Children’s Advocacy Services: No more false starts

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On 29 March 2017, the Assembly will debate the Children and Young People and Education Committee’s report of the inquiry into statutory advocacy provision (PDF 519KB], published on 2 February 2017.  The Welsh Government published their response [PDF 87KB] on 22 March 2017.

What is advocacy?

This is a picture of a child

The Welsh Government’s 2003 National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services [PDF 498KB] said:

Advocacy is about speaking up for children and young people. Advocacy is about empowering children and young people to make sure that their rights are respected and their views and wishes are heard at all times. Advocacy is about representing the views, wishes and needs of children and young people to decision-makers, and helping them to navigate the system.

There are statutory requirements for local authorities to provide independent advocacy services for looked after children and young people, care leavers and children in need, initially under the Children Act 1989 and more recently incorporated into the Social Services and Well-Being Act (2014).

Latest Welsh Government statistics provide an indication that 28,105 children were potentially eligible for statutory advocacy services in 2016. Of these 5,660 were looked after children; 3,060 were on the child protection register; and 19,385 were children in need.

Why it’s important

The importance of looked after children being able to access independent advocates was elevated when the Waterhouse Inquiry report (published in 2000) found that the victims of decades of widespread sexual and physical abuse of children in north Wales care homes had not been believed or listened to. It recommended that all looked after children should have access to an independent advocate.

In the Missing Voices, Right to be Heard report of July 2014, the then Children’s Commissioner for Wales said:

There is no starker reminder than the emergence of the fresh allegations of historic abuse in North Wales and the establishment of Operation Pallial and the Macur Review. The current prominence of historic child abuse scandals demonstrates the immediate need to get advocacy right for children and young people today. Advocacy enables us to create a climate where we listen to children and young people, a culture where we can better protect our children. In short, advocacy safeguards children and young people.

The National Youth Advocacy Service told the Children, Young People and Education Committee:

Statutory advocacy is fundamentally a provision to protect and safeguard the most vulnerable children and young people in Wales. We must not lose sight into the history of why advocacy is so critical in Wales which was a direct result of many children being abused whilst in the care of local authorities. The recommendations from Sir Ronald Waterhouse report; “Lost in Care” are still as relevant today as it was in 2000.

Reports since Waterhouse

Between 2003-2014 there have been seven reports setting out concerns about advocacy services and how best to deliver them in Wales.

Between 2008 and 2010, the Children and Young People Committee of the Third Assembly published three reports and made a range of recommendations and repeated calls about the provision of advocacy services for looked after children and other vulnerable groups of children.  These can be seen on the National Assembly website:

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales was established in 2001, the first in the UK. In 2003, the then Children’s Commissioner published his Telling Concerns report [PDF 720KB] which included a review of advocacy provision. During the period 2012-2014, the new Children’s Commissioner went on to publish three reports and made a series of recommendations in respect of statutory advocacy services.

The 2014 report said that the quality and quantity of commissioning of the provision of advocacy services differed markedly between local authorities and:

Without significant change this local model of commissioning is likely to perpetuate the well documented shortcomings of current provision. It is time to move towards a national model of commissioning that would hopefully provide the focus, impetus, and accountability structures that appear to me to be lacking at the moment.

The reports published by the Children’s Commissioner led to work being undertaken by the  Welsh Government and a Ministerial Expert Group on Advocacy being established in 2014 to develop a proposal for a National Approach to Statutory Advocacy Services.

What the Committee found

The Committee heard that there had been a frustrating and unacceptable delay in agreeing and implementing the National Approach to Statutory Advocacy Services. However, the Committee also heard that progress in agreeing the National Approach was being made during the course of the inquiry.   The WLGA said they were sure that local authorities would have an agreed all-Wales approach to commissioning advocacy (the ‘National Approach) in place by June 2017.  The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that this was his expectation and he had made it clear that there would be sanctions if there is a failure to deliver.

Implementation of the National Approach had been costed at between £1 and £1.1 million, including an ‘active offer’.  An active offer is where all children and young people are made aware of advocacy services and how they could access an advocate at the point at which they entered the statutory care system.  The Welsh Government had allocated £500-550,000 towards these costs.  While recognising the competition for available resources, the WLGA confirmed that there was a level of commitment to finding the remaining funding for the National Model.

