Children and young people’s representatives
Advocates have a crucial role to play in supporting children and young people in the Hearings System.
What does an advocate do?
An advocate can:
• listen to the views and concerns of the child or young person
• help the child or young person explore their options and rights (without advising a particular direction)
• give information to help the child or young person make informed decisions
• help the child or young person to contact relevant people, or contact them on their behalf
• accompany and support the child or young person in meetings or appointments
An advocate will not:
• give their personal opinion
• solve problems and make decisions for the child or young person
• make judgements about a child or young person
There are lots of different kinds of advocacy, depending on the situation and the kind of support required.
• a professional advocacy service can be accessed through some organisations and charities
• friends, family, or carers can act as an advocates
• a person can also be an advocate on their own behalf (called self-advocacy)
The experience of many participants in the Children’s Hearings System is that there are occasions when a child is unable to articulate fully their views, feelings and preferences.
Whenever a child is unable to participate fully and effectively in their Children’s Hearing, it is likely that they will suffer detriment as a result. There are many consequences of ineffective participation, when a child is unable to express their views, feelings and preferences. The impacts are not only evident for the child, where non-participation can lead to anxiety, confusion, loss of confidence, disengagement and more troubled relationships with carers and professionals.
They also extend to the Panel Members and the decision that they take. Without effective participation from the child, Panel Members may not have all the information on which to make their decision and so may rely more on the recommendations of professionals. As they are not confident that they have understood the child’s views, feelings and preferences, they may themselves become frustrated at taking decisions that are not based on full information.
Article 12 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the human right to have opinions and for these opinions to matter. It says that the opinions of children and young people should be considered when people make decisions about things that involve them, and they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand on the grounds of age. It also says children and young people should be given the information they need to make good decisions.
The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 has given Scottish Ministers the opportunity to make provision for children to access advocacy services when attending a Children’s Hearing.
For some children, the provision of advocacy support at a Hearing will increase their ability to participate. This will not be true for every child. In some cases, they already have sufficient confidence and knowledge of their rights to participate fully. In other cases, the support they receive from their social workers and other involved adults is sufficient.
How can an advocate help at a Hearing
- A child may not know their rights if they have not had sufficient preparation or discussion before their Hearing. An advocacy worker may be able to provide the right level of support prior to the Hearing.
- A child may lack the confidence or the ability to participate for a number of reasons. Maybe they don’t understand the process, and what is happening. Possibly they do understand it, and are anxious or stressed by the Hearing. Their experiences of adult environments may have been such that they are unable to put trust in adults and adult processes. Support from an advocacy worker before, during and after the Hearing can resolve many of these.
- The Hearing itself may not be conducive to participation. This could be because of the presence of adults who are significant in the child’s life, and dominate proceedings, impacting on the child. The child may then feel unable to participate. Equally, the language in the Hearing can make some children feel excluded. In both of these situations, an advocacy worker can make it possible for the child’s voice to be heard.
- Just as life experiences may have caused a child to have lost some of their ability to trust adults, so these experiences may have caused them to feel disengaged from all or some of the systems in place where decisions about their lives are taken. An advocacy worker can provide the understanding that will help a child re-engage and participate.
- Where a child has been excused from attending their Children’s Hearing, an advocacy worker who has had an opportunity to have contact with the child and understand their views, feelings and preferences may be able to represent the child effectively at the Hearing.