We all know how frustrating it can be when we don’t feel heard. For some people with autism, learning disabilities or mental health conditions, it can be especially difficult to express and communicate their needs or wants.
An advocate is someone who supports an individual in building the confidence and skills they need to voice their concerns and fight for the care they need. Through writing letters, accompanying you to appointments, or connecting you with resources, advocates ensure you can effectively communicate your needs when you are finding it difficult to do so yourself.
We all struggle with communicating clearly or expressing our opinions or feelings at times. For people with support needs such as autism or learning disabilities, these difficulties in communicating can become barriers to receiving the person-centred care and support they deserve.
Advocacy is a free service provided to people who require extra support in navigating the complex world of health and social care. Advocates are independent. They do not work for the council, the NHS or care providers.
Advocates take on a number of important roles to support individuals and ensure their needs are met. They can help you examine your support options, attend meetings and assessments, or mediate conflicts.
Confidentiality is a crucial advantage of advocacy services. When people work with an advocate, all conversations and information shared are handled with the utmost discretion. This commitment to strict confidentiality ensures that personal details remain secure, providing everyone with peace of mind and assurance that their information is safeguarded.
When Might You Need an Advocate?
Here are some situations where you might benefit from working with an advocate:
- If someone lacks capacity to make specific decisions about their care.
- When facing complex healthcare decisions, to receive guidance and support in understanding your options and making informed choices.
- When accessing social care services, to navigate the system, understand your rights, and protect your rights.
- When dealing with disputes or conflicts with healthcare providers or social care services, to mediate and advocate for a fair resolution.
- If you are facing a safeguarding concern or need assistance in reporting abuse or neglect, to ensure your safety and well-being.
- If you are experiencing mental health challenges or have been detained under the Mental Health Act, to ensure your rights are upheld and your voice is heard.
- During transitions in care, such as moving to a different healthcare setting or transitioning from child to adult services.
What Does an Advocate Do?
An advocate plays a critical role in supporting individuals to make informed decisions about their own care. Here are some of the key things that an advocate can do:
- Coordinating and attending your care needs assessment.
- Assisting with the development and review of your care and support plan.
- Facilitating the arrangement of your personal budget.
- Providing guidance and support in the appeals process.
- Initiating safeguarding enquiries or arranging Safeguarding Adults Reviews.
- Offering guidance in finding and accessing suitable care services, including residential care or supported living options.
- Assisting in understanding your rights and entitlements according to the law.
- Supporting communication and negotiation between you and your healthcare providers or social care services.
- Helping you voice complaints or raise concerns about the quality of care received.
- Assisting in accessing relevant information and resources to enhance your care experience.
What Can’t an Advocate Do?
Due to the ethical considerations, there are some things that advocates simply cannot do, including:
- Provide legal advice or act as a legal representative.
- Make decisions on behalf of the individual they are advocating for.
- Override decisions made by healthcare professionals or other service providers.
- Provide direct personal care or hands-on support.
- Act as professional counsellors or therapists.
- Guarantee specific outcomes or results.
- Provide medical diagnoses or treatment plans.
- Replace the need for appropriate professional expertise in specific areas.
- Interfere with the rights and autonomy of others involved in the individual’s support.
Do I Have a Legal Right to an Advocate?
In the UK, individuals have legal rights to access advocacy services in certain situations to ensure their voices are heard and their rights are protected. The availability of advocacy varies depending on the specific circumstances. Here are some key situations where you may have a legal right to an advocate:
Mental Health Act Advocacy
Under the Mental Health Act 1983, if you are detained or sectioned under specific sections of the Act, you have the right to an independent mental health advocate. They can support you in understanding your rights, participating in decisions about your care and treatment, and ensuring your views are considered.
Care Act Advocacy
The Care Act 2014 provides a legal entitlement to independent advocacy for individuals who have substantial difficulty in being involved in their care and support assessments or planning processes. This applies to individuals who may lack capacity, have no appropriate family or friends to support them, and have no other suitable representative.
Mental Capacity Act Advocacy
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 includes provisions for Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy (IMCA). IMCAs are appointed to represent individuals who lack capacity and have no family or friends to consult on certain significant decisions, such as changes in accommodation, serious medical treatment, or safeguarding processes.
Children and young people in the UK have the right to an advocate in various situations, including child protection processes, healthcare decision-making, and transition planning for leaving care. Different legislation and policies, such as the Children Act 1989 and the Children and Families Act 2014, ensure that children’s voices are heard and their rights are upheld.
It’s important to note that advocacy services are independent and free from conflicts of interest. However, in some cases, there may be eligibility criteria for assessments to determine the level of advocacy support required. Local authorities, healthcare providers, and other relevant organisations are responsible for providing advocacy services in accordance with the relevant legislation.
You have a legal right to an advocate in any of the mentioned situations. If you require advocacy support, reach out to your local authority, healthcare provider, or relevant organisations to understand your available options.
How to Find an Advocate
Finding the right advocate for your needs can be made easier with the help of various resources. Consider the following tips for locating advocacy services:
- Mind, a mental health charity, offers valuable resources for finding suitable independent advocacy services. You can reach out to the Mind Infoline to obtain contact details of local advocacy groups and organisations.
- Local Mind branches may also provide assistance in understanding your rights and connecting you or your loved one with relevant advocacy resources.
- Rethink Mental Illness offers an online directory of advocacy services throughout the UK, enabling you to search for options that meet your requirements.
- VoiceAbility and POhWER are advocacy organisations that deliver services in multiple regions across England.
- If you’re in Wales, Advocacy Support Cymru specialises in mental health advocacy services.
- In Scotland, the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance can provide guidance in finding an advocate, and Disability Information Scotland can help you locate local advocacy services.
- For older adults, the OPAAL is a national organisation dedicated to supporting independent advocacy services.
Specialist Support from Liaise
At Liaise, we firmly believe in upholding the rights of every person we support. We recognise the importance of providing individuals with a voice, fostering inclusivity, and empowering them to actively participate in shaping the support they receive.
We don’t just provide specialist care and support, we empower people to live richer lives. Through our residential care homes and supported living services, people with varied support needs can learn, work and create lifelong friendships in a positive, progressive and structured environment.
Get in Touch
To find out more about Liaise and how we can support young individuals as they progress into adulthood, do not hesitate to contact us.