Today the Government has published its response to the review into safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.
The suffering endured by the children living in Hesley group homes was appalling. It cannot happen again. I welcomed the painstaking and important work of the child safeguarding practice review panel, which made robust recommendations.
I am glad that the government has acknowledged the seriousness of the failings. A great deal is needed to ensure that this abuse is never repeated. And while I welcome the acceptance of the importance of high quality advocacy for children, I am concerned that much of this response is about how the recommendations will be considered further, trialled in certain areas or implemented when parliamentary time allows.
These children’s voices were too often ignored, their experiences overlooked. I am determined to make sure that never happens again. Tomorrow I am publishing a report that sets out the practical changes needed to ensure that every child who needs one has access to an advocate, and one who is truly independent and can stand up for a child, without compromise.
As I will set out in my response to the consultation on advocacy standards, while I welcome the focus on independence within the updated guidance, without a shift in the structure of how advocacy services are commissioned, independence cannot be meaningfully achieved.
That’s why I have called for a new independent national advocacy service to be created to act as a broker between local authorities and external advocacy providers to ensure the needs of children and young people are met across local authorities and independence is maintained.
I believe this new structure would ensure that children and young people have confidence in the independence of their advocates – an issue children have previously raised concerns about during interviews conducted by the office.
There is also much more to do to drive up the quality of advocacy that children receive. The role of a non-instructed advocate is specialist and requires sensitivity and expertise. As I have set out in my report and consultation response, a minimum qualification standard for non-instructed advocates should be established.
We cannot wait any longer for meaningful change to be implemented, it has already been far too long for children to wait. Change is needed now.