenge is about, we've all probably, sadly, witnessed incidents in the doctor's reception, or in a supermarket, and we've failed to do something about it. And I think we then walk away and feel pretty guilty about that, realistically, when you see something happening to a child in a particular circumstance. I think we can't ignore the fact that a child is being assaulted in those circumstances.

Okay. Thank you. A campaign opposing this Bill, Be Reasonable Wales, have said that

'If the law is changed, the consequences for parents will be considerable.'

It also says,

'Anyone accused or convicted of assaulting a child—under the new definition—'

so, I suppose you could argue, a minor tap—

'will be subject to long-term social services involvement in their family and social stigma.'

To what extent is this accurate, and, also, will thresholds for social services intervention change if the Bill is enacted?

There are a number of parts to that. Firstly, in terms of long-term social services intervention in a family's life, I think, for people to be fully aware of the very few numbers of families where we have long-term intervention currently, even where there is what would be perceived as very significant abuse. What we do is we go in for short periods in families' lives, to support them to work with their strengths, to work with them and their family members. It's not about us going into families, whatever some of the public perception may be. Our aim is to get in and get out. So, in terms of long-term intervention, what we want is for families to find their own solutions. We want families to be able to work with each other, and together, and local community support, and preventative services, to be able to address issues. This is not about punitive approaches from social services. So, that's the first element.

In terms of thresholds for children's services, we would not be anticipating a huge number of referrals to us. There may be a small number of referrals that come through. What we know from other nations is that it will peak and then settle. We recognise that's likely to happen. Because we also know that this is actually quite a rare occurrence currently; this is not a defence that's being used with great frequency, this is not something that is happening. And if we look at the data, we know that the incidents of children, and the number of parents who now recognise this as an acceptable form of punishment, has steadily declined over the last 15 to 20 years. So it's diminishing as it is.

So, on that one then, is there a need for legislation that will—obviously there'll be resources for the Welsh Government and there'll be resources out of hours and things like that—is there a need for legislation if, as you say, natural behaviour and the culture is changing? Let's be honest, as you've rightly pointed out, in social services—I know in my own authority—in your own authority, you're saying that even now, working with the police, on systematic failings within the system.

Two things. Firstly, we want legislation that reflects our society—we don't want the two to be out of kilter. That would be my first natural response: surely our legislation should be reflective of what our world is. It shouldn't be that we've got these rather confusing elements running in parallel, and that continues to perpetuate a lack of clarity and the ambiguity that we currently see.

I think the other element is that, again, this is about potentially an accelerating of that awareness and that culture in our society, about how we care for our children. We've got there naturally; we've got there by the change that's happened in Wales over the last 15 to 20 years. What this does is to continue with that change and continue with that awareness and understanding of how we positively, from a strength-based approach, should care for our children, bearing in mind what's required of us in terms of the UNCRC.

10:05

Simply to say that I think that, in terms of that clarity for the very vulnerable children out there who are currently being assaulted—seriously assaulted and abused by their parents, which goes on on a daily basis—that is already covered by existing legislation. But at the moment, they don't know, because they could be being told—and they probably are being told—by their parents that's it's okay, that they can smack their child and that that's acceptable. They don't know the difference. A young child is not going to know that difference and there is confusion about what is—. And if you asked most parents, and in fact lots of professionals, they would not be able to tell you, and probably most of you wouldn't be able to tell me exactly where is the threshold—

Well, at the moment, we don't know where that line is. That vulnerable child, at home, being abused by their parents, does not know where that line is. And they should know where that line is because then they can pick up the phone to Childline or they can talk to a professional and ask them where that line is. So, that would be a step forward.

I do recognise, though, that what we don't want to do—and the last thing any of us want to do—is criminalise parents who are bringing up their children. That is why we're saying there needs to be an emphasis on the support programmes that are available to parents. And to be clear, there is no way that we want long-term involvement in any child's life, but particularly not in the lives of children who have been smacked by their parents. That is not going to be the result of this legislation, trust me, because we don't want to be involved in—we haven't got the resources to be involved in children's lives.

