In England and Wales, a policy to provide independent adults to act as ‘visitors’ for children who are looked-after has existed, in some form, in childcare legislation since 1969. Under the most recent re-formulation, all children in care are eligible to be considered for an Independent Visitor (IV) if it is in their ‘best interests’. Despite this, very few children in care receive one (3% in England and less than 1% in Wales) and there is evidence to suggest that the policy is increasingly marginalised in practice.
Gaps between policy and practice are commonly cited issues in social work research, as well as in studies of social policy more widely (Hudson et al. 2019). However, the contrast in this case appears particularly sharp: the policy lays out a theoretically universal provision for looked-after children, which in practice reaches only a very small minority of those eligible.
This case study will take a ‘bottom-up approach’ to policy making to understand why this is the case by using IV policy as a case study of policy making in CSC. It will explore how policy and practice surrounding providing Independent Visitors for children in care has developed over time and why, and examine what this might tell us about the relationship between policy making, implementation and evaluation in children’s social work.