EnglishCymraeg

News

NYAS Cymru appoints new CEO

NYAS have appointed a new Chief Executive Officer to lead NYAS Cymru, the Welsh division of NYAS, headed up by Group CEO Rita Waters.

Sharon Lovell, MBE has been promoted from National Executive Director for Wales to the leading role with immediate effect. Sharon initially joined NYAS back in 2005 as a Project Coordinator for Caerphilly, and was the first staff member for NYAS in Wales and has since progressed to an executive management position, securing major grants and funding to provide vital services in Wales.

In her role as National Executive Director for Wales, Sharon has been responsible for the oversight of strategic direction, operational services, policy and campaigning on behalf of NYAS within Wales, with a workforce of over 100 staff and volunteers.

Sharon played an instrumental role in lobbying for independent professional advocacy to become enshrined in legislation and was part of the advocacy movement in Wales. This has resulted in every child and young person having an active offer of advocacy when they first come into care and being subject to child protection procedures.

“I am immensely proud and delighted to be appointed CEO of NYAS Cymru,” said Sharon.

“I am honoured to work with such an excellent charity that is always on the side of the child/young person. I work with an extremely dedicated team who change the lives of young people every day.”

Rita Waters, NYAS Group CEO across England and Wales said: “Sharon’s ongoing commitment and passion to ensure that the voice of children and young people is heard is obvious and has been instrumental in the recent growth of NYAS services and projects in Wales. I congratulate Sharon on her appointment and look forward to working with her going forward.”

Human Rights Committee quotes NYAS as questions raised over UK Government decisions affecting children during the pandemic

On 21st of September our written evidence on the human rights impact of Statutory Instrument 445 (SI 445) was published as part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) enquiry into the UK Government’s response to COVID-19.

The Committee pointed to our evidence which focused on the decision to introduce a new law in April that diluted or removed at least 65 children’s rights and protections. This law is called Statutory Instrument 445 (SI 445) and NYAS has been campaigning against it since it was first introduced on 23rd of April. The law by-passed the ordinary 21 day waiting period for secondary legislation to come into force and affected over 78,000 children in care and entering care in England.

In our NYAS submission, we discussed government legislation in light of the rights of children and young people in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The written submission can be read here, and the full report by the JCHR can be read here.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive, said “We are pleased that our perspective and experience was reflected in the Committee’s report, and look forward to working with the government to ensure that lessons must be learnt going forward. The rights of care experienced children and young people must always be protected, particularly during times of uncertainty, not abandoned or diluted to the detriment of their safety and wellbeing.”

Civil Service Internship Scheme introduced by Government for care leavers

The government has announced the roll out of a civil service internship scheme for care leavers aged between 18-30. Successful applicants will be offered a post in a Government Department in the location they specify. The application window will be open from today (Monday 7 September) to the extended deadline of 23:55 hours on Monday 12th October and those interested in the scheme can register interest and create an account on Civil Service Jobs now.

The aim of the internship is to help care leavers to develop and enhance their work-based skills and essentially become a launch-pad for a successful working life. This will be the third year that the scheme has ran and aims to provide exciting opportunities which enable care leavers to experience working in central Government.

The internships will be hosted across various Government Departments and agencies, which have offices in locations across England, Scotland and Wales. No qualifications are required to apply, but applicants must be a care leaver aged between 18-30 years. The internships will be offered at two levels; Administrative Officer (typical salary £17,400 per annum) or Executive Officer (typical salary £20,000 per annum) and London salaries may be higher.

For more information about the application process, see here.

NYAS Contact Centre receives outstanding CAFCASS audit

NYAS Contact Centre service is delighted to have recently received an outstanding audit from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), highlighting the range of improvements and developments to safely maintain family contact, especially during lockdown.

The audit outlined an improvement in our referral acceptance score, with a score of 100% in seven out of the audited eight months. Guidance suggests referrals should be responded to within five working days, though we were found to be typically responding the same day. Our contact agreement meeting timescale score (CAM) and contact intervention scores were also shown to have improved significantly.

