Working in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, we explored children and young people’s experiences of independent advocacy (services that help them to express their views and needs), in England.
In particular we looked at how advocacy is tracked and monitored for vulnerable children and young people, including those in care, at risk of abuse or neglect, being supported by mental health services, or in young offender institutions.
From this we developed a universal framework that could be used across the country to collect information and record advocacy outcomes, and ultimately help create best practice for advocacy professionals.
We started this project by reviewing recent literature and policy relating to independent advocacy. Including relevant legislation, inspection reports, research into effectiveness and user perspectives.
We also conducted an online survey of advocacy providers to collect as broad a picture as possible of what information is gathered, how this information is reported and what outcomes are being measured and how.
From the survey we chose six advocacy providers that covered care and child protection, mental health and youth offending. We carried out in-depth examinations of their record-keeping processes and focused in particular on how outcomes are recorded and categorised.
We also interviewed staff members in each project in order to be better understand their decision making processes and their understanding of what works and what does not.
From these six advocacy providers we also recruited a diverse selection of children and young people to take part in focus groups. These group discussions allowed them to share what they felt were good outcomes and their experiences of advocacy.
What we found
- There was wide agreement, especially among advocacy providers, on the importance of recording outcomes, in order for services to be reviewed and monitored, and for the most effective methods to be taken forward. Worryingly we found that commissioners in most areas were not clear about how this information should be recorded, and focused on reporting actions rather than achieved outcomes for children and young people.
- We found that young people benefited greatly from independent advocacy, and that they highly valued the experience.
- In particular, they felt that independent advocacy helped to redress the power imbalance between children & young people and professionals, especially in the case of those in young offender institutions or mental health services.
- There was also considerable evidence that advocacy had wider impacts on policy, practice and young people’s lives.
We believe there is a strong argument for a consistent national system of measuring outcomes. It would enable greater consistency of service provision for children and young people, especially those who move between services. It would also make it easier to compare the effectiveness of different services.
However, this can only happen if advocacy providers and commissioners work together, and involve young people. On that basis our report made the following recommendations:
- That advocacy providers and commissioners agree on clear outcomes and measurements.
- For advocacy providers, commissioners and young people to agree on the minimum amount of information that should be collected.
- That a working group of national and local providers, local authority commissioners and other commissioners such as health trusts and the Youth Justice Board, and young people’s organisations be established.
As of spring 2017, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has held a number of roundtable events with key professionals, advocacy providers and young people.
Findings from these events will inform Office of the Children’s Commissioner work going forward and the creation of a standard outcomes framework.