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3.12.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review

Advocacy services for children and young people – A guide for commissioners (The Children’s Society)

AMENDMENT

In October 2017 this chapter was updated to add a link to the Children’s Society ‘Advocacy services for children and young people – a guide for commissioners’. This guide outlines the legislative requirements of local authorities in the provision of advocacy support to children in need and looked after children.


Contents

1. Advocates
  1.1 Role of an Advocate
  1.2 Referrals
2. Independent Visitors
2.1 When to Appoint
2.2 Duties of Independent Visitor
2.3 Review of Appointment

1. Advocates

The rights of looked after children to have a say in decisions about their lives is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 1989. Before making any decision with respect to a child who the local authority is looking after or proposing to look after, the authority must ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child. Where children have difficulty in expressing their wishes or feelings about any decisions made about them, consideration must be given to securing the support of an advocate. See also Advocacy services for children and young people – A guide for commissioners (The Children’s Society).

An appointment of an Advocate for a Looked After child is necessary where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Looked After Review) or assisted in making a complaint or bringing a matter to the attention of the care provider, the local authority or the Regulatory Authority.

Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Independent Advocate. Particular consideration needs to be given to the needs of disabled children, very young children, children placed out of the local authority area and those with complex communication needs who need the support of an advocate.

1.1 Role of an Advocate

The role of an Advocate is to listen to, support the child or young person to plan and get  information, write letters and make phone calls with the child or young person, or act on their behalf to liaise with other agencies. Crucially, children and young people will be empowered by the Advocate to think about and complete these activities for themselves.

Advocacy Service will ensure that the wishes and interests of the child/young person direct the Advocates work. Advocates should be non-judgemental and respectful of the child/young person’s needs, views and experience.

Advocates will ensure information concerning the child/young person they advocate for is shared with them. Advocacy Service may also support children and young people to ensure they can participate in the decisions that are made about their care and treatment.

The Advocacy Service should give the child opportunities to use advocacy before a complaint is made – resolving issues before a formal complaint is made wherever possible.

The involvement of an Advocacy Service does not affect children and young people’s right (or the right of their nearest relative) to seek advice from a lawyer, and does not prevent individual children and young people from making their own arrangements for advocacy support.

Eligibility 

Hillingdon Council’s Children and Young People who fall into one of the following groups:

  • Looked after children;
  • Children moving on from care to adult life and who are entitled to a service under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 are eligible for an advocate.


1.2 Referrals

To make a referral for advocacy please contact NYAS on 0808 808 1001 or email help@nyas.net.


2. Independent Visitors

2.1 When to Appoint

An appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child must be made:

  • Where it appears to be in the best interests of the child to make such an appointment.

A decision to appoint an Independent Visitor will usually be made at a child's Looked After Review except where the child is placed in secure accommodation, in which case arrangements must be made by the child’s social worker for the appointment to take place as soon as practicable after the placement.

A local authority should assess whether it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor for the child they are looking after if either of the following is satisfied:

  • It appears that communication between the child and parent has been infrequent;
  • the child has not been visited (or has not lived with) a parent or any person who is not the child’s parent but who has parental responsibility for the child, during the preceding 12 months. 

The local authority should consider the following factors when deciding if it is the child’s interests to consider appointing an independent visitor.

  • Whether the child is placed at a distance from home;
  • Whether the child is unable to go out independently or experiences difficulties in communication and building positive relationships;
  • Whether the child is likely to engage in behaviour which puts them at risk as a result of peer pressure or forming inappropriate relationships with older people;
  • Whether a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised setting; and
  • Whether it would make a contribution to promoting the child’s health and education.

Where an appointment is considered necessary, the child's social worker will identify a suitable person to be appointed. The Independent Visitor may be a person already known to the child and independent of the local authority who may be suitable. If there is not, a referral should be made to NYAS on 0808 808 1001 or email help@nyas.net.

The child must be consulted about the appointment and if he or she objects, the appointment should not be made.

2.2 Duties of Independent Visitor

The Independent Visitor will have a duty to make regular visits to the child and maintain other contact, by telephone and letter as appropriate.

The main purpose of the visits and contacts will be to:

  • Befriend the child;
  • Give advice and assistance as appropriate with the aim of promoting the child's development and social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise their rights and participate in decisions which will affect them;
  • Support the care plan for the child;
  • Complement the activities of the carers.

On appointing an independent visitor the local authority will decide how much information to give him or her about the child’s current situation and history. The child should be involved in deciding what information is made available to the independent visitor. Independent visitors have no right to inspect a child’s file. No information should be withheld if it places the child or visitor at risk.

Local authorities should arrange for the preparation of carers and provide them with support and explanation about the role of independent visitors.

Expenses

The independent visitor is entitled to recover from the local authority expenses which is intended to cover travel and “out of pocket” expenses. The need for an independent visitor to continue their relationship with a young person on an informal basis once the cease to be looked after should be considered. The local authority should consider if it is appropriate to meet the cost of expenses until the after care responsibilities expire.

The Independent Visitor should also encourage the child to participate in decision-making.

The views of the Independent Visitor should be sought before each Looked After Review to which he or she should be invited if the child requests it.

2.3 Review of Appointment

The need to continue the appointment should be considered at the child's Looked After Reviews, and the child's wishes and feelings will be the main consideration in deciding the need for the continued appointment.

End