20 Nov 2007

When Will We Be Heard? Children and Young Persons Bill Fails To Give Voice To Most Vulnerable Children

20 November 2007

The Children's Society is calling for the Children and Young Persons Bill to be amended to include a statutory right to independent advocacy* for the 13,300 disabled children and young people placed away from home in England. 

New research (1) from The Children’s Society indicates that reform is urgently needed, as the most vulnerable are currently denied access to vital advocacy services which can help protect them from demeaning treatment and abuse.

When will we be heard? Advocacy provision for disabled children and young people in England, to be launched on 20 November in Parliament, indicates that less than 3% of disabled children living in England currently have access to an independent advocate. The research also revealed that requests for advocacy for disabled children with the most complex needs are being rejected, denying them the opportunity to have their views heard when crucial decisions are being made about their lives.

The survey of advocacy providers indicated that just 877 disabled children and young people had received advocacy services within the previous nine months, out of a total of 34,100 disabled children in need in the UK. The survey also found that a quarter of advocacy providers had not been able to respond to a referral from a disabled child at all in the previous nine months, despite government guidance that advocacy providers should ensure that their services are accessible to disabled children.

One respondent stated that they had turned away 213 referrals of disabled children and young people to their service, because they were not able to support children with serious disabilities. Two fifths of respondents said that they did not provide advocacy services for children and young people who do not communicate verbally. This worrying evidence indicates that it is often the most disabled, and therefore the most vulnerable, children who are denied access to an advocate.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: "The Children and Young Persons Bill in its current form is missing a critical opportunity to ensure that the rights of all disabled children and young people in care are upheld. A statutory right to independent advocacy would make a real difference, as it would provide a vital safeguard for disabled children and young people by helping them speak out about problems they are experiencing. Without advocates, disabled children and young people often have no say over their care and treatment and no control over their lives.”

Case studies:

Natasha** is a 14 year old girl with autism, who is non-verbal and is placed away from home in a residential school. When Natasha was referred to the advocacy service, she was not able to communicate her needs to anyone. Her residential school was not helping her to learn non-verbal means of communication, such as signing, as the school incorrectly believed that Natasha was not able to learn basic signs, and so had not made any effort to teach her. The advocate who began working with Natasha consistently challenged the school for not attempting hard enough to teach her methods of communication. As a result the school began working with her on signing, and now Natasha recognises and uses several signs and symbols. This has allowed her to communicate effectively in two-way communication with other pupils, staff and family, and means that her needs and wishes are now listened to.

Tom** is a 14 year old boy with a range of complex disabilities, who is placed away from home. Due to his deteriorating health, he is unable to speak or to walk by himself. Tom was not provided with a working wheelchair by his local authority, so was unable to move around his local area. Before Tom was referred to the advocacy service he was self-harming. By observing and working with Tom, his advocate was able to detect that Tom wanted a wheelchair that he could control himself. The advocate therefore arranged for Tom to be given a wheelchair with dual control, and arranged for assistance in helping him to learn to operate it. Tom is now mobile, which has enabled him to go out into the local community and gain independence.

Simon** is a 14-year-old boy with multiple disabilities. Due to a number of reasons he had moved his placement 3 times within a year, and his 3rd placement was initially on a temporary basis. However, Sam really enjoyed his new placement and really likes his new school. He stressed to his advocate that he does not want to move his school or his placement as he is very happy. However, the placing authority were really pushing for Simon to be moved elsewhere as his temporary placement was “too costly” for them. Our advocate constantly represented Sam’s views to the placing authority and has written representation letters to the decision making panel to allow Sam to stay in his current placement. After a long wait, the placing authority agreed that Sam can stay in the placement and continue to enjoy the school he is currently attending. Sam was very pleased to hear the decision and felt his views had been listened to.

Notes to Editors:

* An advocate’s role is to assist a child or young person to communicate their views, wishes and feelings and to assist the child or young person to get them taken into account when decisions are being made about their lives. The support of an independent advocate is vital, as children and young people have said they are often intimidated when involved in meetings about their care and not given enough time to get their views across (2). For these children (many who have serious communication difficulties) making choices and decisions depends on being able to communicate preferences and having someone who has the specialist training and the time to listen and understand. Not having an advocate can have real implications for the lives that children and young people are able to live.

  • When will we be heard? Advocacy provision for disabled children and young people in England. (2007) will be launched in Committee Room 10, House of Commons, on Tuesday 20 November from 4pm-5pm.
  • The Children's Society is a national charity driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood. To that end it provides vital help and understanding for those children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage; children who are unable to find the support they need anywhere else. 

1. The Children’s Society (2007) When will we be heard? Advocacy provision for disabled children and young people in England.
2. Morgan R. (2006), Placements, Decisions and Reviews - A Children's views report. CSCI

** Names have been changed to protect identities.