Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru

Yn ôl i Chwilio

Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg

Children, Young People and Education Committee

18/05/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Dawn Bowden AS
Hefin David AS
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Lynne Neagle AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sian Gwenllian AS
Suzy Davies AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Craig McLeod Uwch-reolwr Plant a'r Gweithlu, Cyngor Sir y Fflint
Senior Manager Children and Workforce, Flintshire County Council
Jan Coles Pennaeth Gwasanaethau Plant, Cyngor Sir Powys
Head of Children's Services, Powys County Council
Jane Randall Cadeirydd, Bwrdd Diogelu Annibynnol Cenedlaethol Cymru
Chair, National Independent Safeguarding Board Wales
Louise Israel Uwch-oruchwyliwr Childline, NSPCC Cymru
Childline Senior Supervisor, NSPCC Cymru
Marian Parry Hughes Pennaeth Grŵp Penaethiaid Gwasanaethau Plant Cymru Gyfan
Head of the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services
Sally Jenkins Pennaeth Gwasanaethau Plant a Theuluoedd, Cyngor Dinas Casnewydd
Head of Children and Family Services, Newport City Council
Sarah Crawley Cyfarwyddwr, Barnardo's Cymru
Director, Barnardo's Cymru
Vivienne Laing Rheolwr Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, NSPCC Cymru
Policy and Public Affairs Manager, NSPCC Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Llinos Madeley Clerc
Clerk
Tanwen Summers Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

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.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 14:00.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 14:00. 

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

Good afternoon, everyone. Can I welcome you to this virtual meeting of the Children, Young People and Education Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I've determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was published with the agenda for the meeting last week. The meeting, however, is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv with all participants joining via video-conference. A record of proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place.

The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. If we become aware that there's an issue with the translation, I will ask you to pause for a moment while our meeting technicians reset the system. Can I remind everyone that the microphones will be controlled centrally, so there is no need to turn them on or off individually? Can I ask Members, please, if there are any declarations of interest? No, okay. Thank you. Can I also then note for the record that if for any reason I drop out of the meeting, the committee has agreed that Dawn Bowden AM will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin?

2. COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ynghylch Effaith COVID-19 ar Blant sy’n Agored i Niwed gyda Chynrychiolwyr y Trydydd Sector a Staff Rheng Flaen
2. COVID-19: Evidence Session on the Impact of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Children with Representatives of the Third Sector and Front-line Staff

So, we'll move on then to item 2 this morning, which is an evidence session on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children with representatives of the third sector. Can I welcome Sarah Crawley, who is director of Barnardo's Cymru, Vivienne Laing, policy and public affairs manager at NSPCC Cymru, and Louise Israel, Childline senior supervisor at NSPCC Cymru? Can I thank you all for joining us this afternoon? As Members know, we were to be joined by Allison Hulmes from the British Association of Social Workers, but unfortunately, she's unable to join us this afternoon and has sent her apologies. Due to time constraints now, if it's okay with everybody, we'll go straight to questions, and the first questions I've got this afternoon are from Siân Gwenllian.

Prynhawn da i chi. Nifer bychan iawn o blant sy'n agored i niwed sydd yn mynychu hwb neu ysgol ar hyn o bryd yn ystod yr argyfwng yma. Pam ydych chi'n meddwl mai dyna ydy'r sefyllfa a pha mor bryderus ydych chi bod y nifer mor fychan?

Good afternoon. Now, a very small number of vulnerable children are attending either a school or a hub at the moment during this current crisis. Why do you think that's the case and how concerned are you that the numbers are so small?

Okay then. We envisage that it's because parents and carers feel that it's safer for their children to stay at home, but what we do know is that for too many children, home is not a safe place. And when abuse and neglect happens at home, there's very little respite or escape for these children. And what we know about perpetrators of abuse is that they use a suite of tactics to maintain power and control, and therefore the current lockdown further isolates victims from sources of support and victims are much less able to tell anybody about what's happening or reach out for help. That's why we think it's so important for vulnerable children to attend these school hubs, the school provision, because it makes them more visible to services.

I mean, we do welcome the work of the Welsh Government's cross-departmental group on vulnerable children, also the letter that went out at the end of April from Welsh Government to local authorities to encourage attendance of vulnerable children, and also the efforts local authorities are making to encourage vulnerable children to attend school, but at the last count, it was under 1,000 children. We know that, in March 2019's published data, there were over 16,000 children receiving care and support. Over half of those had the need for care and support due primarily to the risk of or actual abuse and neglect. So, although we know that attending schools may not be best for all children, we think it's in the best interests of vulnerable children to attend, and we would strongly urge local authorities to continue their efforts to ensure that all children experiencing or at risk of abuse and neglect attend school. And just one more thing, we're also worrying about the newly vulnerable children and young people caused by crisis, family crisis, as a result of the pandemic, whether that's losing a job, money issues, increased violence, or domestic abuse. We need to make sure we're providing these children with support now, and attending school might be one of those supports that would help them become less vulnerable and perhaps would result in them not needing statutory intervention at a later date.

14:05

A gaf i ofyn i Lousie neu Sarah, ydych chi'n credu—?

Could I ask Louise or Sarah whether they believe—?

Ydych chi—? Cyn i chi ddod mewn—

Do you—? Before you do comment—

Yes. Thank you, Viv. I think that was a really clear explanation of safeguarding.

Cyn i chi barhau ar hwnna, ydych chi'n credu bod yna ddigon yn cael ei wneud i gyrraedd at y plant bregus yma? Roedd Vivienne yn sôn nad yw rhieni, efallai, yn teimlo ei bod hi'n saff iddyn nhw fynd i'r ysgol, ond mae yna fwy iddo fe na hynny, onid oes? Ac ydy'r awdurdodau yn gwneud digon i geisio canfod y plant yma, ac i'w hannog nhw—annog y plant eu hunain i ddod i'r ysgol?

Before you continue on that point, do you believe that enough is being done to reach these vulnerable children? Vivienne mentioned that parents perhaps didn't feel that it was safe for them to attend school, but there's more to it than that, isn't there? And are the authorities doing enough to try and identify these children and to encourage the children themselves to attend schools?

I think that's a really good point about segmentation of communities and what makes up vulnerability. Viv has explained very, very clearly about safeguarding, child protection and children at risk, but I think, actually, there are other client groups, other groups of children and young people, such as young carers, those with disabilities, particularly those with statemented and special educational needs, where, actually, their care and support needs are slightly different. They're not necessarily based on abuse; they're based on actually their care needs and their support needs, and what we've actually found, particularly with young carers, is that, with some, their anxiety levels have lowered. Their want to go to school and to try and run family life and have family life has been better during COVID-19, because they've been able to stay with their family.

I do think local authorities are doing a lot. I think individual schools are doing a lot to try and access pupils. We've had cases where we've had schools calling up families where the children are vulnerable, doorstep visiting where children are vulnerable and making sure that they are receiving their educational needs at this time. So, we do have schools doing an awful lot. Where they are struggling is access to education as well on school sites. Not all school sites are open; sometimes it's very, very restricted for children in their early years, and children in primary and secondary school to access school sites, and they're having to travel quite considerable distances to do so. So, we've found that the free transport and safe transport has become an issue, particularly if you've got children of different age ranges trying to access schools as well. That's terribly hard at this time.

Parents in general are feeling anxious. They're worried about sending their children to school and they're worried about sending their children to school because they could be sending them into places where we've got key-worker children, and those key workers could well be working in and around the NHS and other social care settings, and then possibly making other children vulnerable to those situations as well. So, I think it's a complex and varied picture, but local authorities are addressing where they can, and individual schools are addressing where they can, particularly those vulnerable children, as we're doing as an organisation, too, within our family support services, young carers services and disability services.

Gan efallai droi at Lousie, mae'r canllawiau wedi newid, onid ydynt, ynglŷn â'r diffiniad o blentyn sy'n agored i newid? Mae'r diffiniad yna wedi newid yn ystod yr argyfwng yma. Ydy hynny'n beth da? Oes angen i'r diffiniad fynd yn fwy eang fel bod mwy o blant yn cael eu dal o fewn y categori yma ac felly yn gallu mynd i'r ysgol?

Turning now to Louise, perhaps, the guidance has changed, hasn't it, in terms of defining a vulnerable child? That definition has changed during this crisis. Is that a good thing? Does the definition need to be broader so that more children are captured within this category and are therefore able to attend school?

Yes, can I answer that one? Obviously, we really welcome that the definition of vulnerable children has been widened. It's been broadened so that local authorities now have that flexibility to offer to vulnerable children school places, but it does say in the definition that if they're known to be vulnerable by school or family support services. So, what we also think is that it's really crucial that local authorities are working very closely with third sector organisations, with health and police, to make sure that all children who are vulnerable and who would benefit from a place in schools are supported to access those school places. 

14:10

I fully agree with that as well, Viv. We've got a lot of low-income families, as you talked about earlier, that are struggling during the COVID-19 crisis and are potentially going to be struggling further as we come out of it, and that isn't going to go away. So, I do think that the definition is helpful. It's fit for purpose in terms of defining vulnerable groups, but what it doesn't do is support their access to services. So, it is helpful to one extent, but not necessarily helpful because it doesn't include low-income families or parents possibly struggling from enduring mental health issues. 

Tybed a oes yna le, felly, i greu canllawiau sydd yn cynnwys y grwpiau yna hefyd, wrth inni symud ymlaen? Wrth i'r Gweinidog Addysg edrych ar ailagor ysgolion, ydych chi'n teimlo y gallai'r diffiniad yma fynd yn fwy eang ac felly bod yna gysylltiad yn digwydd gyda'r plant o incwm isel ac yn y blaen, achos rydyn ni'n gwybod bod eu haddysg nhw yn mynd i fynd ar ei hôl hi ac mae'r bwlch cyrhaeddiad yn mynd i fod yn pellhau? Ac wrth i chi ateb hwnna, fedrwch chi hefyd ateb y cwestiwn ynglŷn â'r bwlch digidol, oherwydd mae'r mynediad at addysg gartref hefyd yn golygu bod angen cael y cit a chael y band eang, ac yn y blaen? Ydy hwn yn bryder, hefyd—bod y bwlch digidol yn ehangu yn ystod y cyfnod yma? 

I wonder whether there is scope, therefore, to draft guidance that includes those groups too as we move forward? And as the Minister for Education looks at the reopening of schools, do you believe that this definition could be broader and that there would then be contact with lower income family children, and so on and so forth, because we do know that their education is going to suffer and the attainment gap will widen? And as you respond to that question, can you also answer the question on the digital divide, because access to home schooling also means that you need to have the appropriate kit and the appropriate broadband available? Is it also a concern that digital exclusion is exacerbated during this crisis? 

Yes. Well, many of the families we're supporting are also significantly impacted by poverty, and what we know is that some families don't have the technology or the wide enough broadband to enable them to access the school learning—there's teaching and schoolwork—but also any virtual support from family support services, third sector organisations, et cetera. Can I pass on to Louise here now, who will be able to give you more of a flavour from Childline? 

Thank, Viv. We've heard from quite a number of young people around this, where, on the one hand, some young people have already got access to technology and are able to make use of all the facilities there that are available, but, on the other, we have, as Viv said, some young people, maybe within the family, who don't have enough technology for everyone to use it as they need at the moment. So, maybe they're sharing the computers between themselves, or maybe they've got limited broadband or no broadband at all and so can't access school, can't access education, can't access any other support networks.

Another very worrying thing that we're hearing from young people is where there's abuse in the home and the access to technology they do have is actually being denied or withdrawn, which actually makes already vulnerable young people even more vulnerable. And it's around how they can access support when the abuser within the home is withdrawing the only means of access to support. So, that's quite a worrying concern that we've seen quite recently. 

