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Chapter 4: Improving advocacy support

In this section, you will find the Victims' Commissioner's full response to the questions as set out in Chapter 4 of the Victims' Law consultation.

In this chapter the government seek views on:

  • the ‘on the ground’ experiences of ISVAs, IDVAs and similar advocate roles that support victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other hidden harms, alongside the organisations which train and recruit them
  • how these roles interact with other agencies within and outside of the criminal justice system and family justice system
  • best practices and consideration of what more could be done to further develop ISVA and IDVA roles, including in relation to children and young people
  • whether statutory and/or non-statutory standards, guidance or other frameworks could strengthen advocate roles
  • if and how the Government can play a role in improving and standardising work in the advocate space

Note: for some responses, questions have been grouped together.

View and respond to the full government consultation online.

List of questions

The full list of questions in this chapter follows below. You can find the Victims' Commissioner's full response in the sections on this page.

Definining functions

  • Question 31: How do IDVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of domestic abuse?
  • Question 32: How might defining the IDVA role impact services, other sector workers and IDVAs themselves?
  • Question 33: How do ISVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of sexual violence?
  • Question 34: How might defining the ISVA role impact services, other sector workers and ISVAs themselves?
  • Question 35: What are the challenges in accessing advocate services, and how can the Government support advocates to reach victims in all communities?
  • Question 36: What other advocacy roles exist that support victims of hidden crimes, such as forms of other serious violence? Please outline the functions these roles perform. To what extent are the challenges faced similar to those experienced by ISVAs and IDVAs? Are there specific barriers?

Quality standards

  • Question 37: How useful is existing guidance, and how can this guidance be strengthened?
  • Question 38: Is more action needed to define standards for ISVAs and to ensure they are met? If yes, who is best placed to take this action?
  • Question 39: Is more action needed to define standards for IDVAs and to ensure they are met? If yes, who is best placed to take this action?
  • Question 40: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the current qualifications and accreditation structures? Are there any changes that could improve it?

Advocate relationships with other agencies

  • Question 41: How can we ensure that all non-criminal justice agencies (such as schools, doctors, emergency services) are victim aware, and what support do these agencies need in order to interact effectively with IDVAs, ISVAs or other support services?
  • Question 42: What are the barriers faced by ISVAs preventing effective cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 43: What are the barriers faced by IDVAs preventing effective cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 44: What are the barriers facing specialist or ‘by and for’ services preventing cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?

Advocates for children and young people

  • Question 45: Please comment on the training required to support advocates for children and young people. How do these differ to adult advocate training, and are there barriers that exist to accessing this?
  • Question 46: What are the barriers to effective work with children and young people in this area, and what action could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 47: What best practice is there on referral pathways for children and young people who are victims of crime looking for advocacy support, including interaction with statutory services? Are there barriers to these pathways?
  • Question 48: Would providing clarity on the roles and functions of children and young people’s advocates be helpful? In your experience, are these roles broad or do they focus on specific harms and crime types that children and young people have experienced?

Response to questions 31 and 33

Note: Question 32 is handled separately.
Note: this section was updated on 2 February 2022 to better signpost the response's recommendations and reference the ISVA Code of Conduct.

  • Question 31: How do IDVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of domestic abuse?
  • Question 33: How do ISVAs fit into the wider network of support services available for victims of sexual violence?

IDVAs and ISVAs are highly valued by victims and have a significant impact on the victims’ journey. The government must invest in these key roles, but additionally, it is important to fund other victims’ services such as outreach and counselling. There must be a statutory duty for relevant public bodies (e.g. PCCs, health bodies and local authorities) to fund community-based services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

IDVAs and ISVAs cover a broad range of different roles and, so, fit into the wider network of services in differing ways.

The wider network of support services available for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence must include appropriate legal safeguards, free legal advice where the victim’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rights come into play and a strengthened Victims’ Right to Review.

The valuable roles of IDVAs and ISVAs

IDVAs and ISVAs each have a crucial and important role within the network of support services available for victims of respectively domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Victims strongly value the role of ISVA and IDVA. These roles have a significant impact on the victim’s journey, including with the relatively few victims who enter the criminal justice system. Our recent review of rape survivors and the criminal justice system found that, in the sample 93% of survivors who had received support from an ISVA or other support service reported the incident(s), compared with 54% without this. Furthermore, ISVAs were viewed as an important source of support with 90% of respondents saying that they were very important or important. Victims who have corresponded with us have told us of the “wonderful support” they have received. This has included helping victims to navigate the criminal justice system and supporting victims to complain about poor treatment.

Nonetheless, the IDVA and ISVA roles must be viewed within the context of the broader support services and the role they perform outside the criminal justice system. Data from 2018, from Women’s Aid, estimates that only 18% of women who had experienced partner abuse in the preceding 12 months reported it to police. Similarly research from the sector shows that only 20% of women who have been raped report to police. We think that the situation will be similar for male victims.

Despite the small numbers who enter the criminal justice system it is clear from our rape survivors survey and from observation projects which have taken place in the Special Domestic Violence Courts that there are insufficient ISVAs and IDVAs to support those victims. Given the premium that is put on those services and the government’s determination to improve how the courts deal with domestic and sexual abuse it is imperative that there is more funding to make available the valued services of IDVAs and ISVAs who do attend court. There is no doubt that such investment will sustain many more criminal justice cases which would otherwise not be sustained, at a cost to the agencies, to the victim, potentially to any future victims of any guilty defendant and to justice.

We are aware that many IDVAs and some ISVAs do not go to court with victims, working for them instead in society at large. Although many ISVAs and IDVAs support victims throughout their criminal justice system case, they do not necessarily just do this. Some work with clients outside the criminal justice system entirely.

IDVAs

The purpose of IDVAs is to address the safety of mainly high-risk victims of domestic abuse to make them and any children secure from the point of crisis by assessing their risk and developing options and safety plans. Thereafter they give personal support and help them to engage with local statutory and other agencies to manage the practical consequences of their abuse and they can act as a link to counselling and therapy services in the longer term. They work as part of a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) to protect their high-risk victims, where they engage with police, local authorities and others to ensure a web of safety around the victim. This can often include criminal and civil justice measures to protect the victim or restrain the perpetrator. The victim does not attend the MARAC meetings and it does not always follow that they will have to attend court. If there is a wish/need for the magistrates’ court to be involved whether from a MARAC or otherwise, IDVAs sometimes attend the court in the absence of the victim at preliminary and other hearings where decisions are taken about such vital matters as whether to grant bail or not and if so on what terms. The IDVA will act as liaison with the CPS representative to ensure that the victim’s wishes/needs for safety are communicated to the Bench. Where there is a report to police IDVAs can often attend with the victim to make their statement and for other purposes.

