CAPS’ Individual Advocacy Manager, Kyna and Education as Advocacy Manager, Ele, discuss what motivates them as Independent Advocacy workers. They also share what they think about the new Independent Advocacy awareness week. What is Independent Advocacy?
Why is Independent Advocacy so important for people in Scotland?
KR: I think it’s just that very human thing that’s important to everybody. All of us sometimes need someone on our side, in our corner, who’s got our back. It doesn’t matter how confident we are, how busy lives we lead. We could all go through something: whether it’s becoming unwell, having an accident, experiencing a bereavement or being the victim of a crime. We could all go through something that leaves us needing that bit of support. And we may be facing probably quite new and unfamiliar, complicated processes. Processes that are just overwhelming. I think it has to be that; it could be any of us at any time. And for some people it’s maybe more often. There may be reasons why some need that support more than others. Recognising that is part of our commitment to human rights and equalities.
ED: The reason it’s important that it’s independent is that quite often the people that we deal with, the people who are looking for that helping hand, have been in a marginalised position for some reason or other. They may have had other services that they haven’t been able to rely on or who have asked them to do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. The benefit of us being independent is that we are only there for that person. So we’re there to listen to what it is that they need at that particular time in their lives. And that’s really important to them. They’re not going to be asked to do anything to tick a box, to fulfil a criteria. So it’s really important that we can say to people, ‘you are our only concern’.
KR: We tend to work with people who, often for good reasons, don’t have a lot of trust in services. And they maybe can’t always meaningfully choose the services that are involved. For example, if you’re detained under the Mental Health Act you don’t get to choose that. So it’s all the more important that you have somebody who’s not part of that system who’s there to help make your views known.
What inspires or motivates you about working in Independent Advocacy?
KR: I think it’s when you see it. It’s when you see the difference it makes to real people. Advocacy can be quite a big word, it’s quite nuanced and it’s not always immediately easy to see, what does it actually mean? But when you’ve been alongside someone, in that doctors appointment they’ve been really worried about. And they say ‘you know what, they spoke to me totally differently, I’ve never had that much time with them before’. Or you know they feel listened to during an assessment and they’re telling you what a difference it’s made to them, it just makes it real.
It shouldn’t be that way, that there needs to be someone else in the room for services to listen to people. But we hear that time and time again. There can be days where we’re experiencing people’s powerlessness, because we don’t have any special powers to fix things. So sometimes we’re not able to get people what they want. We have to walk alongside them and sometimes it can be really frustrating. It can be quite emotionally hard for advocacy workers too as they are invested in the work that they’re doing. But when you see the difference it does make to somebody, sometimes even if someone doesn’t get what they want, the fact that they’ve had someone there, the fact that they’ve had someone to listen to them and be on their side, can make a huge difference in that. It’s what it’s all about.
ED: Similarly in collective advocacy I get a lot of opportunities to see that as well. One of the things that I actually love is genuinely feeling like I’m able to offer the people that we work with a perspective that feels equal to them. To be able to openly recognise that there might be a power dynamic still there, for example because I’m paid and they’re not. But my entire intention is to bring it to a level where we can have that equality, that’s so exciting sometimes. I love being able to go into a room of professionals and say exactly what people think. And for that to be the primary task that I’m there for. Not to have to try and twist words or to change things. To be able to actually bring a voice that hasn’t necessarily always been heard. But to be able to do it in my voice as well, and to be there and to feel that power dynamic sort of shifting and slipping away. There’s something quite special about that.
What do you think of having a new awareness week for Independent Advocacy?
KR: I think it’s absolutely essential. Many people don’t know what Independent Advocacy is or maybe have a bit of an idea or don’t understand independence. The importance of independence, that’s another big one. Especially because there are providers who say they provide advocacy but not as we know it. They’re providing other services that might be supporting a person. That can put a pressure on the worker to not be truly independent and able just to follow that person’s agenda. So there is not good understanding of why that’s important. I think it’s absolutely essential that decision makers, and people as well, know more about what it is that we do and why it’s important. Because, first thing, if you don’t know that you have a right, if you don’t know what something is, how can you knock down the doors and demand that the service is provided to you? So the first step to exercising your rights is knowing what they are. Find out more about the right to Independent Advocacy and how to access it.
ED: I think it’s so positive for similar reasons. I think it’s so important for those Independent Advocacy organisations who have fought those battles, who do understand, to be able to come together. It’s just collective advocacy for independent advocacy providers really. It’s about saying, well we want to shout the loudest because we know how important that is. And I think there is strength in cooperation and perhaps we haven’t actually always been as good at that as we should have been. So I think the idea of having an awareness week where everybody can feed into that and providers can come together, I think that’s really important.
Thanks very much to Ele and Kyna for taking part in this interview!