So today was the first meeting of the North Wales MEGA (Ministerial Expert Group on Advocacy [for young people]) where we will be discussing the various aspects of advocacy and what changes we think should be implemented. Now this is a pilot reference group for North Wales, and as such only consisted of Chris (Voices From Care), Anne (Senior Civil Servant), Mike (Chair of MEGA), a member of NYAS staff, myself and two other young people.
Essentially this group will decide the future of Tros Gynnal, NYAS and Action for Children who are [at the time of writing] the only advocacy providers in Wales for children and young people. In South Wales a group has already been established which has discussed some of the issues coming up along with providing a role reversal for Gwenda Thomas (previous Deputy Minister for Social Services) and Jeff Cuthbert (previous Deputy Minister for Skills) to experience the world from the point of view of a young person.
When you are a young person first signing on, if you are unfortunate enough to be in that situation, it was felt that job centers should be able to advise on an advocate who will be able to in turn advise the staff on a young persons predicament (such as not having parental contact) as well as advise a young person on why they may not be eligible for certain support they may otherwise just be refused [with no explanation]. This was actually piloted within a few days at a Job Center Plus. They may also sign post to services such as Meic where short term support may be required.
The group has also undertaken a review of Meic, this has included secret shoppers who will phone/text/IM/email with an issue and see what they actually think of the responses received. This is something I have taken part in as part of the South Wales team and it did improve the service to an extent. Meic is an independent advocacy service where anyone up to the age of 25 can inquire for support or signposting to a service specific to their predicament.
One thing the North and South felt passionately was that training needs to be provided to all professionals involved in the care system or with children on advocacy and what it can actually do. Mike [and a team of experts] has worked to calculate how much LAs (Local Authorities) should be spending on advocacy, it came out at around £400,000 although research shows that around a third of LAs are spending less than half that amount and North Wales has cut it’s contract from £240,000 to £100,000 which is worrying to say the least.
Now as well as these problems children and young people are not informed of their rights until it is too late, there is a lack of knowledge for those entering, transitioning or even just involved in the care system; as a group we believe this is unacceptable and there should be more support available and reminders of rights.
When a child first enters into foster care they can feel nervous, or even not allowed to get a snack from the fridge so it is important they know their rights as well as feel comfortable and have a consistent figure they feel they can trust and turn to at any point in their time in care.
This is just a brief overview of our first meeting which was run on a ‘play it by ear’ basis, next time we are hoping for a few more people and plan to link up with the South Wales team within a few months.