6. Debate on the Equality and Social Justice Committee Report, '60% — Giving them a voice: Speech, language and communication needs in the youth justice system'

– in the Senedd at 4:14 pm on 28 June 2023.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:14, 28 June 2023


Item 6 today is a debate on the Equality and Social Justice Committee Report, '60%—Giving them a voice: Speech, language and communication needs in the youth justice system'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion—Jenny Rathbone.


Motion NDM8304 Jenny Rathbone

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the Equality and Social Justice Committee report, '60%—Giving them a voice: Speech, language and communication needs in the youth justice system', laid on 19 April 2023.


Motion moved.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 4:15, 28 June 2023

Thank you very much. Too many people with speech, language and communication needs, whether diagnosed or not, end up in the criminal justice system, where the support they receive is patchy and inadequate. This report aims to give a voice to those young people.

The '60%' in the title, or three in five or six in 10 young people involved in youth justice is actually an underestimate. Using the figures provided by Neath Port Talbot youth offending team, acknowledged to be broadly consistent with the numbers across all youth offending teams, at least 80 per cent of young people involved with the criminal justice system at the youth level today have speech, language or communication needs, otherwise known as SLCN. That compares with an estimated 10 per cent of children and young people in the population as a whole, so this is a devastating difference.

The cornerstone of fairness has to be equitable access to justice, and that relies on a person's ability to listen, to understand and to communicate thoughts and experiences in words. Young people with these communication barriers face additional hurdles, challenges and difficulties at every stage of the criminal justice process. The problem is recognised, but progress is far too slow and there are far too few organisations in Wales advocating for this particular marginalised group of young people, who have, for obvious reasons, great difficulty articulating those needs themselves. That needs to change, and I know that all committee members are united in ensuring that it does.

So, action is needed in two key areas. One is prevention, stopping such high numbers of people with speech, language and communication needs entering the justice system at all. We have to improve awareness and early identification of this by people who are working in front-line services, particularly schools. And then there's the support that children and young people who have these communication needs and who are struggling on entry into, and at every stage of, the youth justice system—. We must ensure that staff and services have the skills, knowledge and resources to appropriately respond to those presenting with these difficulties.

The former—prevention—is firmly in the devolved area of responsibility. This is not sitting on the jagged edge of the criminal justice system. Any child can experience language delay, but the killer fact is that 50 per cent of children in socially deprived areas start school with language delay. If a child aged three arrives in school with no more than three words, and that's not unusual, any and all members of staff should be able to spot a mile off that this child needs intensive language support to help them catch up with their peers, before the child is even aware that they're different.

The Welsh Government's 'Talk With Me' strategy appears to be having a positive impact in raising awareness of these issues in schools, particularly in the early years, but we want to know how interventions will be tailored to each age and stage of a child's development, with particular attention to the transition from primary to secondary school.

The evidence from the Welsh Youth Justice Board is devastating:

'The majority of children with speech, language, communication needs, they are not identified by mainstream services. They come to awareness as a result of coming into the youth justice system...while it's laudable that the professionals within the youth justice system have those skills, for me, that feels like it's the wrong way round.'

I'm sure that all of the Members of the Senedd would agree with that. So, no wonder the statistics on permanent exclusions of pupils with statements of speech and language difficulty needs are so low, because we are simply not measuring the right things.

This wicked issue, and its link into progression into youth offending, was identified by our predecessors back in 2010, during the third Parliament. So, 13 years later, it is unacceptable that we're still having this conversation.

Photo of Mark Isherwood Mark Isherwood Conservative

Could you also acknowledge that this was covered in a report published by your predecessor committee during the second Senedd term between 2003 and 2007, which I was party to?

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 4:20, 28 June 2023

Thank you very much, Mark Isherwood, and thank you for your historic memory.

We need to continue to have this conversation, and we have suggested that there is a need to convene a summit before the end of this calendar year. It has to be a summit or some other action to demonstrate that the Welsh Government has really shifted the dial and will assist in making this really a top priority for everybody involved. That will also assist the credibility of the Welsh Government response to recommendation 2, which is around working with health and education. 

