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Today’s Senedd Roundup: AMs support new approach to protect child sex abuse victims

04 Apr 2019 9 minute read
Image by Hans Kretzmann from Pixabay

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

AMs show support for new approach to protect child sex abuse victims

Yesterday, AMs debated a proposal from Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) for a law to improve support and protection of child sex abuse victims, in particular using the Barnahus Model – introduced in Iceland in 1998 as a child-friendly way to secure evidence and convictions.

There’s a full briefing on the background to this and the Barnahus Model from the Senedd Research Service (link).

Building trust amongst sex abuse victims

The idea arose because of a petition by Mayameen Meftahi – an abuse victim herself – calling for reforms to services for child sex abuse victims. Bethan ran through what the Barnahus Model was and why it works:

As a result of the introduction of the Barnahus Model in Iceland, conviction rates for child sex abuse doubled and investigations were completed in a quicker time. It’s already been introduced in a number of countries and Bethan didn’t accept that this would be too difficult to do in Wales.

There should also be a discussion on creating safe houses or safe spaces for sex abuse victims as emergency foster carers might not have experience of dealing with abuse victims. A safe house would effectively act as a stepping stone before being moved to foster carers with more experience.

Shadow Minister for Children, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) expressed the Conservative’s support for the idea. Sex abuse causes significant long-term psychological harm and putting all of the necessary services under one roof can help build trust and confidence amongst victims.

Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) said we need to recognise that we’re failing to provide basic services for sex abuse victims. Wales needs to provide victims with an escape route and not – as happened to Mayameen – end up possibly returning to their abusers.

New action plan in the summer

Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North) said the Welsh Government intends to publish a new action plan for supporting child sex abuse victims in the summer.

While the Welsh Government were keeping an eye on pilots of the Barnahus Model in other parts of the UK, they wouldn’t support the motion.

“We do not agree that legislation is required to secure these changes in this area of practice, and the Government will abstain on this motion. Children who are sexually abused will be subject to safeguarding proceedings. This will include consideration by social services of where a child should live in order to keep them safe.”

– Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan

The Deputy Minister was particularly concerned that paedophiles could find out where safe houses in order to find victims. The Welsh Government also supports Childline services so children can report abuse.

Bethan Sayed didn’t accept these arguments; we have shelters for adult abuse victims which are kept secret and while there’s always a chance they would be tracked down by abusers, she would hope everything would be done to avoid that.

I should stress that this debate doesn’t mean a law will actually come forward; it was a debate on the idea. If Bethan Sayed wins a ballot in the future – or the Welsh Government decide to do it themselves – it could be introduced, but until then nothing’s likely to happen (in terms of laws anyway).

For the record, Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) and Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) voted against. A number of past and present ministers abstained along with Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly), Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) and Rhianon Passmore (Lab, Islwyn).

Flawed delivery holds back the Welsh Baccalaureate

Children & Young People Committee
Status of the Welsh Baccalaureate (pdf)
Published: 3rd April 2019

“Despite our initial doubts, the evidence we gathered showed clear merit to studying the Welsh Bacc, particularly in terms of the breadth of skills developed by learners for future learning, employment and life. However, we concluded that the way in which the qualification is currently delivered and publicised is having a detrimental effect on its actual and perceived value.”
– Committee Chair, Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen)

The Welsh Baccalaureate was introduced (in its current form) as a stand-alone qualification in 2015. To get the qualification, a student needs to attain a number of component qualifications (like GCSE maths), as well as take part and successfully complete a number of skills challenge certificates in areas such as enterprise, global citizenship, community work and an individual project.

The aim is to create more well-rounded learners who have skills beyond those taught through academic qualifications. The advanced Welsh Bacc. is the equivalent of an A-Level.

  1. The value someone attaches to the Welsh Bacc. is linked to how much they understand it

Pupils’ attitudes towards the Welsh Bacc. are broadly negative; more than 50% said it was less useful than other subjects and 66% didn’t believe it would be any use to them in the future. Also, 57% said it was too time-consuming and distracted attention from other subjects. Some witnesses believe it adds to pupils’ exam stress and prevents them from taking part in extra-curricular activities.

Equally, there’s not much understanding of the Welsh Bacc. amongst colleges, employers, parents and some education professionals, while attitudes and understanding differ amongst universities. The complexity of the qualification was cited as one of the main barriers.

