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Independent Visitors Policy

RELATED CHAPTER

Gateshead's Advocacy Offer for Children and Young People Procedure

AMENDMENT

In May 2016, the contact details were amended in Section 4.1, Referral Process, and an updated Appendix 1: Initial Enquiry For An Independent Visitor was added.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Threshold Criteria for the Appointment of an Independent Visitor
  3. The Role and Function of an Independent Visitor
  4. Procedure for the Provision of Independent Visitors
  5. Frequency and Nature of Visits
  6. Recording
  7. Monitoring and Review
  8. Termination
  9. Conclusions to the Independent Visitor /Young Person Relationship

    Appendix 1: Initial Enquiry For An Independent Visitor


1. Introduction

Some children/young people who are Looked After by the authority in residential homes, foster care or secure accommodation have little or no contact with their parents or significant family members. The Children Act 1989 requires Local Authorities to consider appointing Independent Visitors to befriend, visit and advise such young people/children.

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Guidance 2010 states that the appointment should be considered as part of the development of the Care Plan for the child or as part of a review of the child or young person’s case. The regulations are clear that the child or young person’s wishes and feelings should be ascertained and an Independent Visitor should not be appointed if the child or young person objects and those working with the child consider they have sufficient understanding to make an informed decision.

Regulation 47 of the 2010 guidance states that the Independent Visitor must not be connected with the local authority by being an elected member or an employee or a relative or member of a household of an elected member or employee.


2. Threshold Criteria for the Appointment of an Independent Visitor

An appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child must be made:

  • Where it appears to be in the best interests of the child to make such an appointment.

Social Workers also need to take into account the following when making a decision regarding the appointment of an Independent Visitor:

  • Whether the child is placed at a distance from home, particularly where the placement is out-of-area which makes it difficult to maintain sufficient contact with relatives and friends;
  • Whether the child or young person is unable to go out independently or whether he/she experiences difficulties in communicating or building positive relationships;
  • Whether the child or young person 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 or health.


3. The Role and Function of an Independent Visitor

Usually the Independent Visitor role is undertaken by volunteers from a lay background, although they may have skills, experience and qualifications which will enhance their capacity to work on an individual basis with a child or young person. 

The purpose of the Independent Visitor role is to contribute to the overall welfare of the child by:

  • Promoting the child or young person’s developmental, social emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encouraging the child to exercise his/her rights and to participate in decisions which affect him/her;
  • Supporting the Care Plan for the child/young person and their carers;
  • Aiming, as far as possible, to complement the activities of the carers.

The overall role of the Independent Visitor is to visit, advise and befriend the child.  Advice could be provided on a range of issues and befriending involves trying to establish with the child or young person a sense of trust in the relationship, even if the process for achieving this is a slow one and takes some time.

In some cases the Independent Visitor will be involved in meetings or consultation processes, either as a legal requirement or on a discretionary basis. For example:

  • If a Local Authority intends to apply to a Court to extend a young person’s placement in secure accommodation, they must firstly inform a range of people but including an Independent Visitor if one is appointed;
  • The Independent Visitor can contribute to a child or young person’s review either in person or in writing. They can be invited to a review if the child or young person invites them to do so and could put the views of child or young person forward, again, if they wished them to do so.

The Independent Visitor is not expected to fulfil the role of a skilled Advocate if the child or young person is dissatisfied with the arrangements for their care. Any such concerns the child or young person expresses to the Independent Visitor should be drawn to the attention of the child’s social worker or a senior officer through one of the project workers of the commissioned service. If after doing this the Independent Visitor remains dissatisfied they can contact the child or young person’s IRO.


4. Procedure for the Provision of Independent Visitors

Gateshead Council commission Action for Children to provide an Independent Visitors Scheme for the children and young people looked after by the council.

4.1 Referral Process

Following agreement at the statutory Looked After Review that the criterion for the appointment of an Independent Visitor is met and the child or young person is in agreement, the  Social Worker should contact the service provider to make a referral:

Independent Visitors Service
Action for Children
Wesley House
Bond Street
Benwell
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE4 8BA

Tel: 0191 272 4990
Email: NE.crs@actionforchildren.org.uk

On receipt of this the Project Co-ordinator/Worker will contact the Social Worker for more background information on the young person/child.

The Project Co-ordinator/Worker will contact the relevant person (Foster Carer, Residential/Secure Manager) to arrange to meet with the child or young person.

The Project Co-ordinator/Worker meets with the young person/child to discuss the scheme and leave a booklet for the young person/child to complete with information about themselves that they would like to share with an Independent Visitor. The Social Worker/carer may need to help the young person/child with this task.

The young person/child or his/her representative must complete and send the booklet back to the project to initiate the service.

NOTE: At any point the child/young person or an Independent visitor can change their mind about their involvement in the scheme.

4.2 The Matching Process

  1. Young person/child will state preferences for a potential match in information given in the information booklet;
  2. Independent Visitors will have also completed a similar booklet;
  3. Project Co-ordinator will consider a potential match;
  4. Where a match is not identified the Project Co-ordinator will provide a monthly update to the Social Worker.

When a possible match is identified:

  1. Project Co-ordinator checks that the young person/child still wants to continue;
  2. A meeting is held with the Project Co-ordinator, Social Worker and the potential Independent Visitor to decide if the arrangement should go ahead;
  3. The young person/child and Independent Visitor swap booklets to gain information on one another;
  4. If both in agreement, the Project Co-ordinator will arrange an initial visit between the young person/child and Independent Visitor.

NOTE: If at any time during the process the young person/child or Independent Visitor change their minds, another potential match will be considered as quickly as possible.

4.3 Trial Period

  1. If all involved are satisfied that the match has potential a trial period of 3 visits will be agreed;
  2. The Independent Visitor will visit the young person/child and contact the Project Co-ordinator afterwards to discuss how the visit went;
  3. The Independent Visitor will send a 'record of contact' sheet back to the project immediately after the visit;
  4. At the end of the trial period the Project Co-ordinator will check with the young person, Independent Visitor and Social Worker to see if the match is satisfactory to all.

4.4 Expenses

Independent Visitors work on a voluntary basis and only claim travel and out of pocket expenses.   These expenses are limited to a maximum of £80.00 per three month period including travel expenses, which will be recharged at 40p per mile.


5. Frequency and Nature of Visits

This will vary depending on the time available to the Independent Visitor and the needs of the young person/child but will usually average two visits per month unless otherwise agreed by the young person/child and their social worker. The emphasis of the Independent Visiting scheme is that there should be regular contact between the child/young person and the Independent Visitor.  If the Independent Visitor and young person/child agree that once a month visits would be a suitable arrangement, then telephone calls and correspondence may be appropriate in between visits.

Provision of the service will mainly take place from the young person/child’s home. However it is anticipated that a wide variety of venues and leisure facilities will be utilised as part of the Independent Visitors’ role. Outings and activities will be agreed between the Independent Visitor and young person/child and the child’s carer/residential worker.


6. Recording

Independent Visitors are required to complete 'record of contact' sheets as soon as possible after each visit.  This will include brief details of the visit, any concerns the Independent Visitor may have, and an account of what was spent with receipts wherever possible. If an Independent Visitor  is invited to attend a 'Looked After' review there is a summary record of contact sheet that gives an account of contact, identifies concerns or issues from the young person/child's perspective, the Independent Visitor’s  views and plans for the next visit. This will be discussed with the young person/child and preferably written together and made available to the Social Worker and project staff.


7. Monitoring and Review

The effectiveness of the child/independent visitor relationship should be considered at the child’s six monthly statutory LAC reviews and the conclusions of the discussion sent to the Project Manager.

The Project staff shall keep in regular contact with Independent Visitors, the Social Worker and carers to assess the current status of the relationship.

Young people shall be provided with the Project staff telephone number and shall be invited to contact him/her should any problems arise regarding their Independent Visitor or to speak to their carers or Social Worker.

If the Independent Visitor identifies any problems regarding the child or young person they can discuss these with the Project Co-ordinator. They will advise as to whether the concerns should be passed on to the child or young person’s social or other professionals to ensure any difficulties are properly addressed.

If a young person indicates that they no longer wish to see their Independent Visitor the arrangement will end. Consideration must be given to the appointment of another Independent Visitor if the child or young person is in agreement with this.


8. Termination

Once a child or young person ceases to be Looked After, the Independent Visiting arrangement would cease. There will, however, be a planning and preparation period which may run beyond the end of the 'looked after' period.

The role of the Independent Visitor will be considered in the transition to the Leaving Care Service by inclusion in the young person’s Pathway Plan. Subject to the legal status of the young person and their support needs, any extension of continued support from the Independent Visitor will be negotiated and agreed in writing by the Council.

An Independent Visitor’s appointment can be terminated if the expected high standards of commitment, interest or behaviour are not upheld.


9. Conclusions to the Independent Visitor /Young Person Relationship

Inevitably there will be variations in the length of time Independent Visitor’s relationship with a child or young person will last. Some will draw to a natural conclusion in a relatively short period of time, while others will last for a few years and in some cases a life time friendship could develop.

If a match ceases to work effectively, sensitivity has to be shown to both parties to minimise the feeling of rejection on either side. A re-match then takes place as quickly as possible if so wished.


Appendix 1: Initial Enquiry For An Independent Visitor

Click here to view Appendix 1: Initial Enquiry For An Independent Visitor

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