At Barnardo's, we've been using discretionary funding, voluntary funds, fundraised income to supply families with the digital technology and devices that they need, and assisting them with accessing broadband. We have seen it quite substantially within our family support services—a lack of access to technology. We've seen it particularly in our north Wales services, about poor fibre, poor broadband, poor signal, and that's been a real strain in trying to provide services remotely. We also have seen too many young people, as you've been saying, having their devices controlled or not being or feeling able to use a device in a shared home to have a remote counselling session or a support session with their key worker. They're feeling like they don't have the privacy, they can't talk through the issues that matter to them. So, we are seeing isolated children and young people, particularly around their mental health and well-being.

What we've also seen, though, is families accessing services completely differently. So, we've been running support sessions for parents in the evenings after their children have gone to bed, and they're actually thriving with these parenting and mental health and support sessions, and we're seeing a much higher take-up in the evenings.

So, I think we need to think about, as we go forward, (1), access to technology, (2), who's supporting people to use it or preventing them from using it, and (3), actually how we provide services in a better way, in a more flexible way as we proceed.

14:15

Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now specifically on safeguarding and child protection from Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Lynne. So, we've seen evidence that the number of safeguarding referrals has dropped considerably since lockdown. Are we getting any information or evidence through now that that trend is being reversed, and what are we doing to ensure that safeguarding systems can remain effective in the current circumstances?

Yes. Obviously, we are also very concerned that child protection referrals have gone down. We have heard anecdotally that they're starting to go back up, which is good. However, from our services, we've seen a lot of children and young people coming to us for services. I'm going to say a little bit about our overall trends of what we're hearing and then I'm going to go to Louise, as well, who will give more of the flavour. 

Basically, we know, obviously, family life has been changed, and lots of families are finding it very difficult juggling everything, but, where there are difficult situations, we know that lockdown is likely to intensify problems. We know the risks of abuse and neglect, problematic parental behaviour and domestic abuse are all increased in stressful situations, and, in those homes, abuse can be relentless.

So, we're seeing this evidence in our adult helpline service, for example. Our adult helpline service across the UK has seen a change in calls after lockdown. We've seen a 50 per cent increase in calls about an adult concerned about emotional abuse. It's gone from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, so a 50 per cent increase. We've also seen a significant increase in calls about parental or adult health and behaviours, and the UK trend there has gone from 19 per cent to 24 per cent, if you compare pre lockdown to post lockdown. We've also seen an increase in concerns about physical abuse. That's gone up 2 per cent. And the other thing that's really gone up in terms of adults contacting our helpline are the family relationship problems. That wasn't in our top five of concerns pre lockdown; it is now in the top five of concerns during lockdown. 

In terms of Childline, obviously Childline, as you know, is a service that children turn to of their own volition, and this is where we can really hear children's voices. Across the UK, there was a weekly increase in counselling sessions delivered in the first five weeks of lockdown. The proportion of counselling sessions about mental health, suicidal thoughts and feelings and family relationships have all increased significantly, and there's been a significant increase in counselling about abuse compared to pre lockdown. Counselling for physical and emotional abuse has significantly increased, but, interestingly, counselling for sexual abuse has decreased.

I'm talking there about UK trends, but what we know from the contacts to Chidline over this period is where children come from in 87 per cent of contacts, and 4 per cent of our counselling sessions are delivered to children in Wales. We've compared the trends and they're very similar—the Welsh trends to the UK trends—in the fact that the same trends are occurring. 

Shall I pass on to Louise now, who can give you a lot more?

Thanks, Viv. Yes, as Viv said, we've seen quite a dramatic increase in young people talking around the way that emotional and physical abuse has intensified with lockdown, the way that their mental and emotional well-being is being impacted, and also their sense of isolation, their lack of, in some cases, even hope for the future in terms of how long this is going to go on for. None of us know how long it's going to go on for, and for a young person who's already vulnerable being stuck at home, potentially in a very unstable situation with an unstable home life, not knowing when that's going to come to an end, not knowing when they can go to school, which might be their only place of safety, is giving them that sense of hopelessness. And that, we think, is one of the reasons, one of the many reasons, why the instances of young people talking about suicidal feelings has increased, which is quite a worrying trend for us right now.

We've spoken to young people who are talking around the fact that the arguments at home are increasing, the violence at home is increasing, and they just don't know how they can escape from that at the moment. Where they do have support from services, where it's been fantastic where that's been able to continue, for some young people, because of the way it's changed, where they don't have that face-to-face service any more, they're having to access things remotely, online—. And, as Sarah quite rightly pointed out earlier on, we've also seen instances of young people who don't feel they have that safe, confidential space at home that they would otherwise have had elsewhere. They actually don't feel able to engage now with their support, because they don't have anywhere private to talk to them from. So, again, that's been quite a worrying trend for us, and seeing, again, that's increasing that sense of hopelessness.

So, all round, we are seeing the impact that this pandemic is having on young people, where, of course, they're worried about health issues for themselves and for their families, but the bigger worry is the impact on their mental health and well-being. Whether they normally didn't have any problems in the first place, to the young people who are the most vulnerable, what we're seeing is, regardless of individual circumstances, this is now starting to have an impact on the mental health of children and young people.

14:20

Thank you, and thanks, Dawn, as well, for letting me come in here. Viv, you started off by giving us some fairly concrete figures here about demand going up by basically 5 per cent in two cases, but, after that, you started to talk about trends and things being very significant. You may not be able to give them to us today, but, actually, could you give a note, either yourself or perhaps Louise, of some concrete figures at some point? Because I appreciate you're talking about trends, but we'd like some idea of scale as well, if that would—. It would certainly help me, anyway, so, if you're happy to do that out of committee, I'd be very grateful.

Yes, happy to put a note afterwards with—. Yes, because it's difficult to talk to you about all those different figures. I'll certainly do that.

Did Sarah want to come in? I thought—. Sorry. Okay. All right. What I'm trying to get a sense of, I guess, is how many of these children we're able to contact now. Because, obviously, in the school setting—. I think you alluded to this, Louise—in the school setting, there's obviously a safe space for children to speak to a teacher or a trusted adult in the school setting. Most of these children are not in school now. How—? I mean, obviously, the referrals are still coming through and you're still having children contacting the helpline and so on, but how easy is it to be signposting, particularly those children who are not currently known to authorities? How are we managing to get that information out to children who could be, for the first time, needing to access services that they never previously have?

Yes, I'll take it on two counts. Within Barnardo's services, we've seen about a 20 per cent drop overall in referrals across the majority of our services. So, that's an indication that we aren't always seeing, now, people coming through, either being referred from GPs, or referred through school, or through early help hubs in local authorities, because they've possibly been repurposed for more at-risk children and young people. So, we have seen a drop in referrals; we've seen an increase in some areas, though. In particular local authorities, we've seen an increase in young people being referred through, young homeless—young people that we actually haven't seen before within our services, and that's often due to family breakdown at this time. We're seeing young people within substance misuse services and mental health services, again, that we haven't necessarily seen before. So, I would say that it's a really varied and mixed picture for our referrals.

I think it's very, very difficult at this time to access children and young people that we don't have within our services. I think you're quite right. Their protective systems have disappeared, whether that was in peer groups, whether it was in sports clubs, churches, schools—and mainly schools. Those protective professionals that look at how that young person or child is doing, how they're reacting, how they're presenting, have predominantly been lost.

Where we're able to do it at the moment is to provide remote services, so the majority of our children and young people and families are accessing services remotely, but you can't see the home. You can't see how they're interacting as a family. You can't see that young person, necessarily, alone, and so all those elements are hampering us, I would say, in providing the best service possible and accessing those children and young people that need us the most.

14:25

I guess it was about the signposting, as well, Sarah, in terms of children that have never accessed these services before. How are we—? When they are locked down, how are we or how are you—how are any of the agencies, actually—getting information to these children? Presumably, most of this is being done online through social media, but, again, if we're talking about some of them not being able to have access to technology, that's—. Part of the concern, I think, is: how do they know where to go if they've never had to do this before? It's part of the problem, isn't it?

Before you answer, Sarah, that was what I was thinking, really. If I'm a child living in a house where everything has been great until lockdown, and, all of a sudden, Dad's lost his job, everything goes pear-shaped, how would I know who I should contact?

I think it's a really difficult idea for children and young people. We do have them phoning Childline. Childline's seen a massive increase in calls, and they're then referring out to other services. They're talking to, possibly, a trusted adult, if they can, or one of our key workers. We have had people just phone up Barnardo's and just say, 'I need help.'

So, it's who they access and how they access those, as you say, when their networks are gone and their front-facing support has disappeared. But they are phoning local authorities, we are seeing local authorities being called up, we are seeing—[Inaudible.]

—local voluntary organisations—[Inaudible.] What we have done is delivered well-being packs, so a lot of well-being packs and information packs are going out, and we're looking at different sources of media, as you say. We're using social media far more, whether it's Instagram, whether it's Facebook, whether it's Twitter, and we're trying to get into those local groups and publicise our services as best we can.

Ie. Jest i feddwl beth ellid ei wneud i gyrraedd rhai o'r plant sydd ddim yn cael cysylltiad ar hyn o bryd, a ddylai'r awdurdodau lleol fod yn cael canllawiau gan Lywodraeth ganolog yn dweud bod angen iddyn nhw fonitro faint o blant yn eu hardal nhw sydd yn cael cysylltiad yn wythnosol gan eu hysgol? Mi fyddai honno'n un ffordd, efallai, o wneud yn siŵr bod pob un plentyn yn gallu cael cysylltiad o leiaf efo un o'r asiantaethau sydd yn arwyddo fel arfer. Ydyn ni angen cael system mewn lle i wneud yn siŵr nad oes yna ddim un plentyn heb gysylltiad o ryw fath efo'u hysgol?

Yes. I was just thinking what could be done to reach some of these children who don't have contact at the moment. Should local authorities be receiving guidance from central Government telling them that they do need to monitor how many children in their areas do have weekly contact with their school? That would be one way, perhaps, of ensuring that every child can have contact with at least one of the agencies that usually do that signposting. Do we need to have a system in place in order to ensure that not a single child has no contact at all with their school?

Viv, do you want to go first?

Yes. I have frozen a bit—

Am I still frozen? You can hear me, though, can you?

That's all right then. I just wanted to say—sorry, I'm probably going back to the previous question, because I wanted to come in then, if that's okay. Just to let you know that, the way that NSPCC has operated, I know some schools gave out Childline cards to children as they were breaking up, and I know that children have turned to Childline because it's a well-known service. In terms of other services, within a few weeks we've translated everything into virtual support, and we've also sent letters around to all stakeholders, local councillors, schools, everybody to say what services are there and how you can access those services. Shall I hand over to Sarah there, now?

14:30

I was going to say that we've done similar things, whether through packs or whether through social media, so coming into that. Talking about identifying and accessing every child or young person—I think it's a pretty tall order. We don't have the systems and infrastructure like schools functioning at the moment. It's very, very difficult to identify which professional would do it, so, who would be the key person that they would go to—who's the trusted person in their life? I think that's the difficulty that we'd have. They don't always want to be called up by a teacher or a teaching assistant. They might want to be called up by a family support worker, or they might want to be called up by a sports professional. We really don't know who they're going to want to interact with, and we do have families who are using, to a certain extent, the lack of contact or the remoteness to shy away from contact with statutory services. So, I think it's a very, very difficult concept, and it would put an awful lot of strain, I suspect, on schools and local authorities if we required that. I think we probably need to come up with the key worker or trusted individual for families into the future as we try and get back to a new kind of normal. So, I think it would be more in those realms than necessarily a requirement for that young person.

Can I just ask whether you are finding the contact with children that are known—so, those, particularly, on the child protection register—that the access to those children is okay, or are you experiencing difficulties in that area as well? 