ISVAs

ISVAs are specialist advocacy services whose role is to provide emotional support and information to victims who are thinking about reporting to the police or have reported. If someone is thinking of reporting, an ISVA will help with more information about what will follow. They will support a victim to have their voice heard, help to empower victims to make the right choices for them and go with them to important appointments or to court if that is what the victim wants. They can also support with emotional and practical issues which may follow from the sexual violence such as support to access health housing or education services and with next steps, whether the case goes ahead or not. ISVAs are very valued but would themselves agree that their success in sustaining victims is shared with counsellors who tackle the emotional and psychological consequences of what is often a life-changing or traumatising offence. ISVA and counselling services often come from the same third sector organisation, many supporting women and there are, in the sector, specialist ISVAs who support men, who support LGBT victims and some who support girls and boys (CHISVAs).

In the criminal justice system, IDVAs and ISVAs have to be seen as fully trained, trusted professionals with a defined role that is constructive for the court. The consultation document (p53, f/n 86) itself quotes what is widely known in the hidden harms sector that both ISVAs and IDVAs are frequently prevented from supporting victims at court.

This puts the value of the government’s increasing investment in both kinds of advocates seriously at risk. Long court backlogs which are estimated to continue for at least two more years, also put the role of sustaining victims at a premium. It seems clear that some criminal justice authorities not including some of the judiciary do not all understand the nature and purpose of these advocates.

We strongly recommend that the high-quality training and subsequent accreditation standards required for both ISVAs and IDVAs should be set out and made known to all the criminal justice agencies together with a description of the ethical requirements they must fulfil. Such a provision removes the scope for variable practice from one court to the next and gives victims a guarantee that they will be able to give evidence with the support of their advocate if they so wish.

Recommendation

We recommend that the government continues to invest in advocacy services as quickly as possible, to the stage where an addition to the Victims’ Code giving the right for every victim of sexual or domestic abuse to have the services of such an advocate in the criminal justice system can be implemented when the Victims’ Law is given Royal Assent. We would add that that should not be achieved to the detriment of those victims who do not enter the criminal justice system.

We will return in answer to later questions to the need for the government to consider ensuring similar rights to specialist advocacy for all victims of serious violence, trafficking and other traumatising offences.

Community based services

It is crucial to ensure that a statutory duty is introduced on relevant public bodies (e.g. PCCs, health bodies and local authorities) to fund community-based services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Local authorities already have responsibility to deliver accommodation services and, without a similar duty for community-based services, there is an obvious and serious risk of two-tier system that leaves victims without appropriate support including IDVA services.

Our response to chapter three refers to these services including advice services, advocacy services and recovery and support work.

The government has said that this will set expectations for the standard and availability of victim support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. This will complement the existing duty for tier one local authorities to deliver support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation.

Refuge accommodation is hugely important, but the majority of victims stay in the home and access community-based services such as IDVAs. All victims of domestic abuse need to have access to local protection and support in their own communities.

Recommendation

We recommend that a statutory duty is introduced on relevant public bodies (e.g. PCCs, health bodies and local authorities) to fund community-based services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

A broad range of IDVA roles and locations

We are researching the range of advocacy services available for victims. This research has highlighted a diverse range of locations where IDVAs are based or spend time including hospitals, police cars, primary care settings and courts. Placing IDVAs in these locations usually has two purposes. Firstly, it is to act as a link between the work carried out at the location and the domestic abuse services so that there is awareness-raising about the still little understood nature of domestic abuse. Secondly, it is to give access to IDVA services and expertise to victims in locations where domestic abuse can come to light, but which have a different function without the knowledge to deliver expert support for the victim.

Specialist ISVAs

ISVAs may specialise in their clients. There are Child ISVAs (or CHISVAs), LGBT+ ISVAs, disabled people's ISVAs and male specialist ISVAs. These differing client bases may have different requirements from agencies so that the ISVA may engage in varying ways.

IDVAs, ISVAs and wider advocacy roles

We have received feedback that raises concerns on the approach of focussing on IDVA roles and not on some of the wider advocacy roles that exist in the sector, particularly in specialist services and ‘by and for’ services. Specialist ‘by and for’ services have advocacy roles that do not necessarily neatly fit the ISVA / IDVA models, but are highly valuable and often specialised around the cultural needs of the people they are supporting. Sector representatives tell us that an over-rigid definition of the ISVA or IDVA role will not be helpful as it will present practical challenges e.g. cost of training. Furthermore, it may result in other advocacy roles being less respected by other agencies. ‘By and for’ services provide highly tailored services the groups of victims with protected characteristics. This includes LGBT+, Deaf, disabled and black and minoritised victims and survivors of domestic abuse as well as migrant women.

Specialist ‘by and for’ services (including services for deaf and disabled people) have advocacy roles that do not necessarily neatly fit the ISVA / IDVA models, but are highly valuable and often specialised around the cultural needs of the people they are supporting. Sector representatives tell us that an over-rigid definition of the ISVA or IDVA roles will not be helpful as it will present practical challenges e.g. cost of training. Furthermore, it may result in other advocacy roles being less respected by other agencies.

Other specialist agencies have underlined the need for specialist services to have equal access of provision of services. They note that the government should look to support development of specialist advocate training and ensure that funding is available for specialist charities to access training.

Recommendation

It is clear that any definitions of ISVAs and IDVAs must provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that the roles provided by ‘by and for’ and specialist services are encapsulated within the definition and are not excluded.

Engaging with other agencies

Our research has highlighted both advantages and challenges for advocates working with other agencies.

A strong advantage of advocates, such as IDVAs, is their ability to build victims’ trust with agencies within the criminal justice. However, the research found that this requires advocates such as IDVAs to develop detailed understanding of other agencies to help victims to navigate them. The research also found that agencies sometimes had competing priorities to advocates and that a lack of clarity on the role could cause friction. Any review on the role of IDVAs and ISVAs must recognise the local knowledge that they must attain and the importance of clarity of role in order to ensure that they are best able to function with other local services.

The research also found that the role of advocates must be viewed as an addition to other agencies. IDVAs must not be viewed as a replacement for other services. This view has since been reiterated by some agencies within the victims’ sector during the pandemic. Services reported that IDVAs were being left to pick up the pieces when other services, such as drug, alcohol and mental health services, were cited as having less engagement with clients. It is important to ensure that IDVAs are in addition to these services and are not a replacement.

Recommendations

Any review on the role of IDVAs and ISVAs must recognise the local knowledge that they must attain and the importance of clarity of role in order to ensure that they are best able to function with other local services.

IDVAs must not be viewed as a replacement for other services.

Victims of crime must be provided with free and independent legal advice that is distinct and separate from that from an advocate, such as an ISVA, where the victim’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rights come into play.  This role should be undertaken by a qualified lawyer.

