‘Advocates and independent visitors made me feel listened to – but too many children in care lack this’

As a report finds many children in care lack awareness of advocates and independent visitors, Shelly Reed urges the government to adopt care review recommendations to ensure much greater access to their support

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By Shelly Reed, participation co-ordinator at Coram Voice

When I was taken into care at nine years old an awareness of the support I was entitled to was likely the last thing on my mind. Luckily, teams of professionals rallied around me at this time of trauma and turmoil to make sure I didn’t fall through the cracks. Support networks, such as my amazing foster carers and the children’s rights and advocacy team in my local authority in York, were crucial for my stability.

The advocacy team acted as a constant and a stable part of my life from the time I entered care, even up to now, at the age of 23, after leaving care and moving into my own house. The advocacy team was caring and supportive and this made all the processes easier to manage. They took on a number of roles, from providing one-to-one support, to enabling me to participate in my local children in care council, care leaver forum, conferences and more.

I have accessed advocacy on a number of occasions and, each time, I felt truly listened to and supported.”

On one occasion I was struggling with anxiety and my advocate, who I am still really close to, sat with me and listened when I needed it. As a result, I got more direct support around anxiety.

Having fun and making memories

As part of my involvement with the children in care council, I was offered the chance to help interview potential independent visitors (IVs), volunteers who spend time with children and young people in care. They are a steady presence in the child’s life and the relationship is really about having fun and making memories.

I had an IV myself for a few years and when I said that I loved chicken wings, they would regularly take me to Nando’s. I was also taken to theme parks along with my best friend, and when I look back now, I know I would not have had access to these fun experiences without the IV scheme at my local authority. After everything I went through as I child, it helped me to balance out the bad and focus on the good.

I feel extremely lucky to have had positive support both from the advocacy service and the IV scheme. The value of this support was also underlined in the recent care review, which recommended that all children and young people in care should be contacted by an advocate to offer support at key points in their lives and that local authorities should redesign their existing IV schemes for children in care and care leavers to allow for long-term relationships to be built.

Inaccessibility of advocates and visitors

However, a new report published by Coram Voice and NYAS (the National Youth Advocacy Service) found that these services are not accessible enough. A survey of care-experienced children and young people found that a third didn’t know how to get an advocate, and a third had not heard of IVs, despite the legal right to receive one.

Before I started my role as a participation co-ordinator for Coram Voice, my knowledge of advocacy and IV services outside of my own experience was limited. I had heard, anecdotally, of the disparity in support across authorities when I met other care-experienced people at conferences. But my work since has shown me that there is a massive difference in young people’s experiences and their access to support.

It is more likely that children who are in contact with children’s rights organisations such as Coram Voice and NYAS would know about their right to advocacy, meaning that the real proportion of all children in care in England who know how to get an advocate is likely to be much lower.

All children and young people coming into care should automatically be contacted by an advocate to ensure they know their rights in care. Had the advocacy team at my local authority not been so proactive and communicative with my foster carers, I wouldn’t have known what my entitlements were, nor would I have had access to an IV.

Of the children and young people surveyed by Coram Voice and NYAS, 64% reported needing an advocate to resolve issues with social workers and personal advisers, 53% needed an advocate to help with family contact issues and 47% needed an advocate due to issues with school or education. These are crucial issues for children that may otherwise have gone unresolved.

Need to implement care review recommendations

But children and young people can only access this support if they are aware of it right from the start. The government should implement the care review’s recommendation for an opt-out model of independent advocacy support, where children are automatically connected with an advocate when entering care and this must be properly funded.

For IV schemes, services should be redeveloped together with children and young people. This should include more flexible services that allow contact when young people want and need it and continue beyond the young person turning 18. The government should set a legal duty for local authorities to actively offer children in care and care leavers an IV or befriending service up to the age 25.

Advocacy teams and IV schemes are paramount to young people in the care system. Done right, these services have the potential to offer stable relationships in a young person’s life, as was my experience.

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2 Responses to ‘Advocates and independent visitors made me feel listened to – but too many children in care lack this’

  1. Jenny December 1, 2022 at 5:51 pm #

    Whilst these aims are laudable this would require significant investment from Central Government as there is a major cost implication of increasing numbers of Independent Visitors and advocacy. Additionally in our region, as I understand is the case in many others, we have a number of children awaiting IVs however there is a shortage of volunteers (again a national issue and across many voluntary sectors) and there aren’t the people wanting to take on the role, not sure where all these additional IVs would come from to meet an increased demand.


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