South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

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 September 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.

Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Independent 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 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

Schedule 2, paragraph 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to appoint an Independent Visitor for any child who is being looked after, in certain circumstances:-

  1. Where communication between the child and his/her parent(s) (or other person with Parental Responsibility) has been infrequent; or
  2. He/she has not visited, or been visited by (or lived with) any such person during the preceding 12 months.

    and - it would be in the child's best interest.

In addition, Section 16(c) of the Children and Young Person's Act 2008 extends this duty, so that an independent visitor may be appointed to any looked after person where it appears to them that it would be in the child's interests to do so.

The function of an Independent Visitor is to visit, advise and befriend the child with the aim of:

  • Promoting the child's developmental, social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encouraging the child to exercise his/her right to participate in decisions being taken about him/her;
  • Supporting 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.

The Independent Reviewing Officer and/or social worker identifies whether the child/young person meets the following criteria required to qualify for an independent visitor:

  • The child/young person is currently "looked after" by Wiltshire Council;
  • It is considered that the appointment of an independent visitor would be in the child's best interests;
  • The young person would like to have an Independent Visitor.

The social worker requests an application pack from the Independent Visitor Scheme Manager. Before making the referral, the social worker discusses the referral with young person and their carers using the information provided in the referral pack. The social worker also discusses the referral with the person holding parental responsibility (where possible) and obtains parental consent. 

The completed Referral Form is returned to the Independent Visitor Manager for matching with an appropriate independent visitor. The Independent Visitor Manager will discuss the referral with the social worker and then arrange to visit the young person to talk more about the scheme and what it involves. The young person, carer and social worker will be given an indication of likely waiting time before a suitable match can be identified. Before the appointment is made, the proposed Independent Visitor must have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), local Children's Services and Probation records.

When a possible match is found, the Independent Visitor Manager will make contact with the Social Worker to discuss this in more detail. If this potential match is agreed as suitable, the Independent Visitor Manager will visit the young person to show them the "profile" of the visitor and tell the young person more about them. If the young person wishes to proceed, an introductory meeting will be arranged. Following the introductory meeting, the Independent Visitor, young person and carer will make mutually convenient arrangements for future visits. Thereafter the match will be reviewed and supported by the Independent Visitor Manager in accordance with the Independent Visitor Scheme Guidelines. Written information for parents, carers and young people is available from the Independent Visitor Manager

2.2 Duties of Independent Visitor

  • To visit a child/young person on a regular basis as agreed by the child/young person and their carers;
  • To give sound adult advice;
  • To befriend and take an interest in the child/young person, ensuring, at all times their personal safety and welfare;
  • To provide consistency and continuity to young people by maintaining regular and on-going contact throughout their time within the care system;
  • To be aware of and seek to promote any needs the child/young person may have which relates to their ethnicity, religion, language, disability or other specific areas;
  • To respect confidentiality, except where the child/young person may be at risk of significant harm;
  • To maintain a child-centred and independent "lay" perspective;
  • To contribute towards the child/young person's social, emotional and educational development;
  • To ensure that the child/young person is invited to talk about problems;
  • To help the child/young person make informed choices and help them express their views;
  • To check that the child/young person understands the reasons why he or she is in care;
  • To be interested in future plans for the child/young person and check that the child/young person understands the plans for him/herself;
  • To ensure the child/young person is invited to talk about problems;
  • To keep in contact with the Scheme Manager and maintain monthly mileage/subsistence claims;
  • To work within Wiltshire Independent Visitor Scheme guidelines and Wiltshire Council's Volunteering Policy;
  • To be responsible for your own Health and Safety and that of anyone else who may be affected by your acts and omissions.

2.3 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.

End