Too many children are being taken from their families, the first minister admitted, with more than one child in every 100 in Wales now living in care.

Vaughan Gething also warned far too many children and young people do not have a good experience of the care system as he gave evidence to a Senedd scrutiny committee.

John Griffiths raised concerns about an 83 per cent increase in the number of children in care since 2003.

He warned care rates are significantly higher than in England, with “massive, unexplained” variation within Wales.

Mr Gething said: “The picture is still broadly one where too many children are taken into care,” adding that “some people get decent outcomes” but “far too many don’t”.

Pressed about how he will reverse the trend, Mr Gething said the aim is not only to reduce numbers but to work with, and for, looked-after children to deliver better outcomes.

Alistair Davey, the Welsh Government’s deputy director of social services, told committee members that 25 per cent of children in care are placed outside their home county.

Jenny Rathbone MS criticised the pace of change, raising concerns about “constant slippage” in the Welsh Government meeting milestones.

Warning that Wales is an outlier, with the high number of children in care an endemic problem, Ms Rathbone said councils are facing “huge” costs and potential bankruptcy.

Urged to get a grip, Mr Gething acknowledged the need for urgency but cautioned that there is not a switch to flick that will change outcomes for children and young people.

Warning of a crisis in the social care workforce, James Evans raised concerns about an over-reliance on agency staff with high costs “crippling” councils, saying social workers face unmanageable workloads.

Mr Gething rejected the suggestion, saying: “What do you do if you reach a limit and you are not legally allowed to take on any extra work if you have another child who needs support?

“Do you say ‘the inn is full, take your luck in the stable’ or do you say ‘actually, we’ve got to find a way to try to manage with the resources we’ve got’?”