We welcome the recommendations made by the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘advocacy for children’ report. Advocacy is an essential mechanism for ensuring children in care’s views are heard and their rights upheld. It provides a vital safeguard for those who do not feel as though the adults supporting them are taking their feelings into account in decisions made about their lives.
We know through our work with young people that their knowledge of and experiences with advocacy is extremely varied. There are many care-experienced young people who do turn to advocacy services at a point when they feel powerless or voiceless; to have another aspect of ‘the system’ let them down again is simply unacceptable. Furthermore, our work reveals that some young people are simply unaware of the availability of advocates and therefore do not make use of the service.
We’re concerned by the considerable variations in conversion rates from referral to representation between local authorities, and the lack of consistency in offers of advocacy services to care leavers. We too are concerned at the limitations we have seen some local authorities create for the advocacy service, such as capping access for those aged 21 and under.
We recognise that making advocacy work isn’t just about provision, but also about making sure children and young people know what it is, and have it made clearly available to them at different points in their lives. They also need to feel that advocates are independent, knowledgeable, and on their side.
Although it’s important to recognise the extreme pressures facing local authority children’s services, financial constraints or capacity issues are not an excuse for failing to deliver on their statutory duties. Effective advocacy is not an added ‘extra’, but a critical part of how every individual child’s views and legal rights are listened to and respected.