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Boost your understanding of advocacy rights in social care

Posted on 10/06/2016 by Aminul Hoque


New guidance advises social workers on people's rights to statutory advocacy and how to work more effectively with advocates

People using social care have been given increasing rights to access independent advocacy in recent years, making it ever more important for professionals to understand these rights and ensure people receive their entitlements.

But it is a complex picture, with different pieces of legislation containing different advocacy rights, and tension over the respective roles of advocate and social care professional in supporting children and adults within the care system.

To help practitioners better understand this area, leading advocacy trainer Kate Mercerhas produced guidance on advocacy rights and working with independent advocates, which is now available on Community Care Inform.

Top tips

Users of Inform Adults and Inform Children can access the guidance now, but for a taster, here are Mercer’s top tips for working with advocates:

  1. Know when there is legal duty to instruct or offer access an advocate. There are legal duties on local and health authorities to provide and promote access to advocacy, that you must make yourself familiar with. Remember the right to access statutory advocacy is not just best practice, but places legally binding duties onto professionals to refer.
  2. Explain advocacy to people who could benefit. You are an essential part of making advocacy accessible and are often working with people who could really benefit from advocacy support. By explaining advocacy and the role of an advocate you can ensure people don’t miss out on advocacy.
  3. Refer…early. Advocates need time to build up rapport with a person, establish their role and work out how best to work with a person to meaningfully support them through decision making processes. By referring early you are more likely to get better advocacy and therefore better decision making.
  4. Don’t take it personally! Good advocates are trained not to make challenges personal, however part of their role is to support people to raise concerns and make challenges – regardless of whether the concern or challenge is legitimate, fair or valid. The primary goal of the advocate is to help a person express their views no matter what these views are. When advocacy works well it is often because the health or social care professional can listen to these concerns and respond positively.
  5. Don’t invite the advocate to offer an opinion or make decision. It is natural for health and social care professionals who are used to working within multi-disciplinary teams to seek consensus from people involved in a person’s life when it comes to making decisions. However advocates do not make decisions:  advocates are there to make sure the person at the centre of the decision participates in the decision. To avoid confusion it’s simply best not to ask the advocate to contribute to decision making.
  6. When sharing information, treat the advocate as if they were the person. An important principle underpinning advocacy is that of a rebalance of power – the advocate has equal power with the person they are supporting and cannot make decisions about their life or advise them what to do. This means that advocates should not hold information about the person that they do not know themselves. So assume if you share any information with the advocate, they are going to share it with their advocacy partner. The only instance an advocate would withhold information from their partner would be in extreme cases of risk.