Advocacy – Foster carers advocating for children in care
Foster carers advocating for children in care
Carolyn Moody MBE, FosterWiki Ambassador
Introduction to advocacy and foster carers advocating for children in care
Being a Foster carer, you need to ensure ‘quality of care’ because all children in your care deserve to receive the best possible care. There are many times as a foster carer we will need to advocate children’s needs.
Advocacy plays a crucial role for foster carers in ensuring the wellbeing and best interests of children in foster care. Advocacy is a crucial tool for addressing issues.
As foster carers we advocate their needs for appropriate educational support, healthcare services, therapeutic interventions, disability related needs, as well as culturally appropriate care that respects and celebrates a child’s cultural background, language, and traditions and so many other necessary resources to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental
needs. Their wellbeing, education, health is all equally important and we need to ensure this is of quality.
Our first hand knowledge and input, our collective voices and efforts can have a significant impact on improving the system for the benefit of all children in care. By being a professional foster carer in advocating for children’s needs this will contribute to wider discussions.
Although we cannot change policy ourselves, sometimes it will influence change indirectly.
The National Minimum Standards (NMS) together with the Fostering Services Regulations (2011) form the basis of the regulatory framework under the Care Standards Act 2000 (CSA) for the conduct of fostering services.
Here’s what they say about advocacy:
The role foster carers can play in advocating
- They can empower children by advocating to help children understand their rights.
- Encourage the children and young people to participate in decision making and provide them with guidance and support throughout their journey in care.
- By being an advocate carers can address concerns promptly and be the bridge between the child, social worker or other professionals involved in their care.
- Foster carers often know the children better than anyone else.
- Foster carers have a unique perspective and responsibility to advocate for the child in their care.
Why is Advocacy is important for children in foster care
As we begin to build trust with children, and in time this develops into a positive relationship with the child, we have a good insight into the child’s experiences strengths and challenges, so we are well positioned to advocate effectively.
Foster carers may advocate for a child on many fronts:
- For continuity and stability in the child’s life.
- Advocating for them in wishes and feelings regarding any proposed placement changes.
- Supporting them to maintain important relationships with family, siblings and any other significant individuals.
- Foster carers advocate for the child’s educational needs by working closely with teachers, school staff, and relevant professionals to ensure the child has access to appropriate educational support, accommodations, and opportunities that promote their academic success.
Foster carers can be role models for advocacy, helping children develop their own self advocacy skills by empowering the child to develop their advocacy skills. They can encourage the child to express their needs, participate in decision-making processes, and advocate for themselves as they grow older.
Foster carers work alongside social workers, education, healthcare and many other professionals, to ensure the child’s needs are properly understood and addressed. They can provide valuable input in meetings, reviews, and planning processes, continually advocating for the child’s best interests.
In doing this we can help overcome barriers and challenges that the child may face The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) The IRO has a duty to make a child aware of their right to advocacy; advocacy is an option available to looked after children whenever they want to have this support and not just when they wish to make a complaint.
Foster carers can raise public awareness in their local communities about the challenges faced by children in care, challenge misconceptions, break down stereotypes so we have a community that is supportive and inclusive.
How and when to advocate.
We know children in care often face educational challenges caused by frequent school changes disrupted routines and gaps in their education due to frequent school changes, disrupted routines, or gaps in their education.
A foster carer will address this by raising this with the educational setting and the other professionals in supporting the child because it’s important
to get access to specialist services for extra educational support Example:
The foster carer notices that the child in their care is struggling academically and is not receiving the necessary support at school.
They can take the following advocacy steps:
- Express their concerns and request a meeting to discuss the child’s needs.
- Ensure they have the relevant information about the child’s educational history, any special needs or learning difficulties they may have, and their individual strengths and challenges.
- Inform the child’s social worker by email of the meeting for your records and ask if they will attend.
- Attend the meeting with school and advocate for the child’s needs, sharing the information gathered and requesting additional support, tailored to the child’s learning style and individual needs.
