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Melding: Protecting vulnerable children

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"I will start by saying what has been agreed in this process, because the Welsh Assembly Government, in fairness, has an excellent vision for advocacy services, and that is important. We have a Government that wants to a see a system of universal advocacy for children and young people. That is a crucial advance and I wholeheartedly welcome it.

Good advocacy promotes children's rights, and, in so doing, improves services. That is why it is crucial for service providers to ensure that these advocacy services are in place. However, their primacy function is to protect the rights of children.

Advocacy empowers children and offers them support in the way that they react to and interact with public service providers. It allows children greater participation and gives them advice when they need it.

It could often be given at one point to which they could be referred by an information telephone line or whatever. It should be there for them to see and access.

Advocacy can be given directly where there are disputes that could ultimately go to the legal system, but certainly, in any dispute procedure, an advocacy service will support and take children and young people through what is to them often an utterly bewildering process.

It can offer children representation, particularly younger children, who, because of their age, find it difficult to express their concerns, needs and worries, and what they want to be done in the way of improving public services.

It has an important information-giving role, which again is as useful to service providers as it is to parents or those who are in a responsible position as the guardians of the children or whatever, as well as to children and young people themselves.

We all agree that that is the basic structure of an effective advocacy service, and that service should be delivered as locally as possible.

I do not think that anyone wants the service to be delivered on a national level, because that would be too remote—the delivery needs to be rooted in local communities as much as possible. There is, again, substantial agreement on this policy area.

If it is delivered, effective advocacy will meet the key recommendations of the report, 'Lost in Care', and, more recently, 'Too Serious a Thing', which looked at NHS services.

I know that several Members who are in the Chamber this afternoon looked at 'Lost in Care' eight years ago, when it was published, and the Health and Social Services Committee examined it in detail. It had a profound effect on the Members who read it and then recommended that a children's commissioner be established. Since then, other changes to the provision of social services have also been made.

One lesson that I took from that process was that there was no shortage of children a generation ago who wanted to make complaints about poor services and frightening levels of abuse, they just were not listened to at that time: they were disbelieved and often punished for raising issues of serious abuse.

Let us remember that the advances that we have seen in the last 10 years or so—we are much more aware of the vulnerability of children in care and of those who are receiving other public services—have more or less happened because that group of people who suffered abuse a generation ago have been articulate in middle age, if they have survived the traumas of their earlier experiences and have come forward. They have been credible witnesses because they are now adults.

We do not want that to happen again; we want children and young people to be helped when they need help and that is why advocacy is essential to the way that we honour children's rights and improve our public services. Above all, to be effective, the services that we have just described need to be approachable, non-judgmental and trusted so that young people and children will access them.

Services need to be confidential and responsive to children's needs, by taking children's views seriously. The basic assumption is that you believe a child until there are obvious grounds not to do so. Above all, the service has to be independent. Without independence, you do not have credibility. I genuinely believe that everyone agrees with that basic position and we should be pleased to have achieved that level of basic agreement.

I must now turn to the 'Consultation on a New Service Model for Delivering Advocacy Services for Children And Young People'. I welcome the fact that the consultation is out. It has been a long time coming, but it is here and we have until 23 July to collect responses. I hope that a range of providers from the NHS and the local authorities, as well as all sorts of organisations that are involved in children's issues, will respond to this consultation.

I want to say a few words about the methodology that is envisaged in the new service model. Again, it repeats the imperative that services need to be independent if they are to win the confidence of children and young people. That is an important principle.

If we do not have full independence in terms of the service, there will be a conflict of interest. If NHS bodies and local authorities directly commission advocacy services, there will always be a question mark about the level of independence that is being achieved.

We are inevitably drawn back, time and again, to the question of independence and therefore it is worth spending some time on it. To be effective and robust, the services need to be independent. The consultation is unfortunately confused on that vital point, which is the heart of the matter.

It envisages a regional commissioning model, but the regional commissioning model will be made up of local authorities and NHS trusts working in partnership. I am all for partnership working, but we are still not out of the circle that it is the public services that are likely to be complained about that are commissioning advocacy services. That is where the conflict of interest surely lies. The consultation says that

'In developing the New Service Model, the Assembly Government has sought to achieve sufficient distance to promote a degree of independence'.

