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Labour sinks Autism Bill

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There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

There must be clear duties on public services: Meleri Thomas, NAS Cymru

THIS week, the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly voted as one to defeat a bill that called on the Welsh Government to bring forward an Autism (Wales) Bill during the fifth Assembly term.

The bill’s defeat was a bitter blow for all of those who had ceaselessly campaigned for the introduction of such a bill.

Labour whipped its AMs to ensure the bill’s failure, while opposition AMs were united in supporting it.

A PASSIONATE DEBATE

During the debate, Members delivered impassioned arguments on why ministers should bring forward specific autism legislation that already exists in England and Northern Ireland.

They cited the fact that under current Welsh Government legislation, people with autism lack a legal identity – which has led to people not receiving adequate professional support from public services – placing them at a disadvantage to the rest of society.

Speaking after the debate, Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who called for such a bill to be introduced in 2015, said: “Today’s vote is obviously a significant blow to the 136,000 people affected by autism in Wales – the passion of whom was evident by those who sat in the gallery to watch the debate.

“Despite Labour having voted down the bill today, we know that there are members who recognise the need for this legislation but were not allowed to demonstrate this, owing to the Labour whip on this vote.

“We will continue to fight for this bill in the Chamber, for the sake of those who continue to not receive the support and recognition they both need and deserve.”

‘A MISSED OPPORTUNITY’

Meleri Thomas, External Affairs Manager at National Autistic Society Cymru, told The Herald: “We are disappointed by the vote last week and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.

“During the debate, the Welsh Government underlined its commitment to a new autism strategy and highlighted other initiatives that it believes will improve support for autistic people in Wales. We will be looking carefully at these initiatives and what the new strategy says to assess the likely impact.

“However, eight years on from the publication of the first strategy, we’ve seen how difficult it can be to realise the welcome ambitions of a national plan into practical support on the ground. This is why we will continue with our Act Now campaign, which calls for an Autism Act for Wales so that there are clear duties on public services in Wales to meet the needs of autistic children and adults across the country and bring about the changes to services and support that we all want to see.”

MR WATERS HAS ONE QUESTION

The conduct of Llanelli AM Lee Waters during the debate attracted criticism. On no fewer than three separate occasions, he asked members speaking to give way to ask what amounted to the same question.

The first occasion captures the thrust of Mr Waters’s interventions: “Autism is a neurological condition with distressing co-morbidities like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It affects one in 100 people. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder with distressing co-morbidities like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. Why is one worthy of an Act and the other not?”

Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Jenkins pointed out, before being interrupted by Mr Waters: “Research from the National Autistic Society found that only two children in five are receiving all the support outlined in their statement. There is an Additional Learning Needs Bill on the way, but Plaid Cymru believes this may fall short of what is required, because it offers little or no support for adults with autism while making no distinction between children with Asperger’s, who are often high academic achievers, and others on the autism spectrum.”

Assurances given by Minister for Social Services and Public Health Rebecca Evans that the Welsh Government’s eight-years-in-the-making Action Plan would deliver the changes sought by the proposed Bill without the necessity for further legislation were skewered by Simon Thomas, Plaid’s Regional AM for Mid and West Wales, who pointed out to her in June, after the Action Plan had been approved, that First Minister Carwyn Jones said of a possible Autism Bill: “That is being considered at present… in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately.”

Ms Evans suggested that the Government’s current position in voting against the Autism Bill was no different to that espoused previously by the First Minister.

‘NOBODY WANTS LEGISLATION’ CLAIM

Indeed, the distance that the Welsh Government has rowed back from the First Minister’s words on legislation was further highlighted by a Welsh Government spokesperson, who told us: “We already have both the legislative and policy levers to support people with autism. Our Social Services and Well-being Act came into force in April of this year and puts the individual the heart of decisions about care and support, and aims to meet those needs. We are about to publish our refreshed ASD Strategic Action Plan, following consultation with people with autism and their families, where only two responses mentioned the need for more legislation.