There's a word of warning also that the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 should mean that every pupil with additional learning needs will have a statutory individualised development plan by 2024. However, we heard evidence that those with the lowest level of special educational need additional learning needs are being moved off the system and into mainstream classroom provision, the so-called 'raising the bar' effect. So, we really do need to understand how the additional learning needs Act will spearhead the sea change needed to this issue, given the priority given to language skills in the new curriculum, and not bury those not deemed worthy of individual development plans.

That's enough on prevention. I now want to move us to the support required for the eight in 10 young people with speech, language and communication needs who come into contact with the youth justice system. The latter obviously sits firmly on the jagged edge of devolution, where we have a complicated picture of responsibility, blurred lines of accountability and the moral hazard territory that the First Minister spoke about in December, where the Welsh Government is asked to pay for services that, in England, would be paid for by the Ministry of Justice.

So, the Welsh Government has rejected recommendations 3 and 6, which relate to how we strengthen the provision for these young people. We are, therefore, unclear how the Welsh Government is going to deliver on its ambition to improve outcomes for young people with speech, language and communication needs in the youth justice system.

Clearly, to move this agenda forward at the pace that is needed, there needs to be better collaboration between all the key stakeholders. If not a summit, then how will the prevention framework of the youth justice blueprint mainstream the good practice going on in two youth justice teams?

In our third recommendation, we want to assess the feasibility of having dedicated NHS speech and language therapists in police custody suites across Wales. This has been rejected on the grounds that there are currently

'insufficient NHS employed SLTs to meet this additional workload.'

The same reason was given by the Welsh Government in rejecting our sixth recommendation, to embed speech and language therapists within every youth offending team in Wales.

Ten local authorities in Wales are outliers in that they have zero input by speech and language therapists in their youth offending teams, and there is just an unbelievable gap in provision. If people don't understand how to talk to this young person who's got themselves into trouble, we are in serious difficulty in helping them dig their way out of it. Clearly, there are challenges in recruiting and retaining speech and language therapists, even in the sector-leading youth offending teams in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea bay, if there is really is such a dearth of these professionals. This postcode lottery can only be addressed by increasing the number of training places and the number of people who have the skills to support these young people across Wales.

So, the Welsh Government's response to recommendation 7 is that Health Education and Improvement Wales is reviewing the numbers of allied health professionals required to implement the NHS national workforce retention plan, and is due to produce such a plan by end of next month. Clearly, we are going to be watching out for that. But the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists warns that training places for speech and language therapists in Wales have remained unchanged from 2020 until 2023, at 49 places, despite the creation of a second undergraduate course, sustained increases in other healthcare courses and evidence from higher education institutions that there is both demand and capacity for a growth in numbers.

So, this is clearly something that we need to have a response on from the health Minister, who I appreciate is unable to join this debate today. But, without that, asking the Ministry of Justice to pay for what is an essential ingredient of trauma-informed practice becomes academic if there simply aren’t suitably qualified people out there to employ. And we were very pleased to hear from Lord Bellamy, who is the Minister of State in the Ministry of Justice, who assured the committee that the MoJ funds all the services for which it is responsible. So, in terms of who should pay for this, well, No. 1, the Ministry of Justice, because this is not a devolved service, as I understand it, but, clearly, that is something for the youth justice blueprint.

But, in conclusion, our report sets out a clear case for action. For youth justice in Wales, we believe that addressing the speech and language needs of our young people will not only save money, but demonstrate a clear commitment to investing in the life chances of all young people across the country. Prevention is better than cure, and it’s vital we address this if we are to build a Wales that is more equal and socially just. We owe it to each and every member of the 60 per cent, although I would say 80 per cent.

Photo of Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain Conservative 4:26, 28 June 2023

I would like to thank the Chair, the clerks, and everyone who contributed to our inquiry. It was truly shocking to hear from the youth offending teams in my region that four fifths of the young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system had some level of speech, language and communication needs. We knew, going into our one-day inquiry, that there was a high level of SLCN within young people coming into contact with youth offending teams, but I was surprised at how high the level actually was. Sixty per cent was the bare minimum; in some areas it was as high as nine in every 10 young people had some form of speech and language need.

