How do we support the development of strong, healthy and resilient children and young people? The Welsh Government’s vision for an effective school nursing service in Wales.

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The Revised School Nursing Framework for Wales

There is huge potential for school nurses to improve children and young people’s physical, emotional and psychological health; supporting them to achieve to the best of their ability during their school years and to grow up to be as healthy and resilient as possible. This is recognised in the Revised School Nursing Framework for Wales, published by the Welsh Government on 18 May 2017.

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Children’s Commissioner’s Annual Report 2015-16

09 November 2016

Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

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.

Children’s Rights in Wales: An Update

17 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 children holding hands

Image from the Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Last week, the United Nations gave its verdict on what progress has been made to deliver on children’s rights in Wales. Following a UK-wide review, it made more than 150 recommendations.

The UN’s recommendations refer to a wide range of issues that have featured prominently in previous Assemblies. Its recommendations cover subjects such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS); the attainment gap in education; looked after children; children with special educational needs; children’s play; and childhood obesity.

Referring specifically to Wales, the UN:

  • Is concerned about ‘high’ child poverty rates in the UK, which it says is affecting children in Wales and Northern Ireland the most. [Wales has the highest child poverty rate of all the UK nations at 31%, equivalent to around 172,000 children];
  • Expresses concern that ‘children’s views are not systematically heard in policy-making on issues that affect them’ and notes there is no youth parliament in Wales. It recommends that one should be established as a priority, so that children can effectively engage with the legislative process on issues that affect them.

[This week, the Campaign for a Children and Young People’s Assembly for Wales launched a consultation for children and young people on its ideas about which model a new youth assembly for Wales could look like];

Some of the UN’s views on UK wide issues include that:

  • It is ‘seriously concerned at the effects of the recent fiscal policies and allocations of resources’ on children’s rights and that they disproportionately affect children in disadvantaged situations;
  • There is a need to ‘prohibit as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family, including the repeal of all legal defences, such as ‘reasonable chastisement’, often referred to as a ‘smacking ban’. [In May 2016, the First Minister committed to taking forward, on a cross-party basis, legislation that will remove the defence of reasonable chastisement in Wales];
  • There should be a consultation on allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote. [If the Wales Bill 2016 currently before Parliament is passed, the Assembly would have powers to change the age at which people can vote in Assembly Elections]
  • Infant and child mortality is linked to social and economic deprivation. [Children aged 0-17 living in the most deprived parts of Wales are almost twice as likely to die as those in the least deprived parts].

See our recent blog: Prioritising children and young people for further statistics on children in Wales.

Why is the UN having its say?

This will be the fifth time the UN has looked at the progress made in delivering the rights of children and young people since the UK Government signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989. The UNCRC gives children and young people up to the age of 18 a wide range of rights, including rights to protection, health, family, education, culture and leisure. See a summary of its articles (PDF 19.62MB).

In 2011, the Welsh Government went one step further, receiving international recognition when it became the only country in the UK to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law through its Rights of the Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure. This has inevitably resulted in questions about what this relatively new law means in practice and what difference it is making to the day to day lives of children and young people living in Wales.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is a panel of international experts on children and young people whose role is to scrutinise governments progress in implementing the UNCRC.

On what evidence does the UN make its judgement?

Its verdict is based on written evidence from the UK and devolved governments; all four UK Children’s Commissioners; national reports from Non-Governmental Organisations as well as evidence provided by children and young people. Representatives of the United Nations visited the UK and Wales to meet with stakeholders and children and young people. Subsequently Welsh and UK representatives went to Geneva to give further evidence and answer questions about what more the Westminster and Welsh Governments need to do to fully implement the UNCRC.

Of interest to Assembly Members and other stakeholders may be the range of written evidence about Wales which was submitted to the UN. This includes:

What next in Wales?