The most common circumstance where this will be relevant is in cases of sexual violence and rape.

In some cases, despite the stance in the adversarial system that the prosecution is brought on behalf of everyone in society, the individual victim’s legal interests may differ from those of the state. This is particularly likely where the victim’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are at stake and, to date, has occurred most frequently in connection with the victim’s right to private and family life under Article 8. We have discussed this in detail in our response to chapter one.

As has been well-rehearsed in the media, in the government’s own End-to-End Rape Review and in debates around the digital extraction clauses in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, it has become almost routine for victims of rape to be subjected to ‘credibility trawls’. This is where victims are asked unlawfully to relinquish their private and personal information for scrutiny by the police and prosecution. This usually requires them to give police their mobile phone, passwords to email and social media accounts and often they are also asked to give police permission to seek third-party material such as GP, social services and education records for similar scrutiny.

The idea of independent legal representation for victims in these circumstances is not a new one. In 2005, the then government announced its intention to introduce legally aided representation for victims in homicide, rape and domestic violence cases, though it was not brought in. In March 2014, the Ministry of Justice again raised the idea of independent legal representation in a review of the treatment of victims in sexual offence cases, but they did not implement the policy either. It is time to give this reality.

In 2016, the Sexual Violence Complainants’ Advocate (SVCA) scheme was piloted in Northumbria to engage local solicitors to provide legal advice and support to local rape complainants who were aged 18+ at the time of the offence and whose cases were recent.

The support primarily related to complainants’ Article 8 rights to privacy, advising on digital download requests, although there was also scope for general information about the legal process, attendance at ABE interview and help with the Victims Right to Review scheme.

The pilot scheme took 83 referrals from September 2018 until December 2019 and has now been evaluated. Casefile analysis showed poor practice around victims’ privacy rights, with some police officers believing there was no need to seek consent from victims. Advocates challenged data requests in 47% of cases. The evaluation went on to show the scheme to be overwhelmingly positive. It increased complainants’ confidence and understanding in the justice system and improved their ability to cope with the mental health impact of the system (which is likely to reduce attrition). There was an overwhelming consensus that the project changed organisational cultures, significantly decreasing police and CPS requests for indiscriminate evidence gathering. Police and CPS felt investigations were more efficient, relevant, and proportionate. A judge commended the pilot scheme as encouraging earlier consideration of disclosure issues, making cases more efficient and proportionate. All pilot participants agreed with the principle of legal support being made available for sexual offence complainants.

We strongly recommend that the SVCA scheme be rolled out across the country and that this entitlement becomes a right in the Victims’ Code and can be implemented when a complainant of serious sexual violence is at risk of having their Human Rights compromised.

These are not the only areas where the state is unable to represent the legal rights of the victim. For instance, Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 when a defendant applies to call evidence about the victim’s previous sexual history will also trigger Article 8 rights. Victims are often not told about such applications (even though facts may be known to the victim which can undermine the basis of applying) CPS are reported to take stances out of court, on the basis of whether similar applications have been allowed in the past, whereas the personal interest, reputation and well-being of the individual victim requires them to be fully informed with an independent presence, in respect of Article 8 at the application.

Further, the CPS Victims Right to Review has been broadened by the High Court to offer an opportunity for a victim to make representations on why their case should be re-considered. CPS have been dismissive of victims’ requests to review a refusal to charge, as our survey of rape survivors shows (f/n) A victim who wishes to use the voice that the Court has now given to them will require publicly funded representation to protect their interests and argue their rights. In 2005, the government announced its intention to introduce legally-aided representation for victims in homicide, rape and domestic violence cases and in March 2014, a different government did so in a respect of victims in sexual offence cases. This should be non-means tested merits-based representation.

Recommendations

Victims of crime must be provided with free and independent legal advice that is distinct and separate from that from an advocate, such as an ISVA, where the victim’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) rights come into play.  This role should be undertaken by a qualified lawyer.

We strongly recommend that the SVCA scheme be rolled out across the country and that this entitlement becomes a right in the Victims’ Code and can be implemented when a complainant of serious sexual violence is at risk of having their Human Rights compromised.

We recommend a statutory right for victims to be given free legal representation in respect of any decisions taken by police, prosecutors or courts that threaten their Article 8 Right to Privacy or any other right within the European Convention and specifically in order to ensure the victim’s voice in the Victims’ Right to Review.

Access to third party material

Whilst it is crucial to ensure that victims are able to access independent legal advice, it is also necessary to introduce legal frameworks that protect victims from unjustified demands for third party materials.

The Police Courts Sentencing and Crime (PCSC) Bill has introduced new safeguards to protect victims from any risk of over-intrusive requests for the download of digital material. This is something we have worked hard on, gaining the support of the NPCC police lead and the Information Commissioner.

However, similar risks remain for over demand for personal material in respect of requests for third-party material such as medical records, notes of pre-trial and other therapy, local authority social services records, school records etc. These requests are usually required of complainants of rape and sexual assault. The government’s End-to-End Rape Review points to a change over the past five years to the current position where, as quoted on Page 50 of the Research Report, police:

‘Felt that requests for third party and digital evidence had become standard CPS requests for all rape cases, rather than specifically for cases where there was a direct link to the incident with CPS lines of inquiry described as being too broad and a fishing expedition’

In fact, this is now so entrenched a practice that despite the ISVA Code of Practice containing strict boundaries for ISVAs around their relationships with clients (see page 10 of the code) including the rule that they must not discuss on-going criminal cases, ISVAs’ are frequently asked for their notes.  For this consultation, the Survivors Trust interviewed 72 ISVAs of whom 60% had been asked to disclose notes as part of an investigation.  This is quite wrong unless police are asserting a reasonable suspicion that ISVAs are randomly breaking their code of conduct and further that their notes, which should not contain any notes of events, in fact show a version of events different from the complaint. This is yet more evidence of an urgent need for legislative control properly regulating requests for third-party material.

The impact of these requests is that:

  • Victims of rape are being forced to choose between justice and their right to a private life. Rape victims are facing unjustified demands for personal information held by third parties (medical, education, social services, therapeutic records etc.) and cases are frequently dropped if victims do not sign over their information.
  • Faced with handing over their personal information, many victims drop their complaints, leaving them with no resolution and the public with the risk of a criminal free to offend again. This is a particular risk in sexual offending, as research suggests that most offenders do so serially.
  • On the rare occasion that an allegation ends up at trial, victims are sometimes ambushed by this information in cross-examination. This can include items such as a social worker’s ‘impression’ of them as a child, which hold no relevance to the criminal charge.

Recommendation

We propose that the government introduce new safeguards, mirroring those already in place for requests of digital material, in order to protect victims from over intrusive demands. This should state that any requested material should form a reasonable line of enquiry, incorporate the precedent of Alibhai and meet the strict necessity test meaning that police must have considered other, less-intrusive means to access the data. Further information is available on our website.