Throughout the period of lockdown, the NYAS Contact Centre has continued to operate using a new virtual model, using video calls, to ensure children, young people and families could maintain contact in a safe and supported environment. The use of this creative contact, introduced in March through the medium of Skype, remains a successful model with ongoing cases even as the restrictions begin to lift.

NYAS Contact Centre Coordinator, Bethany Wright, said, “It’s apparent that virtual contact will never replace face to face contact and the benefits that come from a physical social interaction, however where we cannot progress to community contact, it’s allowed our services to continue to be delivered. It’s provided a real lifeline to families who have wanted to maintain contact through such challenging times.”

As lockdown restrictions start to ease the NYAS Contact Centre will resume service recovery using a blended approach of a virtual and face to face model where is feasible. Limited face to face delivery within the Birkenhead Contact Centre will recommence from 1st September, with a long term plan to be flexible in our approach and retain creative contact as a complimentary service.

More information on the NYAS Contact Centre can be found here.

Place of Safety? NYAS Cymru launches campaign on rights of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Wales

NYAS has today released a new report, Place of Safety?, which recommends new ways for Welsh Government to protect, support, empower and safeguard unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Wales. The report is available in English here and in Welsh here.

There are 125 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children living in Wales. These children have been separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult.

Asylum-seeking young people often have complex needs, resulting in greater risk of missing episodes, abuse, trafficking and exploitation.

With over half of unaccompanied and separated children in the UK thought to be suffering from PTSD and almost one in three suffering with depression, NYAS Cymru are committed to supporting and upholding the rights of every child and young person.

Our report seeks to support the commitments of Welsh Government in the current Refugee and Asylum Seeker Plan, by providing four recommendations to improve the ‘asylum journey’ for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Wales.

We recommend that Welsh Government:

  1. Protect children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are provided with clear summaries in their native language as to the mental health and wellbeing offer in Wales, including how to access that support.

  1. Support children and young people through the Age Assessment process.

Welsh Government should create clear guidance for Local Authorities and practitioners on the role of the Appropriate Adult in Age Assessments and ensure that every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child has the right to an independent Appropriate Adult who has been trained for their role.

  1. Empower children and young people with independent advocacy.

Every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child must have an active offer of independent advocacy so that their rights and entitlements are protected throughout their asylum journey.

  1. Safeguard children and young people from trafficking and exploitation.

Welsh Government should make statutory provision for every child in Wales to be offered an independent return interview after a missing episode, conducted by someone independent of the police and local authority. Every unaccompanied asylum-seeking child must be given information about trafficking and exploitation in their own language.

Sharon Lovell, National Executive Director of Wales, said “NYAS Cymru are launching our campaign today to highlight and address the issues for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are calling for every child to be protected, safeguarded and ensure their rights and entitlements are upheld. Too many children tell us they feel unsafe, scared and isolated without knowing what to expect. This needs to change to ensure all children experience a place of safety in Wales.”

BREAKING: HIGH COURT RULES STATUTORY INSTRUMENT 445 WAS MADE LAWFULLY

Today, a much-anticipated judgment following Article 39’s Judicial Review challenge of ‘SI 445’ was handed down by the High Court, finding that SI 445 was lawfully introduced by the Government. The verdict comes shortly after a two day court battle, in which Article 39, supported by the #ScrapSI445 group, argued for children’s rights to be reinstated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legal challenge was formed on three grounds: SI 445 unlawfully failed to consult broadly enough; SI 445 ran contrary to the statutory scheme that existed for children; and that SI 445 was introduced without regard to the welfare of children under the Children and Young Person Act 2008.

Mrs Justice Lieven stated in point 48 of the judgment that she agreed with the argument advanced by Ms Richards QC on behalf of Article 39, “that the safeguards dealt with in the [SI 445] regulations are of real importance to the protection of this very vulnerable cohort of children. […] these are not bureaucratic provisions that are a burden.”

NYAS, as part of the #ScrapSI445 campaigning group has throughout the COVID-19 pandemic argued that the 65 protections lost or diluted by SI 445 constitute significant rights that have been built up over many years to better protect care-experienced children and young people. We are pleased that Justice Lieven recognised this.