The social worker or the police officer—if they become involved, then there would be a proportionate response to that, and there'll also be a test about whether or not that is progressed. So, if there is an allegation—if this legislation is passed—then that will be looked into and a consideration will be made about whether any action will be taken, and as with any allegation of the law being broken, there would be a proportionate response, as there is now.

And the next question does relate to the practical response to that. Janet.

Yes. Can you outline the practical ways in which social services' interaction with parents will change as a result of this proposed law and do you envisage that all referrals to the police will be automatically referred to social services for an assessment? Who's going to make those decisions?

That will be part of the implementation phase about that decision making. Interestingly, the number of referrals that we currently get from the police that we take absolutely no action on is extraordinary. So, we get a very, very large number of—. It will be happening now; sitting in the civic centre in Newport City Council will be a whole host of social workers taking in the public protection notifications from overnight. It's 10 o'clock, so they're assessing them now, as we speak. And an awful lot of those will have no further action from the local authority.

No. There will be no action. There are countless referrals made by agencies to local authorities that we take no action on. 

What happens is there is a paper assessment of them. There's a look at what's happened, who's involved, what the police have reported, and there's work being done with the police to improve that. Because one of the things that we want to get to is actually where we're not using huge amounts of time to look at that, but what comes to us is what we act on. So, there is work going on with a number of police authorities to look at how you improve that process. But I suppose, to pick up, each incident will be looked at, each one will be assessed in a way that is proportionate, as Huw says, to look at what's happened and then investigated.

Sally, can you give us a couple of examples of what kind of things might have come in that you would then take no action on?

10:10

We get countless referrals, for example, where there's been a domestic abuse incident overnight where a child wasn't present in the property and we then haven't taken action. It’ll be where the level of harm that’s perceived to happen to that child is below the threshold for intervention for children’s services.

I’m pretty cynical about assessment, because, you know, I have people come in who are benefit claimants where, when they’ve been assessed, the whole process has been very flawed and I’ve had to fight and fight and fight on their behalf. So—

Assessment processes within social—

Assessment processes within social services are as laid out in the Social Service and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. So, we have within what we carry out, I suppose, that kind of initial look, that look at the information, what else do we know about that family—

And, in fact, in lots of places in Wales now, it’s a multi-agency assessment. So, it’s a joint assessment carried out with police professionals and health professionals.

So, what proportion currently would you not be taking any action on, if a report came in of some domestic abuse where a child had perhaps been smacked?

If something came in to us where a child had been smacked and there was something clearly there, we would look at it. We would clearly look at it and we would take some sort of action.

Can you ask a final question? And I'm going to have to appeal for brief answers, because we've got a lot of ground to cover.

Just very quickly, there may be no action from social services, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t offer support. So, the expectation is that support is offered in those circumstances from family support services, for example—

—or prevention services. So, we would not say, if we were aware, for example, that there was domestic abuse at a home, ‘There’s no role for children’s social services’, because there may be an assessment that that child may not be at immediate risk of harm, but we would obviously recognise that there are causes for concern there and we would offer that support. So, just to be clear about that. And that’s a process that happens in every social services department in the UK, and it’s happened for a very long time, and, in fact, it’s reflective of the legislation that you have laid down as Assembly Members.

And are those services there, Huw? Because I’m very acutely aware of the pressure on local government. Are the services there? Is there sufficient resource in things like Families First? Because what I’m hearing on the ground is that eligibility is changing for even those preventative services.

There’s not enough of those services, and, obviously—you may have heard me saying this before—I think we need to invest more in those services, and I hope you invest more in the services, because, obviously, prevention is better than cure. And those pressures that Sally talked about earlier are pressures that are not going away; they’re only increasing by the day, actually, and I would want us to be able to offer those services now. Because that example of a child that perhaps is in a home where there is domestic abuse—we’ll probably have another referral off them in a couple of months’ time, and that could escalate. And what I’d rather do is provide support to that family and try and stop that family breaking down so that, in six months, we're not going back and saying that we've got to take this child into care because the domestic abuse has worsened and that child is at risk. But those services need additional investment.

