In June 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.
- Duties of an Advocate
- Independent Visitors
- Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
- Role of the Social Worker and Safeguarding Chair
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 Looked After child, or child involved with a Child Protection Conference, is appropriate where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Looked After Review or Child Protection Conference) or assisted in making a complaint or bringing a matter to the attention of the care provider, the Local Authority or the Regulatory Authority.
Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Advocate by giving the names of independent organisations to the child, for example The Children's Society.
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 or Safeguarding Chair, especially where their wishes and feelings may not be in accordance with plans being made for them.
Assistance must also be given to enable an Advocate to be appointed for the child for example by approaching the independent organisation of the child's choice if requested to do so.
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 core principles:
- The advocate should not be directive or judgmental but help the young person to express their views;
- Children should be offered full information in expressing their views;
- Children should decide upon the best course of action.
Advocates must be suitably qualified and have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service, local Targeted Services and Probation records.
3. Independent Visitors
3.1 When to Appoint
The Placing Authority must appoint an Independent Visitor where it appears to them that it would be in the child's best interest to do so.
An appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child must be made:
- Where there is infrequent communication between a child and his or her parent; or
- Where there has been no contact between a child and parent for the preceding 12 months, and
- Where it is 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.
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. If not, the social worker should contact an independent advocacy service such as the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS), who is the current provider for Blackpool Council or Voice to identify a suitable person.
Before the appointment is made, the proposed Independent Visitor must be suitably qualified and have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service, local Targeted Services and Probation records and have the agreement of the social worker's manager. The appointment must be confirmed in writing.
The child must be consulted about the appointment and if he or she objects, the appointment should not be made.
3.2 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.
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.
3.3 Review of Appointment
The need to continue 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 continued appointment.
4. Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
Under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010, the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has a responsibility to monitor the child's case in between Looked After Reviews.
At each LAC Review, the IRO must assess the need for an Advocate and Independent Visitor for each child / young person and make recommendations accordingly.
5. Role of the Social Worker and Safeguarding Chair
The social worker, in consultation with the Safeguarding Chair, should consider the need for a an Advocate for the child ahead of each Child Protection Conference and facilitate the referral to the independent Advocacy Service and attendance of the Advocate at the Conference.