Category: Advocacy services

Action on children and young people’s advocacy

Article 39’s Advocates4U campaign, run in partnership with Coram Voice, NYAS and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, today launches a progress report on children and young people’s advocacy services.

A year ago, the Children’s Commissioner for England published a report with 10 recommendations for improving children and young people’s access to, and the effectiveness of, independent advocacy services. Read our progress report, with a foreword from Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England.

Carolyne Willow, Article’s 39’s Director, said:

“Children’s rights and advocacy services have always been about redressing the power imbalance between professionals and children. Independent advocates ensure children and young people are heard, understood and their rights defended. We’re thrilled the Children’s Minister has committed to revise the national advocacy standards and regulations this year, as this will hugely strengthen the support and help children and young people receive. It’s a sad reality that the perspective and feelings of children and young people are often only properly taken into account when they have an independent advocate standing alongside them who knows the law and can skilfully amplify their voices.”

Brigid Robinson, Managing Director Coram Voice, said:

“It has been a year since the Children’s Commissioner’s report and children’s right to independent advocacy is more crucial than ever. Daily our independent advocates support children to make sure their rights are upheld and their voices heard . Coram Voice are keen to see new the standards and a strengthening of children’s access to advocacy; ensuring children get high quality independent advocacy when, and where, they need it.”

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said:

“A year on since the Children’s Commissioner’s report and there is still so much to do. Strengthening children’s rights to advocacy is more vital than ever during this time of lockdown and uncertainty. Our independent advocates have been working hard to empower and safeguard children and young people throughout the pandemic, and NYAS are eager to see new standards and consolidated laws to support that work.”

Jon Fayle, co chair of NAIRO, said:

“A strong and genuinely independent advocacy service is essential to help protect and promote the rights of children in care. NAIRO supports this campaign and is pleased that the recommendation if implemented will strengthen and enhance the advocacy service. Advocates are important colleagues of IROs and we need to work closely together in the interests of children in care.”

Advocacy services for children and young people must be strengthened – Children’s Commissioner

The Children’s Commissioner has today (13 June) published her review of independent advocacy services in England. This shows that 29% of local authorities do not know how advocacy services are provided to children in respect of health complaints – despite them having a legal duty to make such arrangements since 2012. Nine local authorities were unable to say what advocacy arrangements are in place for social care complaints, even though this has been a statutory duty for 30 years.

A survey of managers of advocacy services found majority support (68%) for moving towards ‘one-stop’, local advocacy services – working across services and systems.

Advocacy services provide independent information and help to ensure children and young people are heard and their rights protected. The first service was set up by Leicestershire County Council in 1987. This was for children in care and care leavers. Now local authorities have myriad duties to arrange for independent advocacy for children and young people, including:

  • When they receive (or are entitled to) social care services
  • When they wish to make a complaint about a health service
  • When they are detained in a mental health unit
  • Young people who are homeless
  • Children who run away or go missing.

Independent advocates also visit and help children in young offender institutions and secure training centres, though there is no statutory duty for this. Many children’s homes and mental health hospitals have ‘visiting advocates’ who regularly spend time with children, gaining their trust and being there to help them be heard as individuals or collectively.

The Children’s Commissioner makes 10 recommendations for strengthening and improving children and young people’s advocacy, including a consolidation of the law so that entitlements to advocacy are clear and the revision of national standards (statutory guidance). She urges advocacy providers to publish an ‘independence statement’ which sets out to children and young people how the advocacy service is separate from health, social care and other services. Continuing revelations of human rights abuses in prisons and mental health units underline the importance of advocates being able to act robustly and independently for children.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, was a member of the Commissioner’s working group for this review. She said:

“Advocates are vitally important for children and young people living in institutional settings, whether this be children’s homes, mental health units or prisons. They give strength and power to children’s voices and make sure their rights are upheld. For a child who feels alone and unheard, having a person who respects them and takes the time to listen – and makes others listen – can be truly revolutionary.

Advocates are also a lifeline for young people struggling in the community trying to access support and services.

We hope the government, local authorities and advocacy providers will quickly accept and implement the Commissioner’s important recommendations. As we celebrate 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, this report shows how to practically implement the treaty’s obligations. Advocates empower children who are often in extremely powerless situations; they are not an optional extra but a crucial mechanism for making sure all children enjoy their rights.

Article 39’s work with the Children’s Commissioner was instigated by the late John Kemmis, a brilliant champion for children and young people’s rights and advocacy services. We pay tribute to him.

The Commissioner’s report and recommendations can be found here.