“It’s about listening to the young person, taking time at their pace to discover what they need and want, and making sure their voice is heard.”
Independent charity The Advocacy People is now supporting children and young people in Wandsworth.
But what is advocacy?
“Advocates work alongside young people who might need support to have their voice heard,” explains Matthew Hilton, CEO at The Advocacy People.
“We take time to find out who the young person is, what they feel, what’s important to them, and how they would like their life to be. We make sure their wishes are represented, and their rights are upheld, particularly when it comes to decisions being made about their accommodation, their health and their social care.
“Advocacy is also about helping the young person develop the skills and confidence to be able to speak out and express themselves as best they can: to take an active role in shaping their own life.”
The Advocacy People have provided services to children and adults in many parts of the South of England since the charity was founded in 1994.
“We’re really pleased and excited to begin working with young people in Wandsworth,” said team manager Jo Jarman.
“Over the years we’ve already been delivering advocacy in places like Bromley, Bracknell Forest and Kent, and we’ve established some great partnerships. I’m proud that we are trusted to take on this new contract, and we’re very much looking forward to working with the excellent, vibrant groups supporting children and young people here.”
The Children and Young Person’s Advocacy service is there for 0–25-year-olds, including those who are looked after or privately fostered, young people leaving care, and children who want to make a complaint about their care. Advocacy support is also available for children who are disabled or have special educational needs, young carers, children on mental health wards, and children who are subject to Child Protection procedures, as well as 16–17-year-olds at risk of homelessness, and young offenders.
Together with partners in the borough, The Advocacy People will reach out to those groups whom they know would greatly benefit from advocacy, but who may not be aware of the service.
“It’s really significant for us, to be providing advocacy for Children and Young People,” said Jo.
“Part of our role is to equip young people with the skills to self-advocate that will see them through into adulthood.
“The advocates will be a stable, consistent presence, which is a good thing for young people, particularly around that age of 18 when other adults such as teachers and social workers may change or no longer be part of their lives.”
Child Protection is just one of many scenarios where an independent advocate is there to support.
When a Child Protection case is progressing, it is a traumatic time for all members of the family. The advocate’s role is to understand the child’s needs and wishes and represent these as a case is being considered by the local authority – and to be a support to a young person to speak up for themselves, if appropriate.
Advocates spend as much time as is necessary with a child, observing them in different situations, and using things like games, drawing and role play to open up communication.
“It’s really important to recognise that children have their own needs,” Jo explains.
“Our role, no matter which type of advocacy is being provided, is to make sure the child’s voice is being heard, in the midst of what can be an awful lot of noise and clamour all around them.”
Professionals, families and children and young people themselves can make a referral to The Advocacy People by texting PEOPLE to 80800, by calling 0330 440 9000, by visiting the website www.theadvocacypeople.org.uk or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org