The Committee makes eight recommendations in its report, including that the Welsh Government should:

  • Monitor and ensure that all local authorities have actively signed up to the National Approach by January 2017;
  • Monitor annually local authority expenditure on statutory advocacy services and that it is funded in line with the population needs assessment analysis; and
  • Commissions an independent review of progress at the end of the first year of implementation of the National Approach;
  • Provide a detailed update to the Committee on progress in implementing the ‘National Approach’ in June 2017.

Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.
Image from maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

 

This post is also available as a print-friendly PDF: Children’s Advocacy Services: No more false starts (PDF, 206KB)

 

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Police and Crime Commissioners – who are they and what do they do?

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Background

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) replaced police authorities in each police force area in England and Wales (outside of London) under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Their introduction followed calls for making the oversight of policing more democratic. The idea first appeared in a pamphlet by Douglas Carswell, who called for “elected sheriffs”, before it appeared in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election. At the time, the critics opposed the idea suggesting that a directly elected position run the risk of politicising policing. Moreover, it has been argued that the accountability of the PCCs to the public may be hampered by low levels of understanding about the role and responsibilities of the elected officials.

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What type of youth service does Wales want? Assembly Members to debate Committee report

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On Wednesday (8 February 2017), Assembly Members will debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report of its inquiry into the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy and policies in respect of youth work: What type of youth service does Wales want? (PDF 1.11MB).

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Reflections on a NERC Policy Internship in the Research Service

16 January 2017

Article by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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Photo of Pierhead and Senedd buildings in Cardiff Bay

Policy internships for PhD students

The Research Council Policy Internships Scheme provides an opportunity for NERC-funded PhD students to work in highly influential policy organisations for three months. As a researcher with a strong interest in applied and policy relevant research, I decided to apply, and opted for a parliamentary placement, although non-parliamentary organisations also take part in the scheme. After preparing my application, example work, and attending an interview in London, I was offered a placement with the Environment and Transport Team in the Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the internship, although I had spoken to students had already completed one, and knew from my interview that I’d be involved in all aspects of the research team’s work.

Part of the team

My first week was filled with a busy induction schedule, providing a thorough introduction to the workings of the Assembly and the Research Service. Having never worked in a parliamentary setting before, this was hugely valuable, as I learned about the history of devolution in Wales, the structure of the Assembly, and the role of Committees in scrutinising Welsh Government. I also discovered the pivotal role that the Research Service plays in providing high quality on-demand and proactive research outputs for Assembly Members, that are used at all levels of their work. Everyone in the Research Service and other departments was very welcoming, and the Environment and Transport Research Team made great efforts to ensure I quickly became an integrated part of the team.

Diverse types of work

The work of the Environment and Transport Research Team broadly includes: responding to enquiries from Assembly Members; supporting the work of Committees (Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs in my case); and the production of proactive briefings, Act and Bill summary papers, and blogs. I was able to contribute to all types of work during my three months with the service. I also attended a range of events, including the EC-UK Forum and NGO receptions.

Enquiries can arise from constituent questions to Assembly Members, as part of the scrutiny process of Welsh Government, or as general areas of research for Assembly Members. I responded to a diverse range of enquiries, from several thousand word briefings on climate change activities in developing nations and regional transport planning, through to shorter summaries of relevant legislation on rights of way or tree management.

I attended a number of sessions of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs committee, gaining a first-hand insight into the functioning of committee work. I also contributed research that supported inquiries into the future of agricultural and rural development policies in Wales, and the approach to eradicating bovine tuberculosis in Wales.

The Research Service blog “In Brief” publishes posts directly related to the business of the Assembly, such as in advance of ministerial statements, or on topics of wider interest to the Assembly, and are a key output of the Research Service. I produced two blog posts during my internship, on the future of bus services and the food and drink industry.

I was also able to author four proactive publications in collaboration with a permanent member of the research team. One of these, a briefing about a new type of planning application process, is already available online and is being used by stakeholders. Three more briefings will be published after my internship has finished, which are about the food and drink industry, and woodlands and forestry in Wales.

Producing these outputs required new ways of working compared to my PhD research. Impartiality, alongside accuracy and rigour, was essential for all outputs, and I developed my writing style with editorial input from my colleagues. I liaised with Assembly Member support staff and the legal department; searched and analysed Welsh Government policy documents, ministerial statements and committee work; requested and collated information from relevant stakeholders; and requested information from Welsh Government.

