UCLan research highlights benefits of independent advocacy for children in care

2 June 2016

Study aims to improve the quality of advocacy services available to children in the UK

Research by UCLan’s Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, carried out for the Children’s Commissioner for England, has now been published as part of a report into child advocacy services.

The research, which was done in partnership with the National Children’s Bureau Research Centre, shows the value of independent advocacy for children and young people in care and protection, mental health and youth justice provision. It found that outcomes were complex and varied, including increased confidence among young people and positive changes in the way services were provided. As part of this, UCLan academics also suggested some ways in which these different outcomes could be understood and recorded, enabling the quality of services to be improved.

Professor Nigel Thomas, who led the research, commented: “Our findings showed the immense value of independent advocacy in producing a wide range of short and long term outcomes, empowering young people and leading to improvements in services. We hope that providers will be able to use our work to increase the quality and consistency of independent advocacy for all children, and to evaluate and demonstrate the outcomes and impact of their work.”

"I felt like a little person…. so she showed me how to stand out and really they listened to me more."

The team surveyed advocacy providers across England and conducted in-depth case studies with a sample of six advocacy services in local authorities, mental health facilities and a young offender institution. Some services were provided by large national organisations, others more locally. The research showed how advocacy was valued by professionals, and especially by children and young people. It found wide variation in how outcomes were recorded and measured.

Based on their research, the team analysed the outcomes and impact of advocacy in terms of:
• Issues being resolved for young people
• Young people being listened to, contributing to decision-making, having a better understanding of their rights
• Young people feeling better about themselves, more confident in speaking up, developing new skills and self-esteem

The team also found evidence of wider impacts from advocacy:
• Improvements in service provision
• Changes in local and national policy
• Greater attention to children and young people’s participation

"The main thing is you go to an advocate for a reason and want a good outcome, but they can also teach you ways to deal with your problems. So you feel more confident not just in care but as you grow up in life."

The UCLan research is published alongside Helping children get the care experience they need, the Children’s Commissioner’s own research. This shows that the majority of children in care are unaware of their entitlement to an advocate and so may be left to fend for themselves in meetings with professionals, and that there are significant variations in the budgets local authorities allocate to advocacy.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE, whose staff produced the report, said: “Children in care need to understand the decisions being made about them and be able to express their own views, so they can be involved in them. If they can’t – perhaps because they can’t articulate their views or if they lack confidence – an advocate should be on hand to help.

“Advocacy gives vulnerable children a voice. That is why I think there is a strong case for a review of advocacy standards and guidance and why my report recommends the Government acknowledges the importance of advocacy particularly in the care system,” added Anne Longfield.