Independent Visitors

The Voluntary Independent Visitor Service is currently the responsibility of the Manager of Rotherham's Rights 2 Rights Service, click here for contact details.

1. Introduction

The Voluntary Independent Visitor Service is currently the responsibility of the Manager of Rotherham's Rights 2 Rights Service which is situated within the Safeguarding Unit.

The independent visitor role is that of a befriender, once trained and matched with a child or young person they will function independent of the authority. They will not receive regular close supervision or be case managed however, risk assessments will be conducted as part of the matching process and safeguards and support measures will be put in place for emergency situations. They will be expected to attend support sessions at six weekly intervals and further training opportunities will be available.

The relationship will be a confidential one and information will only be shared if the child or young person agrees, dependent on age and understanding, or if safeguarding issues arise.

2. Legislation and Links

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (March 2010) provides a description of the role and tasks of the Independent visitor and circumstances for appointment.

The Children Act (1989) requires the appointment of an independent visitor under prescribed circumstances to all children looked after by the Authority whether by virtue of Agreements or Court Order. Schedule 2 Paragraph 17 of the Act imposes new duties on the Authority to appoint Independent visitors for specific children looked after by the Authority.

The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 (s.17) makes independent visitors available to all children in care if this is in their interests.

Definition of independent visitors (Children) Regulations 1991 Statutory Instruments 1991 No 892

Care Matters: Time Matters (DCSF)

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010

3. Independent Visitor Service

All children and young people need an adult in their life who is interested in their welfare and progress. They also need an adult who will support and advise them and who will encourage them to develop as an individual.

For most children, this adult is usually a parent or close family member. However, some children do not have the advantage of a close relationship with an adult and do not have someone who is there 'just for them'.

In Rotherham, there are some Looked After Children and Young People who have little or no contact with their family. An independent visitor is a volunteer, over the age of 21, who has time to spend with one of these children or young people.

4. Circumstances for Appointment

An assessment should be made regarding whether it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor for a looked after child if either of the following criteria is satisfied:

  • It appears that communication between the child and a parent or any person who is not a parent but has parental responsibility for the child has been infrequent; or
  • The child has not been visited (or has not lived with) a parent or any person who is not the child's parent but who has parental responsibility for the child, during the preceding 12 months.

Section 23ZB(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989 requires the responsible Authority to consider the appointment of an Independent visitor in respect of a child they look after where it appears that it would be in the child's interests to do so. Decisions about whether to consider appointing an independent visitor, therefore, should be determined according to the needs of the child. In deciding what factors should be taken into account when making such a decision, the following should be considered:

  • Whether the child is placed at a distance from home, particularly where the placement is out-of-authority, which makes it difficult to maintain sufficient contact with friends;
  • Whether the child is unable to go out independently or whether (s)he experiences difficulties in communicating or building positive relationships;
  • Whether the child 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; and
  • Whether it would make a positive contribution to promoting the child's education and health.

(The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review, 2010)

The overwhelming priority for the Authority at all times is to promote contact between a child and their parents or persons with parental responsibility unless there are clear reasons for not doing so associated with the child's general welfare and wellbeing.

It is, therefore, important that whenever faced with a situation where a child has infrequent or no contact with parents or persons with parental responsibility, the first task should be to assess and consider whether the Authority can aid and assist the restoration of such contact and promote links including financial assistance.

5. Children not in Local Authority Accommodation

For children looked after for three consecutive months or more by the Local Education Authority, Health Authority or in residential care nursing or mental nursing homes, the Department has specified duties to satisfy themselves that the child's welfare is safeguarded and promoted (Section 85).

During the course of investigations under Section 85, the need for an independent visitor may be identified, and assuming that it is in the child's interest, consideration should be given to appointing an independent visitor subject to the conditions specified in paragraph 17(1) of Schedule 2.

6. The Role and Function of the Independent Visitor

The purpose of the independent visitor role is to contribute to the welfare of the child. As such (s)he should:

  • Promote the child's developmental, social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise his/her rights and to participate in decisions which will affect him/her;
  • Support the care plan for the child and his/her carers; and
  • Aim, as far as possible, to complement the activities of carers.

The role of the independent visitor is not to undertake specific roles on behalf of the social worker or carer but more to compliment the work that is being undertaken by carers and professionals as part of the care plan. Hopefully this relationship will help to enhance the care experience and help to improve the outcomes for the child or young person.

