The Civic Centre in Pontypool
The Civic Centre in Pontypool Credit: Cwmbran Life

A RADICAL plan to remove for profit providers from caring for Wales’ most vulnerable children is “up in the air” with the change in first minister. 

That’s what councillors who have been updated on the Welsh government’s “eliminate agenda” have been told. 

The government intends eliminating profit from children’s care by the end of its current term in 2027, meaning privately-run care homes and Independent Fostering Agencies will be prevented from providing placements on behalf of local authorities. 

Torfaen has the highest rate of children taken into care, per 10,000 of the population under 18, in Wales and borough councillors have been told there is little information from the Welsh Government on how it intends progressing the policy that local authorities want more time to comply with. 

Jason O’Brien, Torfaen council’s director for social care, told a scrutiny committee political changes that has seen the minister responsible for the policy replaced since Vaughan Gething succeed Mark Drakeford as first minister in March are having an impact. 

Responding to a question on whether the timescale to end the use of private providers could be pushed back Mr O’Brien said: “That is part of the discussions being had with the Welsh Government. 

“With the political changes in the Senedd it does feel everything is up in the air a little.” 

Fostering manager Kirsty Cook said there has been little guidance from the Welsh Government when asked what steps it is taking to prepare for the change and only two, of 28 children, currently placed with independent foster carers are with ‘not for profit’ providers. 

She said: “We are waiting for the legislative guidance around that from the Welsh Government and don’t know the content of that yet. 

“We need some meat on the bones before we make progress here.” 

Currently more than 80 per cent of children’s residential care homes in Wales are run by private organisations and around half of the fostering agencies are provided by private, third sector or voluntary agencies.  

Torfaen doesn’t have any in-house residential care but intends developing a residential home with initial capacity for two children with complex needs, while it does have its own foster carers which cost it, on average, £390 a week, compared to £985 with independent carers. 

The government will require all new providers to demonstrate ‘not for profit’ status by April 2026, existing operators can continue for a further 12 months. 

None of Torfaen’s current residential placements are with ‘not for profit’ providers but of the 28 youngsters with independent foster carers nine will turn 18 before April 2027 

Mr O’Brien said timescales have been raised as part of a consultation but warned: “We do have significant issues of concern with some elements of the eliminate agenda. We are all on board with the principle. 

“But some of the mechanics, the process we’ve got to say it’s not as simple as we are not able to use a for profit provider so we could end up using more unregulated placements. It could cause more problems for another part of the system.” 

Torfaen and other councils use unregulated children’s homes due to demand and lack of availability. The borough currently has two children in such accommodation and Mr O’Brien said enhanced monitoring is put in place and Care Inspectorate Wales informed. 

Councillors said they would also support the council’s cabinet member in making representations on changing the timescale of the eliminate agenda and seeking further guidance. 

Upper Cwmbran Labour councillor Lucy Williams called eliminate a “big risk” and added: “It could have massive implications. I hope the executive member is supported to put pressure on the Welsh Government to change the timescales and come up with the guidance.”