I appreciate that time is of the essence, but, just really quickly in relation to that, it’s not just social services. So, for example, there are developments like Encompass, which is a piece of work that is being rolled out across Gwent and across other areas, which is where the police automatically notify the school overnight of an incident, not expecting the school to do anything per se, but to be aware, to be able to offer care for that child.

Can I add to that? Operation Encompass I know in Gwent has been operational, and we started it in Pembrokeshire 18 months ago. We as a local authority—and it’ll be education that will contact the school around the domestic incident happening, and the school as part of that protocol will provide a level of universal service support for that child when they come in, before 9 o’clock, so that professionals are aware of the needs of the welfare of that child at that point. So, you know, schools play a key role in the universal service of this and we work very closely with our social care colleagues on that.

10:15

The Bill's explanatory memorandum refers to an estimate of 274 offences annually where lawful chastisement was used as a defence or considered. It says there is also potential to create extra demand on out-of-hours social services teams due to the time that the offences were reported, and in order to support safeguarding measures. Have you assessed how this Bill will impact on emergency and out-of-hours local authority services?

We have considered that, and again I think that's something that we would very much want to look at as part of implementation. We have out-of-hours provision, we have emergency duty teams already across Wales that operate 24/7. There's no doubt that they exist and they work very closely with our police colleagues.

I think in the same way as all of social services is. If we were offered additional resource, we are going to take that. But are they working in a way that protects children day in, day out, and vulnerable adults? Yes, they are, and they will continue to do so. 

Thank you very much. We've got some specific questions now on the impact on education from Jayne Bryant.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning. Alastair, you've already mentioned about awareness raising and training, which will be key with educational professionals. How confident are you that teachers and others working in those educational settings will be clear about how to support the implementation of this Bill, if enacted?

Training requirements for all professionals in education settings are clear. The universal tier 1 training is there, and all local authorities in Wales will implement that. In that level of general safeguarding awareness and training, the infinite emphasis is on the duty to report. That will remain the same. The thresholds for social care, that's their responsibility. That duty to report will always be there. It says in 'Keeping learners safe', which is the bible in terms of education professionals, that there's a responsibility on the professional to make that referral and for that universal service.

So, the more specialist safeguarding leads within the schools, who have become highly skilled professionals in terms of understanding what might be significant harm—because that's what we're talking about—they understand the legalities when a referral needs to be made. There's always the collation of safeguarding information, where there might be just general concerns about neglect and other areas, which combined would create a picture that there might be significant neglect or significant harm to the child, and then that referral would be made to the child care assessment team or the police.

So, that awareness—it needs to be clear for educational professionals that that duty to report is always there. If they believe that that significant harm has happened then that report then goes to the child care assessment team. They will make the judgment on the threshold because they are the professionals. They have the multi-agency awareness of how that meets the threshold.

But in terms of education, it'll be that awareness, making sure that there's clarity. If there's anything that professionals need to be trained additionally on, it'll need to go into 'Keeping learners safe', which at the moment is being rewritten. So, there would have to be some new possible information there relating to this. But as long as there's clarity, and once that implementation phase and the discussion has happened, as long as it's clear for professionals that the duty is always there and they feel a significant harm, then that report will always be there and will always need to be made.

It's making sure—and I'll echo what my colleague said, Huw—that the services are key for families. Schools are absolutely fundamental in that support for the families. They have those relationships with the families. I know there was discussion around professional trust. On a daily basis, professionals are working on that trust with parents, because they are the ones that can engage with those families. The family support officers that are working on the ground with highly complex families, with multiple leads and supporting the children—they are fundamental, and investment in that level of support would also help our colleagues as well. So, anything that's preventative. That is already happening in schools and is effective, and is shown to be effective, and has an evidence base—we'd always support that that would continue to be invested in. So, that's really my answer.

10:20

Okay. And you were saying about how important trust is as well, but do you think that there's a risk that those in education settings will have a key role in referring more parents to social services, which some have said could cause potential harm to relationships and cause mistrust?