“However, the Minister has met with NAS Cymru who are working with officials to explore whether there are parts of their proposed Bill that cannot already be delivered by these approaches and other initiatives such as our investment in a National Integrated Autism Service through our Intermediate Care Fund.”

As the consultation referred to regarding the ASD Action Plan did not include a consultation on legislation, the Welsh Government seems to have forgotten the dictum that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, not least when you set the terms of the consultation.

DAVIES WILL CONTINUE TO CAMPAIGN

Paul Davies AM, who has been consistent in calling for an Autism Bill, told The Herald: “I’m extremely disappointed and angry that the Welsh Government did not support the cross-party calls for an Autism Act in Wales to better support those living with autism across the country. This has been a particularly difficult issue for families in Pembrokeshire. An Autism Act would see duties placed on local authorities to make sure that every council is taking the right steps to give children and adults in Wales the care and support they deserve.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the local NAS branch in Pembrokeshire, who do a fantastic job in raising awareness of some of the serious issues facing people with autism on a day-to-day basis. I will continue to work with the branch to campaign for an Autism Act which will give greater clarity on the care and support that people with autism can expect from their local authority and local health board.”

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Back in March, one leading AM told The Herald: “It’s clear that autism services in Wales haven’t been good enough so we welcome any further steps the government takes to support children and adults in Wales.”

On October 12, that same AM voted with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Cabinet to reject the proposal advanced by the Welsh Conservatives. That vote was cast in the teeth of an express commitment in her party’s own May manifesto and in spite of these words, also told to us on March 7 this year: “Wales needs a better focus on this issue which is why we would introduce legislation focused on helping and supporting people with autism.”

Kirsty Williams’ unequivocal declaration in March 2016 was made in response to an announcement made by then Health Minister Professor Mark Drakeford about the Welsh Government’s Autism Action Plan, which will not be rolled out across Wales until 2019. She did not think that went far enough then and the plan has not changed since that date.

The only thing that has changed between May and October 12 is Kirsty Williams’ appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education in Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet.

The Herald contacted both Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrats regarding the Autism Bill: neither answered.

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Police say ‘stop protecting’ murder suspect Steve Baxter

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JUST over two weeks ago Simon Clark, aged 54, was found dead at Grove Caravan Park in Pendine, Carmarthenshire.

Dyfed-Powys Police is continuing its manhunt for Steve Baxter, who is wanted on suspicion of Simon’s murder.

Baxter also known as Steve Tidy, Steve Rowley, Wayne Tidy or William Tidy, is aged 52, 5’5” (1.65cm) tall and has tattoos on his forearms – the name Chez and entwined circles on his left arm and a serpent on his right arm.

He has connections in the West Wales, South Wales, South West and North England areas of the UK.

Officers and staff are working round the clock to follow all possible lines of enquiry.

The independent charity Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to the arrest of Steve Baxter and he has been added to the Most Wanted section of their website. Information would be taken by the charity anonymously.

Detective Superintendent Huw Davies said: “It’s over two weeks since Simon Clark was murdered at Grove Caravan Park, Pendine.

“The manhunt for Steve Baxter is ongoing and I must stress to the public that officers and staff are working round the clock to investigate all possible lines of enquiry that could lead us to him.

“I urge anyone with information of Baxter’s whereabouts to come forward. If you do not want to speak to police directly, you can speak to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously, which is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to his arrest.

“Someone knows where he is or has been in the last two weeks. Please stop protecting him. Simon Clark’s family deserve to see all those involved in his death brought to justice.”

Four people have been charged in connection with the murder: Jeffrey Stephen Ward, aged 40, from Pendine, has been charged with murder; Linda Mary Rowley, aged 52, from Pendine, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder); Kirston Macklin, aged 52, from Newport, Gwent, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder) and Julie Louise Harris, aged 46, from Tonypandy, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder).

If you see Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 999. Do not approach him.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 101 immediately.

To pass on information anonymously, contact Crimestoppers 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through the non-traceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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National Adoption Week – Can you give a child a home?

