- This note summarises the strongest and most common messages about children and young people‘s advocacy services expressed by young people and advocates who came to our online workshops in 2021. Forty young people and advocates from different parts of England took part in these workshops. We continue to be very grateful for your time and expertise – thank you!
- Advocates4U is a national campaign, which was set up in 2017 by Article 39 children‘s rights charity with the National Children‘s Advocacy Consortium and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers. The campaign was named by two members of Sheffield‘s Children in Care Council, Heather and Megan, who won our national competition.
- We held online workshops during 2021 to hear the views of young people and advocates about how advocacy services could be organised and paid for. We want to make sure every child and young person who needs an advocate can have one, and that everyone receives the best possible help.
- We have been waiting for the final report of the children’s social care review before moving to the next phase of our discussions. The review published its report in May 2022. It made recommendations about children and young people‘s advocacy services, which we are keen to discuss with young people and advocates.
- Another run of online workshops are planned for August and September 2022. These are for members of our Children and Young People’s Advocates Network, and young people who are part of their advocacy services. Places can be booked here.
- Article 39 has summarised the care review‘s recommendations specifically relating to advocacy; these are listed below.
Our 2021 online workshops – strongest messages
- We have grouped the six strongest and most common messages from the 2021 online workshops. These were: relationships and trust; locally-based and well understood; automatic, ‘opt out‘; high quality; continuity; and independence – see the summary below. We have expressed all of these strongest messages as ‘should’ though, in reality, these were all priorities and a ‘must’.
|Strongest messages from our online workshops 2021|
Relationships and trust: children and young people should be able to trust their advocate and to know that they are always there for them.
Locally-based and well understood: advocates should be available to children and young people near where they live. Advocacy services should be well-advertised and advocates should have good knowledge about all the different local services that exist for children and young people. Children and young people should have influence in how their local advocacy services are run and judged. Everyone who works with children and young people should understand what advocates do, and why these services are so important.
Automatic, opt-out: advocacy should be automatically offered to children and young people as a choice. Children and young people should not have to find out about, and ask for, advocacy themselves.
High quality: children and young people should receive a great service wherever they live. Advocates should be available to meet all the different needs and circumstances of children and young people. Advocacy services should be well-managed and advocates should receive the training and support they need to undertake this very important role.
Continuity: advocacy services should be reliable and long-lasting. They should not keep changing.
Independence: advocates should be able to act for and with children and young people freely, without being put under pressure. Advocates should stand up for the child and young person’s views, wishes and feelings, and fight for their rights. They should not gossip with social workers or others involved in a child‘s life, and they should always have their own private office space.
How advocacy services could be organised and paid for
- In our 2021 online workshops we discussed five different options for how advocacy services in England could be organised and paid for. You can read about the five options below.
- There was very strong agreement among those who came to the workshops that proper funding should be provided so that children and young people have the same quality of service wherever they live. The vast majority of young people and advocates wanted change in how services are organised and paid for, so that every child and young person has access to a high-quality local advocacy service.
- We looked at the potential strengths and weaknesses of five different options, with the first being no change to current arrangements. This first option was quickly rejected so our discussions focused on options 2 to 5.
Options for organising and paying for children and young people’s advocacy services
|Option||How advocacy services could be organised and paid for|
|1||No change to current arrangements – local authorities continue to be in charge of deciding how advocacy services are run (whether within the council or by a separate organisation) and they continue to pay for them.|
|2||Government to give funding to local authorities for advocacy services which guarantees help for children and young people when they need it, as well as regular visits by advocacy services to children‘s homes, hospitals, residential schools and prisons and secure accommodation. This government funding could be worked out by counting the number of children and young people in the local area who are likely to need help. This would make it ring-fenced funding, which means that the local authority must spend the money on advocacy.|
|3||A national organisation is in charge of paying for and choosing who runs local advocacy services. It also checks the quality of the local advocacy services. The choices of national organisations we looked at were: |
– Equality and Human Rights Commission;
– Children’s Commissioner for England;
– An inspectorate like Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission;
– Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service);
– Ombudsperson for Children and Young People (this would be a brand new organisation); or
– Another brand new national organisation or arrangement, perhaps with independent reviewing officers also being part of it.
|4||A national organisation (see the list in option 3 above) is in charge of paying for and choosing who runs local advocacy services. It checks the quality of the local advocacy services plus it:|
– Approves and pays for training for advocates; and
– Has responsibilities around improving the quality and results of advocacy services.
