5.2.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

AMENDMENT

In February 2018, a new sub-section 1.2, Appointment of an Advocate was added to this chapter.

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.

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, or in any instance where a child feels their voice is not being heard.

Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Independent Advocate by supplying Children's Rights Advocacy Service information about how to access an advocate.

This information should be included in the Children's Guide or provided to them at any time 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 in a range of accessible formats.

Assistance must also be given to enable an Advocate to be appointed for the child for example by approaching the independent organisation on behalf of the child. 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 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 child/young person to express their views;
  • Children and young people should be offered full information in expressing their views;
  • Children and young people should decide upon the best course of action;
  • The child/young person has to consent to the service offered;
  • The advocate should always remain fully supportive of the child/young person;
  • Advocacy is a specific piece of work to support the child/young person to express their views either in a complaint or with any other type of meeting/issue;
  • Advocacy has to be 'instructed' and therefore the child/young person needs to be able to express themselves.

1.2 Appointment of an Advocate

Advocates will be appointed on a case by case basis. An advocate will be appointed in instances where a request for an advocate has been made for a child whose plan is for the immediate reunification with their birth parents or family.

2. Independent Visitors

2.1 When to Appoint

An appointment of an Independent Visitor (IV) 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 Independent Visitors Service within the Children's Rights Service 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.

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 records and have the agreement of the Independent Visitors Service within the Children's Rights Service. The appointment must be confirmed in writing and the visitor must provide the names of two personal referees.

Referrals will be accepted for any child/young person where it deemed appropriate under the age of 18. This is to encourage a long lasting relationship. Matches will continue to be approved up to age 21, as there is an acknowledgement that between 18 and 21 is a vulnerable period for care leavers.

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.

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.

Expenses

Each IV will be given a monthly payment to cover mileage and expenses that are occurred when visiting and supporting the young person. An initial payment will be given to cover the costs of a pay as you go mobile phone, further 'top ups' will need to be taken from the monthly payment. This monthly payment has also been calculated to include a small amount that can be used to buy the child/young person a birthday and or Christmas present.

2.3 Review of Appointment

All matches will be reviewed by the Independent Visitor Coordinator. This will initially take place after the first visit informally and then formally take place after six weeks and then every six months. Formal reviews will include a visit or telephone call to the child/young person (depending on age and communication needs) to ensure they are satisfied with the match and complete feedback. Feedback forms will be sent to the carer, IV, Social Worker & the Independent Reviewing Officer. The information will be collated and if the child/young person and the IV continue to be satisfied with the match, this will continue to be supported.

2.4 End an Appointment

All formal arrangements will cease following the young person's 21st birthday. If the IV and young person wish to remain in touch they can do this as an informal adult friendship but this will not be formally supported. Matches that continue post 18 will be supported and advice will be given around boundaries and expectations as the young person is moving into adulthood. If the IV is not adhering to the boundaries and expectations set out above we have the right to formally end the match. This will take place with a conversation with the child/young person and the IV and then a formal letter will be sent out to all involved.