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6.2.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides information on the circumstances in which an Advocate or Independent Visitor should be appointed for a Child in Care or Young Person.

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review

AMENDMENT

In December 2016, this chapter was reviewed and updated as required. Section 1.2, Duties of an Advocate is new and Section 2.2, Duties of Independent Visitor has been rewritten.


Contents

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


1. Advocates

The rights of Children in Care to have a say in decisions about their lives in enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 1989.

The appointment of an Advocate for a Child in Care is necessary where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Children and Young People in Care 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.

City of York Council has a dedicated Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service, consisting of a Children’s Rights Manager and two Advocacy and Participation Workers and a number of trained and vetted volunteer Advocates.

Information about Speak Up, the Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service, is available on the Showmethatimatter website which contains information about rights and entitlements for children and young people in care.

As soon as any child becomes Looked After completion of the Change Form by the social worker will trigger the Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service to send an introductory letter containing basic information about the Service, and offering to make a visit if additional information or support is desired. (This letter will be sent via the carer if the child is aged under 8 years). This information is also included in the Children and Young People’s Guide to Living in Care that is distributed via the Fostering Support Team shortly after children become looked after.

The availability of this support should also be discussed with children and young people at any time during their care episode by their social worker or Independent Reviewing Officer especially where their wishes and feelings may not be in accordance with plans being made for them. Information should be available in a range of accessible formats, and particular consideration should 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 may benefit greatly from the support of an Advocate.

1.2 Duties of an Advocate

An Advocate’s key objective is to promote children and young people’s central involvement in decisions affecting their lives. The nature of support advocacy provides varies considerably as it is dependent upon each local authority’s commissioning arrangements but every service follows the following core principles:

  • The Advocate should not be directive or judgemental but help the young person to express their view;
  • Young people should be offered full information in expressing their views;
  • Young people should decide upon the best course of action;
  • The Advocate should always remain fully supportive of the young person.


2. Independent Visitors

2.1 When to Appoint

An appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Child in Care must be made:

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

A decision to make the referral for an Independent Visitor will usually be made at a child's Children and Young People in Care 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; or
  • 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 also 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 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, or a referral will be made for allocation of a suitable Independent Visitor from the Volunteer Lead within CYC.

Before the appointment is made, the proposed Independent Visitor must have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service, local Children's Social Care and Probation records and have the agreement of the social worker's manager. The appointment must be confirmed in writing and the visitor must provide the names of two personal referees.

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; and
  • 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 are 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 Children and Young People in Care 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 Children and Young People in Care Reviews, and the child's wishes and feelings will be the main consideration in deciding the need for the continued appointment.

End