In addition, individual advocates would be required to register with a professional body/regulator (like social workers, lawyers and teachers do).
|5||A national organisation (see the list in option 3 above) is in charge of all advocacy services. This would mean all children and young people‘s advocates in England would be employed by the same organisation. Advocacy services would still be based in local areas though there may also be regional offices.|
- Options 3 and 4 attracted the most interest and discussion. There was very good support for a rights-based organisation to have responsibility for children and young people‘s advocacy.
- Most young people and advocates who expressed a view supported a brand new children‘s rights organisation to take on the responsibility for paying for and choosing who runs locally-based advocacy services.
- Some thought the Equality and Human Rights Commission would be worth exploring.
- There were some doubts about having independent reviewing officers in the same organisation because they have a different focus to advocates.
- The main worry about the Children‘s Commissioner taking on responsibility for advocacy was that this could mean children and young people have no-one to fall back on when their advocacy services are not working as well as they should. There was also concern about the Children‘s Commissioner‘s independence from government. Many valued the Children‘s Commissioner‘s Help At Hand service (you can find out more about the service here). There was also a view that the Children‘s Commissioner and the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be completely separate from all services.
Children‘s social care review
- The children‘s social care review has written a detailed report for the government about making things better for children and young people and their families. This report makes over 80 recommendations. The review suggests a lot of changes in children and young people‘s advocacy services.
- The Department for Education leads the government‘s work around the care and protection of children and young people, as well as schools, colleges and universities. It is going to publish its response to the review‘s final report and recommendations at the end of 2022.
Advocates4U is running more online workshops in August and September 2022, to continue the discussions we started last year.
We also want to look at the possible strengths and weaknesses of the children’s social care review‘s recommendations relating to advocacy services for children and young people in care.
We hope you will join us for these very important discussions.
Children‘s social care review‘s main report, published 23rd May 2022
The final report from the children‘s social care review contains one main recommendation in respect of children and young people‘s advocacy:
Recommendation: Independent, opt-out, high quality advocacy for children in care and in proceedings should replace the existing Independent Reviewing Officer and Regulation 44 Visitor roles. The Children’s Commissioner for England should oversee these advocacy services, with the powers to refer children’s complaints and concerns to the court.
Reading through the main report and other review documents, Article 39 identifies 15 separate proposals which relate directly to children and young people‘s advocacy. The vast majority of these appear to be connected to advocacy for children and young people in care. These 15 proposals are listed below. Please note, this is Article 39‘s summary for young people and advocates. If you want to know the review‘s exact wording, we suggest you read the review‘s:
- Main report
- Document which explains the different recommendations
- Costings report
- Children and young people‘s summary
- Children‘s rights statement.
Children‘s social care review – what the review says about children and young people’s advocacy
Article 39 has prepared this list from reading the main review report and accompanying documents.