Some students did, however, say the Welsh Bacc. helped them in work and to cope with the demands of university, but many only realised this with the benefit of hindsight and had negative attitudes whilst actually doing it. Nevertheless, the Committee said negative attitudes shouldn’t be glossed over.

  1. Delivery of the Welsh Bacc. is inconsistent

Some of the examples given to the Committee of inconsistent delivery include:

  • A lack of respect towards the qualification, meaning it’s used as a “filler”; staff, therefore, do it in any spare time and don’t take it particularly seriously.
  • Smaller schools struggle to deliver it in the same way as larger schools.
  • Some teachers consider training in the Welsh Bacc. to be a burden, with delivery often dependent on the enthusiasm of particular teachers.

The Children’s Commissioner said, from discussions with young people, that when teachers actively say they dislike the Welsh Bacc. the attitude carries over to the students.

UCAC (primarily Welsh-medium teachers union) argued that all schools should adopt it – which is the Welsh Government’s aim – while NASUWT wants it to remain optional, believing it’s narrowed the curriculum by reducing subject choice. Gower College Swansea believes it may have even played a role in falls in modern foreign language take-up.

  1. There are differing views on whether the Welsh Bacc. is a serious/rigorous qualification

The Committee was told that the Welsh Bacc. and the individual skills challenge certificates are held to the same standards and regulations as GCSEs and A-Levels.

There’s no hard evidence that’s it’s a “soft option”, though different institutions had different attitudes; Coleg Llandrillo considered it more “bigger than an A-Level”, while others believed students were spoon-fed, marking was inconsistent and grades were inflated.

Despite the Welsh Bacc. being designed to meet the demands of Russell Group universities, many of them were believed to not really factor it in when considering admissions. The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) said it was a “myth” that top universities ignored the qualification having discussed it with them.

Caroline Jones AM, National Assembly for Wales. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

AM criticises Neath Port Talbot housing association’s shoddy service

This week’s short debate was led by Caroline Jones AM (Ind, South Wales West) on the subject of social housing and who actually benefits.

“Obstructive, objectionable and sometimes downright abusive”

Caroline Jones said other than the NHS the issue she’s contacted about most frequently is social housing and issues with housing associations. Transfer of social housing to housing associations was supposed to usher in a new era. Instead, over the last ten years, just 6,000 new social houses have been built in Wales.

She singled out Tai Tarian – the housing association in Neath Port Talbot – for particular criticism

“The quality of social housing has also not significantly improved. Less than 64% of social housing is fully compliant with the Welsh housing quality standard. Almost 10% is non-compliant: 21,000 families forced to live in housing deemed unfit. With all of this in mind, it is unsurprising that I have been inundated with complaints about the registered social landlords in my region. And the worst culprit I may name is Tai Tarian.”
– Caroline Jones AM

She mentioned that the waiting list for repairs can be as long as three years, while at one block of flats in Aberavon – Hogan House – Tai Tarian were asking £6,000 each from residents (who privately-owed flats) for updates. Time and time again she was told that Tai Tarian has been “obstructive, objectionable and sometimes downright abusive”.

While all this was happening, Tai Tarian made a £5.8million profit, but this was before taking into account senior pay; the chief executive earns more than the First Minister and senior directors earned more than salaried GPs.

Tenants should be the sole beneficiary of social housing and while many housing associations do a good job, with housing problems as they are we can’t expect them to do just the bare minimum.

Minister disagrees “quite vehemently”

Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), said it was rare for a Minister to disagree to the subject of a short debate, but this time she disagreed “quite vehemently”.

There were a number of factual inaccuracies in Caroline’s speech; housing associations pre-date stock transfers, 91% of social housing is compliant with housing quality standards. The situation on new social housing was also far more complicated:

“….there are other reasons associated with why we haven’t been able to build council housing or affordable social housing as fast as we would like….which were the arrangements relating to the way that housing revenue accounts were controlled. The removal of the cap has meant we’ve been able to send out different arrangements to local housing authorities that have got housing revenue accounts, and to have a discussion with those councils that don’t have housing revenue accounts about the best way to take social housing forward.”
– Minister for Local Government & Housing, Julie James

One point she did agree with Caroline on was a desire to see councils build more homes and that’s something the Welsh Government are seeking to encourage due to changes in borrowing rules.

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