The UN last gave its verdict on children’s rights in Wales back in 2008. In response to its recommendations, the then Welsh Government published Getting it Right – a 5 year action plan. We are yet to hear how this new Welsh Government, and the new Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant, will respond to what the UN has said in this most recent report.

It’s notable that the cabinet for this new Welsh Government includes a Cabinet Secretary whose title specifically includes children. Announcing this in Plenary on 24 May 2016, the First Minister confirmed that ‘we’re identifying the interests of children as a distinct ministerial responsibility’. Given successive Welsh Governments’ stated commitments to children’s rights, the UN’s most recent findings are likely to provide the basis for further scrutiny during this Fifth Assembly.

Commissioners and the ombudsman

03 June 2016

Article by Stephen Boyce, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

There has been much debate about differences in the powers and governance arrangements of commissioners and the ombudsman in Wales – is it time for an overhaul?

With the office of the Future Generations Commissioner fully operational since April 2016, Wales now has four statutory commissioners and a public services ombudsman. But are their roles sufficiently clear and are they truly independent? The arrangements for appointing and holding them to account are inconsistent, and there is a view, shared by some of the commissioners themselves, that change is needed.

Commissioners and the ombudsman in Wales

Since the creation in 2001 of the first commissioner in Wales – for children and young people – commissioners have become an established part of public life. They are responsible for safeguarding and protecting the rights of Welsh citizens and improving public services within their areas of responsibility.

There are now commissioners for children, older people, future generations and the Welsh language, as well as an Assembly standards commissioner and a public services ombudsman (PSOW). Wales has been something of a leader in this area – some commissioner offices were the first of their kind, and creating a single public services ombudsman from the merger of three former bodies is acknowledged as an example of good practice.

Varying governance arrangements

The commissioners for older people, Welsh language, future generations and children are all appointed and funded by the Welsh Government, although they are independent.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) is appointed by the Monarch on the recommendation of the Assembly, and funded by the Welsh Consolidated Fund.

The Standards Commissioner, who is concerned with standards in the Assembly, is appointed by the Assembly and remunerated from the Welsh Consolidated Fund.

Commissioners’ independence

Several committees in the Fourth Assembly scrutinised the processes for appointing and holding commissioners to account. They recommended increased stakeholder and cross-party involvement, or appointment by the Assembly rather than the Welsh Government.

Although there is no suggestion of any interference by the Welsh Government, both the former and current children’s commissioners have argued that the holder of the post should be accountable to, and appointed by, the Assembly. The Welsh Language Commissioner has similarly questioned whether it is appropriate that the Welsh Government funds her office.

The Older People’s Commissioner has attributed the lack of conflict with the Welsh Government to both parties’ determination to make the arrangement work. Given the need for commissioners to cast a critical eye over government, there is a question about whether the current arrangements will prove sufficiently robust in the long term.

In 2014, the previous Welsh Government commissioned Dr Mike Shooter to conduct an independent review of the role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. He made a number of recommendations about the appointment, remit, funding, accountability and governance of the commissioner. This included extending his or her remit to include non-devolved matters. The previous Welsh Government agreed, and accepted many of the recommendations that were within its powers to implement. However, other aspects of the report have generated intense disagreement.

The review recommended that the Assembly rather than the Welsh Government should appoint and fund the children’s commissioner in the future. The previous Welsh Government disagreed, much to the disappointment of the Fourth Assembly’s Children and Young People’s Committee. This Committee recommended that any successor committee in the Fifth Assembly should press strongly for the decision to be reviewed. The Shooter report also identified a need for more rigorous Assembly scrutiny of the commissioner.

A strategic approach

There are differences in powers as well as governance arrangements between commissioners; each has been established under separate legislation. Given what it termed the ‘proliferation’ of commissioners, the Shooter report suggested the Welsh Government should take stock of what is required of each and draft a single commissioners’ Act which could set out definitions, principles, roles and powers common to all. Issues specific to each commissioner could be set out in regulations.

