THE welfare of children in care will be independently reviewed by The Children's Society, after the exposure of widespread abuse in children's homes in north Wales.
A pound;160,000-a-year deal over three years has been struck with Devon County Council, the first of a number of contracts expected to be agreed with English authorities.
One of the main recommendations of the Waterhouse report into child abuse in north Wales was the need to take young people's concerns more seriously by giving access to an independent advocacy service.
A Children's Society spokesman said: "It is the first time we have provided a countywide service in England and more partnerships are in the pipeline. Independent advocates make sure young people are listened to and get the kind of services they need."
Devon's new service will target children subject to child protection hearings, those in care and others in need, such as those with disabilities.
Project leader Tilla Novak said that five staff based at three offices aroundthe county will train volunteers to act as advocates. They will champion the child's view when individual care plans - a new Government requirement - are being developed and visit children in residential care.
Consultation groups of looked-after children will also be formed to give their views on council plans.
There are 754 children in care in the county, slightly above the national average, and the number is increasing, putting pressure on social services.
The Devon and Cornwall police force is now investigating alleged child abuse at Forde Park, a home in Newton Abbot. Allegations of abuse date back to the 1970s and police have widened their investigations to three other homes in South Devon and Torbay.
An investigation has also been launched by Avon and Somerset police into two residential centres for boys: the former Kingswood Assessment centre and secure unit, in Bristol, and the former Olands Centre, Taunton. Allegations cover nearly 20 years and could involve up to 4,000 victims.