I would say it's a varied picture. As I said, some are using it to not get in contact and shy away from those services. Others we're actually having far more contact with—they're getting together as a family, they're actually together as family and we're seeing the family, we're seeing all the children and young people, whereas before maybe we wouldn't have done if we'd gone to the home. So, we are having that. We are also doing—we've graduated our response with lots of local authorities around family support and edge of care support. So, we have RAG-rated high-risk families, particularly with our Newport partnership. We're actually working very, very closely, hand in hand, with social workers, and, where we have to, and where we feel it's most important, we are visiting homes, and we are doing face to face, because those high-risk families, those families that really need support and attention, we need to give that. We are judging that risk around our staff and the risk to the family and the child and young person, and we're judging that all the time within our services. So, yes—we are still providing some face-to-face services, based on risk. 

Okay. And just in terms of all the levels of support that you've been talking about, and the need for contact, all of that will equally be true for young people that we're seeing at further education colleges, or in traineeships and so on. So, are you satisfied that the support mechanisms are in place for that age group of children as well?

I would say, as Louise and Viv both mentioned earlier, I think the mental health and well-being of young people is being severely affected, and I wouldn't be able to comment on the mental health and well-being support that they're necessarily receiving either from statutory services, schools-based counselling or their FE colleges and institutions. But I do think isolation, particularly for young people, is a major issue, and their anxiety levels are pretty high. They feel isolated, they feel the money woes of their families, they feel the lack of access to their peers, and we've seen a lot more young people breaking the social distancing and going out, but we've also seen far fewer missing cases in the last month or two as well. 

14:35

So, we've seen a drop in child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse, whether that's reporting, but we've also seen quite a steep drop in our missing figures.

That's interesting. Okay. My final question, Chair, is really around—. And I think, Viv, you alluded to the Welsh Government cross-departmental group on vulnerable children earlier, so I was just wondering how you generally think the Welsh Government is working with agencies during this time.

If I come in, we think Welsh Government have acted quickly to work in a cross-departmental way, and we feel that we're updating them every week on what we're finding and we're having regular communications. So, we're happy with the way—. We're happy with our communication, the way we're working with them.

I just wanted to, because working—. Following on from what you were saying before about everyone making sure they were working to identify and support children and young people at risk during lockdown, one thing that evidence is saying across the world is that there's potential for a significant increase in referrals and demand for support after lockdown. So, what we're really keen to emphasise is that Welsh Government and local authorities really need to be prepared for a surge in demand after lockdown, and they need to be resourcing children's services but also social work capacity and the specialist services for this post-lockdown surge. This also includes a boost to the specialist domestic abuse services to support children and young people. Before lockdown, there was a dearth of services. We need to make sure those specialist services are available. 

And then, just going on about children and young people's mental health, obviously our services are listening to lots of children and young people, and counselling for mental health and suicidal thoughts and feelings has significantly increased, but we know that lots of children are going to be traumatised by their experiences in lockdown, so besides the usual mental health services such as school counselling and CAMHS, we recommend that there's a trauma-informed resilience programme delivered in an age-appropriate way universally to all children when they go back to school, to help them recover from their experiences.

Sarah, you didn't have anything you wanted to add there? I could see you nodding that you felt that things were working well together. Great. Okay, thank you. We're going on to move on now then to talk about looked-after children and children on the edge of care. And before I bring Hefin in, the committee's been really keen to hear the voices of children directly if we possibly can. So, some young people have submitted some questions to us, which I'm going to put on behalf of those young people, if that's okay. And the first is: 'If I'm in care, should I be able to go to the school hub?' Who'd like to take that? Viv?

Yes, I'll take that, or I'll start. Yes, I mean, children in care are obviously in receipt of care and support, so, yes, they should be able to go to the school hub. 

Okay. Okay, thank you. The next question is—and ideally I think we perhaps would have put this to Allison as well: 'How often should I be having contact with my social worker?' Any suggestions here? Sarah.

Yes. We recommend contact a minimum of once a week. We've got contact two or three times a week with some of our children and young people. What we've also done is actually assigned a specialist worker to particular young carers or children and young people affected by substance misuse and, obviously, our young people's advisers for care leavers. They can contact that key worker any time they need, when they need to have that conversation or they need that bit of support or they need that contact. So, we would be saying a lot of it is based on need and what you can provide in terms of service.

Can I come back in there as well? 

Because we've heard anecdotally as well that some children with a social worker, they are being contacted by the social worker but they can't always contact that social worker back. So, I think it's really important what Sarah is saying about children having access to their social worker when they need it, and when they want that support, not just the check-in from the social worker on a weekly basis.

14:40

Okay. Thank you. And the final question from me on behalf of a young person is: 'Why is it I can't visit my mum when my friends whose parents are separated can see their mum and dad? Is it because I'm in care?' Would you like to start with that one, Viv?

Well, the guidance says that face-to-face contact should not go ahead, but virtual contact should carry on. I think it would be down to the social worker to decide whether anything more than virtual—. And make sure that virtual contact happens as well.

I was just going to say, it depends on the child's situation and what their care order says, or pathway and support plan. I think, in some situations, it's not safe, necessarily, for the child to be contacting a parent, so I think we need to look at individual situations for that one.

Okay. Thank you. And I've got some questions now from Hefin David. 

Can the panel set out the impact the coronavirus emergency has had on the care system, and particularly edge-of-care services?

I'll do a quick one, there. What we've seen overall, I think, is a drop in general safeguarding referrals to local authorities. I think that's been across the board for all 22, with some particular spikes around young people, possibly, in the Newport/Swansea areas and others.

I think there's a difficulty around edge of care. We are still providing—and so are local authorities—the care and support we need and safeguarding to children and young people at risk. And I don’t think that's changed. I think it's just how we provide it in this way at this time. So, I'd still say those in priority need and those on the child protection register are still receiving care and support.

What we have seen is possibly increases in complexity of cases coming in. They've probably been held off, either by parents or others not being identified and not being referred through. So, what we are seeing in certain local authorities is an increase in the complexity and risk of those children and young people coming into our services and those of the local authorities.

Do you think that there's any recommendation we could make to Welsh Government with regard to those complexities and anything Government can do to help?

I think any comments around individual local authorities setting their criteria and their standards and being able to support children and young people at risk in the best way possible, I think is often up to local authorities and children's services and the best multi-agency approach they can bring.

I think Viv's right, though: I do think there is going to be a surge, and I think what we can't do is skew our services from early intervention and prevention into edge of care, and high-need edge of care, because then what we wouldn't be doing is providing the right support at the right time for all of those children and young people. So, I think we need to be really aware of potentially escalating all of our provision to too high an extent, and actually not supporting those that are possibly tipping into greater vulnerabilities.

Okay. Viv, I'm conscious you can't indicate, so did you want to come in on that question? 

Actually, I was going to echo some of the things Sarah said now. Basically, we're seeing some more complex cases coming through. In our helplines, we're seeing more demand, but, obviously, for referrals and face-to-face, there is a bit less demand. In the same way, some families will use this as an excuse for not having the contact with services that they need, and then that's down for—. The risk needs to be looked at there.

With the guidance being given to social workers to suspend, in most cases, face-to-face contact, I think we need to be looking at how we can best—. We're now in a virtual world, and even as the lockdown eases, we'll be in a blended virtual and face-to-face world, and I think we need to be looking at how we understand and assess children's needs for care and support in this virtual world, and making sure that we get best practice and really sharpen up our practice, so that we can mitigate risk and harm to vulnerable children.

14:45

Just a quick one to add to that. I think it's very difficult for social workers and family support workers to practice in this way. They're not used to it. They're used to going into homes, they're used to seeing children in a real-time environment rather than necessarily virtually like this, and I think there are some skills that we probably need to acquire and are rapidly acquiring as a sector—particularly social care and health as well—around how you interact with a vulnerable young person or family through a virtual world, through Zoom or through these mechanisms like Google Hangouts and Google Meet, because it is a different skill. How do you open a session? How do you close a session? How do you engage a young person through this medium? And how do they feel truly supported by it? And I think there is that understanding that we are going to have to figure out how we do this, but face-to-face contact should never be replaced if we can help it, and that's what many, many of our children, young people and families say.

Okay, thank you. We're going to have to pick up the pace a bit with brief questions and brief answers. Hefin.

One last question, then. I think we've looked at contact arrangements. The Deputy Minister told us on 5 May that the residential children's homes are not, and this is a quote:

'not really reporting any particularly difficult issues'.

Does that align with the understanding of the panel?

We don't run any residential children's homes. We haven't got any information to the contrary.

Brilliant. Thank you very much. So, we've got some questions now from Suzy Davies.

There we are. Thank you. I just want to take you, all three of you, back, if you don't mind, to the previous question, and not the last one Hefin asked, which was about the use of virtual contact with children in order to assess them. Because, of course, we know that there has been no change to the statutory requirements on local authorities as regards children, even though they've been changed slightly for adults. The Deputy Minister told us last week that, from a Welsh context, it's crucial that standards that are in place remain. We were just saying that technological responses to children are not the same as face-to-face meetings. That, surely, is going to impact on standards, isn't it, for all the reasons you gave earlier, Sarah, in particular? I don't mind who answers.

I think it's very, very difficult to require and provide a full assessment when you're providing it remotely, when you're doing it remotely. I think it is a really difficult skill and, to a certain extent, things can be hidden. They can be hidden. When you're not going into a home environment, when you're not identifying the issues that a young person might be facing on a daily basis, when you're not picking up subtleties, cues, interactions with the child, the actual full home environment, whether there's food in the fridge, whether the child is clothed and washed properly, you're not picking up on those things as well as you could do if you were doing it face to face. And I think although standards and statutory requirements need to remain the same, we need to figure out how we support social work practitioners to do this in the best way possible.

That's a serious question, isn't it? Because we have evidence, actually, from a witness coming to us shortly, saying that local authorities are doing everything that they can to ensure that the statutory requirements are being maintained, but that the support that they're getting is itself—you know, it varies across the country. I think it's quite a brave statement for any local authority to be able to say that, basically, very little has changed in terms of standards. Do you have a response to the point that was made—? Sorry, I'm just trying to find it in my notes here. Forgive me. Just a second, because it's in some notes here. Typical. Well, anyway, let me just ask about variability, or in the round there—. So, this is local authorities themselves and also the supporting services, amongst whom you might include yourselves—I don't know. Are you finding it easier to support in some parts of the country than others? 

14:50

Sarah, then I'm going to bring Viv in, because Viv is still here on audio.

Yes, we're getting an incredibly varied picture from local authority to local authority, and what services we provide there. We've seen a big drop in referrals and assessments for young carers. In certain local authority areas we are seeing no referrals for young carers, so there's a serious concern for me that schools are often the identifying places for their support needs and their requirements for an assessment. So, that's become very, very difficult for us. I'd also say that they are doing the best they can in terms of local authorities identifying those most at risk. I think it's those on the edge of care and the edge of risk that we are struggling to identify and support. We've also had local authorities that have not necessarily been referring through to our family support services. They've been possibly taking an opportunity to look at the existing case loads, and they've been doing that with disability services as well—looking at individual case loads, situations for individuals and really identifying what's the best service for them in partnership with organisations like Barnardo's. 

Sorry. You're not actually—sorry, Lynne, I've got to ask this—you're not actually saying that local authorities aren't referring just because they're just trying to get on top of their existing care case load, are you? 

No, no. They are referring where they can, but they are looking at the most high risk and important cases first, I would say. 

Just to say, we also have variable—it's a variable picture for us, but one thing I do want to say is about—. Doing support and assessments virtually make it much more difficult for the voice of the child or young person to be really heard, particularly when perhaps the perpetrator of abuse is right next to them while they're having contact with their social worker. So, I really think there needs to be a real big emphasis on the voices of children and young people, but how we do that is complex and tricky, but we need to keep that at the heart. 

Can I just ask you, then, because of this variability, and particularly variability in referrals on to people like yourselves, whether you've had any sense that some social workers—children's social workers—have been moved into other areas of operation? 

