Youth advocates uphold young people’s rights


Just for Kids Law’s Advocacy Year programme sees graduates receive specialist training before working with young clients to draw up holistic packages of support.

PROJECT

Advocacy Year

PURPOSE

To reduce the impact of deprivation, tackle social isolation and boost young people’s confidence

FUNDING

£479,304 over three years from the Big Lottery Fund from 2016 to 2019 plus funding for one advocate from Clifford Chance. £493,332 over three years from 2019 from the National Lottery Community Fund

BACKGROUND

In 2006, two lawyers, Aika Stephenson and Shauneen Lamb, set up Just for Kids Law, a charity that provides legal representation and advice, advocacy and support to young people on a range of issues including immigration, school exclusion, special educational needs and disability, and homelessness. The charity developed a support programme that includes youth advocates, who ensure children’s wishes and feelings are heard by the professionals working with them, and a youth opportunities team providing additional support such as help with interview skills, and legal representation. In 2016, the charity launched Advocacy Year as a way of expanding its existing youth advocacy work.

ACTION

Advocacy Year started out as a 12-month programme to enable graduates interested in social justice and a legal career to be employed and trained as youth advocates. Three graduates took part in the first year, four in the second and four in the third. “We are tapping into the legal sector where there are very high-achieving young people, and giving them experience of face-to-face work with children,” says Joel Carter, director of programmes and participation at Just for Kids Law. While Just for Kids Law’s work covers all of London, Advocacy Year focuses on East London.

The graduates receive a month of training, covering a broad range of areas including safeguarding, social welfare, youth justice and immigration. They then work alongside young people to design a holistic package of support.

Olivia Bowman took part in the third cohort of the Advocacy Year programme, and is now employed as a young parent advocate. “We started with a reduced caseload which gradually built up,” she says. “We tend to measure cases rather than clients, as we work with clients in a holistic way and are often working with one young person on different cases such as housing and immigration. Some have loads going on.”

Bowman says on average she was working with nine or 10 clients with around 30 cases at a time. “Most of my clients were care leavers or in care, and I would support them by attending meetings and following up with social services to ensure they got their rights and entitlements, supporting them with accessing benefits and referring them to the youth opportunities team,” she says. “We couldn’t advise on immigration so we would signpost them to lawyers and work on secondary issues like supporting them to get documentation.”

A youth advocate might attend meetings with young people including looked-after child reviews, social services assessments, immigration hearings and school reintegration meetings for excluded children. Cases can be complex and compounded by the young person being a parent themselves or not speaking English. Youth advocates make sure a child or young person is aware of what they are entitled to, and support them in fighting for those rights. Young people are referred by charities, local authorities, schools and parents, or may self-refer. “A lot of it is word of mouth from young person to young person,” says Carter. “There are a lot of local authority referrals, sometimes anonymous: a social worker or a youth justice worker might feel the support a young person is getting is not adequate but they are not able to push from the position they are in.”

The Advocacy Year programme also offers training to local organisations and charities.

OUTCOMES

An evaluation by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations shows Advocacy Year supported 875 cases between August 2016 and July 2018. Some young people would have had more than one. Youth advocates recorded 815 cases – 93 per cent – where young people reported an improvement in their wellbeing and 844 cases – 96 per cent – where young people reported an improvement in their financial and social care situations. Meanwhile in more than a third of cases – 310 out of 875 – young people reported improvements in their education, training and employment.

A survey of 32 clients found 97 per cent said Just for Kids Law’s support had made a difference on the issue they were facing. All said they would use the service again and almost all – 97 per cent – said they would recommend Just for Kids Law to a friend.

The evaluation also drew on interviews with 16 young people who had accessed support from Advocacy Year advocates. All said they got on well with their advocate and three quarters reported a positive change in their wellbeing. Outcomes included successfully avoiding eviction, securing the provision of a personal advisor, and gaining access to personal records held by social services.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Pro bono support from Boston Consulting Group allowed the charity to look at what was working in the programme and what could be changed. A revamped programme started in September this year with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. Graduates are now more integrated with the existing youth advocates team and the programme has been extended to 18 months. “While we generally work with a young person over three to six months, a lot of young people may be going through the immigration system, or a young parent might be going through the child protection process, and that can take much longer,” says Carter. “We wanted consistency for the young person rather than having to hand over cases.” Previously all training was in-house but graduates will now be able to take a City and Guilds qualification in advocacy. Supervision has also been extended, with the introduction of group reflective practice and one-to-one clinical supervision helping graduates cope with the traumatic experiences they are exposed to.

EXPERIENCE
Teenager gets backing to hold local authority to account

Sixteen-year-old Sarah* was left homeless after her dad moved abroad and didn’t take her with him. When she approached social services for help, she was placed in a hostel for adults with substance misuse issues and experience of the criminal justice system.

After Sarah’s youth offending team worker was unsuccessful in pushing the local authority to transfer Sarah to more suitable accommodation, she was referred to Just for Kids Law and immediately connected with a youth advocate. After listening to Sarah’s wishes and feelings, the advocate worked to lodge another safeguarding concern and get social services to recognise her as a looked-after child.

When the local authority was unwilling to accommodate Sarah somewhere else, her advocate engaged a community care solicitor at Just For Kids Law to help move her case forward. Her advocate worked with Sarah and her lawyer to push the local authority to recognise her as a looked-after child, which they did after the submission of a “letter before action” – a final letter before the start of legal proceedings.

Sarah was accommodated in supported housing and her advocate helped her to rebuild her relationship with the local authority, attending meetings with her and ensuring her wishes and feelings were part of the conversations, and were accounted for in the decisions made. Once things had stabilised for Sarah, her advocate linked her in with the youth opportunities team worker at Just for Kids Law who helped her to access a college course. He also helped her make a complaint to the local authority, resulting in a review of their policies and compensation for Sarah.

*Name changed

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