Evidence provided by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists shows that nearly two thirds of children sentenced in England in Wales had SLCN, despite children and young people with SLCN only accounting for 10 per cent of the general population. Only 5 per cent of young people with communication needs had their needs identified prior to their entry into the youth justice system. As many as four in 10 young people in contact with the justice system find it difficult to access and benefit from verbal interventions and programmes. Not only does having an SLCN make it more likely that young people will come into contact with the criminal justice system, but it also makes it more likely that they will face harsher sentencing.

Four fifths of magistrates have said that the attitude and demeanour of a young person influences their sentencing decision to some or a great extent. There is a clear and desperate need for better access to speech and language therapy across Wales, not just within the youth justice system, but more generally.

How much youth offending could be prevented if speech, language and communication needs were addressed at a young age? Despite the clear need for speech and language therapy, there are fewer speech and language therapists per head of the population in Wales than in any other part of the UK. We are failing future generations. HEIW have kept commissioning figures for speech and language therapy at 49 in their education and training plan, yet the courses are way oversubscribed. Cardiff Metropolitan University received 250 applications for 39 places. Wrexham Glyndŵr University received 70 applications for 10 places. Why are the Welsh Government restricting places when there is both the need for therapists and demand for places?

Our committee made a number of recommendations to assist the Welsh Government to address the crisis of SLCN in youth offending, so it's surprising that they only fully accepted three and rejected two of our recommendations outright. Of those that they did accept, it is unclear from their response how they will actually deliver upon our recommendations. For example, in response to recommendation 2, how will the 'Talk With Me' programme support children as they progress from primary to secondary school, given its current focus on the zero to five age group, and with the programme set to end next year?

I urge the Welsh Government to reconsider and fully accept all our recommendations, so we can prevent young people entering the criminal justice system, as well as helping those who do come into contact with youth offending teams to achieve better outcomes. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru 4:31, 28 June 2023


Sixty per cent, and as we've just heard, that's just a minimum. A minimum of 60 per cent of the children and young people in the criminal justice system have speech, language and communication needs, and it could be as much as 90 per cent. This statistic is central to our report and, in truth, this is what prompted us to explore this issue. It's extremely striking and an extremely worrying statistic. 

We, as members of the Equality and Social Justice Committee, were shocked by this statistic. We promised, as the title of our report suggests, that we would recommend to the Government that there is a fundamental issue of implicit inequality in this statistic, and that we must ensure that there is action to give a voice to these young people, because our inquiry clearly showed that these young people had no voice, and there has not been nearly enough focus from the Government on trying to ensure that their voices are heard.

In our report, we included local data from 2022 for the Neath Port Talbot youth offending team, which shows that 79 per cent of the young people who came into contact with the service have needs in terms of speech and language, and according to representatives of the Wales youth offending team managers, this figure is consistent across all the youth offending teams in Wales.

It is clearly a very serious matter, for a Government that claims to put the rights of children and young people at the heart of all policies, that there is such a disproportionate number of young people who have speech, language an communication needs—a minimum of 60 per cent, compared with the 10 per cent in the general population—who are finding themselves within the justice system. And in examining the reasons behind this difference, our main conclusion was that the support available for these young people is insufficient and inconsistent across Wales. So, those are the facts, the bare statistics.

Now, imagine yourself as a young person, trying to cope with the processes and events that will change the course of your life; legal processes that are complicated, strange and difficult for all of us, even for those of us with experience of education, life and work, never mind young people. Now, imagine that you have a hearing impairment, or dyslexia, or autism that affects your ability to listen or concentrate, or follow these difficult processes, never mind express your views or your concerns, or your evidence, or your feelings. 

As we heard from Jenny Rathbone, it's extremely disappointing that we are in this situation, that the Government has not done enough to prevent this excessive proportion of young people from finding themselves in this situation, and that those who work within the system do not have a complete understanding of the situation. And it was very disappointing to see the response of the Welsh Government to a number of our recommendations, which were related to making real change to this completely unacceptable situation, which means that there is no fair access to justice.