Exceeding expectations

Reflecting on my experience working for the Research Service, I have learnt a great deal about the use of evidence in parliamentary processes and policy making, and about working in a public sector environment. I feel much better equipped to understand the world of policy making, which will be invaluable for my future career. Working within a closely integrated team to conduct research was also a new experience for me, and I became involved in a much wider range of work than I had imagined. In addition to all this, I fully explored the benefits of living in south Wales and the vibrant city of Cardiff! I have found the experience wholly positive, and would encourage any PhD student interested in a Policy Internship to consider the Research Service of the National Assembly for Wales as a host organisation.

Drones, robots and satellites: the future of Welsh agriculture?

22 November 2016

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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Photograph of drone and cow
Image from Flikr by Lima Pix. Licenced under the Creative Commons

On 23 November, Members will be debating the benefits of the application of ‘big data’ in agriculture. This blog explores what big data is and its uses in agriculture, in particular, in the context of ‘precision agriculture’, a new scientific and data rich approach to farming.

The term ‘big data’ refers to ‘large, often unstructured data sets that are available, potentially in real time’ (Office for National Statistics). The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is currently funding a Big Data Network that is looking at the way big data could be used to transform public and private sector organisations by increasing productivity and innovation.

Big data and precision agriculture

One example of the application of big data, to improve efficiencies, is in agriculture. The collection and use of data in precision agriculture is gaining more attention with the advent of new technologies. It is expected to be central in the realisation of big data in agriculture. In precision agriculture, data is gathered from sensors placed throughout the fields on variables such as soil and air quality, temperature and moisture. Satellite imagery and robotic drones can create pictures of fields to show crop maturity. Control centres collect and process such data in real-time to help farmers make decisions with regard to, for example, planting, fertilising and harvesting crops. Such data can be coupled with predictive weather modelling and researchers are able to build models and simulations that can predict future conditions and help farmers make proactive decisions.

Around 60% of UK farmers already use some sort of precision agriculture on their farms, although for the most part this simply means using GPS tractor steering.

Many benefits can be derived from precision agriculture through a better understanding of complex environmental interactions which will improve efficiencies and encourage innovation. Many view this approach as the future of sustainable agriculture, however several challenges have been identified.

  • Farmers are concerned about the highly confidential and competition-sensitive nature of their data about their farm and yields. There is concern that this data could be exploited to manipulate food prices. Assurance is needed about how the data is owned, and shared;
  • Using the Internet of Things (IoT- a system in which objects are connected to a network so that data can be shared) relies on a high speed and quality broadband connection, a feature many rural communities still lack. 13% of UK farmers still don’t have reliable access to the internet and 60% of those with a connection only have speeds of 2Mbps, insufficient to deal with data heavy maps drones and sensors will generate;
  • There would be a requirement for a change in culture amongst farmers to become more tech-savvy; farmers will have to manage terabytes of information.
  • There are very few ‘data’ scientists or people who know how to create and execute the algorithms necessary for analysing large of amounts of data;
  • There is commonly a mismatch in the scale, precision and accuracy of data coming from different sources. This mismatch can create an erroneous picture of what is actually happening in a field;
  • Big data needs to be quality controlled before it is used in algorithms. The necessary quality control procedures can be time-consuming; and
  • Interpretation of products created by algorithms processing large data sets can be subjective.

Big data Government strategies

Welsh Government

In the ethos of big data and data sharing, the Welsh Government’s open data plan sets out its commitment to publish and share data that is meaningful, re-usable and accessible. The Lle Geo-Portal has been developed as a partnership between the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales. Lle serves as a hub for data and information covering a range of topics, but primarily around the environment. The Atlas of Living Wales is being developed by the NBN (National Biodiversity Network) with input from the Welsh Government and will replace the NBN Gateway in providing spatial environmental data for Wales publically.

UK Government

Over the last few years the UK Government has been promoting agri-tech innovation. In 2013 it launched its agri-tech strategy with a budget of £160 million to ‘transform the UK into a world renowned center of agri-tech innovation’. The UK government reinforced its strategy in agriculture in 2014 with Internet of Things technologies to help maximise yields, improve food traceability, and tackle environmental challenges through networked remote sensors, particularly for crop development and genetic research. As part of its open data strategy, in 2015 the UK Government announced its ambition to publicly release 8,000 UK datasets over the following 12 months. Defra stated that:

it will allow UK farmers to apply cutting-edge techniques to boost efficiency and productivity, and allow better monitoring and management of environmental risks.

