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Written Statement - Children First

Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children

In October 2016 I invited organisations to join with me to develop children’s zones in Wales.

This is part of my ambition for resilient communities, supporting children and young people in their communities and reducing the inequalities some of them face, in comparison with their peers from more socially advantaged places.

This is not a new government programme, but an approach to working collaboratively around a specific place for the benefit of children and young people.

And while we have learned from similar approaches in other countries, the approach here needs to be developed with Welsh priorities and resources in mind.

Our approach needs its own distinctive name – which I propose should be “Plant yn Gyntaf/ Children First”.

As I have said, this is not a new Welsh Government programme. Rather, it means moving towards a facilitated way of working which enables organisations to come together

  • around a specific place
  • to work collaboratively for the children and young people in that place
  • to reduce the inequalities these children face compared with children and young people in more socially advantaged places.

I know many organisations in the public and third sectors in Wales are already working collaboratively. The key point about Children First is that it will initiate change at the local level, based on the needs of the specific place, identified by listening to children and young people and to the local community. The Welsh Government role will be to facilitate and enable this approach.

Neither is Children First about replacing the excellent programmes we already have in place, such as Flying Start and Families First. It is about bringing together all the services and support which will be effective in addressing the needs of children and young people in the Children First area, from the first 1000 days through to adulthood.

I will not dictate to Children First areas what their outcomes should be, or how they should go about achieving them, but there are some basic principles which I expect to be adhered to. For example, there should be an anchor organisation with the drive and capability to bring partners together to work for children and young people in that area.

I also expect Children First areas to develop a strategic focus, setting out the outcomes they want to achieve and considering from the outset how they will evaluate the approach.

There are also some principles and priorities which already apply across all our children focused policies and which will apply equally to Children First.

So, children’s and young people’s rights should be central to Children First, including the right to participate in decisions affecting them.

Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs are also a priority. The findings of Public Health Wales’ studies and other research on the impact of ACEs, are striking. I am convinced that we need to find ways to prevent ACEs and mitigate their impact, to give our children and young people and the communities they live in, the opportunity to flourish.

The ACE Support Hub has now been established, with the aim of enabling ACE informed professionals and organisations and developing an ACE aware society. I will encourage Children First areas to take advantage of the expertise and support the hub can offer.We are now ready to make progress on Children First and I am very grateful to the 19 organisations who put forward expressions of interest in establishing Children First areas. Following an assessment process we have identified 5 proposals that are ready to proceed as pioneers and these are; Cwm Taf, Gwynedd, Newport, Caerphilly and Carmarthenshire.

I believe these 5 pioneers will be able to make rapid progress in establishing a Children First area and provide us with the opportunity to see how the approach works for a range of issues and in different communities across the country.

A number of the other proposals we received were also well developed and we envisage could become part of Children First in the near future. We will continue to encourage and facilitate the further development of these proposals.

To this end, my officials are arranging a learning event for the pioneers and all those who submitted proposals, to kick-start Children First and build a network of interested parties who can help to expand the approach in the future,either by becoming Children First areas themselves, or as partners contributing particular skills or expertise in certain areas.

I cannot emphasise enough that this is not a top down approach. Beyond the basic principles, it is for the local anchor organisation and its partners to work with the community, its children and young people, to develop a strategic plan based on local need. I will facilitate and encourage the approach, and will be willing to discuss how we can help to remove any barriers or obstacles to progress.

I am expecting that, in time, the benefits of Children First areas will be clear and that there will be an increase in delivery of this multi-agency, collaborative approach.