Social care bill breaches children's rights, commissioner claims

Keith Towler Keith Towler believes the legislation might not be in the best interests of children

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Children's human rights are being breached by plans to transform social care in Wales, the children's commissioner claims.

Keith Towler says a Welsh government bill to improve care and wellbeing for people of all ages goes against the principle that child welfare is paramount.

Ministers say Mr Towler has "profoundly misunderstood" the nature of the bill.

They say it will improve wellbeing for all who need care and their carers.

The Social Services and Wellbeing Bill will also create, for the first time, a legal framework for social services in Wales, saying current laws cannot support the changes needed to deal with a growing, ageing population.

But in written evidence to an assembly committee Mr Towler said the bill goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - an international human rights treaty to protect children.

The convention states that "in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration".

Mr Towler argues that by outlining a common set of processes for people of all ages the bill does not put greater emphasis on the needs of children.

He told BBC Radio Wales: "I don't think this bill delivers what the minister intends.

Analysis

The Social Services and Wellbeing Bill aims to make life better for people who need care and support, as well as their carers. It is a very far-reaching and ambitious piece of law-making.

The Welsh government has called it a 'game-changer' in transforming the provision of social care in Wales, claiming the current legislation cannot support the change required to deal with a growing and ageing population.

But here is the problem: Keith Towler says the Bill goes against a United Nations treaty to protect children.

Why? Partly because the government wants to set up an independent board to make sure that vulnerable people get the care they deserve, and the use of the word people is where the problem lies.

"In Wales, we've got a fantastic and rich tradition in relation to children's rights. We are the only country in the UK to have legislated in favour of children's rights, through the Rights Measure.

"So, what I expected to see on the bill - which I am not seeing - is how children and young people's best interests are being protected in line with the convention."

Mr Towler said he felt that two aspects were missing from the draft bill.

Start Quote

The rights of individuals and children are at the heart of the improvements we intend to make ”

End Quote Gwenda Thomas Deputy Social Services Minister

He said an impact assessment on the effect of the legislation on children's rights had not been published.

Secondly, the commissioner claimed that the new draft bill removes the concept of 'child in need', which currently ensures those who need care and support are legally protected and receive that help.

"I don't think I've misunderstood the bill, and I don't think I've misunderstood what the deputy minister wants," he said.

"This is about delivering good outcomes for children and young people and vulnerable adults.

"I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't stand up and say, as the Children's Commissioner, [the bill] as currently drafted, I'm not sure this delivers in the way in which the minister intends."

Deputy Social Services Minister Gwenda Thomas said: "The legal advice I have received on this matter confirms my view that the commissioner's position would seem to profoundly misunderstand the nature and purpose of the bill in regard to the matters he raises.

"As the minister responsible for the Social Services and Well-being Bill, I am satisfied that this legislation will not bring detriment to the position of children.

"Indeed, the rights of individuals and children are at the heart of the improvements we intend to make. This is a bill which will enable children and young people to be better supported or cared for by encouraging social workers and social care staff to look at the family in a holistic manner.

"Children cannot be seen in isolation from the families and communities they are part of and the bill does much to enforce this notion."

But Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas, who sits on the assembly's Children and Young People's committee, says he also has concerns about the bill.

"The difficulty with the bill as currently drafted is that there is quite a lot of regulation-making powers there," he said.

"We give powers, for example, to the minister to define in the future - at some future date - what a disabled child maybe, what constitutes disability.

"I think the commissioner, and myself as well, would prefer to see on the face of the bill what that exact definition is. That is what gives us clarity and certainty that the rights are being met."

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