Twenty six year old Ellen is currently on student placement with NYAS while she studies for her degree in Social Work at the University of Chester.  In this blog she tells us about her experiences of working with NYAS and what she’s learning abut the role of advocacy along the way.

Why social work?
All my previous work experience had been with children and families, working mainly in nurseries and children’s and community centres. I wanted to progress, but most of the roles I was interested in required a social work degree. The roles I was interested in included safeguarding, family support and child protection within charity organisations and statutory settings. I felt that I was at a good point in my life to take on a new challenge and use my experience to progress to new things, so I signed up to study a Social Work degree at the University of Chester.

What did you know about NYAS prior to your placement?
A NYAS advocate came to visit the university early last year to speak with the students on my course but until this point I was very unfamiliar with advocacy and assumed that advocates were only required in a legal context. The role of advocates when working with children and young people was explained to us, with particular attention drawn to children who are in care, or have left care. The advocate spoke to us about the reasons a child or young person may require advocacy services and I realised this was an area I wanted to learn more about.

What have you learned about the power of advocacy?
Having learned a little about NYAS and advocacy prior to starting my placement, I knew that NYAS’ model of advocacy was very different to some models of social work.  NYAS’ advocacy is very much led by the child’s wishes and feelings, and social work tends to take a best interests perspective. This made me realise that the work I could be engaging in was very different to anything I had done before.

During my time here I’ve gained a far greater appreciation of the wide range of issues and challenges children and young people are facing, and the variety of ways in which NYAS advocates support them. I’ve been really surprised and impressed with the amount of knowledge and skills required by an advocate. It isn’t just a case of saying what the child thinks and feels, it takes skill to be able to gather this information in an appropriate, child-led way, and ensure that the child feels listened to and respected in the process. Advocates also have to be confident in accurately voicing these wishes and feelings at meetings, or with other professionals, which may be challenging as the child’s wishes and feelings don’t necessarily coincide with the professional judgements made by others.

I don’t think I realised just how much knowledge of children’s rights and relevant legislation and frameworks the advocates needed to have until I shadowed some of the team.  This knowledge is vital if advocates are to give children and young people the best services and make them aware of their rights.

Another aspect of advocacy work that has surprised me is how the advocates maintain their independence throughout the advocacy process. Advocates have a duty to share information with the children and young people the represent, and request that other professionals do not make them aware of any information the child doesn’t know. This demonstrates the high level of respect the advocates have for the children and young people they work with, and  from what I’ve seen, this lessens any potential feeling of inequality between children and the adults who work with them, which is hugely important in building trust.

How do you feel about placement and future practice?
I’m really enjoying my placement here and feel well supported by the NYAS team. I’ve already had lots of shadowing opportunities and am now much more aware of how children and young people feel when they experience local authority interventions. I’m learning new skills that will serve me well in my future practice with children and young people. Working with NYAS has definitely changed my understanding of advocacy and opened my eyes to just how important and extensive their work is.