I don't think it's a matter of mistrust—it's a matter of, you know, if a professional believes, based on the evidence that they have, because they're working with that child every day, that there is significant harm to that child, they are under a duty to report that to social care. So, part of the work is with families, and most of the referrals we make are with parental consent. That consent is a key element of this, and conversation with our social care colleagues is usually, 'You need to speak to the parents again and have a conversation with them.' Some of the NFAs—the ones that don't get referred at threshold—it will come back to school for, possibly, some support from the family or a team around the family or some other aspect. So, I don't think—. The trust in the professionals—it's actually more important that we are seen to be upholding our duties under the all-Wales safeguarding procedures. That's what engenders trust in a professional workforce. 

Thank you very much. We're going to move on now to some questions about the importance of awareness raising from Siân Gwenllian.

Bore da. Wrth sbio ar eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig chi, dŷch chi'n dweud bod angen ei gwneud hi'n hollol eglur i rieni, gwarcheidwaid a'r cyhoedd nad ydy’r ddeddfwriaeth yma'n ceisio gwneud rhieni yn droseddwyr, ac mae hynny, yn amlwg, yn bwysig gennych chi. Sut dŷch chi'n credu mae gwneud hynny, a phwy ddylai fod yn gwneud y gwaith yma?

Good morning. In looking at your written evidence, you say that we must make it very clear to parents, guardians and the public that this legislation is not trying to criminalise parents, and that is clearly very important for you. How do you think we should do that and who should be doing that work?

I think that's really broad. Obviously, colleagues in education, colleagues in social care, colleagues in preventative services, but also Welsh Government and the National Assembly, in terms of those drivers in relation to that awareness raising are really, really key. If you look at some of the other campaigns that have been run, notably in relation to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and echoing some of those building campaigns that have been done to raise awareness—I think those would be really good models to begin to consider in terms of how this is taken forward with awareness. We also know that there are a number of routes that we can go through in terms of raising awareness. We have existing preventative services, we have all our universal services, we have the regional safeguarding boards and the national safeguarding boards. So, there are a number of avenues that we could then explore.

In terms of not wishing to criminalise, I think if we look at the numbers, they are very, very small. And I think one of the things we need to hold on to in this is a sense of proportion about what is or isn't likely to happen once or if this Bill ever gets to the point of Royal Assent—they are small numbers who currently use this defence. It is about that wider issue of awareness raising, and using all of those avenues will help us to do that in the broadest sense.

Ydych chi, felly, yn credu bod angen i hyn fod ar wyneb y Bil? Hynny yw, dŷch chi ddim yn dweud hyn yn eich tystiolaeth. Hoffwn i wybod eich barn chi. Mae'r Alban yn mynd i'w fod yn ei gwneud hi'n ddyletswydd ar Weinidogion yn yr Alban i godi ymwybyddiaeth o effaith y Bil. Hyd yma, mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn dweud wrthym ni nad oes dim angen gwneud hynny yng Nghymru. Oni fyddai'n gwneud pethau'n gliriach i chi petai o'n ddyletswydd glir ar wyneb y Bil, er enghraifft fel yr oedd o efo Deddf Trawsblannu Dynol (Cymru) 2013? Roedd yna ddyletswydd yn y Ddeddf yna i Weinidogion hyrwyddo trawsblannu. Does bosib y byddai'r agwedd codi ymwybyddiaeth yma yn gliriach i bawb petai o ar wyneb y Bil. Oes gennych chi farn ar hynny?

Do you, therefore, believe that this needs to be on the face of the Bill? That is, you don't say this in your evidence. I'd like to know your opinion on that. Scotland is going to be making it a duty for Scottish Ministers to raise awareness of the impact of the Bill. So far, the Welsh Government says that we don't need to do that in Wales. Wouldn't it make it clearer for you if it was a clear duty on the face of the Bill, for example as it was with the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013? There was a duty in that Act for Ministers to promote transplantation. Surely, that awareness raising aspect would be clearer for everyone if it was on the face of the Bill. Do you have an opinion on that?

Well, Welsh Government have given that commitment, and I know the Welsh Government honour every commitment that they make—[Laughter.]