Victims’ Right to Review

Our survey of rape survivors highlighted the devastating psychological impact of victims’ cases not going forward, and against this backdrop, the opportunity to meet with the CPS and the formal Victims’ Right to Review (VRR) scheme is an important recourse for such victims. However, in the survey, only a third of those respondents whose cases were not charged by the CPS recalled being offered a meeting.

The police and CPS VRR schemes allow complainants to request a review of any decision which will put an end to their case (for instance a decision not to charge). In 2020, the High Court established that in the CPS VRR scheme there is a fair opportunity for a victim to make submissions to get a favourable decision. If the opportunity is taken, the CPS must respond to representations made. This judgment was warmly welcomed by our stakeholders during our roundtable discussions with them.

The Victims’ Law is an opportunity to place the victims right of review onto a statutory footing. This does not mean the victim’s view is determinative. The CPS/police make the decision, but victims need to be heard.

Recommendation

The police and CPS must uphold and implement the current Victims’ Code requirements on the Victims’ Right to Review. Furthermore, we recommend that the police are CPS are required to take all reasonable steps to advise a victim on details and progress of criminal proceedings, seek a victim’s views regarding modifying or discontinuing charges, invite them to make representations of the Victims’ Right to Review and respond to those representations and provide reasons for decisions to a victim.

Response to questions 32 and 34

Note: Question 33 is handled separately.
Note: this section was updated on 2 February 2022 to better signpost the recommendations and highlight the importance of specialist services.

  • Question 32: How might defining the IDVA role impact services, other sector workers and IDVAs themselves?
  • Question 34: How might defining the ISVA role impact services, other sector workers and ISVAs themselves?

We agree that the IDVA and ISVA roles should be defined. This will ensure that the roles are identifiable, recognised and respected by other agencies. However, this definition must be flexible enough to recognise the varied services these roles deliver, particularly within the ‘by and for’ sector. Any definition must also embed the importance of clinical supervision in order to contribute to a healthy and sustainable workforce.

Our research has highlighted the core functions of the advocate as a professional who can speak on behalf of the victim, if need be, articulating their needs and preferences throughout the criminal justice journey. Advocates will also assist victims to make informed choices and seek to ensure that they receive their entitlements under the Victims’ Code as well as challenging other agencies and speaking on behalf of the victim. Victims have contacted us to let us know how much they value their ISVAs engaging with other agencies to advocate for their rights. Whilst the research finds these common functions across many advocate roles, our responses to questions 31 and 33 outline the specific functions of the IDVA and that of the ISVA. It is important to note that these are specific roles and that some victims may have both an IDVA and an ISVA.

However, the roles of advocates are diverse and evolving. IDVAs may be set in different locations (e.g. hospitals) where they have a focussed role; ISVAs may focus on specific groups of victims. Furthermore, ‘by and for’ services provide valuable advocacy work for victims but may not fit an obvious IDVA or ISVA model. This diversity means that there are no universally applicable and set definitions of the roles. Whilst Home Office guidance defines the essential elements of the ISVA role, this has guidance has not been readily promoted and seems to have had little impact. Furthermore, there is no universal definition of the IDVA role. The impact of the lack of a firm definition provides flexibility to meet victims’ needs. However, it can also mean that criminal justice agencies have a poor understanding of the role.

Recommendation

Any definition of the IDVA / ISVA role must enable sufficient flexibility to meet victims’ needs whilst delivering legitimacy to the role that will ensure it is recognised and valued across the criminal justice system. Such a provision removes the scope for variable practice from one court to the next and gives victims a guarantee that they will be able to give evidence with the support of their advocate if they so wish.

The Victims’ Law Policy Paper includes a recommendation that, and we again recommend, that:

Those practitioners who are accredited to offer vulnerable victims with practical and emotional support be recognised as such by the courts, relied upon as trusted professionals and are entitled to support such victims when they are required to give evidence in court.

Core standards for each role, with role flexibility

We have found that a number of functions are core to the role of all types of victims’ advocates. For example, accessible, proactive contact, practical and emotional support are all seen as central to the role. However, the same research also underlines the flexibility required by these roles. The work of IDVAs and ISVAs will be led by victims’ needs and must be able to respond to individual needs to varied intensity of support throughout the victims’ journey.

Specialist ‘by and for’ services have advocacy roles that do not necessarily neatly fit the ISVA/ IDVA models but which are highly valuable and often specialised around the cultural needs of the people they are supporting. Sector representatives tell us that defining and standardising the IDVA and ISVA roles may not be helpful as it will present practical challenges e.g. cost of training. Furthermore, it may result in other advocacy roles being less respected by other agencies.

Services have also highlighted the importance of specialist services. This includes specialist roles such as male ISVAs, CHISVAs working with children and young people and ISVA services designed for women and girls. They note the importance and value of these specialist roles and feel strongly that specialist provision must continue to be commissioned to deliver this support.

Recommendation

Any definition of the role must balance the key functions of the advocate role with the varied demands and specialisms IDVAs and ISVAs deliver and ensure that the roles provided by ‘by and for’ and specialist services are encapsulated within the definition and are not excluded.

Opportunity for clinical supervision

Any definition of ISVAs and IDVAs presents an opportunity to address and overcome existing problems with the roles.

The sector report that ISVA and IDVA services are often not funded for dealing with the vicarious trauma that these roles face. This is within the context of intense pressures on these roles and where the sector report staff burning out and high turnover of staff.

Organisations such as SafeLives recommend appropriate support such as one-on-one clinical supervision on a monthly basis with a minimum criteria of group clinical supervision on a quarterly basis. This will help to ensure the emotional and psychological wellbeing of staff.

Defining the IDVA and ISVA roles presents an opportunity to define the support that these roles should receive and can overcome trauma and burnout for staff fulfilling these roles. Our response to chapter three considers how clinical supervision should be commissioned, stating that it should be funded as part of core role funding.

Response to question 35

Note: this section was updated on 2 February 2022 to include reference to the lack of specialist support for the learning disabled.

  • Question 35: What are the challenges in accessing advocate services, and how can the Government support advocates to reach victims in all communities?

There are a range of challenges for victims in accessing advocate services. These range from ensuring sufficient funding to meet demand to ensuring that services are accessible for all victims.

Appropriate funding and commissioning

Victims’ organisations have told us that there is simply not enough funding to meet demand.

