Advocacy, Independent Visitors and Independent Reviewing Officers


The Children's Views, Wishes and Feelings Standard
Regulation 7


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


This chapter was updated in November 2022.


  1. Responsibilities of the Home
  2. Advocates
  3. Independent Visitors
  4. Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)

1. Responsibilities of the Home

All children living in the Home must have access to, and be actively encouraged to involve an independent Advocate and, where appropriate, an Independent Visitor.

Looked-after children are legally entitled to an independent Advocate to advise them and ensure they have the support needed to express their views, wishes and feelings about their care and lives.

Although there is not a legal requirement for non-looked-after children to have access to an independent Advocate, there is a Quality Standards understanding that homes caring for these children should ensure that they can access advocacy support.

The Home must provide suitable facilities within the Home for children to meet privately at any reasonable time with an Independent Visitor – see Contact with Parents/Carers, Siblings and Others Procedure.

There is a legal requirement for the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) of a looked-after child to ensure that the child understands they have an entitlement to independent advocacy support arranged by the child’s local authority (Chapter 3, IRO Handbook). Staff should complement any explanation given by the IRO by helping looked-after children to understand the role of an independent Advocate and how they can access one. Staff should regularly remind children of their right to access an independent Advocate. This information should be included in the Children's Guide.

Children must be informed of their right to contact their IRO. They should be told who their IRO is and how to make contact with them.

Children should also be provided with information about how to obtain independent support from the Children's Commissioner.

2. Advocates

Independent Advocates can support both the child and the Home to seek redress of issues which affect them, such as lack of contact with their social worker, contact with family and leaving care grants, in addition to issues about their care within the Home.

Advocates can help to ensure that children's wishes and feelings are heard and, as far as possible, taken into account when the placing authority and staff in the Home are making decisions about their care. The Advocate can also represent or assist a child at a meeting (for example a Looked After Review), and help in making a complaint or bringing a matter to the attention of staff and managers or the Regulatory Authority.

An Advocate's role is to promote children and young people's central involvement in decisions affecting their lives. The nature of support advocacy provides varies considerably as it is dependent upon each local authority's commissioning arrangements but every service follows these core principles:

  • The Advocate should not be directive or judgmental but should help the young person to express their views;
  • Young people should be offered full information in expressing their views;
  • Young people should decide upon the best course of action;
  • The Advocate should always remain fully supportive of the young person.

3. Independent Visitors

The Placing Authority must appoint an Independent Visitor where it appears to them that it would be in the child's interests to do so. This should be considered as part of the development of the Care Plan for the child and at the Looked After Review.

In particular, a local authority should assess whether it would be appropriate to appoint an Independent Visitor for the child they are looking after if either of the following is satisfied:

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

The following factors should be taken into account by the local authority when considering if it would be appropriate to appoint an independent visitor:

  • If the child is placed at a distance from home;
  • If the child is unable to go out independently or experiences difficulties in communication and building positive relationships;
  • If the child is likely to engage in behaviour which puts them at risk as a result of peer pressure or forming inappropriate relationships with older people;
  • If a child placed in a residential setting would benefit from a more individualised setting; and
  • If it would make a contribution to promoting the child's health and education.

The child must agree to the appointment of an Independent Visitor. Referrals for an Independent Visitor should be made to the lndependent Visitor Service / Coordinator in the Placing Authority.

The Independent Visitor will visit, advise and befriend the child, with the aim of establishing a trusting and positive relationship. They way in which they do this will vary according to the needs and wishes of each individual child. Ideally they should remain a constant in the child’s life, and be there if a child moves placements or has a change of social worker.

The role of the Independent Visitor is to be child focused and contribute to the welfare of the child. In particular they should:

  • Promote the child's developmental, social, emotional, educational, religious and cultural needs;
  • Encourage the child to exercise their rights and to participate in decisions which will affect them;
  • Support the Care Plan for the child; and
  • Aim, as far as possible, to complement the activities of staff.

The Independent Visitor may also contribute to Looked After Reviews, either in writing or in person, if they have been invited or the child requests their attendance.

4. Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)

If a Local Authority is looking after a child, it must appoint an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for that child's case.

Under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010, the IRO has a responsibility to monitor the child's care in between Looked After Reviews. They should be notified of significant changes / events in the child's life.

For example the IRO should be notified and consulted in the following situations:

  • Before a child is placed outside the area where the child normally lives;
  • If there are safeguarding concerns in relation to the child;
  • If a child runs away or goes missing from the Home;
  • If a child or their parent complains about their care;
  • If a child is charged with an offence;
  • If a child is excluded from school;
  • If the child has any significant health concerns or medical events, including accidents.

Children must be provided with information on how to contact their IRO if they have concerns about their care and / or placement.

Managers in the Home should also consult the IRO if they are concerned about the child's placement.

If the IRO has concerns about the child’s case e.g. that the Care Plan is not being properly progressed, they have a duty to report this to CAFCASS.