Note the qualification: 'a degree of independence'. I do not think that that is enough; I want independence, and I do not think that it comes in degrees—something is either independent or not.

I concede in abstract that regional commissioning ensures more distance than if the individual local authorities and trusts commission advocacy services themselves, so a regional approach is a bit better, but it is still a flawed model.

I am afraid that this consultation smacks of provider interests. We need to raise our game—the Beecham report clearly said that we need a citizen-centred model. Here is a start—we can look at this consultation and try to make it more citizen-focused.

Effective advocacy must be about empowering people, in this case, children and young people. It should not be a secondary function that exists as a mere safety valve for service providers. That is a real danger and it is more or less the system that we have had to date.

It is often designed with very good intentions, but that is, effectively, what has happened. I find the consultation deeply flawed in this regard, and I will give you another long quotation from it.

'Placing the responsibility for local/regional planning and commissioning of services with the children and young people partnerships will ensure that advocacy services remain integrated…with service delivery structures so that as much informal resolution can take place as is currently the case and so that the principles of child advocacy can support service delivery structures.'

That does not sound very independent or robust to me; it sounds like a system that is there on sufferance, which has to justify itself by the improvements that it can make to public services. Good advocacy should, of course, lead to improved public service delivery—that is important.

However, the basis of advocacy services in this arena is the rights of the child—we must put that first, and not the needs of service providers. This consultation process is much more about the commissioning process and retaining it as close to the providers as possible—they concede that it cannot stay at the local level, but it will stay at a regional level—and it is more about controlling the commissioning process than telling people what local advocacy services are needed, and what would be the character of those services were they efficient and fully robust.

That is profoundly disappointing, and that is the main reason why we have brought this debate to Plenary.

We need to look at the way ahead, because, as I said at the beginning, there is much common agreement about what we need. The Welsh Conservative Party and others believe that an advocacy service must be independent, which requires an independent all-Wales commissioning body. Once we make that step, we will have those effective local services.

I could quote several experts and authoritative bodies that back this view, and if the Minister does not support this motion, I hope that the Government will quote independent support for its position that comes from outside local authorities and the Assembly policy division.

The office of the children's commissioner has stated the case well that for advocacy services to be effective there should be a truly independent, centrally-funded national advocacy service with local bases. I think that is absolutely right.

However, the commissioner's office says that the current model—and I remind you that in this consultation the current model is the only model that is proposed; it is a matter of take it or leave it—is very complex in reality and will not overcome the current problems. As far as reviews go, that is a bad review.

In his report 'Too Serious a Thing', Lord Carlile stated that

'we are sure that advocacy of the nature we have described will only be seen to be truly independent if it comes from outside the NHS.'

That is an excellent principle, and one I wish that we would adopt to have a truly independent commissioning body. Lord Carlile does not qualify independence. He recognises what it is and that it cannot be qualified, and that it either exists or it does not.

The much-respected organisation Voices from Care has also called for the current model to be ditched and replaced with a centrally-funded advocacy service. If we are truly to respect the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, more importantly, to set a best-practice example for the UK to follow, we will take this important step and be brave enough to have an all-Wales, independent commissioning service. That would be a mark of our commitment to improving services for children and protecting their rights, starting with the most vulnerable.

This would end any possible conflict of interest or the perception of any conflict of interest. In that way it is a great recommendation. More importantly, it is what vulnerable children want and it will give them confidence to complain about poor services and, more importantly, about abuse, so that we can root out abuse.

We should listen to those vulnerable voices and ask the Government to take our views on this consultation seriously. I hope that the outcome of the consultation process will be a much more robust model for the delivery of advocacy services for children and young people."

"Dechreuaf drwy ddweud beth y cytunwyd arno yn y broses hon, oherwydd mae gan Lywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru, i fod yn deg, weledigaeth ragorol ar gyfer gwasanaethau eiriolaeth, ac mae hynny'n bwysig. Mae gennym Lywodraeth sydd am weld system eiriolaeth gyffredin ar gyfer plant a phobl ifanc. Mae hynny'n ddatblygiad hollbwysig ac fe'i croesawaf yn frwd.

