Children in care 'denied access to mentors'

Only three per cent of children in care in England are getting access to independent support from adult mentors they are legally entitled to, according to new research.

Freedom of Information requests sent to 152 local authorities by children's charity Barnardo's and the National Independent Visitor Development project found there are 1,000 children currently waiting to be paired with an independent visitor.

Councils have a legal obligation to provide children in care with access to adult mentors. Yet eight local authorities in the research had no independent visitor services at all.

The LGA said there is an urgent need to recruit more volunteers to become mentors. 

To ensure children get the support they are legally entitled to, Barnardo's and the NIVP are asking the Government, local authorities and the voluntary sector to sign up to a new set of quality standards.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "Every single child needs an adult they can trust, who will be there for them and stay by their side no matter what life throws their way.

"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."

The Local Government Association said the "vast majority" of councils provide independent visitors to children in care but more are needed.

"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," said Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the association's Children & Young People Board.

"Children have a wide range of needs, so councils need a large pool of potential volunteers to make sure that children are matched with the most appropriate person. This 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. In the meantime, we would encourage anyone interested in finding out more to contact their local council."