Children’s Commissioner’s Annual Report 2015-16

09 November 2016

Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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CC LogoOn Tuesday 15 November 2016 in Plenary, Assembly Members will debate the Children Commissioner for Wales’ most recent Annual Report (2015-16). This gives AMs an opportunity to discuss the latest issues and challenges affecting children and young people in Wales and hear how the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant, responds to the report’s findings. The Welsh Government’s written response is due to be published following the debate. Last month, the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee heard directly from the Commissioner about the issues she raises in her report. You can see what was discussed on Senedd TV here.

The Commissioner and her role

Sally Holland is the third person to undertake the role of Children’s Commissioner, taking up her post in April 2015. The principal aim of the Commissioner in exercising her functions is to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children and to have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in everything she and her team do. The Research Service blog Children’s rights in Wales: an update 2016 provides further detail on the UNCRC and the position in Wales.

The Commissioner can:

  • Review the effects of policies, proposed policies and the delivery of services to children;
  • Examine the case of a particular child or children if it involves an issue that has a more general application to the lives of children in Wales;
  • Require information from agencies or persons acting on their behalf, and require witnesses to give evidence on oath;
  • Provide advice and assistance to children and young people, and others;
  • Consider and make representations to the National Assembly for Wales about any matter affecting the rights and welfare of children in Wales.

The Commissioner’s remit covers all areas of the devolved powers of the National Assembly for Wales relevant to children’s rights and welfare. Her remit covers children and young people up to the age of 18 living in Wales, or who normally live in Wales. It also includes those up to the age of 25 if they have previously been ‘looked after’. Her office undertakes direct casework on behalf of children and young people.

Which does the latest Annual Report focus on?

The Annual Report identifies a wide range of issues facing children and young people in Wales and categorises them under the following headings:

  • Provision: Mental Health; Education (including ‘Additional Learning Needs’ and ‘elective home education’); Social Care (including advocacy, adoption, and short breaks for disabled children).
  • Poverty: The Commissioner says ‘Too many children in Wales are being denied a decent childhood due to the limiting effects of child poverty.[…] Welsh Government urgently needs to intensify its efforts to tackle child poverty.’ (The most recent statistics, published in June 2016, show that 29% of children in Wales are living in poverty, the same as England and higher than Northern Ireland (25%) and Scotland (22%).)
  • Protection: Child Sexual Exploitation and historic abuse; Equal protection; Travel to school; Privacy in youth courts.
  • Participation: The Commissioner saysWhilst I have no legislative remit to make recommendations to the National Assembly for Wales, I want to reaffirm my intention to press for a reinstated national democratic space for young people, in the form of a Youth Assembly.’ (See the Llywydd’s recent announcement here).

What are the Commissioner’s priorities?

Following her ‘Beth Nesa’/ ‘What Next’ consultation undertaken to inform her priorities, the Commissioner published her Plan for all Children and Young People 2016-19. Sally Holland says that ‘by 2019 I hope that Welsh Government and public services will have made significant progress towards delivering the following improvements for children:

  • Children and young people will have access to the mental health services they need in a timely manner. There will be stronger programmes for promoting emotional health and wellbeing in place in our health and social services, schools and youth services.
  • Children’s contemporary experiences of bullying will be better understood and more schools will prevent and tackle bullying effectively.
  • There will be better access to play, culture and leisure activities by children who are most likely to miss out on these, particularly those living in poverty and disabled children.
  • Care leavers will have better access to safe and secure housing options and an active offer of a job, education or training place.
  • All young people requiring continuing health and social support will have improved transitions to adult services.
  • Children will have the same legal protection as adults from physical assault.
  • Children and young people will be better involved in public services, including my own organisation.’

Setting out some of the work she herself intends to undertake, the Commissioner says:

  • ‘Under 7s asked me to prioritise play opportunities during the next three years. I will promote children’s rights to play and access leisure and cultural activities, whatever their circumstances.
  • Children from 7-18 have identified bullying as their top priority. I will work with children and others to identify and promote effective ways of tackling bullying. The issue of bullying is also connected to mental health and wellbeing – the overwhelming concerns of professionals and parents.
  • In 2016-17, I will launch a three year project to improve the transition from childhood to adulthood for those who need support and services – this includes care leavers and those with chronic health conditions and disabilities.
  • I will work with children and young people throughout Wales and through both English and Welsh languages. I will ensure that I listen to children and young people who may have most difficulty in accessing their rights, including disabled children, looked after children and those from ethnic, linguistic and sexual minorities. I will measure how I engage with different groups throughout Wales so that I can be held accountable for this by children and young people.’

