Children and Young People Advocacy in Child Protection Conferences, Barnsley

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Safeguarding
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Protecting children living in families where they are at high risk of abuse, harm or neglect

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Barnardo’s Voices for Children, Young People and Families

Local authority/local area:

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council

The context and rationale

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) plan wanted to develop an advocacy service for children subject to a Child Protection Plan (CPP) in Barnsley to demonstrate the strong commitment to ensuring that the voice of the child is heard in Barnsley’s child protection processes. Such a service would ensure a more robust service which strives to be child focussed in line with recommendations in the Laming Report (2003).

Barnsley MBC decided to seek a suitable provider of independent professional advocacy for children and young people subject to a child protection plan, the aim being to support their views being heard at child protection conferences.

This idea came to fruition at a particularly pertinent time in relation to child protection as the Government had just announced a further review of all child protection services in England. The review is being undertaken as a result of the tragic death of baby P in Haringey, a child who was at the time of his death subject to a child protection plan.

A pilot programme was agreed in order to provide a focussed service starting with children 11 to 15 years of age involved in Child Protection Conferences (CPC).
An analysis provided the following information with age ranges representative of the data collection requirement for the then Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF):

The data demonstrates that 82% of all children subject to a Child Protection Plan are below the age of 5 years, so would not require the advocacy service.

The Ideal Service
It was agreed that the ideal advocacy service would ensure that contact was made and a service offered to all children aged 5 years and above. This represents an average of 45% of the children brought to conference. However, it was acknowledged as unlikely that all of these children would need or accept support from an advocate.

The Manager of the Independent Child Protection Conference chairs and the Safeguarding Manager suggested that an initial focus could be on those children of secondary school age (11+). In practice, this would mainly involve children aged 11 to 14 years as there are very few children aged 15 to 18 subject to a child protection plan. This initial focus is suggested as the level of the children and young people’s maturity and understanding of the process is more likely to be such that they can be supported to attend their own conferences, or ensure that their voice is heard within the meeting. It was noted that in larger families it may be inappropriate to strictly adhere to the age criteria as this would involve providing a service to some children in a family and not others. This would have to be managed on a case by case basis.

The practice

In view of Barnardo’s proven performance in advocacy for children through a record of a successful Family Group Conferencing service for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, the pilot idea was discussed with Barnardo’s management. A business case proposal was completed with the assistance of the local Barnardo’s service ’Barnardo’s Voices…for Children, Young People and Families’. They were chosen to provide the pilot service following further discussions and it was decided that initially, the service should be restricted to children aged over 14 within a limited geographical part of the Barnsley Borough. In practise, initial referrals were less than anticipated, so these restrictions were quickly modified by reducing the age range to children over 11 and extended to cover the entire district.

Barnardo’s was briefed to provide advocacy for those accepting a service and respond within ten days of convening a Child Protection Conference (CPC). 

Measuring achievement has been assisted utilising Barnardo’s outcomes measurement standards in line with the requirements of the former ’Every Child Matters’ framework. Two specific measurements were agreed: 1) contributing to planning and decision making and 2) views and opinions voiced and acted upon. Each of these was measured using a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 was determined as the starting point and 1 represented the best possible outcome realistically achievable. (See also section 3 below) 
Barnardo’s also provided an evaluation process to involve all participants in a CPC. This gave them the opportunity to score the effect of providing advocacy in each CPC attended. Particular attention was given to enabling the child to have as full a role as possible and to have their views and feelings acted upon.

Barnardo’s quickly recruited, and trained additional professional advocates to cater for both the short timescales involved and a rapid uptake of referrals. The success in this area enabled us to reduce the age criteria to offer advocacy to all children aged over 11 years of age.

Update/Briefing Meetings
Briefing sessions were conducted with the Independent Chairpersons assigned to CPC. Regular progress meetings were held initially with the Barnsley Safeguarding Children Board Development Officer and briefing presentations made to the Barnsley Safeguarding Board and the Independent Chairpersons of Child Protection Conferences.

Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

All children aged 11 and above subject to a Child Protection Conference are offered a personal, professional advocate to ensure their wishes and feelings are adequately presented to a Child Protection Conference in either the initial conference and/or follow up reviews. This takes place either by enabling and supporting the child to express their views directly or by the advocate speaking on the child’s behalf with or without the child’s presence according to the wishes of the child. Without exception, all involved in the process have declared very significant improvement in handling the conferences, including the Independent Chair and Parents.

Outcomes are measured utilising Barnardo’s Outcomes Measurement tools that can be presented clearly and graphically as shown below for the thirty or so cases currently in process:

The charts above show outcomes for each criterion relevant to this service. Each chart segment represents one CPC for one child during the initial period of the pilot. The lilac area shows the degree of improvement against each criterion from a base point of ’5’ - this is the first time the child has had the assistance of a Barnardo’s advocate in a Child Protection Conference setting.

Comments from the evaluation feedback forms completed by children and young people who participated at the conference include:

What was the best thing about having an advocate?
• To help me explain more.
• Having someone there for me.
• People listened.
• To hear me explain more.
• They can speak up for me when I am scared to speak.
• Gave me support.

Comments from the feedback forms completed by the families of the children and young people include:

What was the best thing about your child having an advocate?
• Child didn’t have to miss school and has got his point across.
• The advocate seemed to have my son’s best interest at heart and stood up for him.
• They said what they wanted instead of the kids feeling pressured to say anything.
• Came from an independent source, so not ‘prompting’ mum or dad.
• Finding out how my son feels towards myself and my wife. He seemed to tell the advocate a lot.

The Safeguarding Children’s service has a rapid, secure and responsive access to a
professional and independent Children’s and Young Person’s Advocacy service. This fulfils the recommendations of the Barnsley Safeguarding Children Board and gives due recognition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child generally and specifically Article 12 of that charter.
General feedback based on a range of responses, including the Independent Chairpersons involved, was very good.

A few quotes from those involved highlight the quality of the provision best.
One professional in the early stages of the pilot said “You (the advocate) got more out of the child than we got in the last 12 months!”

Independent Chair: “V. clear picture of child's views not coloured by child knowing what people wanted to hear”; “Mum got to hear his views”

Professionals: “Great what the advocate has done – he’s been a star!”; “In difficult circumstances, the child was able to put forward their point of view to the meeting”; “This is an important service”; “An excellent service, I’m pleased it’s been expanded”; “Excellent, especially when this particular child doesn’t speak to anyone else”; “Making the child feel confident enough to attend”; ”First time I have seen (a children’s advocate) at conference – excellent!”; “This enabled the child’s wishes and feelings to be portrayed objectively” (Child not at conference)

All the changes will be maintained for the life of the pilot project and we are looking to extend the offer to siblings under 11 years of age in the family of the older child. We are also considering extending the service to include making an offer of Barnardo’s advocacy to children aged 5 to 10 years. Since introducing the service, Barnardo’s has also accepted the role of collecting and collating evaluations post-conference using Barnardo’s well established service user evaluation methods. If the pilot is extended, the service will be involved as long as a child is subject to a Child Protection Plan.

Helping others to replicate your practice

Barnardo’s completed an evaluation report in October 2010 – outcome details can be found above, in section 3 above.

Barnardo’s evaluation forms were tailored to each participant – Independent Chair, Child/Young Person, those with parental responsibility, and professionals. This has enabled us to encourage directly each person attending a Child Protection Conference to provide clear evaluation of their personal experience. Existing Barnardo’s evaluation forms were modified to suit this specific service. Observations in feedback are being monitored for continuous improvement in both evaluation and, more importantly, the processes involved. We found that it helped significantly to offer assistance immediately after the conference along with very user-friendly forms.

All evaluations are currently being collated and summarised for clear and specific reporting to Barnsley Children and Young People’s Trust Executive Commissioning Group, Barnsley Safeguarding Children Board and within Barnardo’s itself.

Barnardo’s Yorkshire is already looking at developing resources and approaches to offer a similar service to other local authorities in their area and exchanging information with other Barnardo’s regions.

Hot Tips

• Utilise professionally trained children’s advocates.
• Children’s Advocates should be fully independent of the child protection processes and commissioning authority.
• Personal evaluations should be gathered immediately after any conference or review meetings.


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