'Disabled children should have right to an advocate to speak on their behalf,' says Britain's Children's Society|
LONDON, UK: Disabled children who do not live at home should have the right to an advocate who can speak on their behalf, according to Britain's Children's Society.
The organisation says that more than 13,000 children placed away from home are at greater risk of abuse. But it says that only 5 per cent of them have access to an independent advocate.
The society's strategy director says that disabled children are often denied basic rights like choosing what to eat and when to go to the toilet.
An Ipsos MORI survey was commissioned by the society to reinforce its message that all disabled children in residential or foster care need the services of an independent spokesperson.
The survey suggests that the public overwhelmingly supports its aim, with more than 80 per cent agreeing that advocates are necessary.
Three-quarters of the more than 2,000 people interviewed also felt that more needed to be done to improve support for disabled children.
"Every child deserves a good childhood and disabled children placed away from home should have access to an independent advocate to safeguard this entitlement," said the Children's Society's strategy director, Penny Nicholls.
Advocates can help disabled children to make informed decisions about their lives. Often, such children have communication difficulties and need someone with the time, patience and ability to help them to express preferences.
Independent advocates can also be a source of protection for children at risk of abuse in what is often a closed system.
The society says that children often feel intimidated when asked to take part in meetings about their care.
It is lobbying the British Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, for the statutory right for all disabled children living away from home to be able to use an advocate.
"For too long, disabled children placed away from home have been invisible children, deprived of their right to communicate their concerns," said Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children.
Among those who have had the benefit of a spokesperson is 20 year-old Rizwan Patel, who has autism. He has benefited from using an advocate.
He experienced a number of difficulties over his education and residential placements, which caused anxiety and uncertainty. He was assisted by an advocate from the Children's Society, who worked with him for three years.
For example, Rizwan mentioned that the numerous moves that he was forced to make failed to consider his cultural background. Furthermore, services for people with autism were not made available which contributed to the placements breaking down.
"At the beginning of the relationship, Rizwan would ask me to tell people what he wanted and represent his interests," said his advocate, Richard Walsh.
"As Rizwan turned 18 and entered adult services, he had become empowered enough to speak for himself."
The support for children living away from home is currently under review by the government which has published a green paper entitled Care Matters.
(Source: BBC News Online, January 11, 2007)