Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services
The Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act will be implemented from April 2016. The Act fundamentally changes the way social services work. Wellbeing underpins the whole system, linking through to the role that early intervention and prevention can play in promoting wellbeing, to how people can be empowered by information, advice and assistance, by being involved in the design and operation of services and by making their own active contribution to their own wellbeing. People will be able to get information, advice and assistance about different kinds of care and support when they need some extra help to carry on leading their lives. This service will be tailored to be more accessible and user-friendly for children and young people.
Assembly members are currently in the process of considering the first tranche of regulations to be made under the Act and will debate a number of these in the coming weeks. The regulations to be made under the Act, supplemented by the statutory guidance and codes of practice, are an essential part of the new legislative framework established through the Act. I thought it timely therefore to consider our proposals in the round and to set out the positive impact that the Act will have on the lives of children and young people.
The former Deputy Minister, Gwenda Thomas A.M. made it absolutely clear that children’s rights and entitlements would remain central to the making and the implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. This has been a core principle in the development of the regulations and codes of practice and statutory guidance. We have taken every opportunity to reinforce and strengthen our commitment to ensuring that children and young people are enabled to live their lives in a way that allows them to flourish in a safe and nurturing environment. The new legal framework builds on the National Assembly’s unique approach to children’s rights and secures their voice and their participation in decisions about their care and support.
The Act and the secondary legislation bring a new focus to meeting the needs of children and young people. I have drawn together a number of the significant elements.
A strong voice and real control optimises everyone’s opportunity for wellbeing. Everyone can be given a voice – an opportunity – a right – to be heard as an individual, as a citizen, to have control over their day to day lives.
The focus of the Act is on enabling all people, including children and young people, to secure their own voice in decisions about them, to enable them to live safely with their families and to be active and participating members of their communities: this is critical to securing wellbeing.
We have published our draft wellbeing statement and the working document of the national outcomes framework. The framework will be a crucial tool to measure national and local progress towards the transformation of care and support services. It includes measures specifically about the wellbeing of children and young people.
Members will also be aware of the due regard duties in relation to both children and older persons which now sit on the face of the Act. The draft code of practice on Part 2 of the Act, will give further guidance on how local authorities may discharge these duties.
Prevention and Early Intervention
Prevention and early intervention are critical to successful outcomes in supporting families, particularly those with complex needs. Co-operation across the school, community organisations, the police and social workers makes a real difference. The draft code of practice under Part 2 sets out the requirements on local authorities to provide a preventative approach. Local authorities and health boards must jointly undertake a population assessment, including of the care and support needs of children and young people. In response to this assessment, local authorities must set out, amongst other things, how they will promote children being brought up by their families and prevent children becoming looked after. This provides visibility for these issues, for the first time, at regional and local authority levels.
Assessment and Eligibility
The Act introduces, for the first time, regulations about the assessment of the needs of children and regulations about the eligibility of those needs to be met through the local authority providing services or arranging for services to be provided. The framework sets particular considerations that apply to the assessment of the needs of children, including the developmental needs of the child, and any other circumstances affecting the child’s wellbeing.
The Act also reinforces our commitment to meeting the needs of disabled children, creating a presumption that a disabled child will have a need for additional care and support. This is reflected in our regulations and will be emphasised in our codes of practice on assessment and eligibility.
A clear message from the consultation on the proposals was that further guidance was needed about the application of the best interest principle in assessing and meeting the needs of children. To address this, we have worked with a small task and finish group with representatives from the statutory, voluntary and regulatory sectors. The group identified the key elements of the current Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need to be incorporated into an updated code of practice. This will emphasise the central duty to safeguard children and young people and to ensure they can achieve their wellbeing outcomes. These elements are being further tested with key stakeholders and refined for the final version of the codes, which I intend laying before the Assembly later this year.
The provision of direct payments has been strengthened under the Act to allow payments to meet the wellbeing needs of a child. Local authorities will be under a duty to provide these where a child’s wellbeing outcomes can be met through direct payments and the child themselves, or a person with parental responsibility for that child, requests them.
Our safeguarding reforms include a strengthened legal framework for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. The Act reinforces existing safeguarding arrangements for children through the introduction of a new duty to report to the local authority any child suspected of being at risk of, or experiencing, abuse or neglect.