Justice Lieven also echoed that the “Children’s Commissioner could have been consulted”, saying that “In anything less than a national crisis of quite such urgency I would have been minded to find that the consultation was not lawful if the Commissioner was not consulted”.

The reasons underlining the outcome can be found towards the end of Justice Lieven’s closing remarks. The actions that the Government took to introduce ‘flexibilities’, according to Justice Lieven, were with the intention of “protecting the welfare of children in the circumstances of the time.”

We are proud to have supported Article 39 in their efforts, and grateful to them for taking forward the case for Judicial Review.

NYAS and many others within the sector will continue to campaign for the immediate withdrawal of SI 445.

Sign the petition for the withdrawal of SI 445 here.

Watch NYAS’ Head of Policy, Ben Twomey, respond to the judgement here.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive of NYAS, said “We are disappointed by today’s judgment. Safeguards that protect thousands of care-experienced children and young people across England have been stripped away by SI 445. The judgment that Article 39 received today acknowledges that these safeguards are significant for children, and that the challenges that the social care sector faces are longstanding. We continue to call for the immediate withdrawal of SI 445, until the rights of care-experienced children are reinstated, and every child has the protection they deserve.”

There is no case for law undermining children’s rights to continue into September – NYAS’ response to flawed government consultation

We have once again called for the immediate withdrawal of SI 445, legislation introduced in April that removes or dilutes children’s rights. The government consultation closed yesterday and sought views on extending the time limit of certain “flexibilities” past September.

Our letter cites statements from the Children’s Commissioner, who said that the changes were without “justification”, and the Children’s Minister herself, who said that the “majority of regulatory flexibilities have rarely been used”.

We responded to the consultation by letter rather than the government’s proposed survey, as analysis by leading academics found serious flaws in its methodology. Any findings from the consultation will likely be unfit to draw conclusions from. As with our letters, petitions and briefings on this topic, we are doing all we can to foreground the impact this legislation has on children’s rights.

You can read our consultation submission here.

The academic review of the Government’s consultation can also be found here.

No credible case has been made for SI 445 445, which removes or dilutes 65 protections for children in care, to remain in place until 25th September 2020.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive of NYAS, said “Care-experienced children and young people need robust support throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, but instead they have seen their rights stripped away from them. There is no justification for keeping SI 445 on the statute books, and we reject the assumption in this consultation survey that late September is the earliest opportunity to withdraw the legislation.”

NYAS Cymru calls for child-centred COVID-19 recovery, backed by charities, the Youth Justice Board and all four Welsh Police Commissioners

The all-Wales Missing the Point steering group, made up of charities, Police and Crime Commissioners and public sector organisations, has called for the protection and empowerment of care-experienced children and young people to be prioritised throughout the recovery.

This was in response to Welsh Government’s call on partners to help shape the post-pandemic recovery and reconstruction efforts.

The Missing the Point group identified independent Return Home Interviews as vital wrap-around support, and child-centred policing as a measure that could reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of care-experienced children and young people. The group’s recommendations aim to strengthen existing good practice across Wales and break the cycle between missing episodes, criminal exploitation and serious violence. The Missing the Point steering group submission can be read here.

In a separate individual submission, NYAS Cymru has also recommended ways that Welsh Government could strengthen advocacy, support mental health and end youth homelessness post COVID-19. Our submission can be read here.

Sharon Lovell, National Executive Director of Wales, said “NYAS Cymru and the Missing the Point steering group are grateful for the opportunity to share our views with Welsh Government. For the past year, our group has been looking at how our country can best protect care-experienced children and young people. Children’s rights must be front and centre of Welsh Government’s plan for a brighter future beyond this pandemic.”

NYAS launches new #AcrossTheBorder research series, with first report shining spotlight on youth homelessness in Wales and England

NYAS has today launched a new report, ‘Tackling Youth Homelessness in England and Wales.’ The report is the first in a new series of ‘Across the Border’ briefings, comparing policy and practice affecting care-experienced young people across England and Wales. It can be read here.

