In the response to the findings, Brigid Robinson, Managing Director of Coram Voice, said: “We are delighted that the Children’s Commissioner’s new report has recognised the essential role of advocacy for children and young people who the state cares for.
Through our Always Heard helpline, the national advice and advocacy safety net for children in and leaving care (England), we know that all too often children and young people cannot access the support they need. Last year, over 14,000 children and young people came to us for information about their rights. We supported over 6,400 to access their local advocacy services. Yet, we found that not all services were able to work with all children and young people who needed help and should be entitled to support. A quarter of local advocacy services do not work with the full age range of children in care and care leavers. In addition, 13% cannot provide services to the 37% of children who live outside of their local authority and over a third (35%) cannot provide interpreters for young people who are refugees or migrants.
We welcome the extension of advocacy to every child and young person in the care of the state who needs it. Advocacy is a lifeline for children who are not feeling listened to by the system responsible for their care. One of our biggest concerns about advocacy not being available to all children is that the most vulnerable will not be heard when they are being abused or neglected. Last year, we made 327 safeguarding referrals in relation to the children and young people who came to Always Heard for support. There are likely to be many other children and young people whose voices have not yet been heard because the services are not in place to support them. In light of recent well-publicised failures to safeguard children, we welcome the call for better access to support when things go wrong.
30 years on from the creation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child there is still work to be done to protect the rights of children in the UK who are looked after by the state. A children’s rights-based framework is only meaningful if children and young people are given the tools to challenge decisions when their rights are breached. We cannot expect them to be able to navigate the complex bureaucracies of our statutory services by themselves. This is why we need to implement the recommendations in the Children’s Commissioner Report.
Updating the national standards for advocacy is long overdue and more clarity on what local authorities’ legal duties are in relation to advocacy is essential to address this postcode lottery in provision. We look forward to working with the Children’s Commissioner and sector colleagues to make the recommendations of this report a reality.
We have been really pleased to be able to work with the Children’s Commissioner to inform this report. Young people we consulted for the advocacy report told us that lack of information was a key issue. The recommendations in today’s report are an important way of ensuring that advocacy services are not only available to all but that children know how to access them. We support the call for more transparency and believe that requiring each local authority to publish their advocacy offer, in much the same way that they have to publish their ‘care leaver offer’, would make it clearer to children and young people what advocacy is and how to get support if they need it.”