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HAVING a caring family and a place they call home is what a lot of children take for granted; however, there are children in Ceredigion who are still looking for a home of their own. As part of National Adoption Week, which is happening between 15 and 21 October, people are being asked to consider opening their homes and their hearts to those waiting for a family.

An information evening is being held in The Atom, 18 King Street, Carmarthen, on Friday, October 19 from 6pm-7.30pm. The Cabinet Member with responsibility for Learning Services and Lifelong Learning and Champion for Children and Young People Councillor Catrin Miles said, “This is a great opportunity for prospective adopters to find out more about the process of adopting children in the county who are waiting for loving, permanent and stable homes. It will also be a chance to meet other prospective adopters.”

Adoption Mid and West Wales has adoption teams covering the four local authorities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys. Their aim is to make sure that children grow up as part of a permanent, loving family from childhood through to adulthood.

Sara*, from Ceredigion has spoken of her experiences of going through the adoption process and welcoming two children into her loving home, “Just two years after submitting our application to adopt, two little hurricanes arrived at our house and turning it into a noisy, happy home full of fun. The first stage of the application was to attend three days of training, over a period of 6 weeks. The training was important and an eye-opener for all kinds of reasons but it was perfect for focusing the mind to make sure we really wanted to adopt. We had excellent support from our social worker, but the process itself was long and challenging and we had to wait and wait while legal processes were going on. Although it was so difficult at that time, looking back it was worth every minute. The hardest thing for us was that there were months between seeing the children for the first time and receiving confirmation that they would come to us to live. This was an exception, the process is usually quicker.”

“In our experience creating and maintaining a good relationship with the foster family is crucial. They are a source of information and support. Before the children came to live with us, we needed over a week of presentations in the foster family’s home – this time is key but full of weight, pleasure, tiredness and emotion. That was months ago and now the children are happy and bubbly with us in their new home and enjoy being part of a loving group of family, friends and relatives. They enjoy going to the local school and Welsh learning was not a problem for them, they even dream in Welsh now!”

“Adoption is a great journey that is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult and it is important to understand and accept that before venturing on the journey. It is also important to take advantage of all support, training and advice on offer. There are many challenges ahead, a lot of disappointment and tears but more importantly, much laughter, love and happiness fills our lives now and in the future. Go for it.”

In the last year (2017-18), 29 adopters were approved through Adoption Mid and West Wales. These include married couples, unmarried couples, single people and same-sex couples. There is always the need for more adopters to come forward as demand for adoption placements has increased this year.

For more information, visit www.adoptionmwwales.org.uk. You can also follow Adoption Mid & West Wales on their Twitter page, @adoptmw_wales.

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Residents sought for involvement into Pen Dinas project

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RESIDENTS are being sought for involvement in the Pen Dinas Hillfort project.

Grant funding for improvements to Pendinas Hillfort has been successfully secured by Ceredigion County Council and as part of the project, the Council is seeking for local residents to express their interest if they would like to be involved in the work. One of the Council’s Community Access Officers will be on hand to talk further about the project on Saturday, 20 October at the Hub, Penparcau Community Centre between 10:30am and 1pm.

The project will provide greater access to a site of historical importance namely Pen Dinas Hillfort, Local Nature Reserve and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It will also improve links to the Ystwyth/Rheidol Cycle Trails, the Ceredigion and All Wales Coast Path and other local amenities and attractions. Improving the path width and surface will increase access to a wider cross-section of residents and visitors and target current barriers to the countryside.

Councillor Rhodri Evans, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration said, “The news that we’ve been successful in securing this bid is fantastic and on behalf of the Council, I thank all the residents who submitted feedback to the application. We are looking for anyone who has an interest in the site and would like to be involved with how this project progresses. This is the perfect opportunity for residents to be part of something that will make a big difference to both residents and tourists alike.”

To express an interest to be involved in the project or to receive further information, email Eifion.Jones@ceredigion.gov.uk or call 01545 570881.

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