The children’s social care review for England has today (23rd May 2022) published recommendations from their 14-month long review of England’s social care system.  

NYAS is pleased to see our longstanding call for an independent opt-out offer of advocacy as a key feature within its final recommendations. Other recommendations include reforming the commissioning of advocacy services and making care experience a protected characteristic. 

As positive as many of these recommendations are, much remains undecided for the future of children’s social care. The UK Government is now tasked by the Care Review to implement these changes, and to determine the best option for independent advocacy.  

Active (Opt-Out) Offer of Advocacy   

NYAS is delighted that children in England who enter care, or at other key moments in their care journey, will be automatically connected with an independent advocate. This professional will explain what advocacy is, and will offer their services, as is the statutory requirement in Wales. 

NYAS has been calling for this alongside other charities through the Advocates4U campaign for several years. 

Once children and young people have been made aware of their right to an independent advocate, they are more likely to use the service. Last year across Wales, 78% of children and young people who received the option to opt-out of advocacy pursued issue-based advocacy afterwards.  

NYAS believes that this recommendation will strengthen the right of every child to have their views heard and taken seriously. 

Advocacy to Replace Independent Reviewing Officer and Regulation 44 Visitors

The removal of Regulation 44 and the IRO (Independent Reviewing Officer) role presents a double-edged sword. On one hand, it will reinforce the role of independent advocates who support young people. However, it also presents the danger of diluting opportunities for safeguarding children and young people. 

Through the Children’s Homes (England) Regulations 2015, Regulation 44 visits were born out of necessity to protect the most vulnerable children and make sure they are being listened to where they live. NYAS’ dedicated Regulation 44 staff carry out inspections in 700+ homes across England and Wales, with the large majority of these in England. Monthly inspections operate as a vital safeguarding tool, as Regulation 44 staff check if the children and young people’s homes are safe places for them to live.   

NYAS urges the review team, as well as the UK Government, to ensure that whatever roles replace these ones prioritise safeguarding children and young people, listening to their voices, and ultimately upholding their rights.  

Who Should Determine the Best Way to Deliver Advocacy?

The Care Review leaves much to be considered in its recommendation that the Children’s Commissioner for England could determine how best to deliver advocacy across England. The Care Review have already specified that the “government will need to do more work to determine the best option” for an advocacy delivery model. The emphasis is placed on finding a service independent of the local authority, with options including a new service, CAFCAS or the Children’s Commissioner. 

As the largest independent advocacy provider in England and Wales, NYAS calls for the opportunity for independent advocacy charities and experts who offer support services to children and young people to be part of this decision. These organisations should have the chance to review this recommendation before any further action is taken toward its implementation.  

Advocacy services that enable children and young people to have their voices heard through advocacy must be kept independent and must not diluted at any time. 

Rita Waters, Group Chief Executive for NYAS, said:  

“The Care Review has highlighted that independent advocacy must be prioritised and placed at the heart of all future reform. As services change to address the recommendations, their quality must improve and ultimately protect the children and young people who rely on them.  
Although the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) welcomes the Care Review, we will continue in our efforts to ensure all positive measures stated are put in place to support children and young people to improve their life chances and narrow the gap between them and their peers.”  

Care Experience to Become Protected Characteristic

The Care Review’s recommendation that care experience should gain protected characteristic status under the Equality Act 2010, following consultation with care-experienced people and devolved administrations, will change countless lives.  

This proposed change in law would mean that public bodies such as councils, the NHS, and the police would have to assess how their policies and practices affect care-experienced people. They would also be required to map what steps they have taken to tackle the disadvantage care-experienced people face within their service offering.  Terry Galloway, NYAS Trustee and children’s social care campaigner, says: 

“Today presents such mixed feelings! On the one hand, I am proud that care experience is making the headlines and that there is a strong recommendation for it to be a protected characteristic, but on the other, I remember the pain and trauma of being brought up in a broken system. 

This recommendation marks a turning point in how care-experienced individuals are perceived by others and will guarantee them additional protections. The time is now for local councils and businesses to formally adopt this recommendation before it is implemented within legislation. 

I want to tell my sister Hazel how we are changing the care system, but I can’t because she was murdered by her boyfriend, she is at peace now. In life she was so angry because we were taken in, abused within it and then spat out like we did not matter. 

We were split up and later both my siblings had their children taken by the care system, my sister was angry. It was only when she died, and like so many care-experienced people that she was finally at peace. It should not be this way. 

We need a reset and to create a system where care-experienced people are front and centre.” 

What Happens Next?

A single five-year reform programme has been recommended by the Care Review for the implementation of their recommendations. Short-term, the 18-month period between January 2023 and Royal Assent will focus on the delivery of recommendations which do not require legislation and the laying the foundations for when legislation is passed.  

Longer-term, a new Children’s Social Care Bill will be put through Parliament, which the review intends to be passed Spring 2024. A National Children’s Social Care Framework for objectives, outcomes, indicators, and practice guidance to support system improvement will be developed by mid-2023, with a National Practice Group appointed to advise.  

NYAS will continue to call for the principles and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to be upheld. The UK Government must be made aware of and refer to the Care Review child’s rights impact assessment in the making of the new Social Care Bill, which NYAS called for alongside over 150 children’s rights organisations. 

Ultimately, NYAS is pleased that the Care Review champions the power of advocacy. We hope that with further clarification, and opportunities for youth participation, these recommendations will safeguard and create positive change in the life of care-experienced children, young people and vulnerable adults.