The independent visitor's functions are to visit, advise and befriend the child. The way these functions are carried out will vary according to the needs and wishes of the individual child.

There will be a range of issues about which an independent visitor might offer the child advice. These will often be quite straightforward such as where to find or who to ask for particular information.

Befriending involves trying to establish with the child a sense of trust in the relationship. For some children, earlier relationships with adults may have ended in disappointment and disillusionment and they may be reluctant or find it very difficult to establish rapport and trust. The independent visitor must be prepared for the process of establishing trust to be a slow one and for there to be setbacks.

The independent visitor's role and functions can also be described in terms of what (s)he is not intended to do, for instance:

  • Not to be anything other than child-focused, however sympathetic to other points of view;
  • Not to be a substitute parent or carer;
  • Not to allow personal prejudices to determine actions;
  • Not to accept unquestioningly what those responsible for the child tell him/her but to remain open-minded and even sceptical;
  • Not to engage the child in intensive counselling involving complex situations; and
  • Not to take on the role of a skilled advocate in complex situations (see below).

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 instance:

  • Where the responsible authority intends to make an application to court to keep the child in secure accommodation, they must inform a range of persons, including the child's independent visitor if one has been appointed, of the intention;
  • If the child/young person agrees the independent visitor may provide contributions to the review of a child's case either in writing or at case review meetings to which (s)he has been invited or the child has requested his/her attendance. The independent visitor can put views to the meeting as a friend of the child.

In some situations the child may have an urgent need for skilled advocacy, for example because (s)he is dissatisfied with the current arrangements for his/her care, because of an absence of progress in achieving a plan for the future or because (s)he feels that his/her views are ignored, not sought or because (s)he is being abused.

The independent visitor is not expected to fulfil this role. Instead, the independent visitor must be able to recognise the needs of the child in such serious situations and with the child's agreement draw the concerns to the attention of the child's social worker, the manager of the Right to Rights Service or the Safeguarding Unit. Issues of a serious nature which arise outside of working hours should be reported to the Out of Hours Team.

In certain cases it may be appropriate to refer the matter to one of the voluntary organisations which specialises in advocacy.

If there are concerns about aspects of the child's case these should be discussed with the child's social worker or if the Independent visitor is still not satisfied, with the child's independent reviewing officer.

An Independent Visitor will:

  • Be able to develop good relationships with children and young people;
  • Be committed to the safety and well being of children;
  • Be a good listener;
  • Be able to offer friendship and advice on a long term basis;
  • Be able to help a child or young person express their views, wishes and feelings;
  • Be able to assist in the development of social skills;
  • Be able to show patience and a sense of humour!
  • Be reliable and consistent in their support.

7. Recording

In most situations it will neither be necessary nor appropriate for the independent visitor to keep detailed records of his/her discussions with the child. However, (s)he may wish to keep a note as an aide memoire; for example, the names of relatives who the child mentions or birthdays. The independent visitor may also feel it appropriate to note the decisions of meetings such as case reviews.

The Local Authority should ensure through training that independent visitors understand the need to ensure that any confidential information they hold about the child is safely stored. This can be established in the context of wider discussion about general confidentiality issues. There should be a clear understanding that such records will be destroyed on termination of the appointment.

8. Selecting an Independent Visitor for a Child/Young Person

In matching a child to an independent visitor the local authority should take account of the wishes and feelings of the child. This means that the child must be part of the process of deciding whether an independent visitor should be appointed.

The child's social worker will have been involved in the process of identifying whether the child would benefit from an independent visitor. His/her relationship with, and knowledge of, the child are key in matching the child with any potential visitor. The social worker will know and understand what the child would like to have from a relationship with an independent visitor. The personal qualities of an independent visitor will include an ability to relate to children generally and more specifically in a manner appropriate to the age and circumstances of the child.

There will be a need for introductory meetings so that the child can decide whether (s)he wishes the appointment to be made, and if not, the local authority should consider whether the appointment of another person might be possible and appropriate.

9. Confidentiality

On appointing an independent visitor, the responsible authority will decide how much information should be given to him/her in the circumstances of the child's current situation and history. The general approach is likely to be based on the 'need to know' principle but there will always be some situations where it would be judged preferable to give the independent visitor the maximum information possible. The child should be directly involved in deciding what information is made available to the independent visitor. Independent visitors, although appointed by the local authority, have no formal right to inspect the child's case files.