10:25

I don't know whether that is necessary—I'm not a legislator. I think that there's obviously an inherent interest in Welsh Government raising awareness, because we have to raise awareness effectively for this to be successful, otherwise we will have parents who feel that they're being criminalised, and that's the last thing we want. I think it's worthy of consideration, but, as I say, I'm not a legislator or a lawyer, so I don't know what implications that will have long term. But to be fair to Welsh Government, I think that commitment is one that I'm sure will be honoured, because Welsh Government will want to make a success of this Bill if it does receive Royal Assent.

I've suddenly changed my mind—[Laughter.] I think it should be a duty on Welsh Government Ministers—absolutely. I don't need to check with lawyers or legislators. There we go. And that's the WLGA position; I don't need to ask the other 21 leaders on that either. [Laughter.]

Oni fyddai hi'n ei gwneud hi'n gliriach petai o'n ddyletswydd glir ar wyneb y Bil fod y codi ymwybyddiaeth yma'n gorfod digwydd? Byddai'n gliriach, wedyn, i awdurdodau lleol a phobl rheng flaen beth sydd angen digwydd.

Wouldn't it make it clearer if there was a clear duty on the face of the Bill that awareness raising had to happen? It would be clearer, then, for local authorities and people in the front-line services what needs to happen.

I'm going to echo Huw. [Laughter.]

Okay. We're moving on now, then, to the contentious issue of resources and we've got some questions from Hefin.

Sally Jenkins, you said that the purpose of the Bill is to bring clarity and to remove what is a little-used defence. Isn't this an expensive way of doing that?

I don't think so, no. I think that our children deserve the best legislation.

But introducing this legislation diverts finances from other areas of children's services—or doesn't?

Well, I would say, no, I don't think it will divert resources from children's services. Firstly, going back to the comment made, I think, proportionally, this is a very small number of cases. It's a very small number of existing cases that go through in terms of prosecution, or consideration for prosecution. We know that it's likely, from some of the work that we've already done, that it's not opening floodgates for a sudden sea of referrals to children's services—that's not the way this is going to be, because the numbers are not out there because of the changes that have already happened in Welsh family life and Welsh society. So, I think as part of the implementation phase, we need to have a really clear understanding of the trajectory of those costs and what's likely to happen over the first six months, 12 months in terms of people's awareness and understanding and what is referred and how that's worked. But in terms of a huge number, no, I don't anticipate it being that.

But the costs wouldn't just be directed to the number of referrals and the number of cases raised, it's the cost around that, with training of staff, awareness—all those extra additional costs that always come with legislation. Is it too much? Is it—?

No. And I agree with that—that there clearly are—but if you think, many of those things will be aligned with work we are already doing, but it brings a clarity to that work. So, our teachers, our social workers, our health workers, our police officers already get substantial training around child protection, around safeguarding, around adverse childhood experiences and around a trauma-informed approach to children. What this does is it layers a clarity on that. But rather than having a part of that training, which has to deal with this as an aspect—that is no longer there; it is a clear message for all professions.

I fully appreciate that, and in the briefing note you've given us, you've outlined the pressures on social services. So, do you think this is another way of getting money into social services?

If this was a way of getting money into—. I can think of better ways, but I don't think this is it. No, I mean, I absolutely do not think that. I think this is a clear commitment to the rights of children in Wales; this is not about levering additional resources into children's services. Oh that it was so simple.

I think we are currently looking at work and are doing work across my own local authority and across two others to look at breaking down those costs, not just for local authority, but also for health, for police and for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru. So, there is work currently taking place to try to quantify those costs.

Okay. I think there was a bit about local authorities that Siân—

10:30

Ie, jest i gario ymlaen o fanna, mewn ffordd. Mae'r memorandwm esboniadol sy'n cyd-fynd efo'r Bil yma yn sôn am y costau anhysbys i wahanol asiantaethau. Dŷch chi wedi sôn yn fanna rŵan eich bod chi'n gwneud gwaith o gwmpas trio adnabod beth yw rhai o'r costau yna, ond oni fyddai'n ddefnyddiol petai'r memorandwm esboniadol yn egluro mwy ynglŷn ag unrhyw gostau anhysbys, yn rhannol er mwyn tawelu rhai o'r pryderon o gwmpas hynny? Mae rhoi'r teitl 'costau anhysbys'—a ydy hynny'n ddigon da?

