At this time of continuing austerity England has decided to take stock of its advocacy and see how well, or not, it is working and how the system can be generally improved through the efforts of an advisory board which will ideally advise the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) on what the ‘advocacy project’ should do and help ensure that young people’s ideas and experiences are listened to and taken seriously in line with article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The idea of this project is to think of ways in which ideas and proposals can been taken forward to improve or reform the current system based on vigorous research and feedback from those receiving services and those supplying them.
Today was our first meeting where the basis to the project was explained, it had already been put out to a tender which was won by the University of Central Lancaster. Three of their representatives were present at the meeting detailing what they envisage the project being with the help and feedback of the panel. The general plan is set out in four stages which may overlap at one time or another for shear convenience.
As you have probably rightly assumed the first step will be to research and fully understand the policies and legislation currently governing advocacy and asking providers what services they are supplying and how things actually work. The second phase will be to work closely with six selected advocacy providers to do some detailed research on current processes and experiences; this is where the overlap is likely to occur as phase three is to engage with young people receiving [or having received] advocacy services as well as other stakeholders such as local authorities, care homes, schools and other institutions which may benefit from services.
All of this engagement and research will enable the OCC to work towards developing a standard to which all advocacy providers should work which will be published in a final report. The last real framework of any kind was published in 2002 under the Department of Health, this is vastly outdated with advocacy coming under the banner of the Department of Education for several years.
From our round table discussion it was clear that there is huge disparity in the availability and funding of advocacy across England, the same is of course true in Wales. Currently half of local authorities who responded to a freedom of information request contracted advocacy to national providers, just over a third used local or mixture of providers whilst nearly twenty percent were using in-house services.
A number of us were concerned with the use of in-house services and the possibility of bias against a child or young person, although independent advocacy is funded by the local authorities everything else [except the sharing of necessary data] is separate which may be why there is disparity in records between the needs and outcomes of some young people receiving services, this may however also be down to quotas or mere box ticking exercises.
Just from today’s discussions it is clear that changes need to be made to the current system, and this is a good first step. I have left a lot out at this stage as figures need to be finalised and everybody was being brought up to speed, but everyone seems to be on the same page with a similar view as to what needs to happen so we shall see over the coming months what will happen and try to plug sny gaps in services.
What is interesting to me is that only the other month Wales also started looking at the future of advocacy independent of the English OCC so maybe some discussions have gone on behind closed doors? Either way it is something to keep an eye on, especially with the possibility of different outcomes and ideas.