The debate is scheduled for 4pm Tuesday 15 November and can be watched on Senedd TV here.

Will outcomes for Looked After Children improve during the Fifth Assembly?

24 June 2016

Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

This is a picture of
Image from Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Next Wednesday (29 June 2016), Assembly Members will debate a proposal that the Welsh Government should examine ways to strengthen inter-departmental working to improve outcomes for looked after children.

This debate follows a recent call in a report from the Prison Reform Trust (PDF, 308KB) for the formation of a cabinet sub-committee to provide national leadership in protecting looked after children and young people from unnecessary criminalisation. The report also called for good joint working, proper regulation and policy development across the Welsh Government, to act as an example to local government services. It made the same calls for England.

In one of the very first sessions of Plenary in this Fifth Assembly, David Melding AM has already called for ‘outstanding best practice for the advancement of looked-after children’. The First Minister responded saying:

I’ve taken an interest in this issue for some years given the underperformance that we know of looked-after children in the education system. The difficulty is, of course, that looked-after children need support from many areas, whether it’s through social services, whether it’s through the education system, whether it’s through health. Looked-after children sit within the portfolio of Carl Sargeant. That’s done deliberately so that there can be a holistic approach taken to improving outcomes for them. We know, anecdotally at least, that it is said that it is more likely for a looked-after child to end up in prison than in university.

Local authorities already have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked after children, a role known as ‘corporate parenting’. The debate on Wednesday is likely to focus on the extent to which local authorities have fulfilled this role and also what more this new Welsh Government can do to improve outcomes for this group of children.

Which children and how many?

The term ‘looked after’ is a legal term used to describe (PDF, 1.16MB) any child who is in the care of the local authority or who is provided with accommodation by the local authority social services department for a continuous period of more than 24 hours. It includes children in respect of whom a compulsory court order has been made and children accommodated voluntarily. More recently, the term ‘Children Looked After’ is used.

Latest Welsh Government statistics show 5,617 children were looked after by Welsh local authorities on 31 March 2015, a decrease of 2.2% from the previous year. They also show the ‘number of looked after children has increased by 9% over the last five years, but has remained relatively stable over the last three years.’

Chart 1: Number of children looked after in Wales, at March 2015

This is a chart showing numbers of looked after children over a number of years.

Source: Welsh Government Adoptions, outcomes and placements for children looked after by local authorities (September 2015)

The Wales Children in Need Census 2015 (PDF, 1.16 MB) shows that ‘Abuse or neglect’ was the main reason that children were looked after (66%), the other primary reasons including ‘parental illness / disability or absence’ (7%) and ‘family in acute stress or dysfunction’ (7%).

Nearly 75% of looked after children were living in foster care placements. 9 % of looked after children had three or more placements in 2014-15, (512 of the 5,617 children looked after as of 31st March 2015). 20% of children had two placements during the year. In 2010, an Assembly Committee’s report into ‘Arrangements for the Placement of Children into Care’ (PDF,1.09MB) set out concerns about the range of factors that influence the success and stability of such placements.

Characteristics and outcomes

The Wales Children in Need Census 2015 (PDF, 1.16 MB) includes a wide range of data about looked after children. For example it shows that:

  • More than 8% of looked after children were diagnosed as having a ‘mental health problem’, receiving Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services or on a waiting list for services;
  • Nearly 6% of looked after children had ‘substance misuse problems’ (broadly defined as being ‘intoxication by – or regular excessive consumption of – and/or dependence on’ drugs or alcohol);
  • Nearly 13% of looked after children had a disability;
  • The Prison Reform Trust’s recent report (PDF, 308KB) noted that whilst 94% of looked after children did not get involved in the criminal justice system, this group of children are ‘significantly over represented in the criminal justice system and in custody’.

Educational outcomes

How well looked after children do in school and whether they progress to further training or employment is often considered to be an important measure of how well this group of children have been supported by their corporate parent. Their attainment is generally low compared to the school population as a whole.

Latest Welsh Government statistics (PDF, 1.16MB) show there is a wide gap between the attainments of looked after children and that of all pupils (see chart below). As at March 2015:

  • At Foundation Phase the gap is 23 percentage points;
  • At Key Stage 2 the gap is 24 percentage points;
  • At Key Stage 3 the gap increases to 36 percentage points;
  • The gap is at its widest at Key Stage 4, with a 40 percentage point difference, wider than the 38 percentage point gap in 2014.