- Work with the school to develop a plan that addresses the child’s educational needs and work together to set specific goals, implement strategies for academic support, and regularly monitor the child’s progress.
- Being aware of educational support services and having knowledge of educational issues and rights will help you be an effective advocate.
This link has information on the types of issues around education that as foster carers we do have to advocate for, and when you think you may need further help from an independent advocate https://childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/education-for-looked-after-children/
Foster carers can advocate for mental health services for traumatised children in their care, they are also in a position to observe a child on a day to day basis, so positioned to spot any disabilities, hidden disabilities, or special needs.
Talk to the social worker, the independent reviewing officer at the child in care review or during a health appointment with the looked after nurse, through the child’s doctor or in a PEP with the School.
help ensure the child receives appropriate mental health services, therapy, and interventions to address their emotional wellbeing and additional support to catch up.
An example of a foster carer advocating for child’s health needs:
- Foster carer notices child constantly struggles with reading comprehension while reading together.
- In keeping a record of observation noting when child confuses words, difficulty following the story line and becomes frustrated. Also recording strategies and interventions tried but not working.
- Now raising a concern about a possible hidden disability such as dyslexia, foster carer contacts the social worker to express concerns about a potential hidden disability and advocates for the necessary to explore further and monitors that this will happen.
Being their advocate ensures the child receives necessary access to a variety of healthcare professionals. Children with disability or special needs in foster care may have complex health conditions or require ongoing medical care.
Foster carers support with communication, advocating alongside the child ensuring individualised plans. Education is important, the right education support like having the Education Health and Care plan (EHCP) Speech therapy, behavioural plan support for
strategies for positive reinforcement in a supported structured environment is just a small part of the services they may require.
The importance of attachment, advocating to maintain connections and bonds
Foster carers know how vital it is for children maintaining connections with their families and friends, this is vital for the wellbeing of children in care. We advocate their needs by maintaining open communication in the fostering home, in their safe space, and monitor their wellbeing by recording accurate records.
Sometimes children experience the disappointment of unreliable family time and this does cause so much sadness for children and it’s important to advocate as we understand the need for reliability in promoting a sense of continuity and connection.
Advocating in transitions
At 18 young adults face unique challenges when transitioning out of foster care. It is our job to prepare young people for this. We will have already been preparing them, but the reality is quite different and we need to advocate for resources for a smooth transition into adulthood.
Plans drift with changes of workers, so we need to be good at advocating during transitions, in ensuring plans are consistent and the child’s needs are prioritised, they are included fully throughout the process as we need to ensure the child’s wellbeing remains at the forefront of decision making.
Important life changing decisions are being made we have to get it right when looking at Housing Accommodation, Life Skills, Education, Employment and Career Development, Health Care and Mental Health Services, Support Networks and Mentoring.
By supporting in advocating for these crucial areas of support, we can help the young adult navigate the challenges of transitioning out of care, empower them to make informed decisions, and provide a safety net as they embark on their journey to independence.
Deprivation of Liberty (DOL)
Deprivation of Liberty refers to legally restricting a child’s freedom for their wellbeing. This can occur in situations where a looked after child’s movement is restricted significantly, such as in secure accommodations or care homes.
Any decision to deprive a child of liberty must be lawful and in their best interests, and it is crucial to involve an independent advocate throughout this process.
This would involve an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA): An IMCA is an advocate appointed to act on behalf of a child who lacks the capacity to make certain decisions.
Understanding the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is essential to comprehend the concept of ‘lacking capacity.’
Mental capacity Act 2005 for more information, an explanation of what ‘lacking capacity’
Foster carer’s experience
New individuals who do not know J are trying to change the plan and are now contributing to the stress he’s already under just one month away from the date he leaves care. We expressed our concern, as we feel they are setting J up to fail, and that the provision they are deciding on is about saving money, certainly not in J’s best interests, but our concerns fall on deaf ears.
