This page explains the role of a child advocate, who can represent the wishes and feelings of children in local authority care. It explains who is entitled to an advocate and the expected standards of an advocate.
Advocacy is about helping young people to express their wishes and feelings
What is a Child Advocate?
A Child Advocate can offer advice and support to a child or young person. The main purpose of a child advocate is to enable children to express their wishes and feelings. The aim of child advocacy is to encourage empowerment of children and uphold their human rights.
A Child Advocate cannot represent the child in court proceedings although they may be called upon to give evidence at certain stages.
Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “Every child has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them and to have their views taken seriously”
What does an Advocate do?
- Make sure a child or young person’s wishes and feelings are known.
- Attend decision making meetings with the Local Authority or school on behalf of a child or young person.
- Uphold a child or young person’s legal rights and ensure they are fairly treated.
- Provide impartial information to the child or young person.
- Prepare meetings with social workers for the child or young person.
- Assist the child or young person in making a complaint in a constructive and effective manner.
- Negotiate with social workers and other relevant people
- Ask questions to relevant people and speak on the child or young person’s behalf
Who does the Advocate act for?
An Advocate working with a child or a young person must act in their interests and be independent of any other associations. For example, meetings between the Advocate and child or young person must be held in a location where they feel comfortable and are able to express their views freely. Also if the Advocate is employed by the Local Authority or a school, they must only concern themselves with the view of the child or young person.
Advocates should ensure that children or young people understand clearly what has happened to them and must not ask any leading questions.
What should you expect from your Advocate?
To control the quality of children’s advocacy services in England and Wales, the Department of Health released ‘National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services’ in 2002. These advocacy standards were created to help agencies and councils across the nation to support looked after children and young people in desperate need. The standards below set out a minimum level of what is to be expected from professional advocacy services.
- Advocacy is led by the views and wishes of children and young people
- Advocacy champions the rights and needs of children and young people.
- All advocacy services have clear policies to promote equalities issues and monitor services that ensure no young person is being discriminated against due to age, gender, race, culture, religion, language,
disability or sexual orientation.
- Advocacy is well-publicised, accessible and easy to use.
- Advocacy gives help and advice quickly when they are requested.
- Advocacy works exclusively for children and young people.
- Advocacy services are confidential.
- Advocates to listen to the views and ideas of young people to improve the service provided.
- Advocacy services must have an effective and easy to use complaints procedure.
- Advocacy services must be well managed and good value for money.
These standards also specify that advocates are to work exclusively with children and young people and anyone up to the age of 21 can request the support of an advocate.
Is my child entitled to an Advocate?
Children and young people do not have an absolute legal right to an advocate but can receive support in some situations. The Children Act 1989 gives the right to ‘looked after children’ to make representations and complaints to the Local Authority regarding their care arrangements. ‘Looked after children’ means those who are in care by agreement of a parent or under a court order.
This is further reinforced in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which places a duty on Local Authorities to assist looked after children who want to make a complaint. Both of these sources imply that Local Authorities should share information with children and young people about advocacy services.
Government Guidance strongly recommends that Advocacy Services be offered to looked after children for other purposes than complaint for example to attend LAC reviews and Social Worker meetings.
Can an Advocate attend a Child Protection Conference?
There is no legal right to have an Advocate attend a Child Protection Conference. However, child advocates are included as one of the accepted professionals to attend a Child Protection Conference. This is reinforced in the Government guidance on Working Together to Safeguard Children. You should look to make a request to your Social Worker or through your Advocate to have them attend the meeting.
If the Local Authority refused to allow your Advocate to attend the meeting, you should raise these concerns with your Local Safeguarding Children Board or the Local Government Ombudsman.
Can an advocate share information without permission?
Advocates should keep all details of conversations between themselves and the child or young person private and confidential. If any information is recorded, the child or young person should be made aware of any recording device and how their personal information is going to be used. If children do not want their parents to know certain details about them, then these wishes should be upheld by the advocate.
The only exception to sharing information is when there is a serious risk of harm to the child’s safety. When there are genuine safeguarding concerns for a child, the advocate should look to disclose information to local authorities, the police or the NSPCC.
How can I get an advocate?
There are many organisations offering advocacy to children and young people who are in care, leaving care or need the support of Children’s Services. Coram Voice provides a service called Always Heard (freephone 0808 800 5792 and online www.coramvoice.org.uk/alwaysheard) which supports children and young people with expert independent advice and support to access their local advocacy support. The Always Heard service guarantee that children and young people who are in care, leaving care or needing to be in care who contact them will receive the support of an advocate from their local service or via an Always Heard advocate.