The funding that has been outlined in the Victims’ Bill consultation is to be welcomed and will be beneficial for victims where there is unmet demand. However, the service providers that we have spoken to report that the level of unmet demand is not clear or well-evidenced and it is not clear whether the additional funding will meet it. Furthermore, organisations highlight the importance of seeing advocate roles within the context of other support services. Whilst many victims will not enter the criminal justice system, they still require ongoing support from services sometimes over long periods of time. Furthermore, organisations highlight that initial help, which is not provided by an IDVA or ISVA can provide the victim with the confidence to report to the police and enter the criminal justice system. Thereafter an ISVA or IDVA will support them. Advocates are an integrated part of a range of support services needed by victims. It is crucial to ensure that services are available to victims when they need them.

There are further concerns about funding that need to be considered to ensure that these services can be made available and accessed by victims. ISVA and IDVA services are not compatible with the short-term funding arrangements that have been used throughout the pandemic.

Stakeholders have advised us that many services that employ ISVAs/IDVAs did not apply for the short-term relief funding offered in relation to the COVID19 pandemic. This is because, by the time these workers are recruited and trained, the short-term exceptional funding will have nearly expired. Without any guarantee that the post would be funded after March 2021, it was neither cost-effective nor likely to deliver the consistent service victims need. ISVAs may take 6 months or more to be trained whereas IDVA training will take around 5 months. As ISVAs will generally support a victim for at least 6 months, longer-term funding is required to be of use.

Where commissioners did successfully apply for funding, they have pointed to fundamental commissioning issues that have hampered their work to recruit IDVAs. The funding announcement did not come until June, a few months into the financial year, and they did not receive confirmation for 2022/23 funding until December 2021. As a result, domestic abuse services were unable to recruit to the roles, sometimes despite several recruitment rounds. Short-term and unconfirmed funding are challenges as they require short-term contracts that are unattractive to potential candidates. The same commissioners also pointed to a wider shortage of trained and experienced IDVAs.

Funding and commissioning structures must be designed in a way that recognises the long-term requirements for IDVA and ISVA roles. They must recognise the shortage of candidates and work to prevent structural problems in recruitment so that services within the victims’ sector are able to recruit permanent members of staff. These issues were considered in the consultation for the Victim Funding Strategy and require an effective response.

This is particularly important while the court backlog is being tackled and victims must be supported for longer periods as they await a court date. We support work that will enable long-term, sustainable funding that recognises the longer-term role that these advocates perform and supports them in doing so.

Meeting the Public Sector Equality Duty

It is important to ensure that all public bodies, including commissioners, meet their Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) in order to ensure that advocate services are available to all victims.

We know crime disproportionately affects vulnerable and minoritised groups. For example, SafeLives’ report, ‘Disabled Survivors Too: Disabled People and Domestic Abuse’, found disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women and typically experience abuse for a longer period of time before accessing support (3.3. years’ average length of abuse versus 2.3 years). Galop’s report, ‘Recognise & Respond: Strengthening advocacy for LGBT+ survivors of domestic abuse’, found more than one in four gay men and lesbian women and more than one in three bisexual people have reported at least one form of domestic abuse since the age of 16.

As well as being more likely to become a victim of crime, we are also aware that people from minority groups are less likely to seek support. This was recorded in Catch 22’s 2018 report ‘The Changing Needs of Victims’ which found:

“Reasons for this vary across groups, but active outreach from local, tailored services can help to create support pathways for these demographics. Services should always be flexible and responsive enough to support people from all backgrounds, and if there’s more expertise needed, teams should work with local specialists to make sure individuals get what they need.”

We have heard recently (from The Survivor’s Trust, Rape Crisis England and Wales and Stay Safe East) that learning disabled adults who should have an intermediary for ABEs and other aspects of the criminal justice process are frequently interviewed without them and that there is a general lack of specialist support for this group. It is unclear if this is because of a lack of understanding from police that an intermediary is required or a dearth of specialist support generally, we believe it is likely the latter and it is of great importance that this is addressed.

According to an Imkaan report published in 2020, ‘Reclaiming Voice’:

“The exploratory study of service responses to BME women and girls experiencing sexual violence (Thiara, Roy and Ng, 2015), which preceded this current research, found that existing services were viewed as inaccessible and underutilised by BME women even in areas where there are considerable BME populations”.

Another issue is the availability of specialist support services for minoritised groups to turn to have become the victim of a crime, and this was raised by our stakeholders from the domestic abuse sector. Provision of such services falls to Police and Crime Commissioners and the availability of their commissioned services across England and Wales is variable, not least because in some parts of the country they simply do not exist. The current situation is that access to specialist support services for minoritised groups is a postcode lottery. Where such support is not at hand, inevitably some groups of victims may be reluctant to report or to engage with the criminal justice system.

Representatives of the sector have told us that survivors of sexual violence will want to specify the gender of the ISVA who supports them. For example, we have been told that many male victims would be more comfortable being supported by a male ISVA.

Furthermore, our current work has highlighted examples where victims’ basic requirements were not being met. For example, an ISVA shared their experience of working with a non-English speaking victim. The victim had not been able to engage with services previously as these services had not attempted to use an interpreter.

Looking across this broad range of evidence, it is clear there need to be changed to ensure statutory agencies fulfil their ‘Public Sector Equalities Duty’ obligations under equalities legislation.

Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 places a Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) on public authorities to have ‘due regard to the need to’, in brief, eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations.

Recommendation

The Victims’ Law should require that PCCs include their plans for victims within their Police and Crime Plans. These plans should also include an explanation of how the PCC intends to meet the PSED over the period of the plan. This recommendation is also included in our response to chapter two.

Migrant victims

Minoritised groups are more likely to be victims of crime and less likely to report or obtain access to specialist services than majority populations. Service provision tailored to these groups can be patchy at the local level. Children, perhaps the most vulnerable of all victims, are not always being offered the services they need. And we have no systematic way of knowing whether CJS agencies are delivering on their obligations to victims under equalities legislation.

One significant obstacle to certain minoritised communities reporting crime and seeking support is the data sharing between the police and the Home Office immigration enforcement department. This deters migrant victims from reporting crimes and leads to discrimination since they are not treated as victims with all the protections and rights that this entails. This presents a barrier in victims being able to access support services that they would otherwise be referred to. Victims of crime have a right to be equally protected irrespective of their immigration status and the law should make this unequivocal.

The government response to the 2018 super complaint submitted against the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Home Office by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters rejected a ‘firewall’ to enable migrant victims of domestic abuse to safely report domestic abuse to police without fear of being reported to immigration authorities. Whilst the response included a commitment by the Home Office to support any migrant victim who reports to police, this does not go far enough.

Recommendation

We recommend that the Victims’ Law includes a non-discrimination clause to prevent victims who have insecure immigration status being treated not as victims of crime but as ‘suspect’ immigrants first.

Extending the advocate role

For vulnerable victims, particularly those who have been subjected to serious sexual or violent assault or who are bereaved as a result of crime, the criminal justice system can be challenging and distressing. For such victims to participate effectively in the process of justice, they need informed and empathetic support from professional practitioners, ideally an advocate who acts as a single point of contact and support them throughout their criminal justice journey. Whilst such advocates exist for certain groups of victims, there are other vulnerable victims who are not eligible for this one to one support.

