Speaking up, shaping our own lives: advocacy for children and young people
“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.”
We've started the new year with a new contract supporting children and young people in Wandsworth, and it's an exciting moment to look ahead.
We'll be providing the advocacy service for children, teenagers and young people up to the age of 25, including those who are looked after or privately fostered, young people leaving care, and children who want to make a complaint about their care. 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.
We're excited to begin work alongside the vibrant range of organisations in this sector in Wandsworth - and it's also a good opportunity to highlight what Children and Young People's Advocacy is all about: Here CEO at The Advocacy People Matthew Hilton and team manager Jo Jarman give an overview.
What is advocacy?
“Advocates work alongside young people who might need support to have their voice heard,” explains Matthew.
“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.”
Together with partners in Wandsworth borough, The Advocacy People wants to 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,” says 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.”
An advocate's role is to make sure the young person understands any decisions that are being made, who is making them and why.
The advocate can accompany the young person to meetings, supporting them to get their views heard and taken seriously, or attend on their behalf.
Advocacy is also there to make sure the young person is getting everything they're entitled to and that their rights are fully upheld: a child has just as much right to be listened to and valued as an adult.
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 email to email@example.com or on the referral page of our website