Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
I have long believed that advocacy is an essential means of safeguarding children and young people to ensure that they are heard and have the best possible support to overcome the challenges and barriers they experience in their lives.
The Welsh Government has consistently shown our commitment to children and young people’s advocacy and the launch of ‘meic’ – the National Advocacy and Advice helpline available 24 hours a day 7 days a week open to any child, young person or their representative - is testament to this.
‘Meic’ does not however replace the statutory duties that sit with Local Authorities and Local Health Boards to provide Independent Professional Advocacy for named groups of vulnerable children and young people. There is Statutory Guidance setting out how we as a Government expect the duty bearer to put this duty in place.
Ministers are clear - they expect statutory guidance to be implemented at a local level. They expect children and young people who are eligible for local advocacy service to know about advocacy, understand what it means, know how to access it, and feel confident in doing so - whatever their concern.
My aim is to make advocacy services for children and young people in Wales as accessible and effective as possible. We will do this by providing leadership, direction and support to local authorities and local health boards as well as advocacy providers.
Today we are holding a national conference on advocacy to:
- reaffirm our policy position in relation to advocacy;
- set out ways to raise awareness and understanding of advocacy;
- share good practice; and
- work together to ensure that there is consistent high quality advocacy provision for vulnerable groups of children and young people.
By the end of April, we will publish an Advocacy Policy Statement and the conference will help inform this. This Policy Statement will set out our priorities for advocacy, the actions we intend to undertake to secure improvements in advocacy and our reporting procedure for delivering our commitments.
To support and inform this Policy Statement, I have committed to establishing a Ministerial Expert Group on Advocacy and I am very pleased to announce that we have appointed Dr Mike Shooter as the Chair. I will meet with the group and Chair shortly to set out my expectations of the Expert Group and to issue a remit letter on the areas that I will require advice and recommendations.
Alongside this, there will be a young people’s expert group which will look at the same areas and provide recommendations. I am pleased to announce that the Voices from Care’s National Reference Group will take on this role.
At this point I would like to thank the National Independent Advocacy Board which has provided Ministers with invaluable advice and recommendations. Young People were full members of this group and it was an excellent example of how young people can participate fully and constructively in any setting. I am delighted to announce the publication of the Board’s Legacy Report which will be considered by the Ministerial Expert Group on Advocacy when taking forward their work.
To ensure high quality advocacy services for children and young people we are today, jointly with CSSIW, launching a draft “Advocacy Standards and Outcomes Framework” for consultation. This is based on the National Advocacy Standards and sets out what we believe to be a good advocacy service. We will expect this Framework to support Advocacy Providers to evidence a good standard of service, and for Commissioners to consider this when monitoring the advocacy provision for their children and young people.
In terms of our response to ‘Missing Voices’ – we are today publishing an update of how we have responded to the Children’s Commissioners recommendations for Government.
The Children’s Commissioner also raised the matter of the inspection of advocacy for children and young people. I am pleased to announce that this year CSSIW will be taking forward a national review of advocacy services for children. CSSIW will also examine the provision of advocacy services for children subject to family court proceedings as part of their next inspection of CAFCASS CYMRU. The findings from these will inform Government as to the direction we need to take in relation to the regulation and inspection of advocacy services, and of course, we will have a potential vehicle to take this forward through the proposed Regulation and Inspection (Wales) Bill.
While the provision of advocacy has recently come under some criticism and there is of course work to be done, we must also remember that there is some innovative and ground-breaking work being taken forward in Wales. In fact, the Children’s Commissioner only recently published a good practice casebook highlighting this.
Safeguarding children and young people is central to all we do and the Welsh Government is clear in its continuing commitment to the sustained development of and increased access to advocacy for all children and young people especially those most vulnerable.
Good advocacy can have a profound effect on the lives of children and young people. Let us be certain we are doing all we can to ensure provision and continue with the positive achievements to date.