So we requested a meeting to discuss further with the team manager social worker and IRO but sadly were told they are the professionals and they know best. We immediately contacted an independent advocate because the concerns are not adequately being addressed.
The advocate then met with J and is now making a complaint on the J’s behalf
What can you do if the local authority is not supporting an advocate for a child, or you feel a completely independent advocate may be required
Local authorities often contract or buy in the services of advocacy organisations or independent advocates to support children and families within their Authority.
They say they recognise the importance of independent advocacy in ensuring that the rights and interests of the child.
In certain situations, a child’s social worker may recognise that a child needs the support of an advocate and take steps to involve one.
After raising any concerns regarding a child with the social worker, their manager or the IRO and the child’s needs are still not being adequately addressed. It’s crucial to have a respectful and open dialogue with the local authority first, clearly articulate your concerns and reasons for believing that an advocate is necessary for the child’s wellbeing.
Request a clear explanation of their position and any relevant policies or guidelines they are following.
Find out why the local authority has concerns or reasons for not involving an advocate as this can help you address their specific concerns effectively.
It is often appropriate to seek an Independent Advocate for a child. Although Local authorities do often contract or buy in the services of advocacy organisations it may be appropriate to seek other independent advocacy
Here CoramVoice explains the independent Advocate’s role:
- An Advocate is different from any other professional. They are there to help and support you and to make sure you are involved in all decisions about your life.
- Advocates also help you speak out when things go wrong.
- They make sure you know your rights and help you to get the support you need from Children’s Services.
How can my Advocate help a child
- They will always be on their side.
- They will tell them about their rights and give them information and advice about the things they should get from Children’s Services, their social worker, foster carer or where they are living.
- They can go with them to meetings with their social worker, such as their Pathway Plan or Looked After Child (LAC) review, to help them say the things that are important to them.
- If they are unhappy about how they are being treated by Children’s Services or if they are worried about what is happening, they can help sort out any problems or concerns.
- They can make sure people listen to to the child or young person.
- They will make sure they understand what professionals are saying and help them to say what you want to say.
- The children’s act 1989 gives the right to looked after children to make representations and complaints to the Local Authority regarding their care arrangements.
What should a child expect from their Advocate?
- An Advocate is there to help and support them and answer any questions they may have.
- Treat them fairly and not discriminate against them due to age, gender, race, culture, religion, language, disability or sexual orientation.
- Champion their rights and making sure they are listened to.
- Only do or say the things that you want them to, unless you or another child or young person is unsafe.
- Work with the child side by side to sort out any issues that they are worried about. Contact details for a Coram advocate are on the CoramVoice website https://coramvoice.org.uk/get-help/what-is-an-advocate/
Always treating you with respect and listening to you.
The Children’s Commissioner on Advocacy
The National Standards for the Provision of Children’s Advocacy Services define advocacy as follows:
- All children are entitled to an independent advocate if they wish to make a complaint about children’s social care. Children in care, care leavers up to 25 and children in custody have a wider statutory entitlement to an independent advocate.
- A child’s advocate can go to meetings with the child, make representations on their behalf and seek legal advice for that child if necessary. The Children’s Commissioner knows that advocates and advocacy can be a transformational figure in a child’s life.
- Help at Hand sees first hand the power an advocate can have in challenging decision makers to listen to children’s wishes, feelings and views.
- If a child does not have the capacity to instruct and advocate, they are entitled to a non-instructed advocate that should get to know the child and make sure they are at the centre of decision making about their lives.
- It is the Local Authority that is looking after a child that has the duty to provide children in care and care leavers with an advocate.
The Children’s Commissioner will begin an advocacy audit this year to look at the quantity and quality of advocacy provision.
Advocacy and Help at Hand
The Children’s Commissioner has an advice, assistance and representation service for children in care, children working with social services, children living away from home and care leavers.
Help at Hand does not duplicate the work of advocates but steps in if the child’s advocate needs help in challenging decision makers.
