At the start of a new year we like to consider where we are going, how we develop and what we can learn. Here at Ceartas we have been thinking about how we tell others all about the difference advocacy can make.
Like most advocacy services, we sometimes find it hard to explain the benefits of independent advocacy and what difference it can make to people’s lives.
Advocacy is about getting alongside an individual (or group) and helping them to ensure their voices is heard, their rights are upheld and that they are involved in any decisions about their lives. Easy….right?
Actually, it isn’t always that easy to understand why this would make a difference and sometimes it isn’t always possible to understand unless you have been in a situation where you have felt like you have no voice, no say and that nobody is listening to you.
You bought an expensive computer in the sales; you take it home and it doesn’t work/it isn’t what you thought it was. You take it back to the shop to return it. The sales person doesn’t listen to you and says you cannot return it; you ask to speak to the manager, they speak to you using legal terminology and retail jargon; you don’t understand what they mean; there are lots of people in the shop, they are all looking at you, you feel embarrassed, you don’t know what they are talking about and you feel you cannot reply. You leave the shop unhappy and you still have goods you don’t want.
Now, Imagine you had taken a friend with you, someone who knew all about your rights and was able to ask staff to explain the jargon; imagine that friend had either helped you to prepare what you want to say, helped you understand the law and helped you look at your options for return…
What difference do you think that would make?
You are in your 80s, you have lived at home independently all your life. You fall and break your hip. While in hospital it is suggested you move into care as it is too risky for you to stay at home. Lots of people have meetings and discussions about you but nobody really listens to what you think and you don’t really know what other option there is.
You have a learning disability. You have received a large package of support since you were 18. Your social worker comes to tell you there is going to be a review to discuss your care. You go along, there are lots of people there, all important people, they talk about you and they sometimes use words you don’t understand. You don’t want to look daft by asking them to explain what they mean. At the end of the meeting they tell you, your support is being cut to 7 hours a week. You leave the meeting feeling afraid and confused.
You are invited to attend a Children’s Hearing about your children. You receive paperwork for the meeting but struggle with your literacy skills. You don’t want to tell anyone about this. You don’t understand much of what is written in the reports but you are sure there are a number of mistakes contained in them. You don’t want to tell your social worker or the panel members about this as you are afraid it will mean you won’t see your children. You go to the hearing, there are many people there, some of whom you have never met before. They talk about things which you find upsetting, you try to make your point but you end up frustrated as you don’t feel you are being listened to and you feel embarrassed because you struggled to understand the process. You end up storming out and your children are placed under a supervision order.
Now imagine you were in one of the above situations and you had someone with you, someone who knew what the law was; knew what your rights were and was able to explain them; this person could also help you consider all your different options and they could help you prepare for any meetings. This person could speak on your behalf if you are struggling or could remind you of the questions you wanted to ask.
This person could also help you access other supports you might need such as legal representation, Citizen Advice etc.
What difference do you think it would make to have someone like that with you?
Sharon Bairden – Services Manager