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5.2.2 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 August 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 Duties of an Advocate
2. Independent Visitors
2.1 When to Appoint
2.2 Duties of Independent Visitor
2.3 Mentoring and Befriending
2.4 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 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.

Blackburn with Darwen Council commission independent advocacy services for Looked After Children and Young People and Children and Young People subject to a Child Protection Plan.

Information about advocacy services should be provided to all children and young people on entry to care or when they become subject to a Child Protection Plan by their social worker. Information about advocacy services is also provided with invitations to reviews and Independent Reviewing Officers ensure such services are provided especially where the child / young person's wishes and feelings may not be in accordance with plans being made for them. Information should be in a range of accessible formats.

For further guidance on Participation (Voice of the Child) refer to the Participation Procedure which includes the Strategic Framework and Consultation Principles.

1.1 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 core principles

  • The advocate should not be directive or judgmental but help the young person to express their views;
  • 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 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.

Blackburn with Darwen Council commission an Independent Visitor Service. Where an appointment is considered necessary, the child's social worker will make a referral to the commissioned service.

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 Mentoring and Befriending

The appointment of a mentor, for a Looked After Child, child subject to a Child Protection Plan or Child in Need plan, is appropriate where the child requires support to enhance their social skills, self-esteem and confidence. Mentors for looked after children are also known as ‘Independent Visitors’, a statutory provision first introduced in the Children Act 1989.

The child will be matched with an appropriately trained volunteer mentor who will provide an informal, one to one package of support. Once matched, the mentor will help the child to set realistic goals and access local support and recreation services.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council commission an independent Mentoring and Befriending Service. Where the appointment of a Mentor is deemed appropriate, the child’s social worker will make a referral to the commissioned service.

The commissioned service will make contact with the child and start the matching process. If the child objects to having a mentor, the appointment of a mentor must not be made.

Regular updates on the child’s progress will be reported to the child’s social worker by the Mentor Coordinator. In the case of a Looked After Child, the mentor may be asked to attend the child’s Looked After Review, if the child requests it.

2.4 Review of Appointment

The need to continue with the appointment of an Independent Visitor or Mentor 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