Mae eiriolaeth dda yn hyrwyddo hawliau plant, ac, yn sgil hynny, yn gwella gwasanaethau. Dyna pam mae'n bwysig sicrhau bod y gwasanaethau eiriolaeth hyn ar gael. Fodd bynnag, eu prif swyddogaeth yw amddiffyn hawliau plant. Mae eiriolaeth yn grymuso plant ac yn cynnig cefnogaeth iddynt o ran y ffordd y maent yn ymateb i ddarparwyr gwasanaethau cyhoeddus a'r ffordd y maent yn rhyngweithio â hwy.

Mae'n galluogi plant i gyfranogi mwy ac yn rhoi cyngor iddynt pan fydd ei angen arnynt. Gellid yn aml ei roi mewn un man y gellid eu cyfeirio ato drwy linell wybodaeth ac ati. Dylai fod yno iddynt ei weld a'i ddefnyddio.

Gellir darparu gwasanaeth eiriolaeth yn uniongyrchol lle ceir anghydfod a allai ddod yn rhan o'r system gyfreithiol yn y pen draw, ond yn sicr, mewn unrhyw weithdrefn yn ymwneud ag anghydfod, bydd gwasanaeth eiriolaeth yn cefnogi plant a phobl ifanc ac yn eu tywys drwy broses sydd, iddynt hwy, yn aml yn broses cwbl ddryslyd. Gall gynnig cynrychiolaeth i blant, yn arbennig plant iau, sydd, oherwydd eu hoedran, yn ei chael hi'n anodd mynegi eu pryderon a'u hanghenion, a'r hyn y maent am ei weld yn cael ei wneud o ran gwella gwasanaethau cyhoeddus.

Mae ganddo rôl bwysig o ran darparu gwybodaeth, sydd eto yr un mor ddefnyddiol i ddarparwyr gwasanaethau ag y mae i rieni neu'r rhai sydd mewn sefyllfa gyfrifol fel gwarcheidwad y plant ac ati, yn ogystal ag i blant a phobl ifanc eu hunain.

Cytuna pob un ohonom mai dyna yw strwythur sylfaenol gwasanaeth eiriolaeth effeithiol, ac y dylid darparu gwasanaethau mor lleol â phosibl.

Ni chredaf fod unrhyw un am i'r gwasanaeth gael ei ddarparu yn genedlaethol, gan y byddai hynny'n rhy bell—rhaid i'r gwasanaethau fod â'u gwreiddiau mewn cymunedau lleol cymaint â phosibl. Unwaith eto, mae cryn gytundeb ar y maes polisi hwn. Os caiff ei ddarparu, bydd gwasanaeth eiriolaeth effeithiol yn gweithredu ar argymhellion allweddol yr adroddiad, 'Ar Goll Mewn Gofal', ac, yn fwy diweddar, 'Peth Rhy Ddifrifol', a oedd yn edrych ar wasanaethau'r GIG.

Gwn fod sawl Aelod sydd yn y Siambr y prynhawn yma wedi edrych ar 'Ar Goll Mewn Gofal' wyth mlynedd yn ôl, pan gafodd ei gyhoeddi, ac i'r Pwyllgor Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol edrych yn fanwl arno. Cafodd effaith ddofn ar yr Aelodau a'i darllenodd ac yn sgil hynny argymhellwyd y dylid sefydlu comisiynydd plant. Ers hynny, gwnaed newidiadau eraill i'r gwasanaethau cymdeithasol hefyd.