In the first instance, we looked at how to ensure fairness for these young people within the justice system. The evidence of the excellent practice that's happening in the Neath Port Talbot youth offending team clearly showed that support is possible. But it was clear that support was a postcode lottery and was inadequate across Wales.

So, we asked, on the basis of clear and unambiguous evidence, in recommendations 3 and 6 of the report, for the Welsh Government to ensure that this is changed, by working with local authorities to plan to embed speech and language therapists in all youth offending teams in Wales, and by working with police and crime commissioners, through the youth justice blueprint, to consider ensuring that speech and language therapists from the health service are embedded in custody suites in police stations. But the Government has reject the recommendations.

In a letter to the committee, after we published the report and had the response of the  Government, the head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in Wales, Pippa Cotterill, has expressed her specific disappointment to the response to these two recommendations in particular. There are not enough therapists available, that's the Government's justification, but according to the royal college, in order to increase the workforce, it's necessary to fund more training places, which is a decision for the Welsh Government, and which is something that has not happened, even though there is clear evidence of demand and the need to do so.

I would therefore like to hear whether the Government accepts its role in this shortage, which is being used as an excuse for not meeting an urgent need that has been clearly proven. And, by accepting that, it's possible to work towards a solution. Or is the Government content not to take action to ensure a fundamental level of fairness for some of our young citizens who are disadvantaged? Because the statistics say it all. The voice of the committee is unanimous, and the experts have voiced their opinion clearly. The Government cannot remain silent on this matter even though you have done that for far too long. Minister, we must give these people a voice. 

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 4:37, 28 June 2023


May I thank committee members and the Chair too? And may I also express my thanks to the Minister for health for being here today for this debate? It's very important that you are here. Thank you very much for coming.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat

You will all know that I spent many years being a child protection social worker. Part of my role was to work with children who interfaced with the youth justice service, and I'm calling them 'children'. I'm not calling them 'young people', because they are children. I spent time in a secure unit—working in a secure unit, I must say; I was an 'appropriate adult' with children at police stations; and, sadly, had to visit children in youth offending institutions—some of those the most Victorian and most backward places I've ever worked in.

In working with these young people, many of whom I came across with speech and language difficulties, I just felt they had no chance in life. They really had no hope. They had never been able to express themselves as children and young people throughout their lives. And then they encounter this complex system, which many of us would find totally confusing and difficult, and they are really not able to express themselves, to say what has happened to them, to tell this story of what's behind their situation. That could be down to trauma, adverse childhood experiences. These all cause communication difficulties. And then on top of that, we have not given them access to those speech and language therapists throughout their lives. These children need our help and, for 20 years it seems, we have not resolved this issue.

But now is the time because we have heard about an option that will help those children, and you will notice that all members of the committee have focused on recommendations 3 and 6. We've decided to do this because we were so shocked, disturbed, confused, disappointed that these had been rejected by the Welsh Government. We heard good practice. We heard what can stop those children who are in county youth justice services going into prison. But it's only happening in very few local authorities. It's a postcode lottery. We have to do better.

The alarming variation of access to speech and language therapists amongst our youth offending teams requires urgent attention and action now. We must do more to ensure that those children don't go into our criminal justice system, don't end up in secure units, don't end up in youth offending institutions. Whilst I do recognise that the Welsh Government's rejection rests upon the fact that there are fewer speech and language therapists per head of population in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom, that's not good enough; we cannot hamstring ourselves by simply considering long-term workforce planning.

I do encourage the Welsh Government to explore what ring-fenced grants could be made available to local authorities and health boards to ensure that we set aside the money for speech and language therapists within the youth justice systems. We can do it. Whilst there would, no doubt, be administrative and monitoring challenges, this would represent a direct, positive step towards meeting those children's needs. We need ambitious and courageous thinking from the Welsh Government, which I know has happened and continues to happen. Please, let's listen to those children and their voices and make sure that we reach out to them and give them a chance, and give them hope. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Ken Skates Ken Skates Labour 4:41, 28 June 2023

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to contribute in this debate. This was, I think it's fair to say, an incredibly challenging inquiry at times; it raised issues that I fear have not been given thorough consideration by policy makers for far too long. I'd like to thank the committee clerking team, the committee Chair, and my colleagues on the Equality and Social Justice Committee for their deep interest and forensic examination of the subject matter.