The VC’s Rapid Evidence Assessment of Victim Advocates looked at the benefits of victim advocates or ‘advisors’ in respect of vulnerable victims. It found some tangible outcomes for victims arising from advocacy interventions, including evidence there may be a benefit to victims’ mental health; and evidence that victims perceived an improvement in their safety following an advocacy support intervention e.g. a reduction in reported domestic abuse amongst victims. One study found that advocates’ work was more effective in decreasing the fear for ethnic minority women compared to white, by almost threefold. There was evidence of improved court attendance and greater victim confidence in interacting with the system. The government’s Victims’ Strategy committed to exploring the case for Independent Victim Advocates further.

Recently, we have had feedback from the victims’ sector that there is a case for Independent Victim Advocates for other serious crimes, noting that these posts are hugely important.

Recommendation

We are calling for specialist advocacy for all victims of serious violence, trafficking and other traumatising offences.

Response to question 36

  • Question 36: What other advocacy roles exist that support victims of hidden crimes, such as forms of other serious violence? Please outline the functions these roles perform. To what extent are the challenges faced similar to those experienced by ISVAs and IDVAs? Are there specific barriers?

We are currently undertaking work on victims' advocates and have identified the additional advocacy roles including:

  • Youth advocates – providing trauma-informed support to young witnesses of violence, including an incident response capability.
  • Advocates in place to support girls and young women who are involved in or at risk of gang involvement or, at risk of sexual violence and exploitation.
  • Advocates for victims of exploitation and trafficking- providing specialist workers to support migrant victims of modern slavery.
  • Specialist stalking advocates – providing advocacy, advice and support. Different advocates are in place for both intimate partner stalking and non-domestic stalking.
  • Advocates for victims of crime with a learning disability.
  • Independent Road Victims Advocate – The IRVA provides emotional and practical support to families bereaved due to road collisions. The IRVA also provides such support to those families where a loved one is catastrophically injured in a road collision.
  • We are aware of specialist ISVA roles, of note is a specialised role for male victims.
  • Generalist IVAs such as the multi-crime service offered by Victim Support.

This research is currently underway and will report further later this year.

Recommendation

We are calling for all specialist advocacy for all victims of serious violence, trafficking and other traumatising offences.

Response to question 37

  • Question 37: How useful is existing guidance, and how can this guidance be strengthened?

As already stated, our recent rape survey confirmed what other research has shown: that support of an ISVA/IDVA/CHISVA makes a huge difference to survivors and has a positive impact on attrition rates.

Respondents were asked about how important various forms of support were to them and overall ISVA support was ranked as very important by 65% and as important by 25% of 150 respondents.

However, despite this overwhelming endorsement from victims, the courts and CJS agencies frequently seem to have a poor understanding of the role or the value of this support. We have heard frequently of ISVAs not being allowed into a courtroom or the video-link room for example, or otherwise unable to do their job effectively, a point raised at our stakeholder roundtable for representatives of local victim hubs.

New, clear and widely disseminated guidance about the role and its parameters would help deal with common misunderstandings. It would ensure ISVAs do not face unwarranted barriers in doing their job, victims/survivors have appropriate support and the courts and judiciary can have trust in the role.

However, consistent with the concept of victims having participant status, with rights and entitlements underpinned by statute, this guidance should be on the basis of statutory recognition of the role of victim advocates, with a right to attend court with their clients when they are giving evidence. Such a provision removes scope for variations in practice from one court to the next and gives victims a guarantee that they will be able to give evidence with the support of their advocate if they so wish.

Recommendation

We recommend that those practitioners who are accredited to offer vulnerable victims with practical and emotional support be recognised as such by the courts, relied upon as trusted professionals and entitled to support such victims when they are required to give evidence in court.

Response to questions 38, 39 and 40

Note: this section was updated on 26 January 2022.
  • Question 38: Is more action needed to define standards for ISVAs and to ensure they are met? If yes, who is best placed to take this action?
  • Question 39: Is more action needed to define standards for IDVAs and to ensure they are met? If yes, who is best placed to take this action?
  • Question 40: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the current qualifications and accreditation structures? Are there any changes that could improve it?

We agree that standards and guidance should be developed for both the IDVA and ISVA roles. The design of standards and guidance should be led by the sector, informed by international standards and provide an agreed and consistent set of guidance, standards and qualifications. These should all be centred on what makes the most difference for victims.

Advocates are valuable roles in place, in part, to secure victims’ rights. Advocates must have the ability to directly complain to the Victims’ Champion (see response to chapter two) on behalf of victims. The Victims’ Champion must respond to these complaints independently and in a manner that will not impact future commissioning arrangements.

There are a range of issues associated with defining standards for ISVAs and IDVAs, who should take this action and the current qualifications and accreditation structures.

Improved guidance to define standards

The response to question 37 outlines the need for new, clear and widely disseminated guidance. This guidance should include details of the role of an IDVA / ISVA and its parameters. This will help overcome common misunderstandings and ensure that advocates do not face unwarranted barriers.

This guidance should be based on a statutory recognition of the role of victim advocates, with a right to attend court with their clients when they are giving evidence.

Any guidance, training and accreditation will create a cost to develop and maintain. It is therefore essential that any changes are centre on improving outcomes for victims. Training for both the IDVA and ISVA roles must be substantive, of high quality and ensure that those undertaking it gain sufficient expertise and capability to deliver their role.

Recommendation

Any definition of standards should include relevant ethical frameworks and standards that are co-designed with the sector.

Who should take the action?

Any guidance, standards or training that are developed must be created through co-design and production with experts within the victims’ sector. Any co-design must recognise and learn from the work that already exists. There are several agencies that currently provide accreditation and quality standards for ISVAs and support services, including Lime Culture, the Male Survivors Partnership, The Survivors Trust and Rape Crisis England and Wales. Similarly, organisations such as Safelives provide accreditation for IDVAs and umbrella organisations such as Women’s Aid have significant experience and networks. These organisations have built standards over a number of years and are based on experience and expertise. It is important that any defined standards recognise and build on this work. Any standards should take account of international standards such as the Istanbul Convention, which defines violence against women and girls as a human rights violation and form of discrimination. They must ensure the best possible support for survivors.

Recommendation

It is good practice for standards to be developed via co-design with interested parties. Any work to define standards for ISVAs and IDVAs should be co-designed with long-standing experts in the field. In this case, this is likely to be led by the sector with input from victims, commissioners of services and experts including the Victims’ Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and academics.

