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Advocacy Matters

Jim Thomas Programme Head Workforce Innovation Skills for Care

Advocacy comes in many forms. It can be personal or it can be on behalf of others. It can be consensual, it can be confrontational. Above all else, advocacy is about being heard, being listened to and listening to others.

Advocacy has always been an important part of social care support. Particularly for people who may not be able to advocate for themselves. Advocacy groups and advocacy organisations have evolved over the years as funding and attention to advocacy has changed. Advocacy isn’t about short term support to people in their hour of need. Good advocacy can be life affirming and life changing, with those who have been supported by advocates becoming advocates themselves.

Whilst advocacy and advocacy support are not new, the Care Act (2014) creates a duty on local authorities to ensure that people are involved in decisions made about them. The advocacy duty applies as soon as someone makes contact with the local authority.

The authority has to do three things.

Firstly, they have to decide whether or not the person looking for support is likely to have difficulty (substantial difficulty) in understanding and remembering information, using that information and saying what they think about that information.

Secondly, the authority has to see if there is someone who could act as an advocate on behalf of the person (an appropriate individual) that they already know. This can’t be someone already paid to support that person, someone the person doesn’t want to advocate for them, someone who isn’t themselves able to understand the information or someone implicated in a safeguarding incident.

Thirdly, if the person looking for support has difficulty understanding what’s going on, and no one else they know can advocate for them, the authority has to appoint an independent advocate for the person.

An independent advocate does replace all the other forms of advocacy that may be happening in people’s communities, people’s homes, day support or care homes. An independent advocate only applies to a very specific set of Care Act responsibilities around assessment, developing care plans, safeguarding and appeals.

Whether its advocacy in the context of the Care Act or the context of people lives generally good advocacy has a number of elements:

Power and control is equitable – the person with an advocate supporting them still feels in control of decision making.

Practical and realistic – advocacy is being use to find practical solutions to a person’s care and support issues.

Not part of the service system that supports the person. Ensuring that the advocate can represent the individual impartially.

Good advocates tend to be:

  • Facilitative in their approach.
  • Have good people skills.
  • Have the confidence to say difficult things.
  • Can be person centred in the way they present their arguments.

Making advocacy work requires organisations to value the input that advocates bring to understanding, agreeing and designing peoples care and support. An organisation that is able to work in partnership with advocates is likely to benefit from the constructive challenge and open debate that advocacy can contribute.

Advocacy is an important part of social work practice. Social workers have a key role in knowing when it is right for them to act as advocates and when they need to ensure that those they are supporting have an advocate who will challenge the social work perspective. For people and their families advocacy can be an important part of people’s care and support. Care systems can be complex, political, full of jargon and competing interests.

Navigating and standing up for yourself in this system can be stressful and exhausting even for those who think they understand it. Good advocacy can help people to be heard, make sure that the support they are offered is right for them and demystify a system that is there to help, but can often feel like walking in the dark with a very tiny torch

Free training materials on advocacy in the context of the Care Act can be found here: www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Documents/Standards-legislation/Care-Act/Guide-to-the-Care-Act-2014-learning-and-development-programme.pdf

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