When I joined seAp Advocacy as CEO last year, I learned pretty quickly that advocacy is a deceptively complex thing to describe. I also saw how powerful it could be. I think this mix has left room for a gap to appear in what should be a more shared enthusiasm for advocacy as a great method of delivery of all kinds of social policy. My contention is that the kind of advocacy I’m talking about here could give us something we often want but rarely achieve: a win-win, with our clients reaping the benefit.
Independent Advocacy is all about standing alongside our clients, about being “with” those clients, yes, but it’s not about advising or making a decision about their best interests. Our advocates are there purely to help their clients to understand their options and get their voice heard. And this has been seAp’s core business for the last 20 years.
This can certainly mean that, in any given conversation, advocates might need be the ones making the uncomfortable point, ensuring the collective of professionals aren’t making assumptions about what the client wants, or are looking to just get on with things on another busy day.
But that’s only half of it. Independence cuts both ways. Advocacy is a route to the sorts of checks and balances in a system that are fundamentally about making that system better for everyone. It’s a bit like good governance; it might sometimes be a bit awkward, but we know it makes us stronger.
And the same points apply in the care home setting as in those areas set out by statute, where advocacy is already a required part of things. What we want is to create an open culture of high-quality care where safety, respect and dignity can flourish. Advocates should be seen as powerful contributors to good relationships between residents, staff and families. And that can surely only be to everyone’s benefit.
For the providers in the care sector itself, advocacy can be a real addition to your offering. Last year, the CQC argued that some 7 million users of health and social care over the last five years have had concerns about their care but didn’t find a way of raising those concerns. That just can’t be right. And we can help address that.
These are challenging times for all who claim to be on the side of citizens who are, it seems, becoming increasingly frustrated at what can seem to be a disingenuous public realm. Those of us with a shared interest in achieving successful outcomes should surely be looking to reclaim some of the territory that seems to have been lost here. My view is that advocacy is not a threat to the care sector. On the contrary, looking at the big picture, I think we’re in it together.
I have only been in this sector a short time. But I can see clearly that the bottom line is that advocacy should be a far more widely embedded tool used for the delivery of a range of social policy activities. At a time when the whole public purse is feeling the squeeze, the rational approach would be to write the requirement for independent advocacy into a much wider raft of regulations. That really would be to acknowledge that prevention is better than cure.
In advance of that sensible day, I’d hope that we as professionals, as colleagues, could see the value of this sort of advocacy, and work together for the sustainable benefit of all those we seek to support.