Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website
Greater Manchester SCB Procedures
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3.4.2 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 November 2017 this chapter was significantly updated throughout 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. Also to reflect more specifically Salford processes and procedures together with the role of the Children’s Rights service, which is provided by Barnados. (See Section 1, Introduction.)

Contents

1. Introduction
2. Advocates
  2.1 Duties of an Advocate
3. Independent Visitors
3.1 When to Appoint
3.2 Duties of Independent Visitor


1. Introduction

In Salford we have gone through a fair and transparent commissioning process to award an independent provider the Children’s Rights Service. The service is currently run by Barnardo’s. Children’s Rights comprises the following services:

  • Advocacy for Looked After Children and for children on Child Protection Plans (CP) or with a Child in Need Plan (CIN);
  • An Independent Visitor’s Service;
  • The Children in Care Council, Fight For Change Council.

2.Advocates

The rights of Looked After children to have a say in decisions about their lives is enshrined in the United Nations Convention of 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 wished and feelings of the child. Where children have difficult 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 or care leaver 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 and care leavers about how they can gain access to advocacy.

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 Barnardo’s to make a referral 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.

2.1 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.   

In Salford the advocacy service is available to the following groups of children;

  • Looked after Children;
  • Young people leaving care, who are “Eligible”, “Relevant” and “Former Relevant”;
  • Children and young people on a Child Protection Plan, who are at risk of becoming Looked After;
  • Children and young people on a Child in Need Plan who are at risk of moving into the Child Protection arena.

The National Standards for the Provision of Advocacy Services spell out the core principles which should inform the delivery of advocacy services:

  • Advocates should work for and with children and young people;
  • Advocates should help children and young people raise issues and concerns about things they are unhappy about;
  • Advocates should value and respect children and young people as individuals;
  • Advocates should ensure that children and young people can understand what is happening to them, can make their views known, and where possible, exercise choice when decisions about them are being made.

The Service Provider’s responsibilities for the Advocacy Scheme will:

  • To recruit, manage and supervise suitably experienced and  skilled advocates for Looked After Children, children on a Child Protection Plan, and Children on a Child in Need Plan;
  • To work for children and young people ensuring that their voices are heard;
  • To provide information about advocacy services in a range of accessible formats  for children and young people;
  • To value and respect children and young people as individuals, and challenge all types of unlawful discrimination;
  • To provide information about advocacy services to foster carers, residential care staff, Social Workers, Independent Reviewing Officers, parents and carers;
  • To advise and inform children and young people on the exercise of their rights and responsibilities;
  • To help children and young people raise issues and concerns about things they are unhappy about. This includes making formal and informal complaints under section 26 of the Children Act 1989 and in line with National Guidance (Get it sorted 2004);
  • To work with Children’s Services Customer First Officer, ensuring all referrals from children and young people receive a prompt response. To assist the child or young person in accessing and implementing Salford City Council’s Complaints Procedure. To initiate formal procedures where necessary and act as an advocate for children in such procedures;
  • To highlight issues when policies do not promote the rights, interest and responsibilities of children and young people;
  • To establish a system for making regular contact with children and young people placed outside of Salford in a residential or foster care placement;
  • To work in partnership with Salford’s Social Work Team, including the Child Protection and Child in Need Team; 
  • To attend Child Protection meetings  and Child in Need meetings as required;
  • To participate in training sessions as required;
  • To have knowledge and understanding of any changes in legislation, policies or procedures that may impact upon children and young people;
  • To maintain a 24 hour free phone answer line to enable children and young people to make contact with the service, and ensure that any messages left receive a response the next working day;
  • To target the service at vulnerable groups as directed by the Local Authority.


3. Independent Visitors

3.1 When to Appoint

A referral to request an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child must be made. A decision to appoint an Independent Visitor can 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 independent visitor is considered necessary, the child's social worker, or another key professional will refer to the Children’s Rights Service.

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

An Independent Visitor is someone who has the duty of visiting, advising, and befriending a child. In Salford the service is targeted at:

  • Looked After Children;
  • Young people leaving care who are “Eligible”, “Relevant” or “Former Relevant”.

Looked after Children, in residential units outside the Salford area are deemed more vulnerable, and will therefore be a priority. When a young person is matched with an Independent Visitor, the arrangement should last two years.

In Salford, the main expectations of an Independent Visitor’s role are:

  • To visit the child or young person on a regular basis;
  • To befriend and contribute to the overall welfare of the child/ young person, maintaining a relationship of trust;
  • To remain independent of the Local Authority and to positively promote  the child or young person’s social emotional educational religious linguistic and cultural identity;
  • To undertake activities with the child/ young person which are suitable for his/ her age, aptitude and ability;
  • To listen to the child/ young person and provide advice and information regarding issues in his/ her life. In complex situations, to encourage the child/ young person to seek help and advice from appropriate services and individuals;
  • To support the child/ young person’s Care Plan and discuss any disagreements that he/she may raise in relation to the Care Plan, only with the designated co-ordinator of the Independent Visitor Scheme or the  Independent Reviewing Officer;
  • To support children and young people to participate fully in meetings and decisions which directly affect them;
  • To support children and young people when the service comes to an end, ensuring they understand the reasons and ensuring arrangements of an appropriate final meeting.

In Salford, the responsibilities for the Independent Visitor Service are:

  • To recruit , manage, train, and supervise a team of suitably experienced and skilled volunteers to act as Independent Visitors for Looked After Children;
  • To provide an Independent Visitor to each Looked After Child who has been referred and who wishes to access the service;
  • To work in partnership with Salford City Council, attending meetings with key managers and officers as required;
  • To manage referrals and allocations, in line with the priorities of Salford City Council’s Looked After Children Service;
  • To provide a service that is available to children and young people who reside outside of the city;
  • To co-ordinate and facilitate group meetings between Independent Visitors by means of a support network;
  • To match Independent Visitors with individual children and young people;
  • To ensure that working agreements are in place which specify the agreed services and activities for the child or young person. This agreement will be tailored to the child/ young person’s Care Plan;
  • To ensure that Independent Visitors are aware of relevant policies, procedures and legislation pertaining to the agreement;
  • To review and monitor working agreements on a regular basis;
  • To ensure that risk assessments are undertaken on activities, with appropriate consent obtained from the person with Parental Responsibility;
  • To operate the service at times to suit the child or young person. To ensure that sessions take place at venues which are agreed with the child or young person, their carers, and the Independent Visitor at times which are convenient and safe;
  • To ensure that visits to the child or young person take place on a regular basis, and ensure  service reliability in keeping appointments;
  • To work with Salford City Council officers and managers in providing accessible information about the service to children and young people;
  • To co-ordinate and facilitate group meetings between Independent Visitors by means of a support network;
  • To have responsibility for payment of Independent Visitors’ expenses.

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