Minister, I'm also thankful that you're responding on behalf of the Welsh Government; I know that you are deeply committed to delivering social justice for the children who are clearly being let down by the system, but this requires cross-Government attention, and I'd very much welcome assurance that Ministers across portfolios will progress the recommendations of the committee. I'd also welcome a clear indication of the Welsh Government's position in regard to the youth justice system and how a disjointed system can be rectified in the interests of some of our most marginalised children.

Finally, Minister, what the committee uncovered simply can't be allowed to drift away from our attention in the months and years to come. Could we, therefore, perhaps have assurance that the Welsh Government will provide very regular updates on progress against the implementation of the committee recommendations, and also host a summit, as suggested by Jenny Rathbone? Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:43, 28 June 2023


One of the first e-mails that I received as a Member of the Senedd was from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, raising this important issue with me.

As someone who has seen a family member lose his ability to speak and express his feelings, I have seen the frustration that this creates—frustration that is so easy to misinterpret by people beyond the immediate family. I've also seen the great difference that the excellent work that the language therapists are doing is making to the lives and self-respect of individuals.

As Sioned Williams and Jane Dodds said very powerfully, any involvement with the justice system is a very challenging and difficult process. Imagine how much more difficult it is if you're in your teens and you've had a very challenging life, beyond our imagination, and in addition to that you find it difficult to express yourself.

I saw too often as a barrister the needs of young people being described as bad behaviour, magistrates and judges losing their tempers in response to alleged bad behaviour, and that then leading to those young people being treated inappropriately, as criminals, and no support being provided to them to leave the justice system.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:44, 28 June 2023

No equitable access to justice, as Jenny Rathbone correctly highlighted, which is the cornerstone to a fair justice system. We've been moving in the right direction when it comes to youth justice in Wales for nearly 20 years, but there's more to be done. Simply, we should not be criminalising children—and that's what they are. As stated by Jane Dodds, they are children. We need to stop focusing on the deeds of these children, what they have done to get into trouble, and start addressing why they have done these things and what their needs as individuals are as members of society.

Finally—and I diverge slightly—I hope a devolved justice system in Wales would raise the age of criminal responsibility. That's the only real answer. The fact that it's currently at the age of 10 is scandalous. It's illogical. It goes against international good practice. It simply does not comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that is despite the fact that it's been partly incorporated into Welsh law under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. The criminal age of responsibility should be raised to a level consistent with our commonly held notions of when someone becomes a responsible adult. This would imply raising it to at least 16; I would argue even further to the age of 18.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru 4:46, 28 June 2023


I thank the royal college and the committee for their important work in this area, an area that's often forgotten because of the jagged edge. Thank you very much.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour


I call on the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour


Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. I would like to thank the Equality and Social Justice Committee for this important and timely report.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

The committee's work, I would say, has brought genuine and important focus to the needs of children that has been so eloquently expressed today by those who've contributed to the debate. It is the response of the Welsh Government, which interfaces with a number of portfolios—myself, but also, clearly, the Minister for Health and Social Services in terms of speech and language communication services, but also the Minister for Education and Welsh Language. But I do think this is an issue of social justice, and I'm very happy to respond on behalf of the Welsh Government in order to make sure that we work together, across Government, to fully address and deliver on your recommendations.

We recognise the vital importance of ensuring access to speech and language therapists for young people, and I want to outline the range of work being undertaken to address the substantive findings and specific recommendations from the report. In particular, we are making a wider investment in early intervention and prevention on speech and language communication across Wales, and I think this early intervention and prevention is so important—it features clearly in your inquiry, in your report. When I wrote to the Chair of the Equality and Social Justice Committee about my responsibilities, and updating on the youth justice blueprint, I did acknowledge the close ties to speech and language communication needs. I talked about enhancing prevention activity, particularly in view of the potential impact, at the time, of the ongoing COVID pandemic on children's health and well-being, and the importance of a development of a trauma-informed approach across youth justice services. Those were key points that I made in my response to the committee.