I wouldn't say social workers have at all. We're getting a lot more very good contact among social work teams and our services, as well as other support services in the sector, such as housing, health. I actually think it's come together rather well in certain places with multi-agency groups that decide who's best to contact the family. So, I do think that they are doing the best they can around contact. What we have seen is staff repurposed. So, we've had staff within nursery settings become family support childcare contacts, so they're then contacting families remotely and offering support. We've had remote sessions, parenting sessions; we've created Google Classroom, virtual films and videos for families. So, we're creating a lot of resources that families can use in their own time, and access in their time, to support themselves and their children as well. So, I do think it's brought out a very different sense of contact and self-help in some ways as well. 

Okay, thank you. We're going to have to move on, I'm afraid, to talk about—not afraid to talk about adoption and fostering, but the time does mean that we've got to move on. Siân's got some questions in this area. Siân. 

Pa faterion penodol mae gofalwyr maeth a'r plant sy'n cael eu maethu yn eu hwynebu yn yr argyfwng yma? Oes gan y gofalwyr maeth ddigon o gymorth, yn cynnwys cymorth ariannol, ac ydy hyn yn gydradd ar draws Cymru, ac ydy o'n gyson ar draws Cymru?

What specific issues are foster carers and the children they care for facing during this crisis? Do foster carers have sufficient support, including financial support, and is this equitable across Wales, and is it consistent across Wales?

14:55

Just as Barnardo's are an adoption and fostering service in Wales, we've actually been really surprised at how stable placements have remained. We've only actually had two placement disruptions in the time, and that is equivalent to the same period last year. So, we haven't actually seen COVID-19 particularly impacting on the stability of our placements, but what we have seen is issues facing, obviously, carers. So, we've provided full services virtually since the middle of March, with staff working from home. We've provided all assessments, all approvals, and support to carers and adopters has taken place within regulations and facilitated by technology. 

We've had monthly supervisions with carers, and they're still taking place by Skype, and we've had panels and support, and we've done panels for applicants via things like WebEx. Many carers and adopters, though, have chosen not to send children to schools, and that's for the same reasons we've probably talked about for other guardians. 

But carers and adopters have fed back that they've shared more time together, and this has facilitated closer relationships between them and better secure attachments at times. So, the examples we've got are online schools where they've had mini plays, baking sessions, cooking, and even learning to ride bicycles. So, overall, we've seen a really good reaction, I would say. 

Where we've struggled a bit further is older teenagers, and they're really struggling with, as we've talked about earlier, isolation, not seeing their friends and restrictions in those circumstances. But we've continued to provide the same level of support. We've maintained all those weekly contacts, and we're getting on as usual, even remotely, which has been a real eye-opener for us, I think, in Barnardo's.

Diolch yn fawr am hwnna. Mae hwnna'n ddarlun calonogol iawn i'w glywed, onid ydy? Ond o edrych ymlaen, ydych chi'n credu bod y cyfnod yma yn mynd i fod yn ei gwneud hi'n anoddach i recriwtio gofalwyr maeth a phobl i fabwysiadu wrth inni symud ymlaen? Ydych chi'n credu ar hyn o bryd fod y prosesau mabwysiadu a mynd yn rhiant maeth yn symud yn ddigon cyflym, neu ydy'r pandemig wedi effeithio ar hynny?

Thank you very much for that. That's very encouraging to hear. But in looking forward, do you believe that this period will make it more difficult to recruit foster carers and adopters as we move forward? Do you think at the moment that the adoption processes and the process of becoming a foster carer are moving quickly enough, or has the pandemic had an impact on that?

Yes, we have seen a drop in the number of enquiries of people wanting to become foster carers and adopters. We're hoping that that won't last. But we think just during this time, obviously, it's not at the front of people's minds, of taking it on as something they want to give to children and young people and that life. We are obviously seeing increased costs to foster carers, whether that's around food, utility bills, even things like doing their updates and printing out things and actually having those packages for the children and young people to support them with activities. So, we are seeing an increase in the costs for foster carers. I'm hoping that we'll continue with our campaigns, as others do and other foster agencies do and adopting agencies, and we'll continue to work hand in hand with local authorities to try and improve the number of adoption and foster carers, alongside people like the national association of foster carers and adopters [correction: National Adoption Service].

Thank you. We've got a final question before me from Janet Finch-Saunders. Janet.

Thank you, Chair. What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on our young carers? What difficulties are they facing, and are they able to access adequate support?

I'm conscious we've touched on some of these issues, but maybe you could focus on anything that the committee could be highlighting in particular in relation to young carers. Louise.

At Childline, we tend not to hear very much from young people who are having a positive experience. I know Sarah outlined earlier on some of the more positive experiences for children who are young carers as well as other things, but one thing that we've noticed from one or two young carers is—again, linking back to what we were saying about the sense of isolation where life at home is hard—it's not something they regret. They're not complaining about the fact that life is hard, and they're happy to provide that care, but it's got harder because they don't have the people around them to support them.

I know, for example, we had one young person this week who was talking around the loss of their support group, where, yes, the support was available online, but for them, the only time they could be a child, the only time they had relief from their caring responsibilities was when they left the home and went to their young carers group, and that is no longer available. So, for that young person, for example, it had just a significant impact, which meant that their caring responsibilities were so much harder to deal with. So, just one thing I'd like us to think about is the fact that young carers, who can't get out of the house, that maybe rely on that to keep them going—the impact on them when we come out of this is going to be significant.

15:00

Just very quickly, I completely agree with Louise—respite is so, so important to our young carers and feeling they're not alone in their caring responsibilities. I'd add two things that I think we could do: the young carers card, the ID card—having access to services and being able to say that you're a young carer without repeating your story over and over again. So, for example, access to medication, going to the supermarket to collect things—that becomes so much easier and can become so much easier during this period of lockdown if they're identified as a young carer.

And the second bit is we've seen schools as the primary identifier of young carers; I don't think we can leave it at that. I think we need to be identifying young carers and supporting young carers outside of school and in much better ways. And you know, I've said it before, we've seen funding to young carers cut by 50 per cent in some areas, and we're providing short-term provision of between six and 12 weeks of interventions and support, and I don't believe that's good enough. These are some of our most vulnerable young people in society, and their outcomes remain poor throughout their lives.

Okay, thank you. Just before we finish, then, if I can just ask you—. You've been very clear from your evidence, really, about the impact, the enormous impact, this pandemic is having on children, particularly our most vulnerable. Do you think we've got the balance right in the way that we are approaching it in Wales? Are you satisfied that there's sufficient consideration of the impact of this on children? What factors do you think we need to be considering going forward in terms of mitigating the impact on children, really? Viv. Go on, Sarah.

Two things: I think that trauma-responsive approach and organising that, and creating it across our schools and across our children and young people's environments, I think, is vitally important as we come out of this. So, there's collective anxiety, collective trauma and community trauma that we need to acknowledge, identify and address.

I think the other aspect of it is how we continue to provide the services as best we can, through an adaptive picture, as we go forward. And I believe Welsh Government has been very helpful in its clarity of message, but I do think, as we transition out of lockdown, we need to be really, really clear about how children and young people are going to interact with their services.

Okay, thank you. Viv, have you got any final words on that? Are we putting children sufficiently at the centre of our response to this?

Well, we have had concerns about the visibility of vulnerable children, but we are pleased with the way Welsh Government have worked together and communicated out to local authorities and statutory agencies about trying to make sure that vulnerable children are identified and supported. So, we're pleased about that, but I just think we mustn't let our efforts—. We've got to keep vulnerable children as a key priority for all of our work and keep monitoring take-up of school places, child protection referrals, the support that's being given, so that we can keep holding organisations to account.

15:05

Very, very quickly. I would also like to say that when we come out of this to remember the children that wouldn't normally be considered as vulnerable, because the impact might now make them vulnerable.

That's all I wanted to add.

Thank you, that's very helpful. Can I thank all of you for joining us this afternoon and for your evidence? It's been really powerful and useful. As usual, we'll send you a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you again for your attendance this afternoon.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o’r Cyfarfod Heddiw yn ystod Eitem 4
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from Item 4 of Today's Meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 4 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 4 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Moving on, then, to item 3, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content—it's not the remainder of the meeting, is it, it's for a break, but are Members content? Yes, okay. We will now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:05.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:05.

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 15:33.

The committee reconvened in public at 15:33.

15:30
5. COVID-19: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth ynghylch Effaith COVID-19 ar Blant Agored i Niwed gyda Phenaethiaid Gwasanaethau Plant a Bwrdd Diogelu Annibynnol Cenedlaethol Cymru
5. COVID-19: Evidence Session on the Impact of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Children with Heads of Children's Services and the National Independent Safeguarding Board Wales

Welcome back, everyone, to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. Our next item is a further evidence session on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable children, with the heads of children's services and the National Independent Safeguarding Board Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses this afternoon—Marian Parry Hughes, who is head of All Wales Heads of Children's Services; Sally Jenkins, head of children and family services, Newport City Council; Jan Coles, head of children's services at Powys County Council; and Jane Randall, who is chair of the National Independent Safeguarding Board Wales. Thank you so much, all of you, for joining us this afternoon. We've got lots of questions, so if it's okay, we'll go straight into questions from Siân Gwenllian.

Prynhawn da. Pam fod cyn lleied o blant sy'n agored i niwed yn mynychu'r ysgolion a'r hybiau dysgu ar hyn o bryd?

Good afternoon. Why are so few vulnerable children attending schools and learning hubs at the moment?

Gwnaf i gychwyn. Prynhawn da. Diolch yn fawr i chi am y gwahoddiad i gael cyfle i roi tystiolaeth i'r pwyllgor heddiw yma.

O ran y plant bregus sy'n mynychu'r ysgolion, dwi yn credu ei bod hi'n bwysig i roi cyd-destun i'r materion penodol hynny. Rydym ni'n edrych yn benodol ar y plant mwyaf bregus sydd yn agored i'n gwasanaethau ni: y plant hynny sydd ar y gofrestr diogelu plant, plant sydd mewn gofal, y rhai sydd wedi eu lleoli adref gyda'u rhieni o dan orchmynion gofal, ac yna plant anabl hefyd. Mi wnaf i siarad yn fyr iawn am bob un o'r rhain. 

Rydym ni, fel gwasanaethau statudol, wedi bod yn annog pob un teulu sydd â phlant ar y gofrestr diogelu plant ac sydd o oed ysgol i fod yn mynychu'r ysgolion, felly. Mae nifer ohonyn nhw wedi dewis peidio â gyrru—. Mae'n ddrwg iawn gen i, mae gen i feedback mawr yn dod i mewn trwy'r clustffonau. Dwi'n meddwl mai clywed y cyfieithiad ydw i am ryw reswm.

Felly, o ran y plant sydd ar y gofrestr diogelu, mae nifer fawr o deuluoedd wedi dewis peidio â gyrru plant i'r ysgolion oherwydd eu bod nhw ofn i'r plant ddal haint. Rydym ni wedi gorfod parchu'r penderfyniadau hynny gan y mwyafrif o'r teuluoedd oherwydd eu bod nhw yn wirioneddol ofn hynny, mewn ffordd. Ond oherwydd hynny, rydym ni fel gwasanaethau cymdeithasol wedi bod yn cynyddu'r cyswllt rydym ni wedi ei wneud efo'r teuluoedd hynny—wedi cynyddu'r nifer o ymweliadau â'r teuluoedd ac yn defnyddio ein hadnoddau ni drwy wneud cysylltiad dros y we a dros y ffôn. Mae gennym ni hefyd gysylltiadau da efo'r ysgolion—dwi'n siarad o ran fy awdurdod fy hyn—ac maen nhw hefyd yn cysylltu efo nifer o'r teuluoedd hynny yn rheolaidd. 

O ran y plant sydd mewn gofal ac wedi eu lleoli gyda rhieni maeth, mae rhieni maeth wedi dewis cadw'r plant hyn i ffwrdd o'r ysgol ar hyn o bryd. Ac i ddweud y gwir, does gennym ni ddim pryderon mawr am hynny yn y cyd-destun presennol, ond rydym ni'n gweld bod nifer o'r plant hynny wedi cael budd o fod yn aros efo'u gofalwyr maeth. Maen nhw wedi bod yn datblygu perthnasau agosach ac wedi bod yn cael cyfleoedd ardderchog gyda'u gofalwyr maeth yn ystod y cyfnod.

