I wonder if providers of entirely non-statutory advocacy have had the opportunity to enrich the traditional advocacy relationships in four ways. Other types of advocacy service might do similar things, but perhaps those who offer non-statutory advocacy but not statutory advocacy have embraced the following four things:
- Eligibility. They may have opened up their eligibility criteria a little and so 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? Such arrangements can provide access to those who prefer an ongoing relationship with the advocacy organisation rather than the ‘task and finish’ approach favoured by 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?
- 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. 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 deliver advocacy? Do they get better at face-to-face work beyond the health and social care sector but lose their skills in report writing?
- 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.
- Role. They are able to do little bits of practical help for people, such as fetch shopping for someone discharged from hospital into an empty house, as well as supporting them to challenge the hospital about its discharge decisions. For these advocates, stepping over from a strict advocacy role into a support role is a very deliberate, circumscribed and disciplined action, underpinned by good reasons which all enhance the person-centred advocacy relationship. They 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).
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. We might also expect them to be experts at finding alternative sources of funding, since most 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?