Un wers a ddysgais o'r broses honno oedd nad oedd prinder plant genhedlaeth yn ôl a oedd am wneud cwyn am wasanaethau gwael a'r nifer frawychus o achosion o gam-drin, ond ni wrandawyd arnynt ar y pryd: ni chawsant eu credu ac yn aml cawsant eu cosbi am godi materion yn ymwneud â cham-drin difrifol. Gadewch inni gofio bod y datblygiadau yr ydym wedi eu gweld yn ystod y 10 mlynedd diwethaf—yr ydym yn llawer mwy ymwybodol o ba mor agored i niwed yw plant mewn gofal a'r rhai sy'n derbyn gwasanaethau cyhoeddus eraill—wedi digwydd fwy neu lai oherwydd i'r grwp hwnnw o bobl a gafodd eu cam-drin genhedlaeth yn ôl ddatgelu hynny yn ganol oed, os digwydd iddynt lwyddo i oresgyn trawma profiadau'r gorffennol a rhoi tystiolaeth. Maent wedi bod yn dystion credadwy gan eu bod bellach yn oedolion.

Nid ydym am i hynny ddigwydd eto; yr ydym am i blant a phobl ifanc gael help pan fydd angen help arnynt a dyna pam mae eiriolaeth yn hanfodol i'r ffordd yr ydym yn anrhydeddu hawliau plant ac yn gwella ein gwasanaethau cyhoeddus. Yn anad dim, er mwyn bod yn effeithiol, rhaid i'r gwasanaethau yr ydym newydd eu disgrifio fod yn hawdd eu cyrraedd, yn anfeirniadol ac yn rhai y gellir ymddiried ynddynt er mwyn i bobl ifanc a phlant eu defnyddio.

Mae angen i wasanaethau fod yn gyfrinachol ac ymateb i anghenion plant, drwy gymryd barn plant o ddifrif. Y dybiaeth sylfaenol yw y dylid credu plentyn hyd nes y bydd sail gadarn i beidio. Yn anad dim, rhaid i'r gwasanaeth fod yn annibynnol. Heb annibyniaeth, nid oes hygrededd. Yr wyf yn gwbl argyhoeddedig bod pawb yn cytuno â'r safbwynt sylfaenol hwnnw a dylem ymfalchïo inni ddod i'r cytundeb sylfaenol hwnnw.

Rhaid imi yn awr droi at yr 'Ymgynghoriad ar Fodel Gwasanaeth Newydd ar gyfer Darparu Gwasanaethau Eiriolaeth i Blant a Phobl Ifanc'. Croesawaf y ffaith bod y ddogfen ymgynghori wedi ei chyhoeddi.

Buom yn aros amdani am amser maith, ond mae hi gyda ni ac mae gennym hyd 23 Gorffennaf i gasglu ymatebion. Gobeithiaf y bydd ystod o ddarparwyr o'r GIG ac awdurdodau lleol, yn ogystal â phob math o sefydliadau sy'n ymwneud â phlant, yn ymateb i'r ymgynghoriad hwn.

Hoffwn ddweud ychydig eiriau am y fethodoleg a ragwelir yn y model gwasanaeth newydd. Unwaith eto, mae'n ailadrodd y ffaith hollbwysig bod yn rhaid i wasanaethau fod yn annibynnol os am ennyn hyder plant a phobl ifanc.

Mae honno'n egwyddor bwysig. Os na chawn annibyniaeth lwyr o ran y gwasanaeth, bydd gwrthdaro buddiannau. Os bydd cyrff y GIG ac awdurdodau lleol yn comisiynu gwasanaethau eiriolaeth yn uniongyrchol, bydd amheuaeth bob amser ynghylch i ba raddau y maent yn annibynnol.

Yn anochel, cawn ein tynnu yn ôl droeon at annibyniaeth ac felly mae'n werth treulio rhywfaint o amser yn ei drafod. Er mwyn bod yn effeithiol ac yn gadarn, rhaid i'r gwasanaethau fod yn annibynnol, Yn anffodus ceir dryswch yn yr ymgynghoriad ar y pwynt holl bwysig hwnnw, sydd wrth wraidd y mater. Mae'n rhagweld model comisiynu rhanbarthol, ond bydd y model comisiynu rhanbarthol yn cynnwys awdurdodau lleol ac ymddiriedolaethau'r GIG yn gweithio mewn partneriaeth.