O ran fy awdurdod fy hun, yr unig amser rydym ni wedi bod yn mynnu, neu'n annog yn gryfach, mynychu ysgolion ydy pan mae yna beryg i rai lleoliadau fod yn torri i lawr a bod yr ysgol yn gyswllt pwysig iawn i roi ysbaid i'r lleoliad hwnnw. Ac yn sicr, o ran rhai o'r teuluoedd neu'r achosion mwyaf bregus o dan leoliadau gyda rhieni, rydym ni hefyd wedi bod yn cysylltu efo'r ysgolion ac yn sicrhau bod y plant hynny'n mynychu'r ysgolion. Mae'n rhaid imi ddweud, yn bersonol, rydym ni wedi cael cyfathrebiad a chyswllt ardderchog efo'r ysgolion. Dwi ddim yn gwybod os ydy fy nghydweithiwr i, neu Jan, neu Sally eisiau ychwanegu rhywbeth yn ychwanegol i hynny. 

I will start. Good afternoon. Thank you very much for the opportunity to give evidence to the committee this afternoon.

In terms of the vulnerable children attending schools, I do think it's important that we give context to these particular issues. We are looking particularly at the most vulnerable children in our services: those on the child safeguarding register, those who are in care, those who are placed home with their parents under care orders, and disabled children too. I will speak very briefly about each of these.

As statutory services, we have been encouraging all families who have children on the register and who are of school age to be attending schools. Many have chosen not to send—. I'm very sorry, I do have some feedback issues here. I seem to be hearing the interpretation for some reason.

Therefore, in terms of those on the safeguarding register, many have chosen not to send their children to school because they fear their children becoming infected. We've had to respect those decisions taken by the majority of families because they truly are fearful. But because of that we, as social services, have been increasing the contact that we are having with those families. We've increased the number of visits, and we are using our resources to have contact online and on the telephone. We also have good relations with schools. In terms of my own authority, I know that the relationship is very good, and they are contacting families regularly too.

In terms of the children in care and located with foster carers, foster carers have chosen to keep many of these children away from schools at the moment, and to be honest, we don't have huge concerns about that in the current climate. We are seeing that many of those children have benefited in terms of contact with their foster carers. They have been developing closer relationships and have been having excellent opportunities with foster carers during this period.

The only time that my authority has been strongly encouraging school attendance is when there is a risk that certain placements will break down and the school is very important in terms of providing respite. And certainly, in terms of the most vulnerable placements with children, we have also been contacting schools and ensuring that those children are attending. I have to say, speaking personally, that we have had excellent communication and contact with schools. I don't know if any of my colleagues, Jan or Sally, want to add anything to that. 

15:35

Can I just also, before you come in, welcome Craig McLeod who has now joined us? Thank you very much. It's good to see you. 

Who'd like to add to what Marian said? Sally.

I just would like to emphasise the point that, for many of our children and families, actually what's happening is that this has been a really positive time, and that having the time to form really good-quality attachments with foster carers and, indeed, their own family members is not something to be devalued. I think it's been really important for a number of our families. 

I do think there's also an issue—it's not as if all schools are open for all children. It's very much as if, for some children, they would need to travel, they wouldn't necessarily be with their classmates, they wouldn't necessarily be with their own class teacher. So, I think there's a balancing act for children and for their families in terms of weighing up the importance that school inevitably brings and does bring with some of those downsides for some of our children. 

We've said earlier, and we said last week, that all of us have seen fantastic examples of creativity from our children during this time. So, children that have been able to carry out amazing art work; I saw a video this week of one of our children who has managed to take a clarinet exam. So, there have been extraordinary steps taken by those foster carers, and I think all of us as local authorities have also offered foster carers additional support to do that. And, similarly, for children in residential care, it's not as if we're not continuing to support. 

And I suppose, picking up on Marian's point, as local authorities we are still visiting. It's not as if we've disappeared and stopped doing our job; we are all still providing extensive services in the communities, either directly through social services or through preventative services. So, again, just reiterating Marian's point, where children are not attending and we do have concerns, we are continuing to visit. And again, echoing, we've had really good responses from many of our schools and many of our education colleagues to taking this work forward. 

15:40

Ydych chi'n credu—? Mae'r canllawiau cyfredol yn diffinio plant sy'n agored i newid mewn ffordd arbennig, onid ydynt? Ydy'r rhain yn ddigon eang? Ydych chi yn hapus bod plant bregus neu sydd ar yr ymylon o'r diffiniad—ydym ni'n cysylltu yn ddigonol efo nhw? Ydych chi fel gwasanaethau yn cadw cysylltiad ac yn creu cysylltiad digonol efo'r plant hynny? 

Do you believe—? The current guidance defines children who are vulnerable to change in a particular way. Is this guidance broad enough in terms of that definition? Are you content that vulnerable children or children who are on the edges of that definition—are we having sufficient contact with them? Can you as services create sufficient contact with those children? 

[Anghlywadwy.]

[Inaudible.]

Marian, we can't hear you. Am I the only one who can't hear Marian? 

Marian, sorry, if we can just maybe try that again if that's okay. Could you go back to—? There we are; perfect. We hear you nicely now. Thank you. 

O ran y diffiniad o blant bregus fel sydd wedi'i gytuno yn y canllaw gan Llywodraeth Cymru, dwi yn credu ei fod o'n cynnwys y plant hynny sydd angen cael eu cynnwys. Mae o'n gynhwysol o ran y plant sydd ar y gofrestr, plant mewn gofal. 

Ydych chi—

In terms of the definition of vulnerable children as has been agreed in the Welsh Government guidance, I do think it includes those children that need to be included. It's inclusive in terms of children on the child protection register, those in care. 

Can you—

Felly, dwi yn credu bod y diffiniad yn ddigonol ar hyn o bryd. Mae o hefyd yn cynnwys y plant hynny sydd ar ddatganiad addysg. Felly, o ran cysylltu efo'r plant hynny, dwi'n credu bod y cyswllt ar hyn o bryd yn gweithio yn eithaf effeithiol, a dweud y gwir. Mae gan niferoedd uchel o'r plant yna weithwyr cymdeithasol, ac mae'n cyfrifoldebau statudol ni yn parhau trwy'r cyfnod yma, ac mi ydym ni yn cyfarfod y cyfrifoldebau statudol hynny; does gennym ni ddim pryderon nac ydym ni'n cwblhau ein cyfrifoldebau statudol. 

So, I do believe that the definition is sufficient at the moment. It also includes those children who are statemented in terms of education. And, in terms of contact with those children, I do believe that the contact at the moment is working quite effectively. A high number of these children do have a social worker, and our statutory responsibilities remain during this period, and we are meeting those statutory responsibilities; we don't have concerns that we are not delivering on those statutory responsibilities. 

Diolch—thank you. We've had really good contact with our colleagues in schools and in school services and education, and I think that what we've been able to do is work together to make sure that the right children are able to access that provision. I echo what Sally said that, for some children, it's just too much—it's just too much to go. They haven't got their usual teachers, they're not in their usual place, they haven't got their usual peer group around them, and I think we have to accept that and listen to children in those circumstances, and, like colleagues in other authorities, we've really stepped up the services that we're offering. We're doing far more face-to-face work than we normally would because we want to make sure that we know that those children are okay, and be out there supporting families and children. 

So, yes, I think the definition is broad enough from my perspective, and there's also good communication and some flexibility to make sure the right children can get the place that they need. 

Okay, thank you. Siân. Oh, Suzy, you've got a supplementary. Go on, then. 

Just very quickly, for Jan, when you say 'more face-to-face', does that include using video technology or do you mean person to person, in person? 

I mean person to person, yes, out and about undertaking our statutory duties and going above and beyond, and making sure that we are spending time with children and young people and their families. 

Cwestiwn i chi gyd, mewn ffordd: beth ydy'r pwysau mwyaf sydd ar eich gwasanaeth chi fel gwasanaeth plant ar hyn o bryd?

Pwy sy'n mynd i ddechrau? 

It's a question for all of you, in a way: what are the greatest pressures facing your services as children's services at the moment?

Who'd like to start? 

Dwi'n credu i gychwyn, Siân, ar gychwyn y cyfnod pellhau cymdeithasol a cyfyngiadau symud, yn sicr, mi oedd yna bwysau anferthol arnom ni i fod yn newid ac yn addasu ein ffordd o weithio yn sydyn iawn. Doedd yna ddim amser i ni fod yn oedi. Felly, mi oedd hwnnw yn fater roedd yn rhaid i ni symud arno fo'n sydyn iawn. Mi oedd hynny yn dipyn o bwysau. Mae o wedi golygu bod ein gweithwyr ni wedi gorfod addasu'n sydyn iawn i fod yn gweithio o adref. Dwi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n bwysau ar ein gwasanaethau ni—rydym ni'n wasanaeth sydd yn seiliedig ar greu perthnasau efo pobl, gan gynnwys ein cydweithwyr a'n timau ein hunain. Dwi'n credu bod hynny wedi bod yn bwysau.

Mi oedd gennym ni hefyd bryderon—a dwi'n gwybod efallai fod yna gwestiwn yn nes ymlaen ynglŷn â niferoedd cyfeiriadau—ynglŷn â'r gostyngiad eithaf sylweddol yn yr wythnosau cyntaf fu ar y nifer cyfeiriadau i'n gwasanaethau ni, sydd, mae'n debyg, yn mynd i gael ei gyfeirio ato yn nes ymlaen yn ystod y cyfarfod. Mae gennym ni—nid pryderon; mae yna bwysau arnom ni pan fo angen i ni fod yn gwneud ceisiadau i'r llysoedd, symud plant, dod o hyd i leoliadau. Nid yn unig ydy o rŵan ynglŷn ag addasrwydd lleoliadau, ond mi ydym ni hefyd yn gorfod rhoi blaenoriaeth i warchod iechyd pobl fel y prif flaenoriaeth, ac mae hynny yn bwysau ychwanegol arnom ni fel gwasanaethau.

I think at the beginning of the social distancing restrictions and the movement restrictions, there was huge pressure on us to adapt and change our ways of working very quickly. There was no time for delay. So, that was something we had to work on very quickly. That provided us with certain stresses and pressures. Our staff have had to adapt to working from home, and I think that places pressure on our services. We are a service based on creating relationships with people, including our colleagues.

We also had concerns—and I think there may be a question later on on the number of referrals—about quite a substantial decline, particularly in the first weeks, in the number of referrals to our services, which I believe we will return to later in the meeting. We do have—not concerns, but there is pressure on us when we need to apply to courts, move children, and find placements for children. It's not just now about the appropriateness of those placements, but we also have to give priority to safeguarding people's health, and that has to be our main priority. And that, of course, is an additional pressure on us as a service.

15:45

I know, certainly in my local authority area, one of the pressure points that we have is how we can appropriately support some families who have disabled children. So, often, those children have had shielding letters, and, with the lockdown arrangements, there are a handful of families that are finding it really challenging in terms of supporting that family unit. And we've been working very closely with specialist schools around how we support those families and thinking about how we do things in a different way. But they are the ones at the moment that I think are feeling some of the real pinchpoints in terms of having respite and being able to have an opportunity to be able to be supported. So, we're really having to think that through. And, certainly, as we go forward, we're already getting families saying, 'I've got a disabled child who's shielded, but I've got other children—do they have to go back to school, because I'm concerned if they're going back and forth to school?' So we don't have those answers, but certainly we're starting to have to do a lot of work and thinking about how do we effectively support that group of children. I think that's a pinchpoint for us locally at this point in time.

