Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services
I previously informed Members of our consultation on the proposed ‘When I am Ready’ Scheme to enable young people to remain with their former foster carers beyond the age of 18. This was following work with Ken Skates AM, the Member for Clwyd South, to design a scheme to place greater corporate accountability on local authorities to ensure looked after children experience a seamless transition from care to adulthood.
A summary of the consultation responses will shortly be published on the Welsh Government website and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of those who submitted responses. I am pleased to report that the consultation has shown that there is broad support in principle from all sectors for the implementation of the Scheme. The consultation responses provided valuable feedback in particular, on some key issues on the practical implementation of the Scheme which requires further consideration. I have decided therefore to implement the Scheme on a ‘pioneer’ basis and trial implementation in a small number of local authority areas in the first instance. This will allow us to assess the impact of the current guidance and address any operational issues that need further consideration.
I have asked officials to work with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) Cymru to identify suitable pioneer areas in which to introduce the Scheme in late Spring, which will be operational for up to 12 months during which time feedback from the Pioneer areas will enable us to consider the further development of guidance in readiness for pan-Wales implementation.
I am also establishing a Monitoring Group which will receive regular reports from the Pioneer areas enabling the current guidance to be refined where appropriate, to ensure it is fully fit for purpose and to report back on the outcomes of the Pioneer phase. The introduction of the Pioneer phase should not preclude other local authorities operating similar schemes in their areas as part of their corporate parent responsibilities. I know that a great many local authorities already operate post-18 schemes and they may wish to give appropriate consideration to the ‘When I am Ready’ Scheme framework which the UK Government has confirmed meets the requirements for tax relief under the Qualifying Care Relief (Specified Social Care Schemes) Order.
Our Sustainable Social Services Wales and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill provide the background to our stated intention to do more for looked after children in Wales. As corporate parents, we all have a responsibility to ensure looked after children and care leavers have the best possible start in life. I hope Members will continue to support the positive development of the Scheme which I believe will help young people have better choices and help their transition to adulthood is a positive one.
I will keep members informed of the progress and any plans for further implementation in Wales.