What is advocacy?
The National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services define advocacy as follows: ‘Advocacy is about speaking up for children and young people. Advocacy is about empowering children and young people to make sure that their rights are respected and their views and wishes are heard at all times. Advocacy is about representing the views, wishes and needs of children and young people to decision-makers, and helping them to navigate the system.’
Who is entitled to an advocate?
All children are entitled to an independent advocate if they wish to make a complaint about children’s social care. Children in care, care leavers up to 25 and children in custody have a wider statutory entitlement to an independent advocate. A child’s advocate can go to meetings with the child, make representations on their behalf and seek legal advice for that child if necessary. The Children’s Commissioner knows that advocates and advocacy can be a transformational figure in a child’s life. Help at Hand sees first hand the power an advocate can have in challenging decision makers to listen to children’s wishes, feelings and views.
If a child does not have the capacity to instruct and advocate, they are entitled to a non-instructed advocate that should get to know the child and make sure they are at the centre of decision making about their lives.
It is the Local Authority that is looking after a child that has the duty to provide children in care and care leavers with an advocate.
There are many children who would benefit from advocate who do not have access to one now. The Children’s Commissioner is particularly concerned that disabled children and unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are not in care do not have a statutory right to advocacy. The quality of these children’s lives, including their safety, are often dependent on decisions made by the state, but without advocates, they struggle to have say in what those decisions are.
Unfortunately, the Commissioner is also aware that there are many children that are entitled to an advocate who do not know what an advocate is or how to access one making their entitlement meaningless.
The Children’s Commissioner will begin an advocacy audit this year to look at the quantity and quality of advocacy provision.
Advocacy and Help at Hand
The Children’s Commissioner has an advice, assistance and representation service for children in care, children working with social services, children living away from home and care leavers. Help at Hand does not duplicate the work of advocates but steps in if the child has no statutory entitlement to an advocate ( for example a severely disabled child living at home) or where the advocate needs help in challenging decision makers. The following are two examples where Help at Hand has worked with advocates to escalate the child’s concerns:
Hannah* is under 7 and has autism. She was moved to her current foster carer a year ago. This was done as a temporary move but she has remained there and settled well. Her carer asked for an uplift in funding due to Hannah’s disability. The Local Authority denied this and then said they wanted to move Hannah. The place they found for Hannah was out of area, would necessitate a school move and would mean Hannah would be sharing a home with several other high needs children. Hannah had an advocate who was an expert in both non-instructed and instructed advocacy. She spent time with Hannah and spoke to those that were close to her. She was very worried that the plan to move Hannah was against her wishes and was not in her best interests. The advocate contacted Help at Hand and sought legal advice for Hannah. Help at Hand made inquiries of the Local Authority about their plans and the Children’s Commissioner herself wrote to the Director of Children’s Services on behalf of Hannah. The plan to move was reviewed and Hannah was allowed to stay in her foster home.
The Khan siblings had been assisted by their statutory advocate to make a complaint about their experiences with children’s social care. They had received a response they were not happy with and the advocate had tried to escalate the complaint through the second stage of the process. The Local Authority did not do this despite having a statutory obligation to do so. The advocate and children were frustrated and came to Help at Hand for assistance. Help at Hand raised the issue with the CEO of the Local Authority and the complaint then proceeded to stage 2.
This is some of the feedback that Help at Hand has received from advocates it works with:
“Thank you so much for your support. ~~~~ is so happy and relieved, he can now enjoy the build up to his 18th birthday.
Thanks again, its an amazing service that you have ” Advocate
“Things are looking more positive, and I can’t thank you enough for your intervention which had been invaluable”. Advocate
Following a review of the Help at Hand service last year, Help at Hand has been providing free training to advocates on child rights issues, for example, the rights of care leavers.
If you are an advocate and want any assistance from Help at Hand you can contact Help at Hand by calling 0800 528 0731, emailing [email protected], or through our online form: Get in touch | Children’s Commissioner for England (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)
*identifying details have been changed