I'm just going to flip the question very slightly, because actually one of the most fantastic things we've experienced has been our staff. I think many of us at the beginning—obviously, we had staff who were unwell, and we have continued to have so, and we've also had staff who are vulnerable and who've had to shield. I think what all of us have found is that social services staff, across the piece—so social workers, social work assistants, workers in youth justice, prevention workers—have been extraordinary. And it's not to over-egg the pudding to say that, if ever there were a group of people you were proud to be part of, this is it, because they have been phenomenal. And I think, consequently, some of the challenges that we could have faced—and I think perhaps sometimes we still do face, in terms of the fears of our own staff—they are there, and that's inevitable. But staff have been amazing in being able to overcome some of those challenges. And also to really think creatively about how we do things. We haven't all got access to the same technology—that's not a level playing field, either for us or families. So, I think that is a challenge, but again I think it's an area that staff have worked really, really hard to overcome.

Going forward from where we are now, I think one of the really big fears is, 'What next?' And I think one of our concerns, in a way, is that we have coped, really, very well so far; right at the beginning it felt like every day was changing. But it feels like we're building up a degree of pressure for the future, and that's partly in terms of backlog, that's in terms of, already, we're beginning to see some challenges around adoption and fostering for the future, and then financial pressures on the local authority and the pressures that may confirm for the future, but also in terms of family justice. The family justice system as well has had to learn how to move virtually, and that has been challenging across England and Wales, in terms of the right sorts of platforms. Again, we've been able to do much of that work virtually, but already there are beginning to be backlogs in that system. And that is going to put pressure on us substantially—to socially distance in a court setting is a considerable challenge. We've already had two cases go to the Court of Appeal where, basically, final hearings have to be done face to face. So, I think that is going to be an area of concern for us. 

15:50

Okay, thank you. Before I bring you in, Jan, I was wondering, Jane, have you got anything to add from the safeguarding board's point of view? 

Not particularly, only to say that what you've heard echoes the messages that we're getting on a national basis from across the nations in our conversations with the local authorities, and particularly I think Sally's point about what the future holds—the regional boards are beginning to talk with some concerns about a potential surge of activity that's coming our way and what next steps actually look like. 

Thank you. We thought it would be placements, but I'd like to pay tribute to our foster carers and our staff in our residential settings who've been absolutely phenomenal during this time. We couldn't have asked any more of them, and we haven't had the placement breakdowns that we imagined might happen, and real credit needs to be given to our foster carers for that.

I think, first, locally, where we've got some real issues is around community-based assessments for babies, so, where we might usually use parent and baby assessment centres to give families opportunities to show that they are able to care for their children and for those assessments to take place, we find that because of the current situation we don't have access to those placements, so that's a real, difficult issue.

And then the other is short breaks for families. I'd just echo what Craig said about disabled children and some of the pressures that families are feeling at home. It's been really difficult to provide short breaks for some children, dependent on the arrangement that they have in place, because of the need to ensure infection control going in and out of establishments and the concerns about maybe passing on the infection to children who may be more susceptible to the disease. So, I think there are some real issues for those two factors that we've had to really scratch our heads and do some creative thinking about. 

Ocê. Yn olaf, gen i, felly, data—dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi wedi dod i gytundeb efo Llywodraeth Cymru ynglŷn â'r math o ddata sydd angen i'r gwasanaethau fod yn ei gasglu ar hyn o bryd. Beth ydy'r data yna? A beth mae o'n ddangos inni?

Marian, mae dy feicroffôn di i ffwrdd eto. 

Okay. And, finally, from me, on the issue of data—I know that you've come to an agreement with the Welsh Government on the kind of data that your services should be capturing at the moment. So, what is that data? And what's it showing us?

Marian, your microphone is off again. 

Gwnaf i gychwyn ar hwnna, Siân. Mae'r data—[Anghlywadwy.] Rydym ni wedi dechrau casglu'r data ers 5 Mai. Mae o'n crynhoi'r sefyllfaoedd yn yr awdurdodau lleol. Mae hi'n wybodaeth rydym ni yn ei chasglu yn barod o ran ein gallu ein hunain fel gwasanaethau i gadw trac ar beth sy'n digwydd o fewn ein gwasanaethau ein hunain. Felly, mae o'n gofyn am ein gallu ni i weithredu o fewn y trefniadau presennol, niferoedd y cyfeiriadau sydd yn dod i'n sylw ni, niferoedd y cyfeiriadau diogelu, niferoedd y plant mewn gofal, niferoedd y plant sydd ar y gofrestr diogelu plant, nifer y lleoliadau sydd yn cael eu heffeithio oherwydd COVID-19, a hefyd mae yna gwestiynau yma ynglŷn â'r cohort ôl-ofal yn benodol a sawl un o'r bobl ifanc rheini sydd yn cael profiad anodd yn ariannol neu brofiadau sydd yn arwain at ddigartrefedd. Felly, yn gryno iawn, dyna'r wybodaeth rydym ni yn ei hadrodd i Lywodraeth Cymru ers—. Hon ydy'r ail wythnos, dwi'n meddwl, rydym ni wedi bod yn adrodd, ac felly, hyd yma, dydym ni ddim wedi cael y darlun cenedlaethol eto, ond mi ydym ni'n adrodd bob dydd Llun fel y 22 awdurdod ar gyfer y cwestiynau penodol yna. 

If I could start on that, Siân. The data—[Inaudible.] We have been collecting data since 5 May. It does summarise the situation within the local authorities. It is information that we were already collecting in terms of monitoring our services. So, it looks at our ability to operate within the current arrangements, the number of referrals, the number of safeguarding referrals, the number of looked-after children, the number of children on the child protection register, the number of placements affected because of COVID-19, and then there are also questions about the cohort after care, and how many of those young people have difficult experiences financially or experiences that lead to homelessness. So, that, briefly, is the data that we are reporting to the Welsh Government. I think we're into the second reporting week, and, to date, we don't have a national picture at the moment, but we are reporting every Monday to Government on those specific questions as 22 authorities. 

A, Lynne, jest un cwestiwn: fydd y wybodaeth yna yn cael ei chyhoeddi?  

And, Lynne, just one question: will that data be published?  

Dydw i ddim yn siŵr a ydy honna'n cael ei chyhoeddi. 

I'm not sure if it's to be published. 

Okay, thank you. We'll move on now then to some questions on child protection and safeguarding from Dawn Bowden. All these are such important issues, but if I could just make a plea for brief answers and concise answers as far as is possible. Dawn.  

Thanks, Chair. Marian, you mentioned earlier on about the number of referrals—safeguarding referrals—and the evidence that we'd had is that we've seen a significant drop in those. Are you getting evidence, either anecdotal or otherwise, that those are coming back now and you're starting to see more referrals? And really, on the back that, what do you think we need to do to ensure that the safeguarding system remains effective while children are not in school?

15:55

Fel gwnes i sôn yn fyr iawn yn gynharach, mi oedd o'n bryder eithaf sylweddol i ni fel awdurdodau lleol ar gychwyn y cyfnod cyfyngiadau symud, o ran y gostyngiad sylweddol oedd yn y cyfeiriadau yn eu cyfanrwydd a oedd yn dod i mewn i'n hawdurdodau ni ac i'n gwasanaethau penodol ni.

Dwi'n meddwl, yn araf deg, mi ddaru nifer o awdurdodau roi negeseuon allan ar lwyfannau cymdeithasol yn dweud bod gwasanaethau plant yn dal yn agored, yn dal yn gweithredu busnes yn arferol, ac i barhau i gyfeirio oherwydd dylai unrhyw gyfeiriwr ddisgwyl yr un un ymateb â'r cyfnod cyn COVID. Felly, mae yna nifer o awdurdodau sydd wedi gwneud hynny.

Mae yna ymgyrchoedd hefyd wedi bod gan Lywodraeth Cymru yn datgan hynny. Ac yn araf deg, dros gyfnod Ebrill a dechrau Mai, mi rydym ni wedi gweld cynnydd yn nifer y cyfeiriadau, sy'n rhoi llawer mwy o hyder i ni fod yr asiantaethau sy'n cydweithio efo ni yn parhau i fod yn cyfeirio.

Mae yna'n dal i fod gostyngiad i beth oedd hi flwyddyn yn ôl, i'r sefyllfa cyn COVID, ond, yn sicr, mae yna gynnydd yn cael ei arddangos. Mi rydym ni'n cadw llygad barcud fel awdurdodau ar niferoedd y cyfeiriadau yma, a hefyd—yn sicr o ran fy ngwasanaeth fy hun yng Ngwynedd—yn cadw cofnod manwl iawn ynglŷn ag o le mae'r cyfeiriadau yma hefyd yn dod, fel ein bod ni'n medru adnabod lle mae ein pryderon ni o ran derbyn cyfeiriadau a sicrhau ein bod ni'n medru cyfathrebu efo'r asiantaethau hynny yn benodol.

As I mentioned very briefly earlier, it was quite a significant concern for many local authorities at the beginning of this period of movement restrictions, in terms of the significant reduction in referrals that were coming in to our authorities and our specific services.

I think, slowly, a number of authorities put messages out there saying that children's services were still operational and were still open for business as usual, and that referrals should continue, because any referral should expect the same response as was the case prior to COVID. So, many authorities have done that.

There have also been campaigns by the Welsh Government to that end. And slowly, over the period from April into the beginning of May, we have seen an increase in the number of referrals, which gives us far greater confidence that the agencies working with us do continue to make these referrals.

There is still a reduction as compared to the figure a year ago, in that period pre COVID, certainly, but we have recently seen an increase in the number of referrals. We're keeping a close eye as authorities on the number of these referrals and, speaking from my own service in Gwynedd, we are keeping very detailed records as to where these referrals come from, so that we can identify where our concerns should exist in terms of referrals and ensure that we are able to communicate with those agencies appropriately.

Yes, I just really wanted to add to that and say that, clearly, at the beginning of the outbreak there was considerable disruption to universal service provision across the other agencies. So, within health as well as in education, staff were redeployed, and as they begin to come back to their substantive posts—I'm thinking particularly of health visiting and school nursing—and as we see the sort of appeals to families to not only know that children's services are open for normal business, but so is health in terms of accident and emergency departments and paediatrics, we would hope that some of those eyes and ears that we traditionally have would begin to come back into their substantive posts.

And as with all referrals, because it's not just referrals into children's services—referrals into adult services and domestic abuse have also dropped off—it is, certainly from the beginning of May, being reported to us that referrals are slowly—but it is slowly—increasing again, and it's something we definitely need to keep watching as the weeks go on and lockdown continues.

And, obviously, because we're in a very different situation with lockdown, we may find that there are a number of children, because of the circumstances of lockdown, who will find themselves now vulnerable, for whatever reason, and they will not have been known to any services prior to this situation. So, what steps are you able to take to make sure that those children are aware and can access services that they may never have had previous cause to access?

So, we've done a lot of work with schools about their role in reaching out and supporting families. So, even for those who aren’t attending hubs or schools, the schools are identifying those that they need to keep in regular contact with. Where they have concerns, we've got processes for our education welfare officers to go out to support those families, how we work to give early help and support, and what to do if there are safeguarding concerns throughout that. So, the schools are having a critical role in helping reach out to their community of pupils.

Thank you. Similarly, I think what we've tried to do is step up our early help support because our early help services are in touch with many more children and young people who aren’t in contact with statutory social services. So, we've increased that level of activity there. We've been reaching out, we've been working with our colleagues in schools. We're looking into whether or not we can add a button to a particular app that schools are using to encourage children to reach out whilst they're doing some of that interaction with their work. We've been in discussion with school nurses, because school nurses were saying, 'Look, the young people know where to find us in schools, but they don't know how to find us now. They don't know that we can be contacted'. So, we've done some work around that. But it's a massive challenge, an enormous challenge, and it's something that we've all had to spend a great deal of time—. Well, I speak for myself—I've spent a great deal of time with colleagues trying to think about what we can do about it. 

