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3.3.2 Advocacy and Independent Visitors

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review

LOCAL LINKS

Barnardo’s Leeds Advocacy

AMENDMENT

In August 2021, information contained in this procedure was reviewed and updated throughout.


Contents

CAPTION: contents list
   
1. Advocates
  1.1 Duties of an Advocate
2. Independent Visitors
2.1 When to Appoint
2.2 Independent Visitors for Care Leavers
2.3 Recruitment, Training and Expenses
2.4 Role and Duties of the Independent Visitor
2.5 Expenses
2.6 Review and Termination of Appointment


1. Advocates

The rights of Looked After Children to have a say in decisions about their lives is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children Act 1989. Before making any decision with respect to a child who the local authority is looking after or proposing to look after, the authority must ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child. Where children have difficulty in expressing their wishes or feelings about any decisions made about them, or where the child's wishes conflict with the care provider around a specific decision, consideration must be given to securing the support of an Advocate.

An Advocate should also be offered where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Looked After Review) or assisted in making a complaint or bringing a matter to the attention of the care provider, the local authority or the Regulatory Authority.

Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Independent Advocate.

This information should be included in the Children's Guide or provided to them at any time by their social worker or Independent Reviewing Officer especially where their wishes and feelings may not be in accordance with plans being made for them. Information should be available in a range of accessible formats.

Children should be supported in accessing an Advocate, for example by a referral from their social worker, carer or another professional. Particular consideration needs to be given to the needs of disabled children, very young children, children placed out of the local authority area and those with complex communication needs who need the support of an advocate.

1.1 Duties of an Advocate

An Advocate's role is to promote children and young people's central involvement in decisions affecting their lives. The nature of support advocacy provides varies considerably as it is dependent upon each local authority's commissioning arrangements but every service follows these core principles:

  • The Advocate should not be directive or judgmental but should help the young person to express their views;
  • Young people should be offered full information in expressing their views;
  • Young people should decide upon the best course of action;
  • The advocate should always remain fully supportive of the young person.


2. Independent Visitors

Independent Visitors are volunteers. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, Independent Visitors should not be connected with the local authority as a result of being an elected or co-opted member of the local authority; being an officer of the responsible authority who is employed in relation to functions referred in section 18 of the Children’s Act 2004; or being the spouse, civil partner or other person living in the same household as the person who is such a member or an officer of the responsible authority.

See also: Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme and National Standards for the Provision of Independent Visitor Services.

2.1 When to Appoint

A local authority looking after a child has a duty to appoint a person to be an Independent Visitor when it appears to be in the child's interests to do so. Agreed “Best Interest” principles are in place in Leeds.

The appointment of an Independent Visitor should be considered as part of developing the Care Plan for the child or as part of a review of the child’s case. However, requests for service can be submitted at any time between reviews if required. Any decision not to appoint an Independent Visitor should be kept under review to ensure that the opportunity to appoint such a person is considered if the child’s circumstances change. The child's wishes and feelings should be obtained, and the responsible authority may not appoint an Independent Visitor if the child objects and the authority are satisfied that the child has sufficient understanding to make an informed decision.

A local authority should assess whether it would be appropriate to appoint an Independent Visitor for the child they are looking after if either of the following is satisfied:

  • The child or young person is subject to a long term care plan and has been looked after by the authority for a minimum of 6 months;
  • The child or young person has given their consent for the submission of the referral;
  • The child or young person is in a placement where the carer is prepared to support the relationship and ensure the young person is available for visits on a monthly basis.

Local authorities are required to consider the appointment of an Independent Visitor if it appears it would be in the child's interests to do so. The following factors should be taken into account when considering if it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor:

  • Whether the child is socially or physically isolated;
  • Whether the child has experienced significant instability in placements;
  • Whether the child has had no unsupervised family time with a parent or other significant family member in the preceding 6 months;
  • Whether the child resides in single parent carer placement;
  • Whether the child is placed at a distance from their home, particularly where the placement is out-of-authority;
  • Whether the child experiences difficulties in developing and sustaining positive relationships both with peers and adults alike;
  • Whether the child is vulnerable to being targeted by individuals who may seek to exploit or harm the child.

A minimum of 3 above identified factors need to be confirmed in order for a child to meet the criteria for referral to the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme.

Where an appointment is considered necessary the child’s social worker should complete a referral to the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme. The scheme is responsible for all aspects of administering the provision of the service on behalf of the local authority. The scheme should engage with the child to ensure the appointment of a suitable person.

The child must be consulted on the appointment of an Independent Visitor and, if they object, the appointment should not proceed.

On appointing an Independent Visitor, the local authority will decide how much information to give them regarding the child’s current situation and history. The focus of these decisions will be based on appropriately safeguarding the child and Independent Visitor. No information should be withheld if it places the child or visitor at risk. The child should be involved in deciding what information is made available to the Independent Visitor. Independent Visitors have no right to access a child’s records.

Local Authorities should arrange for the preparation of carers and provide them with support and explanation about the role of Independent Visitors. Carer involvement is vital for the successful continuation of visits to the child. Carers will be provided with a carer handbook from the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme and be given a named Coordinator whom they can contact should they have any questions or concerns in relation to the Independent Visitor. Feedback from carers regarding the child’s relationship with the Independent Visitor will be sought at regular intervals and utilised in reviewing relationships.