10. Relatives/Friends as Independent Visitors

In a very limited number of circumstances there may be a relative who would be appropriate to fulfil the role of an independent visitor and this arrangement might be the child's preferred option. It will be important to distinguish between the small minority of cases where the designation of a relative or friend as the child's visitor is appropriate and the more common situation where the child has ongoing contact with relatives and friends. In the latter situation such contacts will be encouraged and expenses may be paid without changing the status to that of an independent visitor (see Contact Policy for Looked after Children).

11. Meaning of Independent

Being 'independent' means that an independent visitor must not be connected with the local authority as a result of:

  1. Being an elected or co-opted member of the responsible authority;
  2. Being an officer of the responsible authority who is employed in relation to functions referred in Section 18 of the 2004 Act; or
  3. Being the spouse or civil partner or other person (whether of the same or a different sex) living in the same household as the person who is such a member or an officer of the responsible authority;
  4. Where the child is accommodated by a voluntary agency or registered children's home the above applies and a volunteer would not be viewed as independent if they were a member, patron, trustee or employee, paid or not, of the organisation.

(Regulation 47, Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, 2010).

For further details regarding point 2 above, see Appendix 1: Meaning of Independent.

12. Children with Disabilities

Particular attention should be given to children or young people who have disabilities that may impose limitations on communication and mobility. Such children are especially vulnerable not only to abuse but to lack of consideration of their views, wishes and feelings.

13. Procedure for Approving an Independent Visitor

Expression of Interest may be received either directly from the individual or via Rotherham's Voluntary Organisations or Volunteer Centre.

Following an initial discussion with the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service (either face to face or telephone) regarding the roles and expectations of the independent visitor, the applicant will be invited to attend an initial meeting to more fully explore the role and responsibilities. They will then complete the Volunteer Independent Application Form, which provides detailed background information.

Applicants must provide the names of two personal referees and relevant DBS checks will be carried out before any decision is taken to appoint the applicant.

An initial interview will take place, including at least one young person on the interview panel.

If successful, the applicant will be invited to join the 8 weeks training course (2 hours per week). This will also include a full day of training on Safeguarding, and a full day of training on Attachment Theory, see Appendix 2: Rotherham's Volunteer Independent Visitor Training. Additional training is also offered via the Foster Carers Induction DVD training packs, see Appendix 3: Volunteer Independent Visitor Training - Fostering Introduction DVD Courses.

A mid way review will be held between the applicant and the manager and issues explored regarding their participation, issues arising and areas of concern will be addressed and recorded. Feedback will be sought from the applicant about the standard and delivery of the training and any suggestions of improvement will be considered and where appropriate and possible will be implemented in future sessions.

After the training and assessment process a formal interview will then be undertaken and if successful and provided we have received a positive DBS return and appropriate references the prospective Independent visitor will be invited to join the service. Young people will be involved in the training sessions and the final interview process.

14. Procedure for Requesting an Independent Visitor

The request for an independent visitor will come from either a child/young person, a social worker, or via the recommendation of a Review. Following which, a referral for an independent visitor will be passed to the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service.

The social worker involved with the case will be responsible for ensuring the appropriate Referral Form, is completed and for seeking the prior approval of their Team Manager and the child or young person.

15. Procedure for Matching an Independent Visitor with a Child/Young Person

The Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service will be responsible for ensuring the referral is in the best interests of the child/young person and that it satisfies the criteria outlined in section above "Circumstances for Appointment".

The Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service will identify a named individual as a proposed Independent visitor. The decision to appoint the Independent visitor will be a joint decision between the child/young person, the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service, and the social worker.

The child's racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic needs (in compliance with the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000) will also be taken into account when appointing an Independent visitor who, where ever possible, will reflect these characteristics.

Independent visitors will complete a Personal Profile introducing themselves and outlining their interests and hobbies which will aid the matching and introduction process.

Subject to the approval of the child/young person and the social worker, an initial meeting will be arranged between the child, social worker and Independent visitor.

If at this stage the child, social worker and Independent visitor agree that they wish to proceed with the appointment, the social worker will contact the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service who will issue a Letter of Appointment , for the independent visitor with copies to the social worker and the independent reviewing officer. A separate letter confirming the appointment will be sent to the child or young person.

If any party do not consider it appropriate to proceed, the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service will identify another proposed visitor.

Responsibility for appointing the independent visitor remains at all times with the Authority.

