Advocacy and Independent Visitors

1. Advocates

The rights of Children Looked After 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. Children Looked After and care leavers have a legal right to an Advocate.

An Advocate should be offered where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Child 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 Children Looked After explaining 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 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 should 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 may need the support of an Advocate. In Calderdale, the Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service provides Non-Instructed Advocacy for children who are unable to directly instruct an advocate.

Children who are the subject of Child Protection Conferences (age 10-18) can have access to an advocate. For more information about the Advocacy Services provided by Calderdale, please contact The Children's Rights and Advocacy Service.

1.1 Duties of an Advocate

An Advocate's key objective 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 is based around the following core principles:

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

The Advocate should always remain fully supportive of the young person.

1.2 Referral Process

The Children’s Rights and Advocacy service accept referrals from any person on behalf of the child, and self-referrals. Consent for the referral should be obtained from children who are able to do so. For Advocacy in Child Protection Conferences, parental consent should also be sought prior to referral. 

Referral forms and enquiries can be sent by email to: CRAAdmin@calderdale.gov.uk

2. Independent Visitors

See also National Standards for the Provision of Independent Visitor Services

Calderdale Council has a specialised service for the provision of an Independent Visitor. Contact with this team can be made by emailing CRAAdmin@calderdale.gov.uk

2.1 When to Appoint

A local authority looked 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.

The appointment of an Independent Visitor should be considered as part of developing the Care Plan for the child, or at a Looked After Review. Any decision not to appoint an Independent Visitor should be kept under review, and a referral can be made at any time. The child’s wishes and feelings should be obtained.

A local authority should assess whether it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor for the child they are looking after.

The Children Act requires local authorities to consider appointing an Independent Visitor if it appears it would in tshe child’s interests to do. The following factors should be taken into account when considering  appointing an Independent Visitor.

  • Whether the child is placed at a distance from home;
  • Whether the child is unable to go out independently or experiences difficulties in communication and building positive relationships;
  • Whether the child is likely to engage in behaviour which puts them at risk as a result of peer pressure or forming inappropriate relationships with older people;
  • Whether a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised setting; and
  • Whether it would make a contribution to promoting the child's health and education.
The child must be consulted about the appointment of an Independent Visitor and if they do not consent , the appointment should not be made.

2.2 Role of the Independent Visitor

Independent Visitors are volunteers. To be ‘independent’ they must not be connected with the local authority which looks after the child (either directly or because they live in a household with as a person who is connected with the local authority.)

The role of the Independent Visitor is to be child focused and contribute to the welfare of the child. In particular they should:

  • 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; and
  • Complement 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 a child moves placements or has 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. Prior to invitation to attend a Looked After Review, the Calderdale IV Service must be consulted.

In most instances it will not be necessary or appropriate for the Independent Visitor to keep detailed records of their discussions with the child.

If the Independent Visitor has concerns about any aspects of the child’s situation, they should contact the Calderdale IV Service who will consult with the social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) as appropriate unless there is an urgent safeguarding issue that needs an immediate response.

Selecting and Appointing an Independent Visitor

Before any appointment is made, the proposed Independent Visitor must have been checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service and must provide the names of two personal referees. The appointment must be confirmed in writing. Recruitment, vetting, training and support of Independent Visitor is undertaken by the Calderdale IV Service.

The social worker’s knowledge of the child will play a part in matching them with an Independent Visitor. However it may be necessary in some circumstances to consult with an adult with more in-depth knowledge of the child. The child should always be part of the process of deciding whether their Independent Visitor should be appointed. An introductory meeting should be held so the child can decide if they wish the appointment to be made.

When an  Independent Visitor is appointed, the Calderdale IV Service will decide, in conjunction with relevant staff, how much information to give them about the child's current situation and history. The child should be involved in deciding how much they wish to share with their Independent Visitor. The Independent Visitor has no right to inspect a child's file. No information should be withheld if it places the child or visitor at risk.

In conjunction with the Calderdale Independent Visitor Service, social workers should support the preparation of carers and provide them with support and an explanation about the role of Independent Visitors.

Recruitment, Training and Expenses

Calderdale Independent Visitor Service should seek to recruit Independent Visitors from a variety of backgrounds and ages. As part of the application process, potential Independent Visitors will need to provide details of two referees and also be checked with the Disclosure and Barring Service. Recruitment, vetting, training and support of Independent Visitor is undertaken by the Calderdale IV Service.

Induction training will be provided to cover the formal aspects of the Independent Visitor role, record keeping, requirements around confidentiality and claiming expenses. Independent Visitors do not require supervision or day to day management but they should be supported in their role, for example by the Calderdale Independent Visitor Service.

The Independent Visitor is entitled to claim expenses which are intended to cover travel and other "out of pocket" expenses.

The need for an Independent Visitor to continue their relationship with a young person on an informal basis once they cease to be a Child Looked After should be considered. The Pathway Service should consider if it is appropriate to meet the cost of expenses until the aftercare responsibilities expire.

2.3 Review and Termination of Appointment

The need to continue with an Independent Visitor should be considered at the Child Looked After Reviews, and the child's wishes and feelings will be the main consideration in deciding the need for the continued appointment.

If an Independent Visitor wishes to resign the appointment, they must confirm this in writing. 

Where there are any concerns about the behaviour of an Independent Visitor, these should be fully investigated and a decision reached about whether the appointment should be terminated. Consideration should be given to implementing safeguarding children procedures.