Drafting legislation to cover all commissioners would not be a simple matter given their different remits, but a more coherent approach could improve their effectiveness and increase public understanding of their roles.

The previous Welsh Government stated that it was ‘not yet persuaded of the need for a single piece of legislation covering all commissioners’. However, it committed to undertaking some exploratory work on further legislation. In the meantime it produced secondary legislation to align the Older People’s Commissioner’s term of office to that of other commissioners and the PSOW.

As the Future Generations Commissioner begins work in earnest, the work of the commissioners’ offices touch on the lives of an increasing number of people. Given the high public profile of such post holders, the need for clarity about their roles and accountability will become more pressing.

Key sources

Adoption Services in Wales – what’s changed in the past three years?

22 March 2016

Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This is a picture of

Image from Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Today, the Children, Young People and Education Committee publishes its report on its ‘Follow-up Inquiry into Adoption Services in Wales’. It’s fitting that this is the Committee’s final report on policy scrutiny during this Fourth Assembly, given its considerable interest over time in how these services are operating in Wales and what impact they are having on children, young people and their families. ‘Adoption Services’ refer to those services that recruit, assess, approve and prepare adoptive parents. They also include the process of matching children and families, the support services that children get to prepare them for adoption, and crucially the support they and their families get after the adoption has taken place.

In line with its approach in scrutinising other policy areas, the Committee’s report places significant importance on listening to the views and experiences of those affected by services. Recommendations in the report reflect some of the main concerns that adoptive parents highlighted to Committees Members during private sessions earlier this year. The Committee’s primary concerns are set out in the report as:

  • The regional variation in adoption services across Wales (see latest statistics from the National Adoption Service).
  • The continued lack of support that families get after adoption, and the ‘significant and very serious impact this can potentially have on children and their families’.
  • That the majority of adopted children are still not being provided with quality life-story work.

It’s over three years since the Committee’s first report into adoption services was published in 2012. Back then there was a clear difference of opinion between Members of the Committee and the then Deputy Minister, Gwenda Thomas, about the best way to improve services across Wales. Both the Committee and the Deputy Minister agreed there was a need to create a new National Adoption Service. What they disagreed on was what role local authorities should have within this new service. The Committee’s view was that the new service should not be ‘owned’ by local authorities and that the service should be run by someone in a senior independent role, accountable to the relevant Welsh Government Minister. However in its response the Welsh Government said it was sticking to its original plan and that the new service would ultimately remain the responsibility of local authorities.

Three years later, the Committee heard some positive feedback about the early days of the National Adoption Service, for example the speed with which it had established an appropriate infrastructure, its engagement with key stakeholders and how it had established systems to gather data on adoption. However, they also heard concerns about a lack of progress in some of the policy and practice regarded as more ‘challenging’ areas to improve. In particular there were still serious concerns about the provision of post-adoption support, specifically from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and from schools and ‘education services’. In its report the Committee also refers to ‘worrying evidence that only relatively few children are being provided with quality life-story work’.

As well as being raised as issues by stakeholders, these were some of the main concerns raised by adoptive parents. Annex A of the Committee’s report summarises the recent discussions with adoptive parents.

Given the forthcoming Assembly elections, the current Welsh Government won’t formally respond to this follow-up report. However the current Minister has already indicated he accepts that progress still needs to be made in respect of the Committee’s main areas of concern. Giving oral evidence in February 2016, Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health and Social Services, said:

‘[…]the three things that the committee is focusing on—variation, post-adoption support and life-story work—are the shared priorities that we agree, from a Government perspective, are the things that, as the national service moves on, it needs now to focus its attention on.’

Further to the publication of today’s report on Adoption Services, tomorrow the Children, Young People and Education Committee will publish its legacy report (PDF 3MB). It aims to provide a useful starting point for the Committee’s successor in the next Assembly, to show what the Committee has done during the past five years, how it has carried out its work and the lessons it has learned.

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