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7.2.2 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.

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

LOCAL INFORMATION

Speak Up Service - York Children’s Rights

York Independent Visitors Scheme

AMENDMENT

In July 2021, this guidance was reviewed and updated as required to reflect local processes for the appointment of Advocates and Independent Visitors.


Contents

CAPTION: contents list
   
1. Advocates
  1.1 Role of the 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. 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, or where their wishes are in conflict with the care provider around a specific decision, consideration must be given to securing the support of an advocate.

An Advocate should be offered 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 (called Speak Up) and a number of trained and vetted volunteer Advocates all of whom adhere to the National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services. In addition to providing advocacy for Children in care, Speak Up also provides advocacy for care leavers up to the age of 25 and children and young people subject to a Child Protection Plan. See Rights and Advocacy Service.

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

The service provides specialist issue-based advocacy; this kind of advocacy aims to address a specific issue and only exists for the time it takes to resolve that issue. It should be noted that children and young people often raise numerous issues, sometimes requiring advocacy for a significant length of time. Speak Up also provides non-instructed advocacy; this type of advocacy should only be undertaken when a child is unable to express their views due to having no recognised communication system or no capacity or understanding of their situation. Non-instructed advocacy should be a last resort when all other communication techniques have been explored. Non-instructed advocacy is rights-based, child-centred and usually involves observations of the child in multiple environments.

As soon as any child comes into care and their details appear on the KPI, the Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service to send an introductory letter and Information Pack containing basic information about a child’s rights and entitlements, including their right to access advocacy and how they can request an advocate. Additional information is shared with children and young people in care via regular newsletters that are sent out from Speak Up on a quarterly basis.

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.

1.1 Role of the Advocate

An Advocate’s key objective is to promote children and young people’s central involvement in decisions affecting their lives. An Advocate should listen to children and young people, help them express their own views, have their voice heard, access information and services, and understand their rights and entitlements. Advocacy is based on the principle that all individuals are equal with the same rights and responsibilities:

In line with the National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services Advocates should:

  • Work for children and young people and no one else;
  • Value and respect children and young people as individuals and challenge all types of unlawful discrimination;
  • Make sure children and young people in care can understand what is happening to them, can make their views known and, where possible, exercise their choice when decisions about them are being made;
  • Help children and young people to raise issues and concerns about things they are unhappy about, including making informal and formal complaints.


2. Independent Visitors

See also National Standards for the Provision of Independent Visitor Services

2.1 When to Appoint

A local authority looked after a child has a duty to appoint a person to be an Independent Visitor when it appears to be in the child’s interests to do so.

The appointment of an Independent Visitor should be considered as part of developing the Care Plan for the child, or at a Looked After Review. Any decision not to appoint an Independent Visitor should be kept under review, and a referral can be made at any time. The child’s wishes and feelings should be obtained, and the child must agree to the appointment.

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 their parent / person with Parental Responsibility has been infrequent; or
  • The child has not been visited (or has not lived with) a parent or any person who has parental responsibility for the child, during the preceding 12 months.

The Children Act requires local authorities to consider appointing an Independent Visitor if it appears it would be in the child’s interested to do so. The following factors should be taken into account when considering 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.

The child must be consulted about the appointment of an Independent Visitor and if they object, the appointment should not be made.

2.2 Role of the Independent Visitor

Independent Visitors are volunteers. To be ‘independent’ they must not be connected with the local authority which looks after the child (either directly or because they live in a household with as a person who is connected with the local authority.)

The role of the Independent Visitor is to be child focused and contribute to the welfare of the child. In particular they should:
  • Promote the child’s developmental, social, emotional, educations, 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.

The Independent Visitor will visit, advise and befriend the child, with the aim of establishing a trusting and positive relationship. The way in which they do this will vary according to the needs and wishes of each individual child. Ideally they should remain a constant in the child’s life, and be there if a child moves placements or has a change of social worker.

The Independent Visitor may be involved in meetings or consultation processes relating to the care of the child; for example if a local authority intends to apply to place a child in secure accommodation, their Independent Visitor must be consulted. The Independent Visitor may also contribute to Looked After Reviews, either in writing or in person, if they have been invited or the child requests their attendance.

In most instances it will not be necessary or appropriate for the Independent Visitor to keep detailed records of their discussions with the child.

If the Independent Visitor has concerns about any aspects of the child’s situation, they should contact the Independent Visitor Service who will consult with the social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) as appropriate unless there is an urgent safeguarding issue that needs an immediate response.

Selecting and Appointing an Independent Visitor

The social worker’s knowledge of the child will play a part in matching them with an Independent Visitor. However it may be necessary in some circumstances to consult with an adult with more in-depth knowledge of the child. The child should always be part of the process of deciding whether their Independent Visitor should be appointed. An introductory meeting should be held so the child can decide if they wish the appointment to be made.

When an Independent Visitor is appointed, the local authority, in conjunction with the child and other relevant staff will decide how much information to give the Independent Visitor about the child’s current situation and history.

Social workers should support the preparation of carers and provide them with support and an explanation about the role of Independent Visitors.

Recruitment, Training and Expenses

Local authorities should seek to recruit Independent Visitors from a variety of backgrounds and ages. As part of the application process, potential Independent Visitors will need to provide details of two referees and also be checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Induction training will be provided to cover the formal aspects of the Independent Visitor role, record keeping, requirements around confidentiality and claiming expenses. Independent Visitors do not require supervision or day to day management but they should be supported in their role

The Independent Visitor is entitled to claim 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.

2.3 Review and Termination 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.

Where there are any concerns about the behaviour of an Independent Visitor, these should be fully investigated and a decision reached about whether the appointment should be terminated. Consideration should be given to implementing safeguarding children procedures.

If an Independent Visitor wishes to resign the appointment, they must confirm this in writing.

End