16:00

And are you aware of whether, in your authorities, children are being routinely contacted on a very regular basis—all children now, not just those known to services? 

Yes. My understanding in our area—and, again, I can only speak for our area in Powys—is that schools are routinely contacting all the children who should be in school, and, where they're not able to make contact, we're thinking about the next steps of work with schools to think about what they might be.

Is that the same, then, in the rest of the authorities? Yes? Okay.

That's good. Okay. Perhaps we can get some more information on that, Chair. It would be helpful.

My final question, really, is around those young people that are in further education or in traineeships or not in school. What kind of monitoring of the support activity available to those young people is being undertaken?

Yn sicr, yn siarad ar ran fy awdurdod fy hun, mae'r cysylltiad rydym ni'n ei wneud efo'r bobl ifanc sydd dros 16 oed wedi cynyddu, buaswn i'n dweud, dros y cyfnod yma. Maen nhw'n gweld budd o fedru cysylltu efo'u gweithwyr cefnogol, efo'u hymgynghorwyr personol, eu PAs, dros Facebook neu FaceTime neu WhatsApp. Rydw i'n meddwl bod nhw'n gweld bod hynny'n ffordd dda iawn o fedru cadw mewn cysylltiad.

Mae gyda ni ddal gyswllt wyneb yn wyneb efo nifer ohonyn nhw ac mae'r PAs eu hunain hefyd, lle mae o'n addas i fod yn gwneud hynny, yn parhau i gael cyswllt wyneb yn wyneb efo nhw. Rydym ni'n gwybod yn union lle mae'r bobl ifanc yma i gyd, lle maen nhw'n byw, pwy sydd mewn risg o golli llety ac ati, ac felly'n trio 'pre-empt-io' y problemau cyn iddyn nhw fod yn rhai llawer mwy er mwyn i ni allu cynnig cefnogaeth yn fuan iddyn nhw. Dyna sydd yn digwydd yn fy awdurdod i, beth bynnag.

Certainly, in speaking on behalf of my own authority, the contact that we've made with young people over the age of 16 has increased, I would say, during this period. They see benefit in contacting their support workers, their personal advisers, either over Facebook, FaceTime or WhatsApp. I think they see that as being a very good way of maintaining contact.

We still have face-to-face contact with many of them, and PAs themselves, where appropriate, are continuing to have that face-to-face contact with them. We know exactly where these young people are, where they live, who is at risk of losing their accommodation and so on, and so we're trying to pre-empt the problems before they are exacerbated so that we can provide support early on. That's what's happening in my authority.

Okay, thank you. If there's nothing to add from—. Do any of the other authorities want to add anything or is that a similar pattern? Okay, thank you.

We'll move on, then, to some questions on children on the edge of care and looked-after children, from Hefin David. 

[Inaudible.] the impact the coronavirus has had on the care system, including edge-of-care services and how you've adapted to that situation.

Shall I, just to save Marian starting again? I think edge-of-care and looked-after children are quite separate groups in some ways. So, for looked-after children, obviously, support through foster care and residential care and all the structures that go around that have continued throughout this, and I think we've already mentioned that foster carers and residential staff have been fantastic, and then they've also in turn been supported by local authorities and everything that's wrapped around that. And just to reiterate Jan's point, that first fear that there would be a real upheaval in placements has certainly been much less significant than we'd anticipated.

In terms of children on the edge of care—so children who, perhaps, were previously known to us, children who were already involved with the public law outline—again, like my colleagues, I speak for my own authority to say that our services have continued. So, some of those have moved virtually where that's been appropriate and where that's been the safe thing to do and where that's suitable for a particular family, but where not and where we have been really clear that continued face-to-face service is needed, we've continued to provide that, either through the aegis of our own staff, on our own, and for some of us with family support services that we have contracted out. So, a mixture of those things.

But in many ways, I mean, some things—. One of the interesting things that social workers have said is that having been released from a lot of court work has saved us a phenomenal amount of time, and, for some staff, what they've found is that they've actually been able to engage more proactively with some children and some families. I think Jan's point earlier about assessments is important, because, very often, families on the edge of care are involved in assessment work with us, and that has been, is, and will continue to be a challenging area, but, in terms of support, we've been able to continue to offer significant support packages for families throughout.

16:05

Okay. Something Jan Coles said earlier suggests that there haven't been major difficulties regarding placing children in settings other than foster care. Is that right?

Placements are always a challenge. I wouldn't want to underestimate the challenge. If I was to sit here here, or if any of us were to sit here and say placements were easy, you would know straight off that was a profound lie.

Yes. Because of the crisis per se, no, we've not had additional challenges. We've been able to place—. We've been able to move children when we've had to, and that has happened, not necessarily because of COVID but because of other reasons. So, no, the crisis itself has not precipitated an additional challenge to our normal placement headaches.

Yn sicr, mae o'n sefyllfa debyg iawn i ni yma yng Ngwynedd ac yng ngogledd Cymru hefyd. Mae yna sialens yna beth bynnag, ond nid oherwydd COVID.

Certainly, the situation is very similar in Gwynedd and across north Wales. There are challenges, but not because of COVID.

Okay, and with regard to the impact the virus has had on the delivery of care and support plans, has there been a significant impact in that regard?

I think what my authority did, as did a number right at the beginning, even before we went into lockdown, because, obviously, you could see what was coming, was we had gone through and we had migrated—it's not a phrase I'd want to use—we'd looked at all the cases that we had opened, we'd managed them, we'd looked at where we needed to put support and what we needed to put in place, and also what other agencies were involved, because it's not just about children's services. Children on the edge of care have all sorts of agencies involved with them, statutory and otherwise. So, on care and support plans, we've continued to support families that we're already working with, we've continued with preventative work. It's not the same, because, obviously, we have had to tailor some elements of it, but work has continued.

Okay, and I imagine contact arrangements are difficult. We heard in the previous evidence session that they've been done virtually. Is that experience suboptimal? Well, obviously suboptimal. How is that being managed?

Can I just pick up on contact very quickly, just because I've had it sent through to me today? Some contact is being done virtually, but I think some authorities have kept some face-to-face contact, particularly for babies, because, obviously, virtual contact for newborns, for babies, would be almost impossible to manage. For older children, virtual contact for some has been a plus because, actually, we've been able to increase some of the level of contact. I've seen this morning—it's been sent through to me—some pictures of a final contact pre-adoption, which we managed on a face-to-face basis. So, whilst it's difficult and it's challenging, I think people are trying to find ways—yes, virtually, where we can. But we're not wholesale stopped. We're looking at each case individually.

Okay. Does any other member of the panel want to make an observation on that?

So, an example in terms of that tailored approach that Sally reflected: two weeks ago, we had a mum who gave birth and we've put mum and the baby in a parent-and-child placement. So, we can safely arrange that without having to worry about contact. So, we're looking at each individual case and what's in the best interests and how we can safely support it.

Dim ond i ategu beth mae fy nghydweithwyr i wedi ei ddweud, ac yn sicr o ran cyswllt wyneb yn wyneb, pan ddown ni i'r cyfnod cynllunio ar gyfer llacio rhai o'r cyfyngiadau symud ac i'r cyfnod adfer, hwn fydd y flaenoriaeth i ni fod yn edrych arno fo i symud i gael gwell sefyllfa i deuluoedd a phlant o ran cyswllt uniongyrchol hefyd.

Just to echo what my colleagues have said, and certainly in terms of face-to-face contact, when we come to planning for the relaxation of some of the movement restrictions, this will be the priority for us in terms of having a better situation for families and children in terms of direct contact

And what of those young people leaving care? How are they supported?

I think, for us, we've had some delay for some young people, so some of their plans where they were going to move on to some semi-independent provision as part of their pathway through into independence, we've just put those on hold for a while. I think that it can be a nervous time for all of us, and I think it can certainly be a nervous time for young people leaving care, but we've carried on supporting young people in the community. We've had a couple of young people who just didn't want to be in independent situations or they've come back into a foster placement, and I think that—. Both Sally and Craig have talked about tailored approaches to children and young people, and I think that's been a real necessity during this period—we've had to think really differently and be really creative about how we meet the needs of individual children and young people and their families. And testament to the staff who've been able to come up with all kinds of brilliant ways of doing that and be really flexible. 

16:10

Okay, thank you. Thanks Hefin. The committee always wants to try and make sure that the voices of children and young people are central to everything that we do. Clearly, that's a challenge at the moment, but we've asked young people to put forward their questions that they would like us to put us to our witnesses on their behalf. We've had some questions that have come in by young people that National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru are working with, so I'd like to put those to you, please, on behalf of the young people. So, the first one is: 'If I am in care, should I be able to go to the school hub?'.

Dylet—mi ddylet ti fedru mynd. Mae plant mewn gofal yn y diffiniad o blant a phobl ifanc bregus, ac felly maen nhw'n gymwys i fynd i'r ysgol, i'r hwb.

Yes, certainly. Children in care are included within the definition of vulnerable children, and therefore they can attend schools and hubs. 

Okay, thank you. And the second question is: 'How often should I be having contact with my social worker?'. Who would like to take that one?

Well, there are statutory minimums, aren't there, but I think in these times, some young people will want more frequent contact than others. For some, they'll be quite happy to be supported in their foster placement by their foster carers and have quite infrequent contact with social workers, if that is what they choose. They may have frequent contact with their PAs, their personal advisers. So, I would say that individual young people should be having conversations with their foster carers, their social workers and their PAs to work out how frequently or not they want contact. 

Okay. Has anyone got anything to add to that? No. Okay. And the final question then, on behalf of young people is: 'Why is it I can't visit my mum when my friends whose parents are separated can see their mum and dad? Is it because I'm in care?'.

I think that's actually a really good question, because I think that raises a fascinating question about why the regulation has been set out the way it has for children of divorced parents. I think there is a question that asks, 'Are we actually placing the children of divorced parents at greater risk than any other group?', which I think is a whole other potential headache if you wanted to go there. But I think we can probably all understand why that decision was made. For any child, this is incredibly difficult to understand—it's difficult for all of us to understand why some people can do some things and some others—. But I think the framing of the answer for that child is all about safety, and it is all about what is understood in terms of minimising the risk for that child, for the people around them, for the people who care for them, for their family.

But, I do think that's a really hard question, given what we've got with children of divorced parents. We've set up a situation where they can and where the courts have agreed that, and yet, in other situations we can't, and I do think that's difficult for some children to understand. I can understand why that question's been asked, but we have to frame it in terms of, 'This is the social distancing; this is about the safety for all of us.' That's hard for everyone to understand. 

Okay, thank you. Well, thank you for those answers and we'll move on now to questions from Suzy Davies.

Thank you very much. I've just got one question and it's based on statutory duties. Marian, you started off by saying that you had no concerns about meeting your statutory duties, speaking for all councils, yet, we heard from the witnesses in the earlier sessions that their encounters with local authorities were very inconsistent.

In your written evidence, you said that you were satisfied that there was synergy within children’s services, but that you had concerns regarding inconsistencies from other provision that would normally support you in the undertaking of your statutory duties. I think we've got inconsistent evidence now, so I wonder whether you can talk us through that and let us know where you think the problems are.

16:15

Iawn, dwi'n hapus i gymryd hwnna. O ran y cyfrifoldebau statudol sydd arnom ni fel gwasanaethau plant o fewn awdurdodau lleol, dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni'n adrodd yn rheolaidd iawn i'r Llywodraeth, ac mi rydyn ni'n cael sgyrsiau efo'n gilydd a thrafodaethau efo'n gilydd. Mae'r dystiolaeth yn dangos ein bod ni yn cyflawni ein cyfrifoldebau statudol ym maes plant mewn gofal a phlant ar y rhestr diogelu plant, a materion sydd yn y llysoedd. Felly, rydyn ni'n eithaf hyderus bod ein gweithlu ni ei hun—bod ni fel penaethiaid yn hyderus bod ein gweithlu ni yn cyflawni eu cyfrifoldebau statudol o ddydd i ddydd.

