As Children’s Commissioner it is my mission to make sure that every child living away from home in care can have safe, stable and loving relationships, and for them to have someone to turn to for advice and support. For children in care, who have often experienced complex trauma and instability in their early lives, having access to a trusted and reliable adult relationship can support them to thrive.
One way of delivering on this ambition is for children in care to have an Independent Visitor who can visit them where they live and be a friend and a mentor as they grow up. As set out in the Children Act 1989, an Independent Visitor should be appointed to every looked after child to befriend and advise them, when it is in their best interest. Independent visitors are trained volunteers that often step in to support children and provide a stable adult relationship outside of their care arrangement. I want to make sure that all local authorities ensure all children looked after are made aware of their right to an Independent Visitor and are able to access one, should they wish to.
Last year, the National Independent Visitor Network identified that there are some local authorities with no, or very few, Independent Visitors matched with children in care. Using my statutory data collection powers, I set out to understand whether the local authorities identified had increased the number of Independent Visitors that were available to looked after children in their area. I found that most of the local authorities that were identified have increased the number of Independent Visitors, which is welcome. However, the numbers were still low and it is likely that many more would be needed to ensure that every child could access support if they wanted it.
In my request to local authorities, I asked about how they ensure children are aware of their entitlement to an Independent Visitor. I was glad to see local authorities note that both Social Workers and Independent Reviewing Officers seek to make children aware of their right to an Independent Visitor.
I believe there is a role for us all to play in making sure children, and the professionals that support them, are aware of their entitlement. We must also make sure that there are enough Independent Visitors across the country to support children and provide them with advice and guidance from an adult they can trust and rely on.
Read more about how adults can support the voices of children in care in my report, The state of children and young people’s advocacy services in England.