|1. Advocacy services for children and young people in care should be run separately from local authorities.|
|2. Local authorities should continue to pay for these advocacy services.|
|3. Advocacy for children and young people in care should be organised as an opt-out service, which would mean children and young people are contacted by an advocate rather than them having to find an advocate themselves.|
|4. Advocates should be able to build long-lasting positive relationships with children and young people in care.|
|5. Children and young people should be given the right to request their advocate attends court in any proceedings affecting them (it is not clear whether this relates only to children and young people in care, and only to proceedings relating to children’s care and protection – are proceedings in the criminal courts included, for example?).|
|6. Children and young people should be able to receive help from an independent advocate when family group decision-making happens. This is where social workers have discussions with different members of families, including the child or young person, to see if it is possible for a child or young person to stay living with their family – with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or older sisters and brothers, for example. The review says these meetings could also take place to help a child or young person return to live with their family from care, when this is possible.|
|7. The Children‘s Commissioner should have responsibility for choosing who runs advocacy services for children and young people in care.|
|8. The Children‘s Commissioner could also have responsibility for running advocacy services for children and young people in care. Other options are a new (national) organisation or Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).|
|9. The Children‘s Commissioner should have the power to go to court to protect the rights of individual children and young people.|
|10. The Children‘s Commissioner should write a report every year which describes the main things advocacy services have been working on. This is to help local authorities improve.|
|11. The national standards for children and young people‘s advocacy services should be revised. (The review also states Ofsted should develop an inspection framework for advocacy, which presumably would be based on these standards).|
|12. After the advocacy standards have been updated, a Knowledge and Skills Statement for advocates should be developed. The review states the following should be involved in developing this Statement – care experienced children and adults, the What Works Centre for Children‘s Social Care, the Children’s Commissioner, Cafcass and local authorities. (Mental health first aid training is specifically mentioned as being necessary for advocates and other professionals working with children and young people).|
|13. There should be an Apprenticeship Standard in Children’s Advocacy.|
|14. Advocates should take on parts of the job of independent reviewing officers. The review recommends that the law is changed so that children and young people in care no longer have an independent reviewing officer. The review recommends that no significant decision about a child or young person should be made at their review meeting without input from an advocate, unless the child or young person decides against this.|
|15. Advocates should take on the job of independent people who visit children‘s homes at least once a month to check the welfare of children and young people who live there. The review recommends that the law is changed so that the independent people who currently do this job are no longer required.|
|The review estimates that over a period of 10 years, starting from 1st April 2023, £8 million can be saved in the cost of advocacy services for children and young people in care. Its costings are based on an advocacy manager earning £60,000 per year and an advocate‘s salary being £30,000 each year, with an advocate working with 35 children and young people at any one time. The review estimates that one-third of the workload of advocates will be connected to helping children and young people in care make complaints. The review calculates that around 1 in 3 children and young people in care will choose to have an advocate (after they have been offered one), and that 95% of children and young people whose care and protection is being looked at by a family court will choose to have an advocate.|
 Campaign steering group members are: Ben Twomey, Director of Policy and Communications, NYAS; Brigid Robinson, Managing Director, Coram Voice; Carolyne Willow, Director, Article 39; Jenny Clifton, former manager of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s advice service and former manager of visiting advocacy services; and Jon Fayle, Co-Chair, National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers.
 Currently the law and government guidance (which must be followed unless there are strong reasons not to) requires local authorities to make sure children and young people can access advocacy when they need help to express their views to children’s social care; when they make a complaint about the NHS; when they are locked up in a mental health hospital, a secure unit or prison; when they have special educational needs or are threatened with exclusion from school; and when they are homeless. Article 39 has a website page which lists children and young people’s right to advocacy, which you can find here.
 This is very similar to the options we looked at during our online workshops in 2021.
 Cafcass has this legal power in respect of children and young people in care, which it can use if an independent reviewing officer contacts the organisation with serious concerns about children’s rights. Cafcass’s power to take children and young people’s cases to court (including for human rights breaches) is set out in The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Reviewed Case Referral) Regulations 2004.
 After work by the Advocates4U campaign, in 2020 the government promised to run a public consultation on new standards and legal rules for advocacy. After this promise, young people had meetings with civil servants in the Department for Education during 2021 to help them have an even better understanding of the power and importance of advocacy.
 These are called Regulation 44 independent persons. Their duties are set out in Regulation 44 of The Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015.
 The review also recommends new parent advocacy services, which it estimates will cost £62 million over 10 years.