Before my election to the Senedd I was a child protection social worker. I worked with some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society and those staff dedicated to giving them every chance to thrive.
That is why I jumped at the chance to table a debate on legislative proposal in the Senedd on Wednesday, just weeks into the first term. I used the opportunity to shine a light on the work that we must do here in Wales to create a genuine care system based on the needs, hopes, and aspirations of children and young people.
I used my voice in our national parliament, to speak up for the children, young people, and staff who are waiting for the Welsh Labour Government to act.
One of the key messages you’ll hear from children and young people in residential care is that they often feel powerless over their lives. What’s worse is when one of the main motivators in the care they receive, the opportunities available to them, and where they live sometimes comes down to the cost of that care.
There are stories about how children have been moved from place to place often because they weren’t able to access the right care, but that was the only choice their local council had was somewhere miles away from home – at a premium price. This is not about blame but making sure that children get the best start in life.
There are stories about carers arguing over the heads of children and young people about the cost of care leaving them feeling like commodities where what counts is how much they cost, not their futures.
In the debate, I shared the story of a young girl who by the age of 16 had already been moved to 10 different places she was expected to call home. I also shared the story of another young girl who was moved just because her care was too expensive.
This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also the simple fact that how we currently do things leads to poorer outcomes for children in care. It also has negative implications for the way local councils commission and source care for those who need it. It drives practice like new homes being opened because properties are cheap, and later filled with children and young people miles away from home and their support networks.
This won’t be easy, and the rights and needs of every individual child must be at the very fore of our minds, but I’m proud that the Senedd voted for my proposal and has sent a signal to children and young people in care wherever they are that we hear them and we’re listening.
* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats