Involving Children in Decision Making

Standards and Regulations

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:

See also:

Scope of this Chapter

This chapter considers how to involve children in decision making about their lives and what support is available to them to help them do this.

1. Introduction

Children, including those who communicate non-verbally, should be supported to actively participate in decisions about their lives. They should be sensitively helped to understand when it may not be possible to act on their wishes and why other action is taken that is in their best interests. Children will have access to an independent advocate and, where appropriate, an independent visitor which is detailed later in this chapter.

Children should be supported to identify a trusted adult who they can talk to about any concerns. This will often be you as their foster carer. It is important that children are confident that adults listen to them, take their concerns seriously and respond appropriately.

As a foster carer you will be supported to seek and record the views of children in your care.

2. Participation

The benefits of participation of children in matters that affect them include:

  • Having a safe space to reflect on the events that have brought them into care;
  • The opportunity to give their version of what has happened to them and to say what they would like to happen in the future;
  • The sense of empowerment that comes from being listened to and seeing what one has said making a difference to what happens;
  • The possibility of having their concerns and issues dealt with at an early stage, which could have an immediate impact for them in terms of how they identify their 'quality of life';
  • The opportunity to have explained to them what is happening in the present moment and what is likely to happen in the future and what will be done to keep them (and their siblings) safe.

For foster carers the benefits of children's participation can be:

  • The opportunity (perhaps for the first time) to hear the child's views about what has happened and what they want to change;
  • A model of communicating that may improve their relationship with the child.

There are also some barriers to participation that are important to consider such as:

  • Lack of clarity about who is doing what in the child's life and too many changes of professionals and carers;
  • A lack of clarity about what participation is or confusion over how it will be addressed;
  • Competence – foster carers and professionals around the child lacking in experience or having an inability to effectively communicate with children, or children of a particular age or from a particular culture;
  • Capacity - a lack of time from those caring and supporting a child;
  • Children's behaviour - this can be misinterpreted and sometimes causes a barrier for professionals and carers. As the carer, along with the team around the child, will often need a variety of tools/methods and patience/space to deal with this to promote engagement;
  • Children themselves can become disinterested and disengaged because of delays;
  • Children are far more spontaneous and their timescales are far shorter;
  • Ideally as a foster carer you will be able to build a trusting relationship which means that you are able to support a child to participate in having a say in decisions made about their lives. Often a child may ask you to speak for them in meetings and to professionals. There are also other more formal ways in which a child can be supported to share their views. These are noted below. If you feel that a child in your care would benefit from additional support and advocacy please speak to your Supervising Social Worker and/or the child's Social Worker.

3. Advocates

Children should have access to, and should be actively encouraged to involve, an independent advocate and, where appropriate, an independent visitor.

Where children have difficulty in expressing their wishes or feelings about any decisions made about them, or where the child's wishes conflict with the adults supporting them around a specific decision, consideration must be given to securing the support of an Advocate.

An Advocate should also be offered where a child wishes to be represented at a meeting (for example a Looked After Review) or assisted in making a complaint.

Information must be provided to all Looked After Children about how they can gain access to a suitably skilled Independent Advocate. This will be done by their Social Worker or the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Children should be supported in accessing an Advocate, for example by a referral from their social worker, carer or another professional. Particular consideration needs to be given to the needs of disabled children, very young children, children placed out of the local authority area and those with complex communication needs who need the support of an advocate.

Duties of an Advocate

An Advocate's role is to promote children's involvement in decisions affecting their lives. The support that advocacy provides can vary depending on local arrangements but every service follows these core principles:

  • The Advocate should not be directive or judgmental but should help the young person to express their views;
  • Children should be offered full information in expressing their views;
  • Children should decide upon the best course of action;
  • The advocate should always remain fully supportive of the child.

4. Independent Visitors

It is the role of the local authority looking after a child to appoint a person to be an Independent Visitor when it appears to be in the child's interests to do so. If you or the child in your care would like to request an Independent Visitor please speak to your Supervising Social Worker.

Usually Independent Visitors are volunteers. To be 'independent' they must not be connected with the local authority which looks after the child.

The role of the Independent Visitor is to be child focused and contribute to the welfare of the child. In particular they should:

  • Promote the child's developmental, social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise their rights and participate in decisions which will affect them;
  • Support the care plan for the child;
  • Complement the activities of the carers.

The Independent Visitor will visit, advise and befriend the child, with the aim of establishing a trusting and positive relationship. They way in which they do this will vary according to the needs and wishes of each individual child. Ideally they should remain a constant in the child's life, and be there if a child moves placements or has a change of social worker.

The Independent Visitor may be involved in meetings or consultation processes relating to the care of the child. The Independent Visitor may also contribute to Looked After Reviews, either in writing or in person, if they have been invited or the child requests their attendance.

In most instances it will not be necessary or appropriate for the Independent Visitor to keep detailed records of their discussions with the child.

The appointment of an Independent Visitor should be considered as part of developing the Care Plan for the child and at the Looked After Review. Any decision not to appoint an Independent Visitor should be kept under review. The child's wishes and feelings should be obtained, and they must agree to the appointment of the Independent Visitor.

The following factors should be taken into account when considering if it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor:

  • If the child is placed at a distance from home;
  • If the child is unable to go out independently or experiences difficulties in communication and building positive relationships;
  • If the child is likely to engage in behaviour which puts them at risk as a result of peer pressure or forming inappropriate relationships with older people;
  • If a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised setting; and
  • If it would make a contribution to promoting the child's health and education.