Only 18 percent of looked after children achieve 5 GCSEs A*-C including English or Welsh and mathematics.

Latest statistics also show that 45 % of care leavers aged 19 were not in education, training or employment in 2015 (the lowest percentage in the past 9 years). A Buttle Trust report (PDF, 8.95MB)states that in 2011, only 7% of care leavers in Wales aged 19 were in HE, which represented 24 students. However the Trust’s report also said that all Welsh Higher Education Institutions were accredited with the Buttle Trust Quality Mark for Care Leavers, which showed they provided minimum level of support to care leavers and had demonstrated a commitment to improving their provision further.

Chart 2: The gap at Foundation Phase and Key Stages between the educational outcomes of children in need, looked after children, and all pupils at 31 March 2015 (a)

This is a chart comparing educational outcomes of looked after children and other pupils

Source: Welsh Government Children in Need Census 2015

A range of Welsh Government strategies

There have been numerous strategies and guidance issued since 1999 when the welfare and protection of looked after children was placed firmly on the political agenda by the findings of the Waterhouse Inquiry.

  • In 1999, then Minister Jane Hutt, launched a three year programme, Children First, intended to transform the management and delivery of social services for children in need, including those who are looked after. All local authorities were expected to strengthen their systems and show steady improvement in outcomes for children and young people.
  • In 2007, the Welsh Government went on to publish Towards a Stable Life and a Brighter Future guidance aimed at strengthening the placement, health, education and wellbeing of looked after children and young people.
  • The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 aims to address ways in which services are delivered and to improve the life chances of children in the care system. As a result of the implementation of the Act, the Welsh Government is currently working on a National Approach to Looked After Children (PDF, 384KB) which seeks to focus on promoting and improving collaborative working across agencies, identifying and sharing good practice and making improvements where they are needed.
  • In January 2016, the Welsh Government published its Strategy for raising the attainment of children who are looked after, a joint strategy between the relevant Ministers for Education and Social Services. This strategy points to the fact that abuse or neglect are the most common reasons for a child to be taken into care and states:

The life of a looked after child is often characterised by trauma and stress in their home life. Their continuum of learning is often interrupted by foster placement changes and time out of school. Self esteem and confidence are inevitably compromised.

  • It also points to the fact that the care system may itself be contributing to poor outcomes, for example a lack of ambition for the children which appears to exist within the public care system, placement instability and leaving foster care too young.

Other types of Welsh Government interventions include the Pupil Deprivation Grant for looked after children(PDF, 49.9KB), with regional education consortia receiving £1,150 per looked after child in 2016-17.

The Welsh Government also recently launched the When I am Ready Scheme which supports care leavers who want to continue living with their foster carers once they turn 18.

Looked after children are at higher risk of sexual exploitation. The Welsh Government’s 2016 National action plan to prevent and protect children and young people from sexual exploitation requires Safeguarding Children Boards and partner agencies to develop best practice approach to the placement of looked after children and young people, for example considering the potential increased risks of exploitation when placing them out of their home area.

Advocacy provision

The importance of looked after children being able to access independent advocates was elevated when the Waterhouse Inquiry found that the victims of decades of widespread sexual and physical abuse of children in north Wales care homes had not been believed or listened to. It recommended that all looked after children should have access to an independent advocate. The previous Children’s Commissioner spoke about his frustration at the ‘initial slow response’ to recommendations he has made about independent advocacy in his 2012 Missing Voices report (PDF, 285KB) and the follow up 2013 report Missing Voices, Missing Progress (PDF, 375KB). There is yet to be confirmation as to whether local authorities and Welsh Government will implement a national model for statutory advocacy services to coincide with the requirements of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014.

The Children and Social Work Bill in England

The Children and Social Work Bill currently before the UK Parliament would place a duty on English local authorities to publish information about the services they offer care leavers (referred to by David Cameron as a ‘care leavers’ covenant’). This would include for example services relating to health and well-being; education and training; employment and accommodation. However Children England, the umbrella body for children’s organisations, has referred to the Bill as a missed opportunity. It says ‘there is no vision outlined for looked after children’s services, their purpose, resourcing or structure, and the experiences and outcomes for children that should be delivered by those services.  Instead there is a focus on tying up loose ends from previous legislation and obliging local authorities to communicate more, rather than deliver more.’

Further information