I think it is important in terms of that wider intervention and early intervention that we are already funding speech and language therapists in every Flying Start service in Wales, and that is consistent in every Flying Start service. With the expansion of Flying Start as a result of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, we've started to increase access to SLC support for those children, young people and families. We aim to identify and support children and young people earlier and more effectively, because early identification of those speech and language communication needs can reduce the risk. That's what we all want and what you're calling for in this report. We want to reduce the risk of these children becoming excluded from education, potentially entering the criminal justice system. By investing in identification and intervention at the earliest stage, we can support children ahead of any potential contact with criminal justice agencies and help them live the best lives possible.

The health and social services 'Talk With Me' delivery plan prioritises universal and targeted SLC support across the whole of the early years in Wales, and evidence-based identification and intervention will ensure that children are seen and supported by the right person in the right place at the right time. We're investing £1.5 million in the development of a bespoke bilingual SLC surveillance approach in Wales. 

Moving on to the report recommendations, in response to recommendation 1, yes, we will hold a summit of key stakeholders to look at the impact of speech and language communication needs on children and young people, and that is so fundamental. As Jenny Rathbone called for, it's the first recommendation that we can address with our partners and stakeholders with a cross-Government approach. Welsh Government officials from across the Government are meeting tomorrow to discuss the report with youth offending services, the youth justice board and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, bringing together those key stakeholders. Those who attend will use the meeting to agree the best way to deliver on the report findings, particularly recommendations 1 and 4. 

Also, in support of those recommendations 1 and 4, work is progressing on the youth justice prevention framework to support children at risk of entering the criminal justice system, and the framework will assist devolved services to understand their role in the prevention of offending and supporting youth justice services to achieve this, ensuring we work together as effectively as possible to create the greatest preventative impact with our limited resources. 

In line with recommendation 2, through the Curriculum for Wales, oracy will be taught across all subject areas as a key part of the mandatory literacy cross-curriculum skill, and all learners will also receive targeted support to improve these cross-curriculum skills as we deliver on our oracy and reading toolkit. 

In response to recommendation 5, we are working with the Ministry of Justice to support the newly appointed neurodiversity support managers in Welsh prisons. These leads are responsible for ensuring improved physical environments, upskilling prison staff, ensuring there are processes to provide support based on presenting needs, including speech, language and communication needs. Additionally, the neurodivergence improvement programme is supporting the development of multidisciplinary teams for children and young people, and the programme has a clinical advisory group that can provide expert advice on meeting the speech, language and communication needs of neurodivergent people. We'll take into account the Welsh language needs of children and young people throughout all this work. 

Regarding recommendations 3 and 6, there are significant workforce pressures facing the NHS in Wales, which is why the Minister for Health and Social Services published the national workforce implementation plan in January. Our health workforce is at record levels thanks to investments made in education and training, and organisations are working hard to innovate and support staff to meet extreme service delivery pressures. These pressures also impact on the work of speech and language therapists. There are only 800 registered speech and language therapists in Wales, and we currently educate around 50 a year. But they're dealing with both increased referrals and more complex needs, especially following the pandemic. And in relation to recommendations 3 and 6, additional demand for an already-stretched workforce would require more staff to be trained and employed.

I think recommendation 7 is important, because it is, and Jenny Rathbone— 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

Absolutely, Jane. 

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat

It's a quick one. You mentioned recommendations 3 and 6—thank you so much for referring to that. But we heard from a local authority where the youth justice team had managed to find the funding to employ speech and language therapists in their youth justice teams. So, they have succeeded to actually deliver what we would like to see across Wales. It is a postcode lottery. So, I wonder, would you be willing to consider, perhaps with the health Minister, how that local authority has managed to ring-fence that funding in order to deliver those services, and look at whether there is an option to roll that out across other local authorities in Wales? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 4:54, 28 June 2023

I certainly will follow that up, Jane Dodds, and thank you for drawing attention again to the lack of consistency across local authorities. This is the responsibility of the youth justice board for Wales, and recommendation 7—I was just going to come on to that—is important because it is, actually, an action in the national workforce implementation plan that Health Inspectorate Wales will review allied health professions across the board.

