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Over 1,000 children in care missing out on independent mentor support

Over 1,000 children in care in England are currently missing out on independent mentor support they may be entitled to by law, according to new research by Barnardo’s and the National Independent Visitor Development Project.

Analysis of 149 local authorities revealed that over two-thirds of councils have a waiting list for children to be matched with an independent visitor.

An independent visitor is a volunteer who is carefully matched with a young person so they can build a positive, consistent and supportive relationship. However, in some areas these mentoring services are often little known or may not exist at all.

The research revealed that there around 2,200 children currently matched with an independent visitor, equal to 3.2% of the total population of looked-after children in England.

Over 102 local authorities contract out their independent visitor service to external organisations, while 32 provide their independent visitor service ‘in-house’.

Eight local authorities in England said that they do not have an independent visitor service, and five authorities operate solely on a spot purchase basis.

Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan said: “I urge Theresa May to ensure mentors are in place for young people who are at risk of dropping out of education, training or employment. Children in care already have a right to a mentor, but sadly our research shows they aren’t getting the support they need.

“A key aim of the government’s new strategy for care leavers is to support them into adult life. Providing enough mentors and signing up to the new, quality standards for independent visitors will help it achieve this.”

To make sure children get the support they are legally entitled to, Barnardo’s and the National Independent Visitor Development Project are asking government, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations to consider signing up to a new set of quality standards.

In particular, it wants councils to promote independent visitor services in line with their duties as corporate parents.

Cllr Roy Perry, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: “Independent visitors can perform a valuable role in providing additional support to children in care, giving them the opportunity to build a consistent, positive relationship with an independent person alongside the love and support already provided by their foster carers, social worker and others responsible for their care.

“But the decision to introduce another adult into a vulnerable child or young person's life must always be made with their best interests in mind, and it is right that social workers consider each case individually before deciding whether to offer this additional support.”

He added that although the vast majority of councils currently provide independent visitors to children in their care, there is an “urgent need for more volunteers to take on this hugely rewarding role”.

Cllr Perry said the report is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of this role, and “we would welcome a nationally coordinated campaign to build on this awareness and recruit more people who could provide additional support and friendship to a child or young person”.

The Local Government Ombudsman recently revealed that the number of complaints it received about council-run children’s services increased by 13% in the last year.

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