WALES – Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ first review uncovers failings in advocacy provision

‘Missing Voices’ report finds lack of strategic leadership by Government

Some of Wales’ most vulnerable children and young people are unaware of their statutory right to an independent professional advocate due to a system without a clear set of checks and balances, according to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler.

In a report titled Missing Voices the Commissioner outlined the findings of his first statutory review which looked at independent professional advocacy for looked after children and young people, care leavers and children in need.

Among the review’s key findings are that:

  • There is a lack of clarity and consistency about the way services are commissioned across Wales.
  • There is a lack of strategic leadership by Welsh Government to make sure eligible children and young people have equal access.
  • There are no annual or systematic monitoring inspection or regulation of the service.

Currently, under the Children Act 1989 and Adoption and Children Act 2002, every local authority has a statutory obligation to provide an independent professional ‘voice’, also known as an advocate, for every looked after child and young person, care leaver and child in need. Children and young people should be offered an advocate when decisions are being made about them or if they want to make a complaint.

Over the last seven months, the Commissioner and his team have received evidence from over 500 children and young people across Wales, Welsh Government, all twenty two local authorities, and the principal advocacy services to establish to what extent these current arrangements safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children and young people.

Keith Towler commented:

“It saddens me to say that some of Wales’ most vulnerable children and young people don’t know they’re entitled to have an independent professional advocate to represent their views. The purpose of my review is not to point the finger of blame at anyone but instead to reinvigorate national and local partners to get Wales back on track so that no child is denied access to a professional advocate.

“Among my 29 recommendations are suggestions of fundamental changes to national structures but of equal importance are the recommendations around ensuring children and young people are made aware of and understand their entitlement to a voice.”

The Welsh Ministers and local authorities covered under the review now have three months to respond to the 29 recommendations in writing by 22 June 2012.

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