Hopefully, the government’s final proposals for children in care will clarify some crucial matters, writes John Kemmis
The proposals on advocacy in the looked-after children green paper Care Matters are rather a puzzle. It is good that advocacy is included but how did we get this confusion with independent visitors and mentoring?
It seems that the green paper is collapsing different needs and different roles into one general idea. Clearly, the fact that currently independent visitors are volunteers is attractive to the government. We already have independent advocates and their role is well developed and needs extending but it is not the same as an independent visitor or a mentor.
All children need to know there is a trusted adult in their lives but it is not the same as needing advocacy.
The green paper needs to address two complementary needs. To achieve better outcomes for children in care they need to be empowered in the decision-making process and for this they need professionally trained independent advocates. They also need at least one consistent adult in their lives which for most children can come from their own family. This is what young people working with us have called a BFG (Big, Friendly Giant), after Roald Dahl’s book. For those with no one in their family, the Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of independent visitors.
Few young people have independent visitors and, yes, these services need development so children can use them.
The extension of advocacy that is needed is two-fold: one, to ensure children in care have a right to an advocate for any decision-making – care plans reviews, pathway planning, contact, and so on. The other is to ensure that every children’s home has an independent advocate visiting the young people to see the residents and raise concerns they may have.
Advocacy can provide a genuine safeguard by empowering children and giving them advice and support. Advocacy services have largely been developed by the voluntary sector.
What is needed is to build up what has been shown to work, not to muddle this up with the concept of independent visitors and mentoring.
John Kemmis is chief executive of looked-after children’s charity Voice