Open Forum

As Valuing People funding comes to an end, the future for advocacy services is thrown into doubt, writes Phil Madden

How seriously is advocacy really taken in health and social care? How clear are we about what we want advocacy to do? At the moment the signals are blurred.

There have been positive developments, such as the pump-priming funding given to extend advocacy in the learning difficulties field and the new independent mental capacity advocates.

At the moment, however, most advocacy groups live a precarious, hand-to-mouth existence, dependent on short-term funding which is prone to cuts. As the Valuing People funding comes to an end, many initiatives are in jeopardy. If advocacy is to survive and thrive, it needs secure funding.

There is also the issue of independence. Advocacy tends to happen locally, but should be funded centrally. This would make it easier for advocacy groups to be independent, and to be seen to be independent.

There is also the question of what we want advocates to do and what skills we believe they should have. The independent mental capacity advocates will have formal status and a legal framework for their work, and will need specific training. But what is the difference in skills and fundamental practice between this and other forms of advocacy? Should it not be the case that advocates be required to work within the same ethical framework and rigour, with the only difference being specialisation?

Also, good advocates are few and we need to attract and retain as many as possible. For citizen advocates, this will mean a proper career structure. But will the advocacy movement be wary of this, believing that professionalisation will kill its soul?

Individual advocates, like everyone else, have unique personal qualities to offer their clients, but the core of effective advocacy is the ability to bring an outside perspective. This may be calming or challenging to make sure that clients’ voices are heard. But how can we achieve this without more money and structure?

Phil Madden is director of service development for learning difficulties charity HFT


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