Our Across the Border briefings are created by drawing upon NYAS’ expertise of working with care-experienced young people in both countries, with the aim of encouraging collaboration between UK and Welsh government in tackling issues and identifying best practice.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive of NYAS said “Many of the challenges faced by care-experienced young people exist across both England and Wales. I am proud to launch NYAS’ ‘Across the Border’ briefing series that will help us identify where the best systems of support are and where they must be improved. We must learn from each other and uphold the rights of all care-experienced young people.”

Sharon Lovell, National Executive Director of NYAS Cymru said “Wales and England have an opportunity to work together to solve many of the difficulties and challenges that care experienced young people face, including youth homelessness. No young person should have pavements for pillows and every young person who is care experienced deserves a safe and loving environment to live and thrive.”

NYAS joins call for Government to do more to protect care leavers from homelessness

NYAS, as part of a collective of children’s and homelessness charities across the sector, have today submitted a letter addressed to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson calling on the Government to prioritise homelessness amongst care leavers.

Homelessness is one of the key issues faced by care experienced young people as they transition to independence. Our evidence suggests that care leavers are overrepresented amongst the ‘hidden homeless’ such as those sofa-surfing. This builds on concerns that some of the most vulnerable young people in society may not benefit from the emergency support put in place by the Government to support rough sleepers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around one in four homeless people have been in care. The consequences of a lack of housing support could have a long-term detrimental impact, such as creating a barrier starting or continuing education or employment. To prevent this happening, it’s crucial that the Government fulfil their corporate parenting duties for all care leavers up to the age of 25. Given the additional risks shaped by the current climate, it should now be an urgent priority for the Government to extend homeless ‘priority need’ status to all care leavers up to 25.

Read the full letter here.

UK Government will keep the law undermining children’s rights (for now), but do not want it to be used… #ScrapSI445

The Children’s Minister Vicky Ford MP has released a statement urging local authorities not to use the majority of the regulatory changes permitted by SI 445. Last night the Minister said that the UK government will “immediately” amend non-statutory guidance, as the majority of regulatory ‘flexibilities’ have rarely been used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since it became law in April this year, NYAS has been calling on the government to urgently withdraw the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 – which we refer to as SI 445.

Following efforts by NYAS and others including the #ScrapSI445 campaign group, the Minister’s written statement also confirms that the majority of the changes will expire at the end of September.

We are pleased that our collective campaigning has led to this point. However we share the concerns of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, who expressed her disappointed that the Government has not taken the opportunity to revoke these regulations as soon as possible.

We are now in the extraordinary situation where the government appears to agree that SI 445 is not necessary in relation to COVID-19, but they seem intent on keeping this unnecessary legislation on the statute books. We continue to believe that many of the changes in SI 445 could seriously undermine local authorities’ ability to safeguard properly.

Over 50 organisations and several hundred care-experienced people, social workers and others within the children’s social care sector have been pressing for children’s rights to be immediately reinstated. Over 17,000 people have also signed the petition.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said “Government guidance cannot restore the legal rights and protections that SI 445 has taken away from children. As pubs, hairdressers, cinemas and beauty salons have now reopened, we do not see why children’s rights and entitlements should remain on hold. That is why we will continue to campaign until SI 445 is withdrawn.”

NYAS call on Government to put children at the heart of recovery

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, affecting the lives of every baby, child and young person in the country. This generation of children face unprecedented threats to their childhoods. They deserve an unprecedented response.

We are joining 150+ organisations in a call to Government to put babies, children and young people at the heart of the coronavirus response.

Our joint statement calls on Government to embrace a new vision of childhood and set out their solutions to the pressing issues facing children and young people, including child poverty, mental health, and school closures.

Children and young people are joining our call and raising their voices on social media, using #ChildrenAtTheHeart and #PowerOfYouth to share their priorities for recovery.

Join our call and show your support on our Facebook and Twitter 

NYAS evidence on COVID-19 and children’s rights published by parliamentary committee

Our written evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services has been published as part of the Education Select Committee’s ongoing inquiry in England. Our submission focused on two particular questions.

