Childrens’ Rights Lawyers have today urged politicians to reconsider its decision not to provide additional protection to young people and children in care by adding ‘care experience’ as a protected characteristic.
The call to action comes ahead of a debate which is being held by the Senedd, further to the Welsh Government’s response to the Children, Young People and Education Committee (CYPEC) report entitled “If not now, then when? Radical reform for care-experienced children and young people”.
Published in May, the report made a series of recommendations to improve the experience of looked after children in Wales, including an overhaul of ‘Before Care’, ‘In Care’ and ‘After Care’ services.
Changes included placing a legal duty on local authorities to calculate maximum safe caseloads for children’s services social workers, mandating all foster carers to register directly with Social Care Wales, and extending the threshold for statutory support provided to all care leavers from 21 to 25.
However, while the Welsh Government has reiterated its ‘steadfast’ commitment to delivering its vision for transforming children’s services in Wales, leading legal experts have raised concerns about some of the key recommendations made by the Committee which have only partially been accepted, or have been rejected – including adding ‘care experience’ as a protected characteristic.
Elisa Jenkins is an Education and Children’s Rights Solicitor at law firm Simpson Millar who provided evidence as a care experienced individual to the Children, Young People and Education Committee as part of their consultation.
Commenting on the Government’s response to the report she said: "It is positive to see Welsh Government taking some steps to improve the experiences of children and young people in care further to the recommendations made by CYPEC, and it is particularly positive to see their willingness to introduce legislation to raise the upper threshold for the support offered to care leaver until they are 21, to 25.
“However, as the report, which was published in May shows, the number of looked after children in Wales increased by 22.9% between 2013 and 2022. It also says that around a quarter of children in care will have had two or more placements in the last year alone.
“Furthermore, we know that fewer than 1 in 5 children looked after will achieve 5 or more A* - C grades at GCSE, including English/Welsh and maths, that up to 1 in every 4 care experienced children will be homeless at the age of 18, and that around a quarter of care experienced parents will have at least one of their own children taken off them.
“This is not a marginalised problem, it’s an issue that affects more than a fifth of the population.
“It is therefore concerning to see that there are numerous recommendations that the Welsh Government has only partially accepted, or completely rejected, including the CYPEC’s recommendation of pushing the UK Government to amend section 4 of the Equalities Act 2012 to include 'care experienced' as a protected characteristic.
“The Welsh Government states that it is committed to eradicating the stigma facing those who are care experienced, however, at present there is no legal protection preventing care experienced individuals from being discriminated against.
"These issues need to be raised at the debate taking place tomorrow, and we would urge the Government to reconsider its position on some of the key issues which are fundamentally important in bringing about a positive change in the experience of looked after children and young people, and care leavers, moving forward."
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