Issues with current qualifications and accreditations

Commissioners of victims’ services, in local authorities and PCC offices, may not have as much specialist knowledge of what is needed as services that are already providing it. The current landscape includes different qualifications and standards for these roles. This can provide a challenge for commissioners who, in order to ensure a high-quality service, will seek to define standards within their specification.

Furthermore, it is challenging for commissioners to understand which qualifications and accreditations are appropriate for their area and to be assured that these are being met.

Recommendation

An agreed and consistent set of qualifications and accreditations would help to overcome these challenges and help commissioners to understand what high-quality services look like. This must be co-designed with the specialist sector.

Ensuring transparency quality assurance for victim services

Any standards and accreditation for advocates and victims’ services must deliver quality assurance. This is crucial both for commissioners and for victims.

Any standards must be easy for victims to understand. There must also be clear routes for victims to complain when standards have not been met. We have received victim feedback where we have been told that fragmented or lack of care from an ISVA contributed to the victim feeling re-traumatised and deciding not to seek specialist counselling from victim support services. It is important that these victims have a route to complain. Equally, it is important to ensure that there are transparent systems for redress and accountability to deliver ongoing quality assurance.

Providing advocates with a route to complain

Defined standards and accreditation for advocates must require that they are viewed as professionals in place, in part, to ensure victims can access their rights. This can involve complaining. Organisations have told us that making complaints on behalf of victims can be very difficult if the agency complained about also commissions the advocate. Having feedback treated constructively can rely on good relationships with individual staff rather than on any structures and systems. However, victims tell us that a key role they value is that advocates, such as ISVAs, support them to make complaints when things go wrong.

Recommendation

The proposed new complaint system, discussed in Chapter Two, is specific to breaches of the Victims' Code and focuses on taking a complaint to a local Victims’ Champion to be appointed by the PCC but independent of them. This should offer an independent route for complaints on behalf of victims. This relationship must respect the advocate role as defined and be held to standards already discussed. This should provide advocates with the ability to complain freely and independently for a victim’s rights without fear of losing funding or of not being re-appointed for a contract.

Response to question 41

  • Question 41: How can we ensure that all non-criminal justice agencies (such as schools, doctors, emergency services) are victim aware, and what support do these agencies need in order to interact effectively with IDVAs, ISVAs or other support services?

There are examples of projects that have successfully engaged with non-criminal justice agencies, ensuring that health services and schools are victim aware. This needs to be expanded to a more strategic approach to ensure a consistent standard and embed victim care across all agencies.

Existing good practice

There are challenges in ensuring that non-criminal justice agencies are victim aware and can engage with advocates and support services. However, there is a range of research and good practice that demonstrates how this engagement can be achieved.

Our Rapid Evidence Assessment includes a summary of studies including those that consider the role of advocates in non-criminal justice settings such as hospitals.

Specific projects can be used to support and engage other settings in victim care and there are a number of examples within schools. Operation Encompass seeks to support child victims of domestic abuse when in school and enables schools to offer immediate support to children experiencing domestic abuse. There are also examples of IDVAs commissioned to link with domestic abuse services in schools to ensure good care and safeguarding for children.

There are further examples of initiatives within healthcare that seek to improve understanding of victims’ needs. IRISi works with GPs to identify patients affected by domestic abuse and refer them to specialist services. It has developed to include additional areas including dentistry and sexual health settings and is exploring other areas of health including mental health settings, fracture clinics and paramedic services.

Where hospital-based IDVAs are in place, research conducted by Safelives has found that hospital IDVAs:

  • Are more likely to be reach groups of victims that are less visible to other services.
  • Are more likely to engage with victims that are very vulnerable due to a health issue.
  • Have the opportunity to identify victims earlier.
  • Improve victim safety.

This Safelives report delivers a range of recommendations that seek to improve victim awareness within hospitals and in other settings (e.g. housing).

These initiatives provide some examples of how other agencies can become victim aware and interact with IDVAs and ISVAs.

Develop a strategic response

However, whilst there is a successful practice available, this is often scattergun and is not a strategic, multi-agency response to the needs of victims. The government should consider implementing a strategic response, prioritising the services most likely to be in contact with victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. For example, it could produce guidance for relevant agencies or governing bodies and recommend domestic abuse and sexual violence training for key agencies and staff.

Recommendation

The government should consider implementing a strategic response, prioritising the services most likely to be in contact with victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Response to questions 42, 43 and 44

  • Question 42: What are the barriers faced by ISVAs preventing effective cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 43: What are the barriers faced by IDVAs preventing effective cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 44: What are the barriers facing specialist or ‘by and for’ services preventing cross-agency working, and what steps could the Government take to address these?

ISVAs and IDVAs face many barriers to effective cross-agency working, this is even more acute for ‘by and for’ services. Government should provide leadership to deliver an effective Victim Funding Strategy that will overcome barriers created by commissioning. These barriers can also be overcome through the effective definition of IDVA and ISVA roles which includes the capacity to work in partnership with other organisations and encompasses the role of ‘by and for’ services. The government can also consider encouraging innovation such as co-location, however, this must recognise and safeguard the independence of the role.

Our Rapid Evidence Assessment of advocate services pointed to a number of barriers that advocates face preventing cross-agency working. These issues are common across advocacy roles but are often likely to be more acute for ‘by and for’ services.

Commissioning

The promised Victim Funding Strategy must recognise the importance of designing integrated systems for victims. Our response to chapter three considers commissioning in detail. Cross-agency working can be assisted through:

  • Co-design of specification that research and recognise the roles of advocates and their role within integrated victim services.
  • Commissioning that recognises and funds the long-term nature of the role, providing longer-term contacts that allow advocates to build stable working relationships with other agencies.
  • Commissioning advocacy services in a way that is accessible for ‘by and for’ services.
  • Ensuring that the voices of specialist services are heard e.g. services for children or male victims.
  • Ensuring that commissioning services consider and embed information-sharing requirements and training needs.
  • Learning from, and strengthening, existing good practice e.g. the National Statement of Expectations.

There is a tension in local commissioning where there may not be sufficient funds in place to commission the ‘by and for’ services that residents need, but where there is not high volume of demand. The government should work with commissioners, victims and service providers to ensure that the Victim Funding Strategy recognises and addresses unmet need that can be delivered through ‘by and for’ services. Please see our full response to chapter three, which discusses these issues in greater depth.

Recommendation

The government should work with commissioners, victims and service providers to ensure that the Victim Funding Strategy recognises and addresses unmet need that can be delivered through ‘by and for’ services.

Understanding each other’s roles

Previous research has highlighted the importance of all advocates and other agencies understanding one another’s roles in order to overcome barriers to effective cross-agency working:

  • Advocates need to understand the work of other agencies in order to support victims to access and navigate them.
  • Advocates and other agencies need to have clarity over one another’s role in order to avoid friction and ensure that victims can access the right services.
  • The research also found that there can be a ‘culture clash’ between advocates and other agencies where those agencies don’t share the knowledge or same priorities of advocates. In this contact, advocates often have an educational role, training and educating other agencies in their role.
  • Advocates need to be ‘in addition’ to existing agencies and should not be viewed as a replacement.

