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11.3.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter details the role of an Advocate or Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

Children Act 1989

The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015

Guide to the Children's Homes Regulations including the Quality Standards

National Minimum Standards Fostering Services Standard 1

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 July 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 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 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. Advocacy is an option available to children whenever they want such support and not just when they want to make a formal complaint. This duty extends to all children looked after by the Local Authority, both those in care and those accommodated by agreement with parents.

Written, age appropriate 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 Barnardos or NYAS.

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.

When meeting with the child before the Looked After Review, the IRO is responsible for making sure that the child understands how an advocate could help and his/ her entitlement to one.

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.

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.

The appointment should be considered as part of the development of the Care Plan. 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 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.

Any decision not to appoint an Independent visitor should be kept under review to ensure that the opportunity to appoint such a person is considered if the child's circumstances change.

The child's wishes and feelings should be ascertained and an Independent visitor should not be appointed if the child objects and the authority are satisfied that the child has sufficient understanding to make an informed decision.

The authority should assess whether it would be appropriate to appoint an Independent Visitor if either of the following criteria are met:

  • It appears that communication between the child and a parent or any person with parental responsibility for the child has been infrequent; or
  • The child has not been visited (or has not lived with) a parent or person with parental responsibility during the preceding 12 months.

Other factors to be taken into account include:

  • Distance of placement from home, particularly where the placement is out of county, which makes it difficult to maintain sufficient contact with friends;
  • Whether the child is unable to go out independently or experiences difficulties in communicating and/ or building positive relationships;
  • Whether the child id likely to engage in behaviour which will place him/ her at risk;
  • Whether a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised relationship;
  • Whether it would make a positive contribution to promoting the child's education or health.

Appointment procedures must be rigorous and formal. Applicants must submit detailed background information, provide two referees and be subject to relevant DBS checks. The appointment must be confirmed in writing.

Independent visitors have no formal right to inspect the child's files. Independent visitors do not require supervision but do require preparation for the role, including training and support.

2.2 Role and function of the Independent Visitor

The purpose of the Independent Visitor is to contribute to the welfare of the child. As such he/ she should:

  • Promote the child's developmental, social, emotional, educational and religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise his/ her rights and to participate in decisions which will affect him / her;
  • Support the care plan for the child and his/ her carers; and
  • Aim as far as possible, to complement the activities of carers.

The Independent Visitor's functions are to visit, advise and befriend the child.

The Independent Visitor should also encourage the child to participate in decision-making.

The Independent Visitor may provide contributions to the review of a child's case either in writing or at case review / Looked After reviews to which he/ she has been invited or the child has requested their attendance. The Independent Visitor can put views to the meeting as a friend of the child.

If there are concerns about aspects of the child's case the Independent Visitor should discuss issues with the child's social worker or if still not satisfied, with the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Expenses

The independent visitor is entitled to recover reasonable expenses from the Local Authority, but is not to be paid a salary or other regular payments.

In some cases it may be appropriate for the Local Authority to continue to meet the expenses of an independent visitor for a child who has ceased being looked after. This would be on an informal basis but the Local Authority should consider whether it would be appropriate to continue to meet the cost of reasonable expenses, until its own after care responsibilities expire.

2.3 Review of Appointment

The appropriateness of the continuing appointment of an Independent Visitor should be considered at each Looked After Review. The child's views will be highly relevant.

The Independent visitor ceases to be appointed if he/ she gives notice to resign in writing or the authority gives notice in writing to terminate the arrangement.

Any disagreement about such a termination may be open to complaint through the Representations and Complaints Procedures. The Local Authority has discretion to decide whether the Independent Visitor is a person with sufficient interest in the child's welfare to warrant their representations being considered.

There may be circumstances where the behaviour of the independent visitor constitutes a serious risk to the child's welfare. Consideration must be given to implementing safeguarding procedures where relevant and appropriate.

End