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4.4.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors


Contents

  1. Advocates
  2. Independent Visitors


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 Advocate should be provided for a looked after child to ensure their 'voice is heard' when decisions are being made about them, or affecting them. This could, for example, be in preparation for a meeting, such as a Looked After Review or assistance in making a complaint, or bringing a matter to the attention of their care provider, the local authority or Ofsted. Advocates are also available to support young people attending child protection conferences.

Information about accessing an advocate is provided to all Looked After Children by their social worker, and reiterated by their IRO, though they should also be regularly reminded as circumstances change.

In Cambridgeshire, National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) provide advocacy for looked after children. Social workers, carers or children themselves may make a request for an advocate directly to NYAS, via their helpline or online. 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

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

There is a legal requirement that children and young people who are looked after, and who have little or no contact with their birth parents, should be offered the chance to have an adult in their lives who can give them support and advice, and take an interest in their affairs. The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 stated more specifically that all young people in care have a right to an Independent Visitor. The appointment of an independent visitor takes place when it is in the child's interests to do so and must be determined according to the child's needs.

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.

Independent Visitors are volunteers and are supervised by the Local Authority's IV Co-ordinator. Where a child wishes to have an independent visitor, their social worker will refer to the Independent Visitor Co-Ordinator using the Independent Visitor Referral Form. This should be e-mailed to IV.Service@cambridgeshire.gov.uk.

The coordinator will seek a suitable match. The Independent Visitor may be a person already known to the child, and independent of the local authority, who may be suitable.

Before the appointment is made, the proposed Independent Visitor must have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service, local Children's Services and Probation.

The child must be consulted about the appointment and if they object, an alternative would normally be sought.

2.2 Duties of Independent Visitor

The Independent Visitor will make monthly visits to the child and maintain other contact, by phone, text 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 social worker and their manager will decide how much information to give them about the child's current situation and history. No information should be withheld if doing so might place the child or visitor at risk.

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

Expenses

The independent visitor is entitled to remuneration for travel and “out of pocket” expenses. The potential benefits of an independent visitor continuing their relationship with a young person on an informal basis once they cease to be looked after should be considered, though the decision would ultimately be based on the wishes of the young person and the IV.

2.3 Review of Appointment

The continuing benefits of 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 appointment to continue.

End