The UK Government has been urged to invest in mentors for children in care.
The 1989 Children’s Act says councils must appoint volunteers to “visit, befriend and advise” children in care if it is in their best interests.
Barnados found that only three in 100 children in care in England receive the independent support they may legally be entitled to. Barnardo’s chief executive 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.
Independent mentors are unpaid and work independently of social services to build trusting and positive relationships with the children they are allocated.
For example, 18- year-old Solomon who loves acting, music and performing, says “they work really hard to match you with someone who fits your interests,” and confides in his mentor Drew.
Solomon says that he likes ‘’going out with Drew because it’s different to being out with my teenage groups of friends and it’s often in a new kind of social environment.’’
The idea is that they remain consistent, not changing when placements or social workers change, sharing trips and activities and sticking up for children to ensure their rights are respected.
Researchers for Barnardo’s sent out Freedom of Information requests to 152 local authorities in England. Responses showed that 2,200 looked-after children were matched with a mentor – and that 1000 children were on a waiting list for a mentor.
When councils were without waiting lists, this was often because social workers were unaware of the service or it did not exist at all. Eight local authorities said they did not have an independent mentor service.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Independent visitors can make a significant contribution to the well-being of children in care and the law is clear that local authorities must appoint an independent visitor where it’s in a child’s interest and they want one.
“Not all children in care will need or want an independent visitor but this should be kept under review by the child’s social worker and Independent reviewing officer.”