Top tips for working with independent advocates

Community Care Inform's guide outlines why advocates are needed and how social workers can best work with them

Social worker assessing older woman
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Kate Mercer, a leading advocacy trainer, has written Community Care Inform Adults’ guide to working with independent advocates. Inform subscribers can read the full guide, as well as a condensed quick guide. Here, are some of the key tips for social workers.

The Care Act, the Mental Capacity Act and the Mental Health Act ensure that providing advocacy to service users is not only a part of good social work, but a legal duty on local authorities.

Social work and advocacy

Listening to a person and supporting them to express their views and make decisions is a fundamental part of the social work role. By using advocacy skills, practitioners ensure that service users are fully involved in the decision-making process.

But the role of independent advocates goes beyond the use of advocacy skills. Independent advocates are – as the name suggests – fully independent of the service system. They work with a person to enable them to fully communicate their views, and help them explore their options without seeking to influence which option is chosen.

Advocates also check that any decisions made by services are in line with best practice and legislative requirements. If they aren’t, or if there is doubt, then the advocate can support the person in challenging the decision.

The role of independent advocates

Advocates are needed because not every service user is able to understand their choices or clearly express what they want. There may be too many barriers that prevent them from speaking up.
Social workers do sometimes act as advocates in a broad sense, by listening to the needs of the people they work with and promoting their choices. But there are times when social workers can’t act as a person’s advocate. When there is a potential conflict between what the service user wants to express or achieve, and the broader agenda of the professional or services, the social worker must make decisions they believe are in the person’s best interests. An independent advocate doesn’t make decisions about what should happen, so they are unbiased and can help the person speak up.

Working with advocates

There are legal duties on local authorities to provide and promote access to advocacy under the Mental Health Act, the Mental Capacity Act and the Care Act. As a social worker, you’re an essential part of making advocacy accessible; you know the people who are using social care services and could benefit from an independent advocate.

One of the biggest grievances from advocates is being asked to support a person with very little time.Refer early –the decisions that are made can be life-changing and advocates need time to work with a person so they can meaningfully support them through decision-making processes. By allowing the advocate and service user plenty of time, you are more likely to get good outcomes and robust decision-making processes.

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One Response to Top tips for working with independent advocates

  1. Leanne Hignett Advocacy Focus, Advocacy Manager February 13, 2017 at 4:20 pm #

    There are some good points raised in the article. As an advocacy provider it can be difficult when working with Local Authorities when social worker’s deem the advocacy support as an interference rather than understanding we are supporting the person to be heard and participate in the process.

    I’m sure at times to a stressed and hard worked social worker that can seem the case, but we are genuinely invested in getting the best and most productive outcome for the person we are advocating for which can be difficult for the local authorities due to financial constraints and resources available.

    Time is the key to build a rapport and relationships with our clients that enable to us to delve deeper to ascertain their wishes and feelings to deliver quality advocacy support.

    We have found that offering low cost training to local authorities enables social workers to have a better understanding of our role as independent advocates, this also ensures local authorities know how to refer into our service.