The first question, “why are we going backwards?” was posed to BBC North West by Charlotte, a care leaver that we work with. We pointed to the 65 losses or dilutions of rights and protections that Statutory Instrument 445 (SI 445) makes to the protection of care-experienced children and young people in England, at a time that we have seen our safeguarding referral rate triple compared to the same period last year. You can read more about this new law in our full submission here.

To answer our hypothetical second question, “how do we move forward?” we provided seven recommendations to the Committee, including increasing funding for children’s services, and the direct involvement of care-experienced children and young people in the decisions made about them.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive, said “We welcome the opportunity to share with the Committee the experiences of the young people we work with, and look forward to seeing what lessons can be learnt from the inquiry. We will not stop campaigning for the withdrawal of SI 445 and for the restoration of rights for care-experienced children and young people in England.”

If you would like to support our campaign to see SI 445 withdrawn, please sign the petition or write to your MP

Action on children and young people’s advocacy in England

This week, the Advocates4U campaign group launched a progress report on children and young people’s advocacy services. NYAS is part of the group coordinated by Article 39, alongside Coram Voice and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.

A year ago, the Children’s Commissioner for England published 10 recommendations for improving children and young people’s access to, and the effectiveness of, independent advocacy services.

The Advocates4U progress report looks at how far England has come in improving advocacy standards for young people, including those with care experience.

The report is available here.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said:

“A year on since the Children’s Commissioner’s report and there is still so much to do. Strengthening children’s rights to advocacy is more vital than ever during this time of lockdown and uncertainty. Our independent advocates have been working hard to empower and safeguard children and young people throughout the pandemic, and NYAS are eager to see new standards and consolidated laws to support that work.”

Carolyne Willow, Article’s 39’s Director, said:

“Children’s rights and advocacy services have always been about redressing the power imbalance between professionals and children. Independent advocates ensure children and young people are heard, understood and their rights defended. We’re thrilled the Children’s Minister has committed to revise the national advocacy standards and regulations this year, as this will hugely strengthen the support and help children and young people receive…”

Brigid Robinson, Managing Director Coram Voice, said:

“It has been a year since the Children’s Commissioner’s report and children’s right to independent advocacy is more crucial than ever. Daily our independent advocates support children to make sure their rights are upheld and their voices heard . Coram Voice are keen to see new the standards and a strengthening of children’s access to advocacy; ensuring children get high quality independent advocacy when, and where, they need it.”

Jon Fayle, co chair of NAIRO, said:

“A strong and genuinely independent advocacy service is essential to help protect and promote the rights of children in care. NAIRO supports this campaign and is pleased that the recommendation if implemented will strengthen and enhance the advocacy service. Advocates are important colleagues of IROs and we need to work closely together in the interests of children in care.”

Parliament votes against scrapping new law that undermines children’s rights

Today, a debate was held in the House of Commons following a campaign by NYAS and other children’s rights groups. Ahead of the debate NYAS briefed hundreds of MPs from all parties, and our briefing can be read here. The motion, presented by Shadow Secretary of State for Education Rebecca Long-Bailey, called for the immediate withdrawal of Statutory Instrument 445.

MPs voted on the motion at the end of the debate, and it was defeated by 260 votes to 123.

Within the debate, Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford defended SI 445, stating that “These are intended to support local authorities and providers but do not remove any fundamental protections. Local authorities still have a duty to safeguard any child they look after. We’ve made no changes to primary legislation.”

Concerns were echoed by MPs across the house, with Ruth Jones and Emma Lewell-Buck delivering powerful messages about the impact of SI 445 on care-experienced children and young people living in England. Emma-Lewell Buck said “I can’t imagine a single social worker, having been one myself, who would allow any child that they work with to be put at harm in this way.”

Former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton expressed a number of concerns, but said he would still vote against the motion. He noted that “too often the phrase ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ comes up” within the regulations.

One call across the house was for the Minister to “think again”, said by both Ruth Jones and Kim Johnson during the debate. Jim Shannon added that “time has brought perspective, but it has also shown us that some of the regulations are not the best way of doing things.” Many cited the Children’s Commissioner’s calls for the withdrawal of SI 445.

