by Kate Mercer
Advocacy in its simplest form means speaking up. Independent advocacy is a type of support that involves listening to a person and supporting them to understand their choices, make decisions, take control and have their voice heard.
Advocates undertake a variety of activities to help achieve this including providing accessible information, offering practical help (such as writing letters), encouraging self-advocacy or representation.
The focused goal of promoting wishes and feelings, rather than promoting best interests, is the defining feature that distinguishes independent advocacy from other types of roles and support within health and social care.
In April 2015, local authorities were given the legal responsibility under the Care Act to ensure that independent advocacy is available to people who face substantial difficulties in terms of being involved in those key decision making processes such as assessment, planning, review and safeguarding. Not all areas, however, are seeing a smooth implementation and many people who need – and are entitled to – independent advocacy are simply missing out.
A recent Community Care investigation found only 2.1% of the 253,000 people assessed under the Care Act between April and September 2015 had independent advocates (compared with the Department of Health’s initial estimate of a 7% take-up).
In the first piece of case law to emerge in the wake of the Care Act, Haringey council was found to be in breach of the Act for failing to offer a woman an advocate as she underwent the assessment process. Haringey, unsuccessfully, argued that the outcome of the assessment process would not have been any different had she had received advocacy support. The judge, John Bowers QC, bluntly told them it was a ridiculous conclusion because it could not be known. He told the authority its assessment was invalid, and that it had to go away and redo it. He also said the duty to offer advocacy couldn’t be clearer – meaning there is no excuse not to make advocacy available.
Huge implications for authorities
This has huge implications. Local authorities run the risk of making decision making processes invalid if they do not offer an advocate to a person who is eligible. Imagine the response if councils had to re-do every assessment, every plan, every revision, every safeguarding decision they had made since April 2015, just because advocacy wasn’t offered in circumstances where the person was entitled to an advocate.
At this autumn’s Community Care Live London, I’ll be running a workshop that will explore:
- Exactly what independent advocacy is. We will look at a simple definition of independent advocacy: essential for anyone who has ever thought, ‘I don’t know what advocates do!’
- Who is entitled to advocacy under the Care Act – when social workers must offer advocacy to a person. Understanding and being clear on this single issue will ensure you comply with legal duties and avoid litigation and legal challenges.
- The role of the independent advocate. Exactly what do independent advocates do? This is perfect for social workers who want to deepen their insight into what actions advocates take and why.
- Capacity and non-instructed advocacy. We will look at how advocacy can support people who lack capacity to make the decision or instruct the advocate.
- Links between different types of advocacy. Since 2002 a number of different advocates have been available to support people in different settings (children’s advocacy, independent mental capacity advocacy, independent mental health advocacy, complaints advocacy). This can introduce confusion and uncertainty about what type of advocacy should be offered. We will look at the crossover in roles so you can be clear about the differences.
- Question and answer session. We will finish the session by inviting you to ask any unanswered questions about independent advocacy.
Register your place at Community Care Live London today or check out the programme for more practical and essential learning on offer across two days at the UK’s largest free social work event.