16. Review and Termination of Appointment

The appropriateness of the continuing appointment of the particular independent visitor and indeed of any independent visitor for that child/young person should be considered at each statutory review. The child/young person's views will be highly relevant. The most appropriate way of ascertaining the child/young person's wishes about the continuation of an appointment which has been made will need to be considered.

The Independent Reviewing Officer must be satisfied that the appointment is in the child/young person's continuing interest.

The independent Reviewing Officer must also ensure that effective liaison and communication arrangements are in place between the Independent visitor and others involved in the child/young person's care.

If the child/young person objects to it continuing and the authority are satisfied that the child/young person has sufficient understanding to make an informed decision, the authority must terminate the Independent visitor's appointment in respect of that particular child/young person. In conjunction with the child/young person they should then consider whether it would be appropriate to appoint another independent visitor (see Section 14, Procedure for Requesting an Independent Visitor and Section 15, Procedure for Matching an Independent Visitor with a Child/Young Person above)

The independent visitor will be expected to attend support sessions which will be facilitated by the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service. These will be held at six weekly intervals and will provide an opportunity for support and further training.

Two reviews will be held during their first year in post after which this will reduce to a minimum of one per year or as need arises. Young people's comments will be actively sought and acknowledged within this process and consultation will also be undertaken with independent reviewing officers, social workers and carers working with the child or young person.

The independent visitor ceases to be appointed if (s)he gives notice in writing to the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service that (s)he resigns the appointment or the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service gives notice in writing that they have terminated it.

The Manager of the Right to Right's Service will be responsible for issuing a letter of termination to the independent visitor with a copy to the social worker and the Independent Reviewing Officer which will detail:

  1. Date of the decision;
  2. Reason for the termination.

The letter should be personalised to take account of the specific circumstances of the arrangements coming to an end.

The social worker will be responsible for informing the child/young person and the carer.

The Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service will undertake an exit interview with the independent visitor which will be recorded and signed by both parties. A copy of this will be forwarded to the Manager of the Safeguarding Unit.

Such a termination is in respect of a visitor's appointment to an individual child but may also signal that the local authority does not wish the independent visitor to be appointed again for any child/young person. However, where an independent visitor is acting in respect of a number of children, termination of appointment in respect of one of them does not automatically terminate appointment in respect of the others. Each case should be considered separately.

18. Safeguarding Issues

Prior to matching with a child or young person the independent visitor will have undertaken appropriate safeguarding training and will be clear about their responsibility to report areas of concern to the social worker or the Safeguarding Unit.

There may be exceptional circumstances where the behaviour of the independent visitor, while falling short of criminal activity, is nevertheless totally inappropriate and constitutes a serious risk to the child/young person's welfare. Failure to terminate the Independent visitor's appointment would amount to a breach of the local authority's duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child/young person. In these circumstances the local authority should review any other current and all previous appointments of that person as an independent visitor and carry out such investigations as are necessary. The child/young person may well need particular help and support during this process. Consideration must be given to implementing safeguarding procedures where relevant and appropriate. These are set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Independent visitors will not disclose personal information such as address details and the relationship with the child/young person will not extend to include the volunteers family and friends. Overnight stays are also not appropriate.

19. Annual Review of the Independent Visitors Service

An annual review of the Independent Visitor Service will be undertaken by the Manager of the Right 2 Rights Service, in conjunction with the volunteer independent visitors. A report will be prepared and the views of any children/young people in receipt of the service in the previous year and independent visitor reviews will inform the annual review.

20. Monitoring the Arrangement

The Director of Safeguarding Children and Families and The Service Manager, Safeguarding Unit will be responsible for monitoring the operation of the Independent Visitor Service.

An annual report will be made to the Corporate Parenting Group detailing:

  1. Number of Independent visitors appointed;
  2. Circumstances of appointment;
  3. Any terminations or disputes;
  4. Recommendations for future action;
  5. Consultation undertaken with children/young people in receipt of the service;
  6. Comments from volunteers who have been active over the previous 12 months.

21. Expenses

The Independent visitor is entitled to recover from the Authority who appointed them any reasonable expenses incurred for the purpose of their functions in visiting, advising and befriending the child/young person. The term 'expenses' is intended to cover travel and out of pocket payments but is not intended to equate to a regular payment or salary for undertaking the role.