2.2 Independent Visitors for Care Leavers

The need for an Independent Visitor to continue their relationship with a young person on an informal basis, once they cease to be looked after, should be considered as part of the Pathway Planning process. Transitioning from care to independence is a period when young people may need extra support, and Independent Visitors can play an important role. The Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme can be accessed by care leavers in Leeds up to the age of 21, and 25 in some instances. Prior to reaching the child’s 18 birthday the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme will conduct a review with the child and Independent Visitor to agree the parameters of the relationship, including the ability to move to an informal relationship beyond the remit and supervision of the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme.

The Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme will continue to meet the cost of expenses until the child reaches the age of 21, or in some instances 25 if the decision is to continue with the relationship under the auspices of the service.

2.3 Recruitment, Training and Expenses

Local authorities should seek to recruit Independent Visitors from a variety of backgrounds and ages. All potential Independent Visitors are required to participate in a thorough recruitment process with the Independent Visitor Scheme. This recruitment process is designed to follow Safer Recruitment practices and includes as a minimum:

  • Completion and submission of a full application form including a full employment history from the age of 16;
  • An initial interview conducted by 2 individuals, one of which will be employed within the Independent Visitor Scheme;
  • 12 hours of induction training including but not limited to the role of an Independent Visitor, boundaries, confidentiality, equal opportunities, a presentation by an existing Independent Visitor and child and safeguarding;
  • A second interview, to confirm suitable knowledge acquired from training, conducted by 2 individuals, one of which I will be employed within the Independent Visitor Scheme;
  • Completion of an enhanced Disclosure and Barring check;
  • Provision of at least 2 references, one employment and one from a personal friend who can vouch for the applicant’s good character;
  • An Authorisation Panel to independently scrutinise all information gathered on each applicant and quality assure the recruitment process. This meeting should be chaired by the Senior Coordinator for the Independent Visitor scheme, and should be a multi-disciplinary panel of professionals involved in the care of children looked after.

Independent Visitors will be provided with a Handbook from the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme which sets out further information regarding their role alongside detailed policies, processes and expectations placed upon them during their time with the service. This includes information on the complaints and disciplinary processes.

The approval of an Independent Visitor must be confirmed in writing.

Independent Visitors do not require formal supervision or day to day management but they should be supported in their role, for example by a named Independent Visitor Coordinator. The Coordinator’s role is to support the Independent Visitor to maintain their relationship with the child and act as a main point of contact between the Independent Visitor and professionals to preserve their independence. The Coordinator will have contact with the volunteer on a monthly basis to confirm a visit or contact has taken place and provide any support required. In addition to this they will undertake a formal review of the relationship after 6 visits then annually thereafter, consulting with all relevant individuals to ensure a holistic 360 degree review occurs. The Independent Visitor can contact the Scheme Co-ordinators for any additional support during office hours.

2.4 Role and Duties of the Independent Visitor

The Independent Visitor will be expected to make regular visits to the child and maintain contact via alternative means where appropriate. Alternative means could include, but are not limited to, telephone calls, letter writing and video calling.

The main purpose of the visits and contacts will be to:

  • Befriend the child;
  • Promote the child’s developmental, social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise their rights and participate in decisions which will affect them;
  • Support the care plan for the child;
  • Compliment the activities of the carers.

The Independent Visitor will visit, advise and befriend the child, with the aim of establishing a trusting and positive relationship. The way in which they do this will vary according to the needs and wishes of each individual child. Ideally they should remain a constant in the child’s life, and be there if the child experiences any significant changes such as moving placement or a change of social worker.

The Independent Visitor may be involved in meetings or consultation processes relating to the care of the child; for example if a local authority intends to apply to place a child in secure accommodation, their Independent Visitor must be consulted. The Independent Visitor may also contribute to Looked After Reviews, either in writing or in person, if they have been invited or the child requests their attendance.

In most instances it will not be necessary or appropriate for the Independent Visitor to keep detailed records of their discussions with the child or share detailed information with professionals about the time spent together. Independent Visitors have a duty to share any information in relation to safeguarding where they believe the child or any other children are at risk of harm.

If the Independent Visitor has concerns about any aspects of the child’s case they should contact the Independent Visitor Coordinator to discuss these. The Independent Visitor Coordinator is responsible for ensuring all information is shared with relevant professionals to ensure the independence of the Independent Visitor is maintained.

Out of office hours, such as weekends and bank holidays, Coordinators will not be available. If IVs need to report any urgent safeguarding concerns, they would contact the CSWS Emergency Duty Team.

2.5 Expenses

The independent visitor is entitled to recover from the local authority expenses which are intended to cover travel and “out of pocket” expenses. Prescribed figures are in place within the Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme to ensure the service is fair and accessible to all.

In addition to the “out of pocket” expenses, Independent Visitors are able to recover the cost of recognising 2 celebratory events in the child’s life. This must include their birthday and one religious festival such as Christmas or Eid.

2.6 Review and Termination of Appointment

The need to continue the appointment should be considered at the child's Looked After Reviews, and the child's wishes and feelings will be the main consideration in deciding the need for the continued appointment. The Leeds Independent Visitor Scheme will additionally conduct separate reviews of the appointment. This will occur after the first 6 visits and annually thereafter.

If an Independent Visitor wishes to resign the appointment, they must confirm this in writing. Independent Visitors will be required to complete appropriate ending processes with the child to ensure they are given the opportunity to experience a positive ending process. The child’s wishes and feelings will be considered in this process and if they do not wish for and ending visit to take place then it will not go ahead.

Where there are any concerns about the behaviour of an Independent Visitor, these should be reported to the senior Co-ordinator who will determine how the matter is investigated. On occasions this could result in a being decision reached about whether the appointment should be suspended or even terminated. Consideration should be given to implementing safeguarding children procedures, following consultation with the child’s social worker or the LADO.

End