A key message came from Janet Daby who asked the house “We’ve come so far with children’s rights, why are we going backwards?”, quoting Charlotte, a care leaver who supports NYAS as a campaign’s adviser. Daby went on to say “Young people in care and those entering care are the ones who are directly affected by this legislation. It is the same young people that have been denied a say, as their rights have been ripped away.”

The full debate is available online here.

Follow our twitter commentary of the debate here.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said “We are deeply disappointed by the result of today’s vote in parliament, but want to thank the MPs who stood up today in defence of children’s rights. We will continue campaigning until this legislation is withdrawn and rights are restored to the children we work with. Statutory Instrument 445 will remain under review until late September, during which time we urge the government to withdraw it at the earliest opportunity.”

Celebrating Volunteer Week

This week marks the start of National Volunteer Week (1 – 7 June) and whilst we can’t host any celebratory events NYAS couldn’t let the week pass without celebrating the amazing difference our volunteers make to children and young people in care across England and Wales.

Now more than ever, vulnerable children and young people are more likely to need ‘a reliable friend’ to support them through this difficult time so we are continuing to recruit volunteers across the UK.

Our volunteers, known as Independent Visitors, build helpful and positive relationships with children and young people who are in care with little or no contact with friends and family.

Independent visitors befriend and would usually, pre COVID-19, visit young people once a month to do fun activities and help to provide support and consistency in their lives.

Independent visitor volunteers are not like parents, social workers, or carers – that is why they are called ‘independent’. They are ordinary people, like you, who volunteer their time because they have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of children and young people. Often they are the only person in a child’s life who is not paid to be there.

Michael Williams, 44, is an independent visitor who has been volunteering for eighteen months.

He said: “As an opportunity to volunteer I can tell you that being an Independent Visitor has been one of the best things I have ever done. Not only do we have a great time, we are also developing a positive relationship and it’s so rewarding to support such an incredible young person.

“The matching process is so thorough and I feel like me and the young person are so well suited and have similar interests.

“I am learning so much about myself and I’m really grateful for this fantastic opportunity.”

NYAS have also been working with the National Independent Visitor network and fully support the Right Friend Campaign, to protect and promote the voice and well-being of care-experienced children and young people.

If you are over 18 and are interested in finding out more please email volunteering@nyas.net or click here for our volunteering opportunities vacancies.

Please follow our Twitter or Facebook pages to read the amazing ways our volunteers change young lives.

New ‘Young Lives in Lockdown’ research shows increase in loneliness and anxiety among children in care and care leavers

New NYAS report, ‘Young lives in lockdown’, was published today revealing how care-experienced children and young people are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is based on findings from our survey, which reached 230 care-experienced children and young people across 55 local authorities in England and Wales.

Our survey found that over half of care-experienced children and young people are feeling lonelier and more anxious than they were before the pandemic. One young person told us “I live in a bedsit in a hostel, my room is small, and it is hard being in all day”. These feelings appear to be common, with four in five care leavers telling us that they felt lonely more often and were feeling more anxious during the lockdown, as well as half of children still in care.

Many of the care-experienced children and young people who responded are having less contact with their social workers and personal advisers during lockdown. For every care leaver who was having more contact, four were having less. During these times of uncertainty, one in ten children in care said they had not heard from their social worker at all.

These findings come at a time when NYAS professionals and volunteers have made more than triple the number of safeguarding referrals compared with the same period last year.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said “The lockdown has been challenging for us all, but especially difficult for many of the care-experienced children and young people we work with. They are feeling lonely, anxious and that their lives are on hold. We are particularly concerned about what we’ve heard from care leavers and those living independently or semi independently, and commit to supporting them wherever possible through the NYAS ‘Side by Side’ programme of care leavers support. No young person should have to face this lockdown alone.”

Our full report, ‘Young lives in lockdown’, can be read here.

