07 November 2018
Nearly 6,000 children are now looked after by Welsh local authorities: more than ever before and nearly double the number twenty years ago.
- More than sixty per cent of the children starting to be looked after went into care because of abuse or neglect..
- Ten percent of looked after children had three or more placements in the previous twelve months (624 children).
- Seventy-four percent of looked after children were accommodated in foster care placements.
A focus at the Assembly
Since the early days of the Assembly there has been cross-party support for the need to improve outcomes for looked after children. There have been a range of strategies that aim to make improvements with an on-going consensus that more needs to be done.
On 13 November 2018 the Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care is due to make a statement in Plenary on ‘Improving Outcomes for Children: Reducing the Need for Children to Enter Care, and the work of the Ministerial Advisory Group.
Today, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance has announced his intention, subject to consultation, to bring forward legislation to exempt care leavers from council tax from 1 April 2019.
Also today, Assembly Members will debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report on ‘Targeted Funding to Improve Educational Outcomes’. This includes nine specific recommendations about the funding targeted at improving the educational outcomes of looked after and adopted children.
Public care applications in Wales
If a local authority has serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, it can apply to the court to take the child into care. Over the last decade, applications for care orders have more than doubled in England and Wales.
The rate of looked after children is 95 per 10,000 children in Wales compared to 62 per 10,000 in England. This rate varies between Welsh local authorities and whilst this may be partly explained by deprivation levels, this factor doesn’t fully explain the geographical differences.
In response to what was referred to as the ‘immediate crisis of increasing numbers of public law care cases’ the Care Crisis Review Report 2018 sought to identify key potential changes that could be made to address and provide sustainable approaches to managing demand within the care and family justice systems in ways that would achieve the best outcomes for children. It stated:
In 2017 in England and Wales local authorities had larger numbers of children in care than ever before. The previous year the courts had record numbers of applications for care proceedings. There are serious concerns about whether the child welfare and family justice systems can be sustained with the current levels of demand.
Minister for Children, Older People and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies gave a speech at the Care Crisis Review Launch in June 2018.
‘Edge of care’ services
As the upward trend in the number of children going into local authority care continues there is an increasing focus in recent years on ‘edge of care services’. These are interventions or services which try and safely reduce the numbers of children who need local authority accommodation by focusing on prevention and family support services.
In 2017-18 the Welsh Government allocated £5 million to expand ‘Edge of Care Services’ and £850,000 to expand the Reflect project across Wales which aims to reduce the number of children being taken into care by breaking the cycle of repeat pregnancies and recurrent care proceedings. This funding was transferred into the local government Revenue Support Grant in 2018-19.
Is public spending on looked after children leading to good outcomes?
The Public Accounts Committee has undertaken an inquiry looking at this specific issue. It is due to report in November 2018 on whether public services are delivering value for money, with the focus being on whether it is leading to good outcomes for care experienced children and young people.
What we already know is that £284 million was spent on looked after children by Welsh local authorities’ social services departments in 2017-18. This compares to £147 million ten years ago in 2007-08. This reflects the rising numbers of children and the legal duties local authorities have.
This does not include other public spending such as from health and education. Nor does it reflect Welsh Government central funding for example the £4.6 million allocated to the Pupil Development Grant (PDG) for looked after children in 2018-19 with the aim of improving their educational outcomes.
The Ministerial Advisory Group
The Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG) is the Welsh Government’s successor to the Improving Outcomes for Children Strategic Steering Group, which oversaw the first phase of development towards a national approach for looked after children in Wales. The group was established after the Assembly elections in 2016 and is chaired by David Melding AM. The work of the Group focuses on:
- identifying early and preventative action to help reduce the numbers of children taken into care
- improving outcomes for children already in care
- improving outcomes for care leavers.
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service