The reforms ensure safeguarding partners are supported by more robust leadership and stronger, more effective multi-agency co-operation. Work on reconfiguring existing statutory children’s boards and establishing statutory adults’ boards on the Public Service Delivery footprint is nearing completion. Regulations will prescribe the functions and requirements of these boards including the involvement of people who use services in their work.
The public appointment exercise for appointments to the National Independent Safeguarding Board will begin very shortly. The National Board will report on the adequacy and effectiveness of arrangements to safeguard children and adults in Wales. Members will make recommendations to Welsh Ministers about how arrangements could be improved to further secure the safety of the vulnerable, whether children or adults.
Looked After Children
The increased emphasis on preventative and early intervention services required under Part 2 of the Act, including parenting programmes and family support, will enable local authorities to work with families before they reach a point of crisis.
For those children who do need to be looked after, Part 6 of the Act ensures that there is effective care and support planning, which embraces all aspects of the child’s wellbeing, including health and developmental needs, stability and permanence, and educational attainment. It includes the provision of a range of placements, including foster care and residential accommodation. It provides for the effective review of each child’s case, and it includes preparation for the child or young person to leave the local authority’s care, either to be reunited with their family or to move on to independent adult living.
In particular, Part 6 introduces a new duty upon local authorities to provide information about, facilitate and support post-18 living arrangements for young people in foster care. This new duty is being taken forward under the ‘When I am Ready’ scheme, which is being rolled out across Wales during 2015-16. These arrangements allow a young person to continue living in a stable and nurturing family environment after they turn 18, up to the age of 21 (or up to 25 if they are completing an agreed programme of education or training). ‘When I am Ready’ will ensure that young people will have the time and support to develop the necessary skills and resilience to make a successful transition to independent living.
I have also issued directions concerning the National Adoption Service for Wales. These directions came into force on 13 March and place requirements on local authorities to operate their adoption services on a nationally co-ordinated regional model, based around five “regional collaboratives”. They specify governance and accountability arrangements at regional and national level, overseen by a Director, governance board and advisory group; and they set out requirements for the outcomes expected of the new arrangements, underpinned by a national performance management framework.
These new arrangements are already showing a positive impact on the lives of looked after children, as local government and voluntary adoption agencies across Wales work together, regionally and nationally, to deliver more permanent family placements and improve adoption services.
The number of children placed for adoption has increased from 300 in 2011/12 to 386 in 2014/15 – an increase of 29%. The number of adopters approved has risen from 197 in 2011/12 to 297 in 2014/15 – an increase of 51%. Last year alone, the increase was 26%.
In the year ahead, the National Adoption Service has an ambitious agenda to:
- increase the number of adopters approved by 90 in 2015/16 (an increase of 25% on the high achieved in the first year of the National Adoption Service’s operation);
- reduce the average time taken to approve adopters to 8 months or less;
- reduce the time taken between looked after child placement to adoptive placement to 13 months or less; and
- increase the number of birth parents taking up the offer of counselling to at least 50% (thereby not only improving their well being, but also helping to break the cycle of multiple successive removals of a parent’s subsequent children).
Partnership and Co-operation
The Act places a new focus on partnership and co-operation within local authorities and across organisational boundaries. For children and young people and their families, these renewed duties will be at the centre of a more holistic and innovative approach to their needs. There are significant fault lines across services for children ,which impact, for example, on how the transition to adult services is handled for children with disabilities. The Act provides significant opportunities to rectify these issues enabling local authorities, health boards and other statutory partners to work together around the needs of their populations, as identified by the population assessments under Part 2, to improve wellbeing.
During the scrutiny of the Act, the Health and Social Care Committee raised concerns over the appropriateness of charging for the care and support a child receives. While the Act gives local authorities the discretion to charge parents or guardians for the care and support their child receives, it is my intention to disapply this at this time through the regulations under Part 5 of the Act on charging and financial assessment, which are currently out to consultation.
The summary above sets out the most recent developments of the 2014 Act’s provision for children and young people. The contribution of stakeholders has been critical in all this work, and I am very grateful to them.
I will keep Assembly Members informed of the further work which will now be carried out to put in place the programme of actions to monitor and evaluate the impact of the legislation on the lives of children and young people and their families.