Yes, just to carry on from that, in a way. The explanatory memorandum that accompanies the Bill talks about the unknown costs for different agencies. You mentioned there that you're doing work around trying to identify some of those costs, but wouldn't it be useful if the explanatory memorandum did explain more about any unknown or unidentified costs, partly in order to calm some of those fears around that? Giving a title 'unidentified costs'—is that good enough?

I think, clearly, that is a challenge, and that is work that we are participating in and are committed to completing with Welsh Government, to look at what those costs are. 

I think this is where it would be helpful in the committee's deliberations and where our concern would be, because the reality is we're not going to know what the costs are until it's actually implemented, because we haven't implemented this before. And, therefore, I think there needs to be a commitment that, whatever the costs are, those costs are met because it is legislation that is being led by the National Assembly for Wales. And whilst we don't see it as levering in additional resources, we don't think it should be at the expense of current service provision to vulnerable families in Wales, and therefore it's important that it is properly and fully resourced. 

Beth fuaswn i'n dadlau efo hynny ydy bod yn rhaid ceisio rhagweld. Dŷch chi'n dweud ei bod hi'n anodd rhagweld faint y mae hwn i gyd yn mynd i'w gostio, ond mae'n rhaid ceisio rhagweld, a rhan o'r ddadl dros geisio cael projections ydy dangos, efallai, nad ydy o ddim yn mynd i gostio cymaint â hynny, a byddai hynny'n ychwanegu at y ddadl, 'Ocê, mae hwn yn mynd i fod yn iawn i'w wneud, a dydy o ddim yn mynd i roi gormod o bwysau arnom ni.' Neu mae'n rhaid gwybod bod hwn yn mynd i gostio llawer iawn i'w wneud o'n effeithiol, ac felly mae'n rhaid ichi wneud eich dadl, wedyn, 'Wel, fedrwn ni ddim fforddio hwnna, mae'n rhaid i'r arian ddod o rywle arall.' Mae'n rhaid inni gael y costau, does bosib.

What I would argue on that is that you have to try and forecast. You say it's difficult to forecast how much this is going to cost, but we have to try and forecast that, and part of the argument for trying to have projections is to show that, perhaps, it's not going to cost that much, and that would add to the argument that, 'Okay, this is going to be fine to do and it's not going to put too much pressure on us'. Or we need to know that this is going to cost a lot to do it effectively, and therefore you have to make your argument, then, 'Well, we can't afford that, the money has to come from somewhere else.' We have to get the costs, surely. 

Yes, and we will work very closely with Welsh Government to try and establish those costs as quickly as possible. There will be some costs that we will be able to identify. So, for example, a campaign, an awareness-raising campaign, the marketing, if you like, but some of the other costs will be more difficult to establish in terms of the resource implications for front-line workers. I expressed a view that we need to see some additional investment in some of those programmes that are not targeted directly at families that would be impacted by this but support all families across Wales that have different needs, and some of that provision is universal. Obviously, my view is the more we put into that, the better. So, there's no limit to that, but I suspect Welsh Government will take a very different view to that. But I think that is something where we need to see a commitment to some additional resources. But I don't put an upper limit on that, because I don't think there's an authority in Wales, and I don't think there's a charity, a police service or a health board in Wales that doesn't think that we need to do more of that and could offer more of that if the resources were available. 

Okay. We've come to the end of our time, so can I thank you all for attending and for answering all of our questions? It's been a really useful and informative discussion. As usual, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you again, all of you, for coming. 

And thank you for your questions and engagement. We welcome the opportunity. 

Diolch yn fawr. 

Thank you very much.

3. Papurau i’w Nodi
3. Papers to Note

Okay, item 3 is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Minister for Housing and Local Government—additional information for our inquiry into school funding. Paper to note 2 is a letter from the Minister for Health and Social Services on in-patient child and adolescent mental health services provision, and I would like to briefly return to that when we go into private. Are Members happy to note those? Thank you. 

10:35
4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of the Meeting

Cynnig:

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

Motion:

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

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, then: can I propose a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting? Are Members content? Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:35.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:35.

Archwilio Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru