Yesterday, I published my Help at Hand team’s report and review. An important part of the review was considering how Help at Hand works with advocates and fits into the current advocacy landscape.
The team regularly receives positive feedback from the advocates they work with:
“Thank you so much for your support. Sam* is so happy and relieved, he can now enjoy the build-up to his 18th birthday. Thanks again, it’s an amazing service that you have” – Leaving Care advocate.
“Things are looking more positive, and I can’t thank you enough for your intervention which had been invaluable” – Advocate.
Many of the children and young people who are within the remit of Help at Hand have a statutory right to advocacy, due to being in care or care leavers. For most, this is commissioned by the Local Authority they live in. The Help at Hand service does not duplicate this service but instead is a point of escalation for advocates when they are unable to ensure a child or care leaver’s rights are being upheld and they are receiving the support they are entitled to. Over the past 18 months, the two most common examples of where Help at Hand has intervened are:
(1) An advocate gets in touch to say a child is being moved against their wishes and the Local Authority is not listening. Help at Hand will then contact the child’s social care professionals, including managers, to ensure they have adhered to the statutory safeguards that are in place for these children. These include a legal right for the child to have their wishes and feelings properly considered, a review meeting to be held before the move, listening to the views of those people who are close to the child, and a notification to the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer. The team finds that, in many instances, these steps have not been taken.
(2) Advocates seek assistance when there are problems with the complaints process. The statutory complaints procedure is an important tool for children and their advocates to challenge the Local Authority. However, the team hears from advocates about significant delays in the process or a refusal to respond to complaints. In these cases, Help at Hand will contact the Local Authority directly to address the concerns and ensure the complaint is properly considered, within the statutory timescales.
The Help at Hand team wants to do more to support excellent advocacy and advocates. This is why the review sets out aims to improve the quality and culture of advocacy nationally.
Two key approaches outlined in the report are:
- Advocacy Audits to assess local provision and provide basic benchmarking through statutory data collection. This is within the Commissioner’s legislative duty to ‘investigate the availability and effectiveness of advocacy services for children’ (Children Act 2004, s2 (3)(g)).
- Acting as the escalation point for all advocacy services, so children benefit from an independent check on the system. Through this, we can robustly challenge decision-makers who dismiss children’s views and in doing so we can also empower local advocates to speak out.
The team has also started on a program of delivering free rights training to advocates across England. The first session took place in September and the team plans to deliver another session on Care Leaver’s Rights on December 8th. If you are interested in attending, please email: [email protected].
If you are an advocate, a child in care, care leaver or have a social worker, and you need help, you can contact Help at Hand by calling 0800 528 0731, emailing [email protected], or using our online form: Get in touch.