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Written Statement - Safeguarding and Protection

Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services 

Last autumn, and also in 2011, I set out my developing approach to safeguard and protect people in Wales. I would like to up-date Members on the action we have taken and my plans for the future.

I recognise that the last two years have been extremely busy. I would like to set on record my thanks to the agencies and professionals who care greatly about the developing safeguarding and protection agenda for their positive and constructive support and engagement. I recognise that this sits alongside the very difficult job that professionals do on a day to day basis. The introduction of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill in January was a significant milestone and provides us with the very best framework to ensure that the arrangements we have to safeguard and protect are second to none. This legislation will be pivotal in delivering key aspects of our safeguarding arrangements. 

The Bill has set out an ambitious agenda. I do not underestimate the challenges it presents. Alongside those challenges are opportunities and it is vital that we seize these with vigour – we are all driven to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are effectively safeguarded and this is an opportunity to do exactly that. 

The Bill will deliver a significant shift in our approach to social care in Wales. It is right that it has received considerable scrutiny since it was published, and that process of democracy will continue. I am grateful to the Chair and members of the Health and Social Care Committee, the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and the Children and Young People Committee for their detailed and thorough scrutiny of the Bill. 

I have already responded to the recommendations of the Committee reports, but there are matters related to the safeguarding provisions on which further clarification might be helpful. I will seek to do that through this statement.   

These new arrangements will ensure that local safeguarding agencies are supported by more robust leadership and a stronger, more effective framework for multi-agency co-operation.  The Bill includes provision to establish a new National Independent Safeguarding Board which will help drive up standards, improve consistency and advise the Welsh Ministers on the adequacy and effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements. 

The Welsh Government recognises that multi-agency co-operation is critical to effective safeguarding. The evidence demonstrates that Local Safeguarding Children Boards are not working in the way we had hoped, and are unable to show how they are effectively safeguarding children. We need to address this and to ensure that a better framework for co-operation and action exists to support improvement and consistency in the work of Boards and in how agencies co-operate to protect both children and adults. The way to achieve this is through reducing the number of Boards to ensure consistency, improvement and sustainability.

We also need to take very fundamental steps to ensure that the arrangements to safeguard adults at risk are as equally  effective as those which seek to protect children in Wales.

I stated  last year that in driving through changes in the safeguarding agenda some turbulence would be inevitable, but that it was essential that people were allowed a proper opportunity to express their views. Given our shared commitment to improve safeguarding the debate is healthy and one which I welcome. It is important that we give a clear voice to safeguarding partners and ensure that they are at the heart of driving these changes. 

I said that strategic leadership arrangements would be put in place in advance of the establishment of the National Board provided for in the Bill. In March, I announced the establishment of the Safeguarding Advisory Panel – chaired by the former Corporate Director Social Services of Swansea City Council, Phil Hodgson. Mr Hodgson previously chaired the Safeguarding Children Forum, which reported to me in August 2011. The Forum provided considerable evidence on which a number of the developments in the safeguarding agenda are based, including the development of a single National Board, the configuration of Safeguarding Boards and the principle of considering the merger of adults and children boards. A copy of the Forum’s report can be found at: 

http://wales.gov.uk/topics/childrenyoungpeople/publications/forum/?lang=en

I have asked the Panel to provide advice to me on specific aspects of the proposals contained in the Bill relating to safeguarding and protection of children and adults, and on the development of regulations and guidance. The Panel will ensure that the views of service users and other stakeholder groups are considered fully in its work.  I am delighted that through the appointment of the Panel we have managed to secure considerable expertise from Wales and beyond to help build the detail of the safeguarding arrangements. Members include Wendy Rose, who was pivotal in helping develop the new Child Practice Review framework in Wales, Ruth Henke QC, Mr Ian Bottrill and Professor John Williams of Aberystwyth University who has recently acted as an expert legal advisor to the Health and Social Care Committee which looked in such detail at the Bill provisions.   

I know that the Chair has had a number of meetings with key organisations such as the Children’s and Older People’s Commissioners, the police, local government representatives and the third sector. I also met Mr Hodgson in October, so that I might be briefed on progress and emerging issues in the developing work. 

Panel members have also led four work streams – the National Board, the legal framework for adult protection and two examining the possible functions and operation of Safeguarding Boards. A national event is also being held later this month, where I intend to speak to stakeholders about the critical work we are undertaking on safeguarding.   

The Panel will present its first report to me shortly, but there remains much to do. We will continue to have conversations about the developing work to help ensure a broad and consistent understanding about what we are trying to achieve through the Bill. We must all now move in the same direction.

Through the scrutiny process some issues have emerged and I should like to take this opportunity to provide further clarification on some of those. The view has been expressed that two national safeguarding boards should be established - one for children, and one for adults. I recognise the anxieties that have been expressed, but my view has always been that one of the pivotal aims of the Bill is to break down artificial barriers based on age. The proposal for one national board reflects that. We have to move away from the conversation which accentuates the notion that this is about the competing needs and priorities of children and adults. This is about more effective safeguarding for everyone. 

