Independent advocacy is a process of helping children and young people to express themselves, empower them to have a say and be heard on issues that affect their life and bring about positive change (with the help of non-governmental professional, known as an Advocate).
At EPIC, we believe that all children and young people with care experience should have the right to independent professional advocacy, as this fulfils a crucial role in enabling them to communicate their wishes and feelings and play an active role in decision-making regarding key aspects of their lives. Children in care with whom we work often report a feeling of powerlessness, a lack of clarity on what is happening in their circumstances, and a sense that they are left behind in decisions that are fundamental to their lives and wellbeing.
An Independent Advocate is a person employed to provide children with information and advice, advocacy, representation, and support to ensure their wishes and feelings are heard, understood, and taken seriously by agencies making decisions about them. Independent Advocates are focused solely on the child’s views, and they can take all necessary lawful action to assist the child, including supporting him or her to seek legal advice and representation.
In essence, an Independent Advocate works to uphold a child’s right to be heard and that their views are given due consideration in their care arrangement, where it is essential to gain a clear picture of their wishes, thoughts, and feelings to ensure success of their placement.
At EPIC, we believe that:
- Independent advocacy services can and do support statutory authorities to effectively meet their duties as corporate parents to children in care by improving both children’s experience of the care system and their outcomes beyond the care system.
- Statutory obligations to support independent advocacy are inadequate, resulting in significant inconsistency in a child or young person’s access to an independent Advocate.
EPIC’s position is that the following objectives should be pursued to enhance the right to independent advocacy provision in Ireland:
- Independent advocacy should be recognised in legislation, and a monitoring and reporting system for advocacy services should be introduced to ensure that learning from individual advocacy cases leads to improvements in services for all children and young people in care or with care experience.
- The development of a statutory framework for advocacy provision should be prioritised, including National Standards and statutory guidance, to improve access to quality independent advocacy services for children and young people in the care system.
- The commissioning of advocacy services should consider the full range of legislation and regulation, and services should be commissioned on a minimum three-year basis.
- Statutory authorities should work to make children and young people in the care system, and the professionals and other adults involved in their lives, better aware of independent advocacy services and the benefits these services can bring.
The principal legislation that governs alternative care in Ireland is the Child Care Act, 1991 (as amended), which will require amendment to establish the right to independent advocacy. The government has undertaken a review of the 1991 Act and is currently in the process of drafting the Heads of Bill.
While the scope of this bill remains unclear, EPIC believes this upcoming legislation presents a unique opportunity to enshrine the right to independent advocacy for children and young people who are in or have been in the care of the state in law.
EPIC would welcome all representations to make the right to independent advocacy a reality for children in care and young people with care experience.