I wonder if providers of entirely non-statutory advocacy are able to maintain a richer and more holistic advocacy relationship than their colleagues who provide only statutory advocacy. While providers of statutory advocacy might do similar things, those who offer non-statutory advocacy but not statutory advocacy have held on to the following four things:
- Eligibility. They may have been able to keep open their eligibility criteria so that they are able to work with people who would not be eligible for statutory advocacy. Are organisations that provide non-statutory advocacy more likely to offer groups as well as individual work and engage in campaigning too? Such arrangements can provide access to those who prefer an ongoing relationship with the advocacy organisation rather than the ‘task and finish’ approach required of many providers of statutory advocacy. Is this diverting valuable resources away from those who need them most, or does it have a preventative function, that reduces or delays reliance on publicly funded services, as suggested by the OPAAL evaluation here?
- Topic. They may have broadened the range of topics on which they support people to express their view. For example, they may have supported discussions with utility companies as well as decisions about serious medical treatment. But we might wonder if, as the skills and knowledge of advocates broadens to embrace fuel poverty and trading standards, do they lose their detailed knowledge of statutory advocacy and its careful analysis of the right way to work? Do they get better at face-to-face work beyond the health and social care sector but lose their skills in report writing? I know of no evidence to suggest that either of these hazards are occurring, but it seems legitimate to ask the questions!
- Environment. They may sometimes advocate for people who find themselves surrounded by professionals who are not listening. In an environment that listened carefully and responded to people, such a person may be perfectly capable of self-advocating, but in a ‘deaf environment’ we find that special skills are needed for their voice to be heard. For example, one self-funding care home resident was assertive, articulate, enunciated well and was perfectly able to express his wish to return to his own home, but it appeared that neither care home staff, social workers nor health professionals would take him seriously. They did not listen until the advocate stepped in with his specific skills in representing others, overcoming delays and inactivity, and persistently pressing for a meaningful response. This surely happens from time to time in statutory advocacy too, but the problem may be more severe in non-statutory advocacy because the law does not oblige anyone to listen, while in statutory advocacy, the Decision Maker, Social Worker or Mental Health Professional is expected to pay attention to the person and the advocate.
- Role. Advocates working in non-statutory services may occasionally step over from a strict advocacy role into a support role in a very deliberate, circumscribed and disciplined action, underpinned by good reasons which all enhance the person-centred advocacy relationship. So for example, they may fetch shopping for someone discharged from hospital into an empty house, as well as supporting them to challenge the hospital’s discharge decision. The advocate will then refer on to support workers if an enduring need is identified. Is there a potential conflict of interest between offering this kind of brief practical help, and working as an advocate? Would it be different if it was personal care rather than shopping that was needed? Meanwhile, do these advocates miss out on the skills that are developed by statutory advocates simply because they can refer people on when required? For example, it may be that advocates working in non-statutory roles miss out on communication skills with people unable to instruct, as they can refer on to an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA). Or do the limited topics where an IMCA may act, such as serious medical treatment or accommodation mean that advocates working in non-statutory services have plenty of opportunity to develop their skills in working with people unable to instruct?
Some non-statutory advocates believe that expansion in these four dimensions is innovative and holds tightly to the principles of the Advocacy Charter, creating a more person-centred approach than is often demanded from hard-pressed statutory providers. Others might say that this work is simply returning advocacy to its roots.
Finally, we might also expect providers of non-statutory advocacy to be experts at finding alternative sources of funding, since many of those who commission statutory services have left the field.
Is this a true and fair representation of the focus of those organisations that restrict their advocacy offer to non-statutory work? Do these things enrich the advocacy world, or does it represent a risky blurring of the distinctive role of the advocate?