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.
Cardigan charity represented at food poverty launch
THE CARDIGAN-BASED charity Jig-so was represented at the Wales launch by the National Federation of Institutes (NFWI) on the issue of food poverty.
The event hosted by Mid and West AM Simon Thomas in the National Assembly considered some of the key challenges in addressing the issue.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Simon Thomas said: “I was very pleased to welcome Jigso to the National Assembly. I think it is important we showcase some of the tremendous work being down in west Wales in our national parliament. I know Jigso has done much over the years to help families understand good nutrition and to help give access to sadly-needed food banks.”
“The WI used the event to launch their food matters campaign around food poverty and access to good food and we need to hear from all parts of Wales.”
This work follows on from the Great Food Debates project, undertaken in 2013, which saw WIs and county federations organise over a hundred food discussion events to consider the issue of food security.
Linda Grace, Chair of Trustees of Jig-So added: “We appreciated Simon Thomas’ invitation to attend this important event which he sponsored on behalf of the Women’s Institute who have a strong and long standing reputation on leading campaigns on “what matters”. Simon is a long time supporter of Jig-So’s work and our work on alleviating food poverty. A strong advocate of supporting community groups and small third sector bodies with an awareness of the rural context.”
Police say safeguarding children is ‘everybody’s business’
DYFED-POWYS POLICE is urging people to speak out if they spot signs of adults developing inappropriate relationships with children in their community.
Sunday, March 18, is the national awareness day for Child Sexual Exploitation led by the charity National Working Group.
Safeguarding children is everybody’s business. Any child can be sexually exploited no matter what culture, ethnicity, religion, background or gender.
To support this day, all this week officers and staff from the force’s child sexual exploitation investigators team, Police On-Line Investigation Team (POLIT), school officers and frontline officers have been targeting suspects and children identified as potential victims as well as visiting hotspot areas, schools and groups to encourage the public to think, spot and speak out about child sexual exploitation.
Dyfed-Powys police will be supporting the campaign through social media. Look out for the hashtags on Twitter: #CSE #CSEDay18 #HelpingHands.
Child Sexual Exploitation Coordinator for Dyfed-Powys Police, Linda Elias, said: “Child sexual exploitation is everybody’s business and is happening in our communities. This is not an issue isolated to more urban areas of the UK, we know it is happening locally and we are working hard to identify and protect those children who are vulnerable and also deal with the adults who are taking advantage of children.
“We have police officers trained to recognise the early signs of CSE that can identify children at risk, but we all have a role to play in ensuring our children are safe. Please, if you suspect someone in your family, social group of wider community is being exploited by any adult report it immediately to police by calling 101.
“Exploited children are almost always too frightened or ashamed to ask for help themselves, and members of the community including hoteliers, restaurant owners, community shops or youth facility leaders, are urged to speak out if they see when someone or something suspicious.
“By passing their concerns on to the police they could potentially save a child from the nightmare of CSE.”
Regional Dyfed-Powys SchoolBeat Programme Manager, Bethan James, said: “It is vital that we raise awareness of CSE with our children and the staff working in our schools. Designated school officers have been trained to deliver these sessions. School Community Police are delivering targeted age appropriate CSE sessions in schools as part of the wider SchoolBeat Cymru Programme.
They have the current, up to date knowledge and understanding in order to inform, prevent and protect our children.”
Detective Sergeant at the Police On-Line Investigation Team (POLIT), Mathew Davies, said: “Our team of specialist staff and officers, consisting of Detectives, Digital Media Investigators, Forensic Examiners and analytical staff, are targeting those who exploit children, carrying out warrants across the whole Dyfed-Powys force area. The work of POLIT is helping to speed up the investigation of offences and bring more offenders to justice.”
Nichola Rance, Coordinator for witness and victim service Goleudy, said: “Sadly, it is a fact that CSE is occurring in the counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys. I fully support the national CSE awareness day as it helps to raise awareness of abuse of children that should not be ignored. I would urge anyone who has witnessed CSE or is a victim of CSE to contact Goleudy for support. We are an independent service for victims and witnesses of crime and we have highly skilled advisors who can listen and support people through distressing times in their lives.”
Spot the signs of CSE:
- Being secretive
- He or she stops engaging with their usual friends
- Associating with older men or women
- Going missing
- Being defensive about where they are and what they are doing
- Receiving odd calls or messages
- Possessing new, expensive items that they may have received as gifts
To report CSE in your community call 101 today.
For more information on CSE Awareness Day visit: www.stop-cse.org.
Seven-week-old puppy dumped in garden
RSPCA CYMRU is appealing for information after a seven-week-old puppy was found dumped in a shoebox.
The young Staffordshire bull terrier type pup – who has now been named Molly – was found in a garden at Bro Llethi, Llanarth, on Monday (March 12).
RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben said: “This small defenceless puppy has been callously abandoned on her own in a shoebox. The caller very kindly took care of the puppy until we arrived. It is believed she was dumped between the hours of 3pm and 6pm on Monday.
“She was taken to a vet for an assessment and has a fracture growth plate injury on her leg which must be uncomfortable for her so will require treatment. However, she’s doing okay despite her ordeal and is now safe in RSPCA care. We’re keeping a close eye on her.”
The animal welfare charity is now appealing for information to try and find out who abandoned this dog.
RSPCA inspector Hobgen added: “It is just so sad that someone felt that they had no option other than to leave this poor pup out in the cold on her own.
“If anyone has any information about this incident we urge them to contact the RSPCA on 0300 123 8018. Calls are treated in confidence.”
To help the RSPCA continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care, you can donate online.
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