Article 39 urges greater focus on child’s wishes and feelings

In its response to the government’s consultation on statutory safeguarding guidance, Article 39 urges “much greater prominence to independent advocacy” as a means of ensuring children’s wishes and feelings are known, understood and valued. We advocate the following additions to the guidance:

  • Local authorities should be required to produce age appropriate information to children and young people about their right to independent advocacy, how they can access such support and the benefits of having an advocate (this mirrors existing statutory guidance relating to independent advocacy and independent reviewing officers).
  • Local authorities should be required to provide age appropriate information to children and young people about independent advocacy whenever they are determining what services to provide under s17 of the Children Act 1989, and what action to take under s47 of the Children Act 1989.
  • The guidance should describe the role of independent advocates in ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings are known and understood and accorded due consideration (having regard to his or her age and understanding) in the various assessment and review processes, including child protection conferences.
  • Children should be signposted to the advice and assistance offered by independent advocacy services when they are informed of the outcome of s47 enquiries (this is especially pertinent when concerns about significant harm have been found to be unsubstantiated and it was the child who initially sought help).
  • In respect of institutional settings, the guidance should require local authorities to make arrangements for all children for whom there are safeguarding concerns to be proactively visited by an independent advocate, wherever practicable before a strategy discussion is held.
  • All institutional settings must be required to include key learning and action taken in response to children and young people’s use of independent advocacy services in their annually reviewed safeguarding children policy.
  • Safeguarding partners should monitor and evaluate the availability and effectiveness of independent advocacy in ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings are ascertained and given due consideration and statutory safeguarding obligations are upheld.
  • Safeguarding partners should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training for practitioners on children’s rights and safeguarding, including the role of independent advocates.

In addition, we advocate for the restoration of the section on ‘Keeping the child in focus’, which was added to the 2010 version of the guidance but deleted in 2013.

We argue for distinct guidance on how agencies should respond to concerns about institutional child abuse. Research conducted by Article 39 shows the majority of allegations against adults working with children in institutional settings are not dealt with under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (which governs child protection enquiries), where local authorities are under a duty to ascertain and give due consideration to the child’s wishes and feelings. Our submission explains:

we fear that professionals are making judgements about abuse without children ever being seen or heard by a child protection social worker independent of the institution.

The draft guidance signposts the elements of an effective safeguarding system. We propose children’s right to recovery from maltreatment and trauma be added to this, and suggest the following text:

the immediate and long-term effects of childhood maltreatment and trauma are properly understood and attended to, so that children are given the individual care and assistance they need to recover.

We recommend that all places of child detention be required to undertake annual restraint reviews, and that all deaths of children in the care of the state be considered for a national child safeguarding practice review. The draft guidance currently requires such consideration only for children in the care of local authorities, which would exclude many children serving custodial sentences, children in mental health in-patient units and children in immigration detention.

Given increasing levels of child poverty and homelessness, we suggest the definition of neglect is adjusted to acknowledge the steps parents take to try and provide their children with food, clothing and shelter and the obligations of the state to uphold the socio-economic human rights of children.

Read our submission here:
Article 39 Working Together response December 2017