Yr wyf o blaid gweithio mewn partneriaeth, ond nid ydym wedi torri allan o'r cylch o wasanaethau cyhoeddus sy'n debygol o fod yn destun cwynion ac sy'n comisiynu'r gwasanaethau eiriolaeth. Onid yw hynny'n achos o wrthdaro buddiannau? Yn yr ymgynghoriad dywedir

'Wrth ddatblygu'r Model Gwasanaeth Newydd, mae Llywodraeth y Cynulliad wedi ceisio sicrhau digon o bellter i hyrwyddo rhywfaint o annibyniaeth.'

Noder yr amod: 'rhywfaint o annibyniaeth'. Ni chredaf fod hynny'n ddigon; yr wyf am gael annibyniaeth, ac nid wyf yn credu bod modd ei fesur—mae rhywbeth yn annibynnol neu beidio. Cytunaf â'r dyfyniad fod comisiynu rhanbarthol yn sicrhau mwy o bellter na phe bai'r awdurdodau lleol a'r ymddiriedolaethau unigol yn comisiynu gwasanaethau eiriolaeth eu hunain, felly mae ymagwedd ranbarthol rhywfaint yn well, ond mae'n fodel diffygiol serch hynny.

Yn anffodus mae arlliw o fuddiannau darparwyr yn yr ymgynghoriad hwn. Rhaid inni wneud yn well na hyn—dywedodd adroddiad Beecham yn glir bod angen model sy'n canolbwyntio ar y dinesydd arnom. Dyma ddechrau—gallwn edrych ar yr ymgynghoriad hwn a cheisio sicrhau ei bod yn canolbwyntio mwy ar y dinesydd.

Rhaid i eiriolaeth effeithiol ymwneud â grymuso pobl—plant a phobl ifanc yn yr achos hwn. Ni ddylai fod yn swyddogaeth eilaidd sydd ond yn bodoli er mwyn bod yn gam diogelu i ddarparwyr gwasanaethau.

Mae perygl gwirioneddol i hynny ddigwydd a dyna, fwy neu lai, yw'r system a fu gennym hyd yma. Caiff ei chynllunio gyda bwriadau da iawn yn aml, ond dyna, yn ei hanfod, a ddigwyddodd. Credaf fod y ddogfen ymgynghori yn ddiffygiol iawn yn hyn o beth, a dyfynnaf yn helaeth ohoni eto.

Bydd rhoi'r cyfrifoldeb dros gynllunio gwasanaethau lleol/rhanbarthol a chomisiynu gwasanaethau gyda Phartneriaethau Plant a Phobl Ifanc yn sicrhau bod gwasanaethau eirioli'n parhau i fod yn integredig…gyda strwythurau cyflwyno gwasanaeth, fel y gall cymaint o atebion anffurfiol ddigwydd, ac fel y gall egwyddorion eiriolaeth plant gynnal strwythurau cyflwyno gwasanaeth.

Nid yw hynny'n swnio'n annibynnol iawn nac yn gadarn i mi; mae'n swnio fel system sydd yno drwy oddefiad, y mae'n rhaid iddi gyfiawnhau ei bodolaeth ar sail y gwelliannau y gall ei wneud i wasanaethau cyhoeddus. Dylai eiriolaeth dda, wrth gwrs, arwain at welliannau yn y ffordd y caiff gwasanaethau cyhoeddus eu darparu—mae hynny'n bwysig. Fodd bynnag, sail y gwasanaethau eiriolaeth yn y maes hwn yw hawliau plant—rhaid inni roi hynny yn gyntaf, ac nid anghenion darparwyr gwasanaethau.

Mae a wnelo'r broses ymgynghori hon yn fwy â'r broses gomisiynu a'i chadw mor agos â phosibl i'r darparwyr—cytunant na all barhau ar lefel leol, ond bydd yn parhau ar lefel ranbarthol—ac mae'n ymwneud yn fwy â rheoli'r broses gomisiynu na dweud wrth bobl pa wasanaethau eiriolaeth lleol sydd eu hangen, a beth fyddai natur y gwasanaethau hynny pe baent yn effeithlon ac yn gwbl gadarn. Mae hynny'n siomedig iawn, a dyna'r prif reswm pam y daethom â'r ddadl hon gerbron y Cyfarfod Llawn.