The following are two examples where Help at Hand has worked with advocates to escalate the child’s concerns:
The place they found for Hannah was out of area, would necessitate a school move and would mean Hannah would be sharing a home with several other high needs children. Hannah had an advocate who was an expert in both non-instructed and instructed advocacy. She spent time with Hannah and spoke to those that were close to her. She was very worried that the plan to move Hannah was against her wishes and was not in her best interests.
The advocate contacted Help at Hand and sought legal advice for Hannah. Help at Hand made inquiries of the Local Authority about their plans and the Children’s Commissioner herself wrote to the Director of Children’s Services on behalf of Hannah. The plan to move was reviewed and Hannah was allowed to stay in her foster home.
The Local Authority did not do this despite having a statutory obligation to do so. The advocate and children were frustrated and came to Help at Hand for assistance. Help at Hand raised the issue with the CEO of the Local Authority and the complaint then proceeded to stage 2.
Education for foster carers
- To be a good advocate, foster carers need the appropriate training in basic training and various areas, such as safeguarding, attachment and trauma, advocacy skills, cultural competence, education support, behaviour management, communication skills, health and wellbeing, legal aspects of foster care, transitions and loss, teamwork, communication and collaboration.
- Children with additional needs (SEN) or disabled, or Autism this does require additional training and expertise. Such as disability awareness, SEN support strategies, understanding medical needs, and Foster carers need effective communication skills those are essential for ensuring the best possible care and support in all areas of their life.
- As a foster carer, your advocacy efforts are vital in empowering looked after children to have a say in their lives and ensuring their needs are met. Understanding the resources available and undergoing proper training will help you be a confident and effective advocate for the children in your care. Remember that ongoing professional development, honest discussions, reflection, and support from your social worker and fostering provider are crucial elements of being a successful foster carer and advocate.
Top Tips for foster carers in advocacy
- Keep accurate records, be objective and factual focusing on the facts, and be sure to use email when contacting an independent advocate to reflect on the specific areas where the child requires support. Here is FosterWiki on Reporting and Recording, and the top tips.
- The local authority can be resistant to foster carers challenging in such away so understand your policies and procedures.
- The law empowers children to make representations and complaints to the local authority about their care arrangements and as a foster carer, it’s essential for you to be aware of their right to advocacy, which is available whenever they need support, not just when they want to make a complaint.
- Sometimes advocating for a child as a foster carer can be challenging, especially if the advocate is needed for a lack of support from services or social workers. Ensure you are a member of the foster carers approved and certified union the National Union of Professional Foster Carers in case you need help in your fostering role. Remember, like car insurance, you need to be a member of the NUPFC before anything happens. https://nupfc.com/membership/
Info line will be able to give you contact details of your local advocacy groups and advocacy organisations.
- Coram Voice
Always Heard service guarantee that children and young people who are in care, leaving care or needing to be in care who contact them will receive the support of an advocate from their local service or via an Always Heard advocate.
- National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS)
Support for children and young people in care
- Refugee Council
Advisors work directly with unaccompanied children seeking asylum, providing impartial and independent information, advice and guidance to help them to navigate the asylum and looked after children’s systems.
Has contact details for advocacy services in different parts of England, and is regularly updated
- Young lives foundation
The Young Lives Foundation (YLF) is an award winning independent children’s charity in Kent, with expertise in Advocacy, Mentoring, Befriending and Activity Programmes.
Information, Help and Support
Help and support created for foster carers, by foster carers, we are the experts by experience. We have the first foster carers knowledge bank.
Access both the open pages and members area. Both are free to access and footprint-free. The member’s area gives you privileged confidential access to FosterWiki’s experts by experience for advice and guidance. You will also find short courses and guides from the foster carer’s perspective, top tips, allegation help, templates, and the ability to add to FosterWiki. With more content being uploaded regularly.
Please let us know what information or advice pages you would find useful and we will put them in place. https://fosterwiki.com/register/