The Children Act (1989) sanctions the appointment of Independent Visitors. It is the duty of the local authority to provide an Independent Visitor Service either themselves, or by commissioning another organisation. In Norfolk ‘Action for Children' has been commissioned to provide the service.
Independent Visitors can be appointed for children and young people who are ‘looked after' by Social Services. Children and young people eligible for an Independent Visitor are those who for various reasons would benefit from having an independent adult in their lives.
The Independent Visitors Role
This is defined in the Children Act as someone who befriends, visits and advises a child or young person on day to day issues. The description is quite broad but needs to encompass things that the child is interested in doing.
The number of visits/hours spent with a young person will be variable, with a minimum of monthly contact. However, most Independent Visitors also keep in touch with their young person by telephone call/letter fairly frequently. If the young person wishes, then the Independent Visitor can attend their six monthly reviews when Social Services looks at progress and plans for the young person's future.
You will see therefore, that Independent Visitors are volunteers who can communicate and engage with children and young people. They need to be genuinely interested in listening to and supporting young people and must also be able to advise on ordinary every day issues.
Relationships and friendships take time to develop and to be successful there needs to be participation from both parties. This is sometimes difficult for children and young people who do not live with their families as the adults in their life have often disappointed them. For these reasons an Independent Visitor must have perseverance and be able to give a long-term commitment to the Independent Visitors project.
Assessment- Becoming an Independent Visitor
Those interested in becoming an Independent Visitor are supported through the application process step by step. The basic outline of the process is laid out below.
Information Pack sent out by post or email
Informal first interview/chat
Application paperwork completed
Checks undertaken by Action for Children
Training Sessions (‘This is me' book completed)
Approved Independent Visitor Status achieved
Checks are made with the Disclosure and Barring Service and Children's Services. You are asked to complete an ‘Action for Children' Medical Form and you will also be asked to provide two references.
Training takes place over either several evening or weekend sessions. It is designed to give you a full understanding of the role, its responsibilities and boundaries. You will also be helped to understand the experiences of children and young people who are ‘looked after', thus enabling you to build better relationships with them by becoming more sensitive to their needs. You will also receive basic training in Safeguarding Children.
On Going Support
When an Independent Visitor is matched with a child or young person they receive on going support from the staff team at Norfolk Independent Visitors Service. This support takes several forms and Independent Visitors are encouraged to make as much use of the support on offer as possible.
One to one supervision sessions
Local support group meetings
Informal telephone contact
One off training sessions to address specific issues (when needed)
Annual General Meeting
No Independent Visitor should be out of pocket as a result of duties undertaken as part of the role of an independent Visitor.
Any travel costs you incur as part of your role as an independent Visitor will be reimbursed as well as any reasonable expenses relating to your activities with the child or young person you are matched with. For example admission tickets or meals you have to take will be reimbursed by the Service. The Service sets a notional monthly figure which we ask Independent Visitors, children and young people to try and work within when planning activities.
Staff at the Project visit each child or young person when they are referred to the Project to ascertain their needs, likes, dislikes, hobbies etc to form a clear picture of each individual. Social Workers and the child or young person (if appropriate) also complete a referral form which is sent to the Project. Staff at the Project will undertake discussions with the Independent Visitor, Social Worker and Carers about matching a specific Independent Visitor. The child or young person will then meet with Project staff where they will talk about any proposed match and they are given the Independent Visitors ‘This is me' book to look at. (The ‘This is me' book is designed by the Independent Visitor, with help from Project staff, and is aimed at giving a flavour of the Independent Visitor as a person which can be shared with children and young people.) The Independent Visitor and child or young person then have a first meeting and if all goes well their relationship blossoms from there.
For a child or young person For an Independent Visitor
Consistent supportive relationship Satisfaction in building trust
Gain a friend, trusted adult A broader outlook on life
Self esteem can be boosted Ability to enrich two lives