Leading children’s rights charity National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) has welcomed the recommendations set out in a newly released report from the Children’s Commissioner for England, which found that a significant group of children are still being denied access to advocacy, despite having a statutory entitlement to it.

The “Advocacy for Children” report received evidence from the National Children’s Advocacy Consortium, which is co-chaired by Julie Prior, NYAS Director of Children’s Services England. NYAS was also one of several organisations recognised for providing ‘valuable research’ to help inform its findings.

The charity provided important evidence regarding independent advocacy for children who go missing from care and advocacy in mental health settings, areas that NYAS is a leading authority on.

Intended to explore the provision of advocacy across England and make recommendations to Government based on the findings, the Advocacy for Children report builds on previous research by the Children’s Commissioner in 2016, which found substantial variation in the provision of advocacy across local authorities across England.

The report highlights a number of issues relating to advocacy provision, including a lack of access to advocacy for children and young people, a lack of consistency and a disparity in eligibility criteria for advocacy services from one local authority to another. Amongst its many findings the report has established that,  “there is a significant group of children being denied advocacy, despite having a statutory entitlement to access it. In some local authorities, less than 75% of care leavers’ referrals are taken forward, despite the vulnerability of this group…”

The Children’s Commissioner concludes that, “too many services are inadequate: children and young people entitled to advocacy are not always able to access high quality information, advice and support from advocates when they need it.” She goes on to set out 10 recommendations for enhancing and improving children and young people’s advocacy in England.

The recommendations include a consolidation of legislation to clarify and communicate entitlements to advocacy, the revision of national standards (statutory guidance) on advocacy and the development of  a shared framework for measuring outcomes and impact of advocacy.

The Children’s Commissioner says that first and foremost local authorities should be required to set out a clear strategy for a local offer for all children eligible to advocacy, showing how advocacy will be delivered and should work towards a highly visible universal advocacy service for children and young people up to the age of 25.

Julie Prior, NYAS Director of Children’s Services England, said, “NYAS is ‘always on the side of the child’ and we embrace the vision of universal advocacy where the local offer extends to all children and young people up to the age of 25 years in the care of the local authority.

“With the continuing rise of children in care the duty on local authorities to provide independent advocacy has significantly increased, for example, when children and young people are homeless or go missing or those who are detained in a mental health unit.

“The web of legislation makes it challenging for local authorities to ensure that all eligible groups of children and young people have a right to independent advocacy. The data in the report is stark, noting 29 local authorities did not know how advocacy services are provided with regard to health complaints despite the transfer of this responsibility to them in 2012. Nine local authorities did not know how services were provided for social care complaints.

“Urgent action is clearly needed to improve the situation. We firmly believe that children and young people have the right to feel safe, listened to and their wishes understood and acted upon without the constraint of time and funding.

“As we mark the 30th Anniversary of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989, both of which require that children’s wishes and feelings must be taken into account when making decisions that affect them, it is important that we work hard to ensure this is the case. We now look forward to continuing our work with the Children’s Commissioner, DfE and partners to ensure the recommendations of the Advocacy for Children report are implemented.”

To read the full Advocacy for Children report visit here