If you just give me a final moment because I responded to that intervention. I do think it is important that we look at the longer term as far as youth justice is concerned, so we can get that kind of consistency. It's only through devolution of youth justice that we can truly ensure children in contact with the justice system in Wales are properly supported. Until this happens, we will continue to use all the levers at our disposal and through our teamwork and engagement with partnerships to support Welsh children to help them live fulfilling, crime-free lives. We will look to the summit to help provide the opportunity to ensure that we are addressing the jagged edge, but that we move forward, as I said, in the longer term on those points in terms of devolving youth justice so we can be fully responsible and respond to this really important inquiry today. Diolch. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:55, 28 June 2023


I call on Jenny Rathbone to reply to the debate. 

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

Thank you very much. I think all the speakers emphasised the social justice issues around this particular issue, starting with Altaf Hussain, Sioned Williams and Jane Dodds in particular really emphasising the difficulties that young people have. If they can't communicate their emotions in any shape or form, how on earth are they going to be able to explain why they might have behaved badly in a way that brings them to the attention of the youth justice system? As Sioned Williams has said, these young people have no voice, and may have no idea what is being said about them when they appear before a magistrate, and little understanding of any sanctions the court may impose.

The opportunities for miscarriage of justice are legion. It is a postcode lottery, and as Sioned Williams explained, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists have been champions of addressing this issue for many years. In fact, they were the reason why we decided to undertake this inquiry.

I think Jane Dodds was obviously very powerful in explaining that these are children who’ve been given no chance of life and are unable to express themselves or explain what has happened to them, without any access to speech and language therapists, when they should have been picked up much, much earlier in their school journey. I have to give credit to the Welsh Government in that we hardly send anybody to youth offending institutions now, as a result of the youth justice blueprint. It is tiny, and that has been a huge reduction on the numbers that used to be locked up in the past. That is obviously something that we should acknowledge.

But we have to ensure that all young people are given the education that they need, and tailored support to get a job that goes with whatever communication difficulties they may have. I would echo what Ken Skates has said about the Minister for Social Justice’s commitment to this issue, but this really is something that straddles three different ministerial responsibilities. It’s great to see Eluned Morgan here to hear how important we feel it is that more speech and language therapists are required, not just for delivering on 'Talk With Me', but for improving the journey for all young people with speech and language difficulties—intervening at the very beginning, but also then tracking them through their education service. We cannot do it unless we have the trained professionals to train up the people who work in our schools to understand what they’ve got to do.

Rhys ab Owen, thank you very much for describing what it means when a child cannot express themselves. We all see this with very young children—they have a meltdown. But this will happen with much older children as well if they simply haven’t acquired the language skills to express themselves. And you reminded us that bad behaviour ends up in court for young people who simply can’t say, ‘I didn’t mean to do that. It’s just that I’m completely frustrated because something appalling has happened to me, and somebody’s done bad things to me’. We shouldn’t be criminalising children, of course not, and we need to raise the age of responsibility.

I think the vital importance of access to speech and language therapists is what we need to pursue. It can't just be a focusing on Flying Start; that's clearly the right place to start and, clearly, we need to have that in our nurseries and schools, but we really do need to have this throughout the children and young people's journeys through the educational system and into work. Yes, of course, oracy is mandatory across the curriculum, but we really do need to bring all of these people together to ensure that there aren't some other ways in which we hide the people who have persistent needs that need to be met.

It just remains the case that 10 local authorities don't think that there's any need for any local speech and language therapists in their youth justice teams, and that includes Cardiff, my own local authority. I don't know where these people have been, but it's extraordinary that this is still going on. We need to continue to champion these young people and we clearly are unable to tap the Ministry of Justice for more money unless we've got the speech and language therapists to do the job for these young people who are falling foul of the youth justice system. Thank you.

I'd just like to thank, lastly, the clerks and the research service for the great support that they have given, and we hope to continue to pursue this matter.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 5:01, 28 June 2023


The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.


Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.