Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan, was in the hot seat at a debate last night as Members of the Senedd (MSs) expressed disappointment at the ‘unprecedented’ response to the radical reform inquiry, if not now, then when?'. 

The ‘if not now, then when’ report was released by the Children, Young People and Education Committee (CYPE) in May, and recommended 27 priorities for radical reform  the Welsh Government should prioritise to improve the outcomes of care-experienced children and young people. The report comes as part of the Committee’s inquiry into examining what the Government is doing to deliver its commitment to exploring ‘radical reform of current services for children looked after and care leavers as part of its Programme of Government. Only five of the Committee’s recommendations were accepted by the Government in full. Members of the Senedd came together in the debate to challenge the weak response given by the government. 

The debate combined two separate inquiries launched into improving outcomes for care-experienced children and young people. Alongside the radical reform inquiry was an inquiry into care-experienced parents, which was held by the Petitions Committee to improve the support offered to care-experiences parents in Wales. This occurred following a petition from a foster carer who raised concerns about the unfair discrimination faced by care-experienced parents.  

The public gallery was full, with care-experienced young people, professionals and service providers attending to view the debate. The plenary debate had tradition broken with several significant pauses for applause from the public gallery upon the statements from disappointed MSs. 

Jayne Bryant MS speaks with NYAS Cymru project Unity staff and young care-experienced mothers at the Senedd

Jayne Bryant MS, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee, opened the debate by thanking NYAS Cymru’s care-experienced young people for their involvement with the inquiry. Speaking of the lack of commitment from the Welsh Government and the cynicism young people had that change would ever occur, she says: “Our Committee will never forget you and the things that you told us”. 

NYAS Cymru called for MSs' to push for return interviews to be a statutory entitlement in Wales. Return interviews are used when a child returns home after they have been reported as missing.  Return interviews can help to identify potential ‘push and pull’ factors by providing an opportunity for children and young people to explain what led to them going missing, what happened whilst they were missing and what should be put in place to prevent going missing again. In Wales there is good practice happening for return interviews, however services are not consistent or equally accessible across the country.

This means for children and young people, accessing support is based on a postcode lottery. In England, return interviews are statutory and this means a child must legally be offered a return interview after they have returned home. NYAS Cymru is calling for this in Wales to improve the support offered to care-experienced young people, as part of our Missing The Point report in Wales.  

Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru, reiterated the disappointment felt by all parties that the response to the radical reform report failed to see the importance of return interviews. She asked what the Welsh Government’s expectations are of stakeholders in responding to missing care-experienced children and young people, as this was unclear in the Welsh Government response, and demanded “action, not words.” 

Staff and young mothers attended the debate at the Senedd.

The call for return interviews to be made statutory continued, with Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds MS arguing that: “It does work. If it's in law, it has to happen. That safeguards the child". She highlighted that return interviews allow the voice of a child or young person to be heard, and NYAS Cymru agrees.

Chair of the Petitions Committee Jack Sargeant MS, delivered hard-to-hear stories of young care-experienced parents who had faced significant discrimination due to their status as looked-after young people. Speaking about her experience giving birth during the inquiry, one young person said: “I felt like a criminal, and I was clearly being judged.” 

NYAS Cymru’s Project Unity was mentioned by Jack Sargeant MS as a model service that delivers fantastic wrap-around support to care-experienced parents. Conservative  Laura Jones MS said: “The Government must secure funding for these schemes”. NYAS Cymru continues to call for a long-term funding commitment beyond 2025 to services like Project Unity. 

As Deputy Minister Julie Morgan MS stood to address the chamber on behalf of Welsh Government, she welcomed both reports and thanked MSs for their comments on the Government response. 

Julie Morgan MS assured the Senedd that much of the work in the Transformation Programme is ‘already underway’, but stated that some of the changes proposed by the inquires cannot be accepted, as the Welsh Government are already making changes that do not involve the commitment of changing legislation.

Specific concerns of MSs were not addressed, and when Jane Dodds MS asked her to respond in detail to the concerns, Morgan said she will respond in the August 2023 Committee meeting. This was met with audible frustration from both MSs' and the public gallery. 

MSs' were visibly disappointed at the response given by Julie Morgan MS, with Conservative  Laura Jones MS calling for the Welsh Government to ‘think again’ about their response to the radical reform report. 

Sharon Lovell, NYAS Cymru CEO said: “The Children, Young People and Education committee gave a really passionate overview of why those recommendations are so important and they spoke so highly of the children and young people they worked with.  

“I remain very disappointed of Welsh Governments response. It does not go far enough. At NYAS Cymru we will always be on the side of each and every child/young person and we will keep promoting and protecting and advancing the voice of children/young people with and for them to continue with progressing the changes needed. 

Closing the debate, Jayne Bryant MS thanked the care-experienced young people for sharing their experiences with the committee. She said that upon seeing “them in the public gallery, I feel a sense of overwhelming duty to them". Bryant promised the young people that change will come. 

Following the debate, a young mother from Project Unity shared her dismay at the response from the Welsh Governement: “I feel annoyed that the Government aren’t listening. They ignored what was important and ran with their own agenda.” 

Whilst NYAS Cymru welcomes the Welsh Government’s commitment to radical reform, we are disappointed in their responses to the CYPE recommendations. NYAS Cymru is still calling for the Welsh Government to address the following:  

  • A statutory right to return interviews  
  • Long-term funding for Project Unity past 2025 
  • A review of the National Approach to Statutory Advocacy