“Not seeing my mum” among children’s concerns presented by NYAS Cymru to the Education Committee

As part of our work to keep children safe and well during the lockdown, NYAS Cymru has given written evidence to the Welsh Parliament’s Children, Young People and Education Committee. The Committee is looking at the implications of COVID-19 for care-experienced children and young people, and assessing how to best support them throughout the current challenges.
Since the lockdown began, NYAS Cymru has worked with over 500 care-experienced children and young people providing independent advocacy, independent visiting, mentoring, youth participation and mental health support.

NYAS Cymru recently took a snapshot of experiences of the lockdown, in which half of children in care expressed that they are feeling more anxious, and 3 in 5 feeling lonely more often.

Care-experienced children are four times more likely to have a mental health problem, which is in many cases attributed to isolation and loneliness. In March and April, our active offer advocacy referrals have increased in five out of the seven local authorities in which we hold contracts. The current pandemic must not get in the way of a child’s right to be listened to and taken seriously, as enshrined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Executive Director for Wales, Sharon Lovell, said “We welcome the Education Committee’s work to shine a light on the challenges faced by care-experienced children and young people. Their voice must be at the heart of any new proposals or policies that will affect their lives, just as they have shaped our recent evidence to the Welsh Parliament.”

You can read our full evidence to the committee here.

NYAS calls on government to scrap new legislation that threatens children’s rights

NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service) has today written to the government calling for the urgent withdrawal of the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 24th April. The new legislation risks many of the safeguards that exist to protect care-experienced children and young people from harm.

Changes in the new legislation include:

• An independent six-month review for each child in care during COVID-19 is no longer mandatory.
• Social workers no longer have to check in with children in care every six weeks, but instead should do so ‘as soon as reasonably practicable.’
• The requirement for an adoption or fostering panel has been removed.
• Decisions of whether foster placements are suitable are now based on the assessment of providers, many of whom are private organisations with a profit-motive for placing children with carers.

These changes come at the same time that NYAS has made more than triple the number of safeguarding referrals during COVID-19, compared with the same period last year. In this context, no responsible parent would reduce the protections for their children or stop checking on their welfare. It should be no different for corporate parents.

There is no evidence that the voices of care-experienced children and young people have been sought or heard. The principle that ‘every child has the right to express their view, feelings and wishes in matters affecting them’ comes from Article 12 of the UNCRC, a treaty that the UK Government ratified almost thirty years ago. That right applies ‘at all times’ and is even more vital in times of crisis.

NYAS is calling on the government to urgently withdraw the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

NYAS has also written to the Education Committee, Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years, and Children’s Commissioner for England, asking if they will join the campaign for this legislation to be withdrawn.

Rita Waters, Chief Executive, said “The government wrote to us a day before this legislation was published, offering their assurance that protecting vulnerable children is a top priority during COVID-19. These changes dismantle many of the protections that exist for care-experienced children and young people during lockdown. We call upon the government to turn words into action, to listen to what the children and young people we work with are saying, and to urgently withdraw this unnecessary and potentially dangerous legislation.”

Read our full letter to the Minister for Children and Families here.

Protecting vulnerable children is “top priority” says UK Government Minister in response to NYAS and 40+ charities’ letter

Minister for Children and Families, Vicky Ford, recently responded to NYAS and partners’ call for the rights of care-experienced children and young people to be protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, NYAS and a collective of over 40 charities, organisations and care-experienced people submitted an open letter to the UK Government. The letter urged the government to maintain standards for care-experienced young people and to continue to meet their corporate parenting responsibilities during the crisis.

We were encouraged by the Minister’s reassurance that “ensuring vulnerable children remain protected is a top priority for government.” However, in light of a new statutory instrument published yesterday (Thursday 23rd April), we have serious concerns over how reduced duties to support children and young people would match this commitment.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said “we thank the Minister for their response to our letter, and have been engaging with government officials to ensure rights are protected. We also welcome clarity on the areas we feel are vital in safeguarding the rights and welfare of society’s most vulnerable children and young people. Now is not the time to reduce support and protections for children and young people, and we hope the government will work with us instead to enhance their rights.”

NYAS is now working with co-signatories on a response to the Minister. You can read the Minister’s letter in full here.