Mae angen inni edrych ar y ffordd ymlaen, oherwydd, fel y dywedais ar y dechrau, mae llawer o gytundeb ynghylch yr hyn sydd ei angen arnom. Cred Plaid Geidwadol Cymru ac eraill fod yn rhaid i wasanaeth eiriolaeth fod yn annibynnol, ac mae hynny'n gofyn am gorff comisiynu annibynnol i Gymru gyfan.

Ar ôl inni gymryd y cam hwnnw, bydd gennym wasanaethau lleol effeithiol. Gallwn ddyfynnu sawl arbenigwr a sawl corff awdurdodol sy'n cefnogi'r farn hon, ac os na wnaiff y Gweinidog gefnogi'r cynnig hwn, gobeithiaf y bydd y Llywodraeth yn dangos cefnogaeth annibynnol i'w safbwynt y tu allan i awdurdodau lleol ac is-adran polisi y Cynulliad.

Mae swyddfa'r comisiynydd plant wedi rhoi'r achos gerbron bod angen sefydlu gwasanaeth eiriolaeth cenedlaethol cwbl annibynnol, sy'n cael ei ariannu'n ganolog a chanddo ganolfannau lleol os am gael gwasanaethau eiriolaeth effeithiol. Credaf fod hynny'n gwbl gywir.

Fodd bynnag, dywed swyddfa'r comisiynydd bod y model presennol—a chofiwch mai'r model presennol yw'r unig fodel a gynigir yn yr ymgynghoriad; felly hwnnw neu ddim amdani—yn gymhleth iawn mewn gwirionedd ac ni fydd yn datrys y problemau presennol. O ran adolygiadau, mae hwnnw'n adolygiad gwael.

Yn ei adroddiad 'Peth Rhy Ddifrifol', dywedodd Arglwydd Carlile

'Yr ydym yn sicr nad ystyrir eiriolaeth o'r natur a ddisgrifiwyd gennym yn wirioneddol annibynnol oni bai ei bod yn dod o'r tu allan i'r NHS.'

Mae honno'n egwyddor ragorol, ac yn un yr hoffwn ein gweld yn ei mabwysiadu er mwyn cael corff comisiynu cwbl annibynnol. Nid yw Arglwydd Carlile yn disgrifio nodweddion annibyniaeth. Mae'n cydnabod yr hyn ydyw ac na ellir ei ddisgrifio, a'i fod naill ai'n bodoli neu beidio. Mae'r sefydliad uchel ei barch Voices from Care hefyd wedi galw am ddisodli'r model presennol gyda gwasanaeth eiriolaeth wedi'i ariannu'n ganolog.

Os am barchu Confensiwn y Cenhedloedd Unedig ar Hawliau'r Plentyn ac, yn bwysicach, i fod yn enghraifft o arfer gorau y gall y DU ei ddilyn, cymerwn y cam pwysig hwn a bod yn ddigon dewr i gael gwasanaeth comisiynu annibynnol i Gymru gyfan. Byddai hynny'n arwydd o'n hymrwymiad i wella gwasanaethau i blant ac amddiffyn eu hawliau, gan ddechrau gyda'r rhai mwyaf agored i niwed.

Byddai hyn yn rhoi terfyn ar unrhyw wrthdaro posibl rhwng buddiannau neu unrhyw awgrym o wrthdaro rhwng buddiannau. Yn yr ystyr hwnnw mae'n argymhelliad gwych. Yn bwysicach fyth, dyma'r hyn mae plant agored i niwed am ei gael a bydd yn rhoi hyder iddynt gwyno am wasanaethau gwael ac, yn bwysicach, am achosion o gam-drin, fel bod modd inni ddileu camdriniaeth.

Dylem wrando ar y lleisiau bregus hynny a gofyn i'r Llywodraeth gymryd ein safbwyntiau ar yr ymgynghoriad hwn o ddifrif. Gobeithiaf mai canlyniad y broses ymgynghori fydd model llawer cadarnach i ddarparu gwasanaethau eiriolaeth i blant a phobl ifanc."

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