Equally, I am not advocating a homogenous, one size fits all approach. Strategically, there will be considerable similarities in safeguarding arrangements that cover people, but equally there will be differences in how problems are tackled. The provisions in the Bill allow the National Board to develop arrangements for adults and children. It is absolutely essential that leadership is focussed in one place, and not on competing arrangements. But that does not mean that the Board will lack flexibility to consider adults and children’s issues separately if it determines that it is the right thing to do. 

The potential impact of the people model has also received attention in the provision that provides the Welsh Ministers with the power to merge Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. The Committee has commented that it did not gather any evidence that supported the idea that merging boards would improve safeguarding.  The Welsh Government has no plans to merge boards in the near future. The provision is included because, given the people approach, we can see potential benefits over the longer-term that might arise from considering the safeguarding needs of people, rather than separately as adults and children. In time, we believe that this will enable us to align strategic intent to operational practice and delivery. However, this will only be considered when we can be sure that it will result in more effective safeguarding for everyone. 

This is a Bill for a generation, and we will need to look at this particular provision through quite a different lens. I was very happy to agree to the Committee’s request that any arrangements the Welsh Government might make to merge Boards should be subject to a super-affirmative process to ensure that the highest possible scrutiny is ensured and that there is public confidence that, when it happens, it will be the right thing to do.

In October 2011 I announced my intention to reconfigure LSCBs, and to establish equivalent statutory boards for adults, on the Public Service Delivery footprint. The collaborative footprint for public services was agreed by the Welsh Government Cabinet in July 2011 and was presented to the Partnership Council in the same month. The footprint provides a framework within which public services can develop consistent approaches to new collaborative working arrangements and centres on the six geographic areas of North Wales, Gwent, Mid and West Wales, Cwm Taf, Cardiff and the Vale and Western Bay.  

The Bill gives us the power to establish these boards and through regulations prescribe the areas boards will cover. It is a key responsibility of the Welsh Government to ensure the most effective framework possible to support the high levels of collaboration and multi-agency working required to ensure effective safeguarding.   

Also in 2011, I asked LSCBs to start planning for change in advance of the new legislation. I am pleased that progress is being made, and that areas such as Western Bay,Cwm Taf  and Gwent already have Safeguarding Boards for both adults and children in place. I do not under-estimate the complexities involved in this work and I am pleased that the Welsh Local Government Association is presently undertaking an exercise on the Welsh Government’s behalf to assess the level of progress to the new footprint across Wales.

I am also proposing to make changes to the safeguarding provisions and have introduced Government Amendments for consideration at Stage 2. Following discussions with the UK Government, I am persuaded that there is benefit in adding probation services as a statutory Safeguarding Board partner – for both adults and children - and we are discussing with the UK Government the nature of that provision. I have also announced my intention to strengthen the duty to report on relevant partners - such as the police, health and other local authorities. If they determine that a child is experiencing or at risk of abuse or neglect then they must report it to the relevant local authority. There has been significant media attention around this issue and I am persuaded that this is a very constructive step forward in further strengthening our child protection arrangements in Wales. Members will also wish to be aware of my recent statement on the work around the assessment and eligibility framework which will further contribute to more effective safeguarding and protection arrangements for children and adults at risk in Wales. 

Considerable attention has focussed on the Bill, and given its significance that is absolutely right. However, we can not lose sight of the fact that excellent progress is also being made in other areas. The Minister for Health and Social Services’ will shortly make a statement on safeguarding and protecting children in NHS Wales. This will outline excellent work in the NHS to ensure it meets its safeguarding obligations, where necessary alongside other statutory partners. We need to ensure that all key safeguarding agencies keep an equal and diligent focus on arrangements to safeguard and protect.  

New child practice reviews came into effect on 1 January in Wales. This new process stems from the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales report published in October 2009 - Improving Practice to Protect Children in Wales – which concluded that serious case reviews had become ineffective in improving practice and inter-agency cooperation. New child practice reviews will continue to be undertaken in the same circumstances where a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is known or suspected and will be an effective learning tool for safeguarding partners. 

We must make learning from practice fundamental to the day to day activity of frontline practitioners to improve the arrangements we have for protecting the most vulnerable. I have already commissioned similar work to examine how the principles of the child practice review framework will work to help protect adults at risk. 

The Third Sector continues to make a significant contribution to safeguarding arrangements and I am pleased that the Welsh Government and Barnardo’s Cymru have recently collaborated to publish an information leaflet on sexual exploitation developed by young people, for young people to try and keep themselves safe from the dangers of grooming and exploitation. 

The NSPCC and Action for Children are also working collaboratively – supported by the Welsh Government – to develop a national action plan and support for practitioners so that we can begin to better understand the spectrum of neglect that blights the lives of so many children and young people and take steps to combat its debilitating effect. I would also like to mention the excellent work undertaken by the NSPCC in helping children recognise abuse and speak up about it. This is an essential part of keeping children safe and it is essential that parents and carers have early conversations with children to help keep them safe from abuse. NSPCC’s PANTS campaign is a simple way to help parents teach children that their body belongs to them and to talk to a trusted adult if they ever feel scared or upset.  

I am sure that Members will agree that significant progress is being made, but there continues much to do. I will ensure that Members are kept informed of progress.