The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, highlights that many children in care are being deprived of independent advocacy. The advocacy service is in place to ensure the views and wishes of children are taken into account when important decisions are being made regarding their welfare.
The report includes statistics from ‘The Children’s Commissioner’s Children in Care and Care Leavers Survey 2015’ which found that 50% of children did not know why they were in care. The same children also mentioned that being listened to, believed in and encouraged by carers and professionals would make their care experience better. It is clear from this survey that the care process can be a daunting time for many children, especially if they lack the knowledge and understanding of why they have been taken into care. For those children who do not have parental or family guidance, advocates can play an important role in ensuring that their voices are heard when the children and often too shy or lacking in confidence to communicate them. This ensures that the wishes of children are taken into account during proceedings. Independent advocates can also offer protection and guidance when needed.
The National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services defines advocacy as the following: ‘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.’
The report includes opinions from children who have used the independent advocacy service and have found it highly beneficial; noting that they feel more understood and listened to. However, the use of advocates is not equally available in all parts of the country, meaning many children are missing out on this valuable service. Among the recommendations in the report is the need for advocacy to be recognised as an essential part of the care process and a vital way to ensure children’s voices are heard, that this is monitored by local authorities who should ensure that those who would benefit from the service are getting the help they are entitled to and also that advocacy be included in the Ofsted inspection framework. If implemented correctly, these recommendations will ensure that advocacy services are consistent and readily available for all vulnerable children in the care system as well as those in custody or mental health facilities.
Read the full report, Helping children get the care experience they need.