The findings within this review looked at all advocate roles but are pertinent to both IDVAs and ISVAs. It is therefore essential that the design and delivery of both IDVA and ISVA services acknowledge the importance of building understanding and recognise that advocates often have a training and education role. This need will be particularly important for ‘by and for’ services that deliver specialised services.

Building guidance to increase understanding of the role and access to other agencies

As previously addressed, we have found that courts and other criminal justice system agencies frequently seem to have a poor understanding or the role or value of the advocate role. This may lead to advocates being excluded from key elements of the criminal justice process, causing distress to victims and hampering them from conducting their role.

New, clear and widely disseminated guidance a definition of the role and its parameters would help to overcome misunderstandings. This should include a statutory recognition of the role of victim advocates, with a right to attend court with their clients when they are giving evidence. Such a provision removes the scope for variable practice from one court to the next and gives victims a guarantee that they will be able to give evidence with the support of their advocate if they so wish.

Recommendation

The Victims’ Law Policy Paper includes a recommendation that:

Those practitioners who are accredited to offer vulnerable victims with practical and emotional support be recognised as such by the courts, relied upon as trusted professionals and are entitled to support such victims when they are required to give evidence in court.

Co-location

Our current research explores the impact of co-location for advocates and cross-agency working. Emerging findings suggest that co-location can overcome some barriers of cross-agency working. Co-location enables information sharing, increased understanding of each agencies’ role and encourages better inter-personal relationships. There is also some emerging evidence that it can improve services for victims. For example, the process of obtaining special measures seemed to work particularly well where the Witness Care Unit was located alongside ISVA services and services like the court-based Witness Service. Court based IDVAs are able to help victims navigate the court process and hospital-based IDVAs have reported increased knowledge of domestic abuse amongst hospital staff.

However, there are some challenges with co-location. Any co-location can bring independence into question. This is particularly important where advocates are police-based. This may, in turn, reduce access to victims who do not want to engage with agencies such as the police. We have received feedback from the victims’ sector that has suggested that lack of independence can be a barrier to accessing services. This same feedback underlined the importance of transparency when advocates were not located independently.

Response to question 45

Note: The Victims' Commissioner will not be submitting a response to this question. It is felt that this is beyond the area of expertise of the office.

  • Question 45: Please comment on the training required to support advocates for children and young people. How do these differ to adult advocate training, and are there barriers that exist to accessing this?

Response to questions 46, 47 and 48

  • Question 46: What are the barriers to effective work with children and young people in this area, and what action could the Government take to address these?
  • Question 47: What best practice is there on referral pathways for children and young people who are victims of crime looking for advocacy support, including interaction with statutory services? Are there barriers to these pathways?
  • Question 48: Would providing clarity on the roles and functions of children and young people’s advocates be helpful? In your experience, are these roles broad or do they focus on specific harms and crime types that children and young people have experienced?

Children are particularly vulnerable, and it is crucial that they receive the support that they need. Our previous research has indicated that children’s needs are not being met and recommends a statutory requirement for police and prosecutors to demonstrate that the involvement of a Registered Intermediary was actively considered in every case involving children under the age of 18, and with reasons given in cases where it was not considered to be appropriate.

Our current research points to a number of roles under development to support children. These should be evaluated and, where effective, rolled out to ensure all children can access support they need.

Furthermore, work with children must become more nuanced, recognising that children are not a homogenous group and delivering the support that is now required.

Our previous research

There are concerns about how children who are victims of crime can access support and how they are treated by the criminal justice system.

In February 2017, we published a report, ‘Are we getting it right for young victims of crime? A review of Children’s entitlements in the Victims’ Code’. This review investigated the treatment of children and young victims of crime by criminal justice agencies. It found that these agencies were at risk of failing children and young people who come forward to report crimes because they were not being taken seriously or not believed by the police, social workers, teachers or by society as a whole.

The following year we published a further report, ‘Giving a Voice to the Voiceless’, which examined the role of Registered Intermediaries, who are specialists in communication and are provided to children and vulnerable victims to enable them to have a voice in the criminal justice system. Findings indicated that not all eligible victims were being offered a Registered Intermediary, there was inconsistent take-up of Registered Intermediaries across England and Wales, limited understanding of the role in the criminal justice system and variation in how vulnerability and eligibility was assessed. The report found the use of this service varied dramatically from force to force and there were different practices even within forces. This failure affected children particularly and the Commissioner was concerned many children were unable to access justice as a result.

Recommendation

To address the variable practice and to ensure that all child victims get the best opportunity to achieve best evidence, and in doing so, access to justice, we recommend:

A statutory requirement for police and prosecutors to demonstrate that the involvement of a Registered Intermediary was actively considered in every case involving children under the age of 18, and with reasons given in cases where it was not considered to be appropriate.

Current research

We are currently researching victim advocates. The emerging findings demonstrate that are a number of areas have specific ISVAs (or CHISVAs) and IDVAs (or CHIDVAs) in place for child victims of these crimes. These roles provide specialist rape crisis support for children and young people and targeted support for children experiencing domestic abuse.

Furthermore, a limited number of areas have specialist child advocate roles across other areas. This includes children impacted by child sexual exploitation and those that target young people involved in, or at risk of, gang involvement and exploitation.

The availability of all such advocate roles for children is patchy and inconsistent across England and Wales. This means a postcode lottery for some of the most vulnerable victims of crime.

Recommendation

These roles should be evaluated and, where shown to be effective, should be rolled out consistently in order to ensure that all child victims are able to access appropriate advocate roles.

Other issues for children and services

Our response to chapter three outlines a range of issues for child victims and access to services. In particular:

  • The problem of defining children as a homogenous group. This does not reflect the reality of the experience and needs of child victims. The drivers, patterns and impacts of abuse in children are different depending on whether they are boys or girls, other factors and the services they require are therefore different and should be tailored accordingly.
  • The availability of advocate roles for children is patchy and inconsistent, as discussed earlier in this chapter. These roles should be evaluated and, where shown to be effective, should be rolled out consistently in order to ensure that all child victims are able to access appropriate advocate roles.
  • The Domestic Abuse Act 2020 recognises children experiencing domestic abuse are victims in their own right, but there is confusion from some service providers of what this actually means. It is vital that this is clarified and that any duties under this law are compatible with the DA Act. Government must consult with both children’s charities and specialist domestic abuse charities when designing commissioning duties around services, include IDVA services, for children experiencing domestic abuse.

Please refer to our response in chapter three for further consideration and discussion.