AMENDMENTIn August 2016, this chapter was updated throughout. A new Section 3, Referral Process was also added.
1. Introduction and Overview
The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 (revised 2015) widens the circumstances in which a Local Authority should appoint an Independent Visitor for a Child Looked After.
The new Local Authority duty is to appoint a person to be a child's independent visitor where it appears to the authority that it would be in the child's best interests to do so.
Thus the duty does no longer make specific reference to situations in which
- Communication between the child and a parent or others with parental responsibility has been infrequent; or
- The child has not been visited by (or lived with) such a person for 12 months and;
Decisions about whether to consider appointing an independent visitor should be determined according to the needs of the child. The local authority should consider:
- Whether the child is placed at a distance from home, particularly where the placement is out of authority, which makes it difficult to maintain sufficient contact with friends;
- Whether the child is unable to go out independently, or whether s/he experiences difficulties in communicating or building positive relationships;
- Whether the child is likely to engage in behaviour which will put him/her at risk as a result of peer pressure or forming inappropriate relationships with people who are significantly older;
- Whether a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised relationship;
- Whether it would make a positive contribution to promoting the child's education and health.
Consideration must be given at every statutory review as to whether the criteria are met to appoint an Independent Visitor for a child.
2. Hertfordshire Independent Visitor Scheme
The purpose of the Hertfordshire Independent Visitor scheme is to provide Independent Visitors for Children Looked After who have been assessed as being in need of an Independent Visitor.
The role of the independent visitor is to contribute to the welfare of the child. Such as, promoting the child's development, encourage the child to exercise his/her rights and to participate in decisions that will affect him/her, support the care plan for the child and his/her carers and complement the activities of carers.
Volunteers can offer an independent and consistent link for a child. An Independent Visitor can offer a personal listening, befriending and supporting service, unencumbered by a vested interest. An Independent Visitor service can also offer a constancy and reliability of personal interests over an extended period that is not possible on the part of professionals.
Independent Visitors have their duties described in the Act as "visiting, advising and befriending the child". Although the child can withdraw from a match or the scheme at any time, the approved Independent Visitors are all committed to befriending a child over a substantial period of time. However consideration should be given to independent visitors who are only able to offer their services for shorter periods, may have valuable qualities and play a valuable role.
It must be remembered that the independent visitor is not a substitute parent or carer. They are not to engage in intensive counselling and not to take on the role of a skilled advocate.
The child should be aware of, and wherever possible, in control of, any information the child chooses not to share. The Independent Visitor should not be yet another adult who knows all about the child before meeting them.
The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 (revised 2015) reinforce the local authority duty to consider at reviews whether an Independent Visitor should be appointed in respect of a child looked after by them. It is likely to be at a review that consideration is first given to the appointment of an Independent Visitor.
If the criteria are met, the authority has to assess whether it would be in the child's best interests for an Independent Visitor to be appointed. It is the scheme Independent Visitor's responsibility to ensure that referrals are appropriate.
In reaching their decision, the local authority must ascertain, as far as it is reasonably practicable the wishes and feelings of a range of persons, including the child. The wishes of the child are of particular importance and the authority must take into consideration in reaching the decision not only the wishes and feelings of these persons but also the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.
The child's social worker will have been involved in the process of identifying whether the child would benefit from an independent visitor. The social worker will know and understand what the child would like to have from a relationship with and independent visitor. Once a decision has been made the social worker will complete the referral form with the child (see Section 3, Referral Process).
The local authority may not appoint an Independent Visitor for a child if the child objects to it and the authority are satisfied s/he has sufficient understanding to make an informed decision.
It is possible that, in certain circumstances, although the criteria for appointing an Independent Visitor may be met, the local authority may decide that such an appointment is unnecessary and therefore not in the child's best interests.
Any decision not to appoint an independent visitor should be kept under review to make sure that the opportunity to appoint such a person is considered if the child's circumstances change.
The Regulations clearly state that a person is not to be regarded as independent if s/he is a member of the local authority or of its committees or sub-committees, or is an officer of the Social Services Department of the authority or is the spouse of any of these.
Additionally, where the child is being accommodated by an organisation other than the local authority, e.g. in a voluntary or registered children's home, a person who is a member or a patron or trustee of the organisation, or who is employed by the organisation whether paid or not, or who is the spouse of any such person is not to be regarded as independent. For the purposes of this specification, people who are in a stable cohabitation relationship or a Civil Partnership should be treated as spouses.
In a very limited number of circumstances there may be a relative who would be appropriate to fulfil the role of an independent visitor and this arrangement might be the child's preferred option. Responsible authorities will need to distinguish between these cases and the more common situation where the child has on-doing contact with relatives and friends. In the latter the authority will encourage such contact and may pay expenses without changing the status to that of an independent visitor.
Once a child is accepted as eligible for an Independent Visitor, they will remain so, even if their situation changes to one that would normally not qualify them for an Independent Visitor.
Where the criteria for the appointment of an Independent Visitor are met, the Care Plan and Placement Plan for each looked after child must set out the arrangements for visits by the child's Independent Visitor and these arrangements are to be reviewed at each statutory review of the child's case.
Due to the nature and purpose of the Independent Visitor Scheme, for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people who are looked after, an appointment of an Independent Visitor will be based on their circumstances (e.g. age, length of time they will remain in the UK). In order to ascertain if the child or young person will meet the criteria, please follow the referral process.
3. Referral Process
Independent Visitors are provided through NYAS.
Prior to referring a child or young person it is recommended that social workers contact the helpline on 0808 808 1001 or the Independent Visitor Service Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org on 07990 804473 for a discussion in the first instance.
If it has been identified that a referral would be suitable following a discussion with NYAS, all relevant forms (including the referral) will be forwarded to the social worker by NYAS/Georgina.
The social worker must then complete and return the following:
- The Referral Form;
- The Health and Safety Form;
- Provide a copy of the young person's latest care plan.
4. Child Protection
The Independent Visitor Service may be informed of a situation where there are concerns that a child may be suffering, or may be at risk of suffering significant harm. In this event all staff/Independent Visitors must adhere to Hertfordshire's Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Referrals Procedure.
(The service will be delivered in ways that ensure child protection within training sessions)
All staff / Independent Visitors must undertake child protection training.
Recruitment and selection proceedings will be rigorous and established to ensure that no child using the service is made more vulnerable to abusive or exploitative behaviour.
Independent visitors are recruited from a wide pool of people with a variety of backgrounds and ages. Hertfordshire' Independent Visitors Scheme has developed a robust induction and training programme.
5. Equal Opportunities
The Independent Visitor Scheme will at all times have regard for the rights of children in respect of race, culture, gender, disability, age, and sexual orientation and preferences.
All staff / Independent Visitors will be committed to Hertfordshire's Equal Opportunity Policy (Putting People First):
- Any anti-discriminatory behaviour will be challenged in a sensitive and constructive way;
- Service users will be made aware of Children, Schools and Families Equal Opportunities Policy.
The service will be delivered from a basis of multi-cultural awareness and values and will challenge discrimination. The service's environment, any venues used, material and equipment will be appropriate and sensitive to gender, race and disability.
The Scheme will always attempt to deal with the complaint at a local level. However, if unresolved the Complaints, Compliments and Representations Procedure must be followed.
It is essential that the Complaints Procedure is well publicised to all parties involved in the scheme. In the event of a complaint from any party, the Complaints Procedure must be followed. In all instances, the Scheme Independent Visitor Officer must notify the relevant Social Worker and/or manager that there is a complaint from, or in connection with a child from their Area.