Mae yna bryderon wedi bod, yn sicr, o ran argaeledd rhai o'r asiantaethau eraill oherwydd y gofyn i symud rhai staff i fod yn gweithredu i ymateb i'r argyfwng COVID-19 o fewn iechyd, er enghraifft, lle'r oedd gennym bryderon ynglŷn â'u gallu nhw i ymgymryd yn llawn a chydweithio efo ni fel partneriaid llawn yn y broses ddiogelu. 

Yn sicr o ran yr heddlu, mi rydyn ni'n parhau i weld niferoedd gweddol uchel o gyfeiriadau'n dod oddi wrth yr heddlu, ond mae'r heddlu eu hunain, yn sicr yng ngogledd Cymru, yn adrodd bod yna ostyngiad hefyd yn y gweithgaredd y maen nhw'n ymwneud â fo. Felly, dydy hi ddim yn sefyllfa arferol o ran ein gallu ni i weithredu cynlluniau diogelu ar y cyd. Mi rydyn ni'n gwneud popeth o fewn ein gallu i sicrhau ein bod ni yn cyfathrebu ac yn ymgynghori efo'n partneriaid allweddol yn y maes diogelu er mwyn gwneud penderfyniadau ar gyfer cynllunio ar gyfer plant, pobl ifanc a'u teuluoedd, a'r rheini yn benderfyniadau i sicrhau eu diogelwch.

Yes, I'm happy to take that question. In terms of the statutory responsibilities on us as children's services within local authorities, I think we're reporting very regularly to Government, and we're having conversations with each other and discussions with each other. The evidence does demonstrate that we are delivering against our statutory responsibilities in terms of children in care and children on the child protection register, and on issues related to the courts. So, we are quite confident that our own workforce—that we, as heads, can be confident that our staff are delivering on their statutory responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.

There have been some concerns, certainly in terms of the availability of some other agencies because of the need to move some staff to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in health, for example, where there have been concerns about their ability to co-operate fully as partners with us in the safeguarding process.

Certainly, in terms of the police forces, we are still seeing a relatively high number of referrals from the police. But, the police, certainly in north Wales, are saying that there is a reduction in the activities that they're involved with, so it isn't business as usual in terms of our ability to put in place joint protection services, but we're doing everything that we can to ensure that we are communicating and in contact with our key partners in terms of safeguarding and making plans for children, young people and their families, and that is, of course, to ensure their safety.

I don't have any doubt that we continue to meet our statutory duties. I suppose what I'd be interested in is the detail from the session before about what that was referring to and what the aspects of our statutory duties were where, perhaps, there are differences and inconsistencies. So, if we were able to have that detail, we could explore that.

Okay. We did actually get a few examples. The one that I've got off the top of my head was that they didn't think they were getting the same level of referrals before, which is not because referrals weren't being made to you, but because—I really don't know why, but the information's there anyway, and it'll all be in the Record.

Can I just ask on this one point, then? Of course, assessments are now part of your statutory duties. The Minister's officials, at the last meeting we had with them, said that they wanted to make sure that standards were preserved, not just the carrying out of duties. Again, we had some concerns expressed in the last session, with the previous witnesses, that face-to-face assessments can't possibly be to the same standard as—sorry, are a better standard than technological video meetings, if you like, for some fairly obvious reasons, really. You can't really get a sense of how the child functions in the dynamics of the family if you're doing things by video. Do you have any worries about that? I'm aware that this will need to be a quick answer, before the Chair glares too much at me.

I'm happy to answer. We're continuing to undertake in-person, face-to-face assessments. So, I don't have a concern about a drop in quality, because the workforce is out there. We've got very low levels of sickness. We've achieved—97 per cent of all of our child protection visits last month were on target and on timescale. There are understandable reasons why those few weren't. We are operating to a very high level, and I understand from colleagues that they're in similar positions.

A very similar point: we are going out, we are doing our section 47s, we are visiting people's houses and we are seeing children. I think it'd be wrong to give an impression that we're not doing that. 

To be fair, they weren't saying that at all. It's just that where there were video conferences, it's obviously more complicated to get the full picture through that way of doing things. 

Okay, thank you. Siân's got some questions on adoption and fostering.

Ie, un cwestiwn, a dweud y gwir. Dŷn ni wedi trafod y lleoliadau, ond tybed a ydyn ni'n storio problemau i fyny i'r dyfodol o ran recriwtio gofalwyr maeth newydd a hefyd pobl fydd yn dod ymlaen i fabwysiadu, a beth ydyn ni'n  ei wneud am hynna? Mae Jan yn nodio ei phen.

Yes, just one question. We've discussed placements, but I wonder are we storing up problems for the future in terms of the recruitment of new foster carers and also adopters, and what are we doing about that? Jan is nodding her head.

16:20

Yes, I think it's a really good question. I've got real concerns—. You talked about pressures and what our biggest pressures are. I'm really concerned about what the pressure is that's to come. Sally's talked about some issues of the hearings in the court system being delayed and moved backwards. We've talked about referrals not coming in and, when lockdown is released, what will happen with referrals then. I think there's a real issue, and I think there's an issue for fostering and adoption assessments as well. We had 27 enquiries last month in Powys for prospective foster carers—sorry, that was really difficult to say. But I think you're right, we can do as much of the work as we can, but I think those are some of the assessments that we're not going out and doing face to face in the same way we're prioritising some of the other face-to-face work, and we will need to come to that, because children do need foster placements.

It's fostering fortnight, so I think a number of local authorities have currently got quite high-profile campaigns going on. Certainly, the five Gwent authorities have, and have put out huge amounts of information and, actually, we are getting enquiries about fostering. I agree with Jan, there is a potential, but we have approved foster carers during this period and we've approved and placed, which is no mean feat given what's going on around us. I think it's going to depend how long this goes on. I think if we see some easing over the summer and we're able to get back to some face-to face, then hopefully we will be able to ameliorate the worst of it, but it is a concern, both for fostering and adoption long term. But it's fostering fortnight—put that out there, please.

Ie, dwi ddim yn mynd i ailadrodd beth mae Sally wedi'i ddweud, dim ond i ddweud mae hi yn bythefnos maethu.

Mae'n debyg bod fy mhryder mwyaf i ym maes mabwysiadu yn hytrach nag ym maes maethu. Mi ydyn ni'n parhau i fod yn cofrestru gofalwyr maeth. Dwi wedi gwneud un neu ddau o benderfyniadau maethu yn ystod mis Ebrill ar gyfer gofalwyr newydd, ac yn parhau i fod yn gwneud hynny, ac mae'n paneli yn gweithredu yn virtual mewn ffordd, felly. Ond, o ran y rhai sy'n dod ymlaen i gynnig eu hunain fel darpar fabwysiadwyr, dyna lle mae fy mhryderon i, dwi'n meddwl.

Yng ngwasanaeth mabwysiadu gogledd Cymru, mae'r ymholiadau sy'n dod i mewn ar i lawr yn sylweddol o'r un amser y llynedd. Dwi yn teimlo mi oedd yna strategaeth recriwtio anferthol ar gyfer y gwasanaeth mabwysiadu yn y cyfryngau wedi bod jest cyn y cyfnod yma, ac mi oeddem ni'n hyderus iawn y byddem ni wedi medru cynyddu'r teuluoedd oedd eisiau cynnig eu hunain ymlaen.

Dwi yn bryderus bod ein anallu ni i barhau efo'r asesiadau ac ati, ar hyn o bryd, fel y buaswn ni'n gwneud yn arferol, yn mynd i arwain at oediad eithaf sylweddol i'r rhai o'r niferoedd o'r plant sydd yn disgwyl am eu cartrefi am byth, mewn ffordd. Ond mae'n debyg bod hwnna yn bryder mawr gennym ni fel penaethiaid.

Yes, I'm not going to repeat what Sally has said, but it is fostering fortnight.

My greatest concern is in terms of adoption rather than fostering. We continue to register foster carers. I made one or two fostering decisions in April for new carers, and continue to do so, and our panels are operating in a virtual manner, in a way. But in terms of those coming forward as prospective adopters, that's where my concern lies.

In the north Wales adoption service, the enquiries coming in are down significantly on the same time last year. I think that there was a lot of coverage in the press and media of adoption services prior to this period, and we were hopeful that we could increase the number of adopters.

But I am concerned that our inability to continue with those assessments that we would usually carry out could lead to significant delays for the many children who are waiting for adopters and families. That's a huge concern for us.

Okay, thank you. The next questions are from Janet Finch-Saunders on young carers.

Thank you. What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on our young carers? What difficulties are they facing and are they able to access adequate support? I would like, when references are made, for this to include about young carers with PPE as well. Thanks.

Ie, fe wnaf i fynd yn gyntaf. Digwydd bod, dŷn ni wedi cael cyfarfod hefo'n darparwr ni yng Ngwynedd yn ystod yr wythnos ddiwethaf, ac wedi cael sicrwydd eu bod nhw'n dal mewn cysylltiad hefo'r bobl ifanc—y rheini sydd yn derbyn gwasanaethau fel gofalwyr ifanc.

Mae'r cyfeiriadau wedi slofi lawr; does yna ddim cymaint o gyfeiriadau, ond efallai bod hynny oherwydd nad ydy plant yn yr ysgolion—mae'r ysgolion yn gyfeirwyr mawr i'r gwasanaethau gofalwyr ifanc. 

Ond yn eithaf cadarnhaol, un o'r materion roedd ein darparwr ni'n ei ddweud oedd eu bod nhw'n gwneud llawer mwy o waith hefo’r teulu cyfan erbyn hyn, oherwydd eu bod nhw'n gwneud gwaith dros FaceTime a dros y ffôn ac ati. Maen nhw’n cael mwy o drafodaethau hefo rhieni, yn hytrach na dim ond hefo’r plant pan fydd y plant yn mynd i'r grwpiau. Felly, roedden nhw’n adrodd bod hwnna yn ddatblygiad cadarnhaol mewn sefyllfa o argyfwng.

Mi oedden nhw hefyd yn adrodd bod rhieni’n bryderus iawn, iawn nad oedd eu plant nhw hefo mynediad at ysbaid o’u sefyllfa yn y cartref ac yn bryderus ynglŷn ag ardrawiad hynny ar eu lles emosiynol a’u hiechyd meddwl nhw yn symud yn eu blaenau. Yn anffodus, gallaf i ddim ateb y cwestiwn ynglŷn â PPE a gofalwyr ifanc.

Yes, I'll go first. As it happens, we had a meeting with our provider in Gwynedd during this last week, and have been given an assurance that they are still in contact with those young people who are receiving services as young carers.

Now, the referrals have slowed down; there aren't as many, and that may be because children aren't in schools—and schools do refer many people for young carers' services.

But positively, one of the issues that our provider highlighted was that they are doing far more work with the whole family now because they're using FaceTime and the phone. They're having more discussions with the parents rather than simply with the children and young people. So, they reported that that was a positive development in a situation of crisis.

But they also reported that parents were very concerned that their children didn't have access to respite from the home and were concerned about the impact of that on their mental health and emotional well-being. Now, unfortunately, I can't answer the question on PPE for young carers.

16:25

Would anybody else like to respond on young carers? Janet, have you got a second question?

No. You're okay, then. Okay. Well, if there are no other questions from Members, we have come to the end of our time. Can I take this opportunity to thank you all for attending? We know how busy you are and we do appreciate you coming and sharing your views with us on this very important subject, so thank you, all of you, for your attendance today. As usual, following the meeting, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy, but thank you again. Diolch yn fawr.

6. Papur i’w Nodi
6. Paper to Note

Item 6, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee to Welsh Government. This is our follow-up following the COVID-19 evidence sessions with the Ministers. Are Members happy to note that? Thank you.

7. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod
7. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Remainder of this 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 7, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Thank you very much. We will now proceed in private.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:27.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 16:27.

Dysgu am Senedd Cymru