The need for an independent visitor to continue his/her relationship with a young person once they cease to be looked after by the local authority, where the young person seeks this, should not be overlooked. Such continuing arrangements would be on an informal basis but the local authority should consider whether it would be appropriate to continue to meet the cost of reasonable expenses associated with this continued role, until such times as its own after-care responsibilities expire.

Appendix 1: Meaning of Independent

Section 18 of the Children Act 2004 lists a number of functions where someone employed in these roles would not be considered to be "independent". These are:

  1. Functions conferred on or exercisable by the authority in their capacity as a local education authority;
  2. Functions conferred on or exercisable by the authority which are social services functions (within the meaning of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (c. 42)), so far as those functions relate to children;
  3. The functions conferred on the authority under Sections 23C to 24D of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) (so far as not falling within paragraph (b));
  4. The functions conferred on the authority under Sections 10 to 12 and 17 of this Act; and
  5. Any functions exercisable by the authority under Section 31 of the Health Act 1999 (c. 8) on behalf of an NHS body (within the meaning of that section), so far as those functions relate to children.

Appendix 2: Rotherham's Volunteer Independent Visitor Service

Role Description

Position Title: Volunteer Independent Visitor for Children in Care

Main Purpose of the Role:

  • To provide support to visit, advise and befriend children and young people who live in care and have no or infrequent contact with their family;
  • To enable a child or young person to have contact with someone who is independent of the Children's Care System;
  • To work in partnership with the local authority whilst maintaining the independence necessary to the role;
  • To be able to maintain confidentiality;
  • To be sensitive to race, religion, culture, language, ability, gender or sexual orientation;
  • To provide opportunities for children and young people to develop meaningful long-term relationships with adults;
  • To be able to organise activities which will suit your matched child or young person;
  • To be committed to meet with your matched child or young person at least twice a month;
  • To be committed to developing a long term relationship in keeping with the role, health and personal circumstance permitting.

By becoming an Independent Visitor, you can help give a looked after child or young person regular, independent adult support and guidance as well as having some fun along the way.

Qualities/Experience/Skills sought:

  • Be over 21 years of age;
  • No formal qualifications are required;
  • Some experience of dealing with children and young people would be an advantage;
  • Communicate easily with children and young people;
  • To be able to have fun and enjoy spending time with children and young people;
  • To be reliable, patient and trustworthy;
  • Be open-minded, non-judgemental and committed.

You are not required to be a substitute parent, carer or social worker, provide activities which the carer should be providing or to provide intensive counselling.

Training and Support

All volunteers are recruited subject to Disclosure and Barring Service clearance and other checks and are offered relevant training, which must be completed before being matched with a young person.

As an Independent Visitor you will become part of a committed team of volunteers who have the opportunity to meet up together at support and training events.

You will also have:

  • The opportunity to develop new skills and experience;
  • Mileage and agreed out of pocket expenses;
  • Training, and ongoing support though group sessions;
  • The satisfaction of making a significant contribution to the lives of looked after children and young people.

Looked after children are as diverse as the people we are looking for; from all social classes, religious, linguistic and cultural backgrounds with a whole range of different talents, skills and interests.

We will be asking the children and young people what they would like from an Independent Visitor and all this information will be used to match them with the right volunteer.

For some children and young people, earlier relationships with adults have ended in disappointment and disillusionment. The establishment of a trusting relationship will form one of the main elements of the volunteer role and may be a slow process requiring patience and understanding.

Application Process:

  • Complete an expression of interest form or telephone the manager on the telephone number below;
  • You will be invited to attend a meeting to more fully explore the role and expectation;
  • Complete an application form, two references are required;
  • Children and young people will be involved in the recruitment and training process;
  • Disclosure and Barring Service checks will be undertaken;
  • If successful you will be invited to attend a training course which will be for 8 weeks (1 x 2 hour session per week);
  • A mid way review will be held half way through the training to provide an opportunity to explore your progress and for you to share your views on the training presentations;
  • A final interview will be held at the end of the training;
  • If successful, individuals will be invited to join the service and will be 'matched' with a child or young person;
  • You will receive regular support and guidance via support sessions which will be held at 6 weekly intervals.

Contact:

Manager of Independent Visitor Service,
Rotherham's Right 2 Rights Service,
Safeguarding Unit.
Telephone: 01709 823 764 
Mobile: 07717 224 711

Appendix 3: Volunteer Independent Visitor Training - Fostering Introduction DVD Courses

Click here to view Appendix 3: Volunteer Independent Visitor Training - Fostering Introduction DVD Courses

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