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15 Oct 2012
John Adams, VODG general secretary

After Winterbourne, advocacy is a voice for our future

Scratch beneath the surface of failures in institutional care and you will find one common denominator; the voice of the individual has been ignored.

John AdamsTake the DH interim review into Winterbourne View in June. It stated that “the experience of people who have that their voice is still too often not heard and that they are not sufficiently involved in decisions about their health and care”. The former care services minister, Paul Burstow, stressed the importance of advocacy being made available to patients following the crimes committed against vulnerable people at the Winterbourne View private hospital.

Tomorrow (Tuesday 16 October) we hold our conference in London, Lessons from the Winterbourne reviews: improving care and support for people whose support needs are challenging, and, as delegates will no doubt hear, legal requirements are nothing unless people have the power or support to ensure action when standards are not met.

In the wake of Winterbourne, the VODG wanted to explore how the voice of the people using services could be better heard and heeded. The result is the report, Advocacy: a voice for our future (available to download from the VODG website tomorrow), which we will launch at tomorrow’s conference.

advocacyProduced with the help and support of VODG member and leading advocacy organisation VoiceAbility, it underlines how high quality independent advocacy can transform an individual’s quality of life and help them to stay safe. Advocacy plays an essential role in preventing, detecting and responding to abuse by enabling people to learn about their rights and to be more confident in promoting them (every year, for example, VoiceAbility works with around 1,000 people in relation to allegations of abuse or concerns about adult safeguarding).

Our report demystifies a 30-year-old movement that is often-misunderstood (see box, Advocacy: frequently asked questions). Advocacy, as the report shows, is a diverse approach which helps prevent, detect and respond to abuse by enabling disabled and/or vulnerable people to learn about and gain confidence in promoting their rights.

The report:

  • clarifies advocacy’s relevance in today’s policy and economic landscape
  • presents case study evidence of advocacy in action
  • describes the challenges to advocacy delivering greater benefits
  • outlines key messages for stakeholders like providers and commissioners

Advocacy: a voice for our future also stresses that the aims of advocacy mirror those of Caring for Our Future, the social care white paper published in July 2012, including enabling people to access and use information to make good choices about care and helping them be in control of their own budget for support.

Using case studies from VODG members, the report shows how advocacy can:

  • achieve personalisation and cost-efficiency
  • lead to creative partnerships between provider and advocate that support people to develop a stronger voice
  • involve relatives in co-production
  • improve safeguarding
  • boost support planning and enhances skills and independence

We also suggest some key actions if stakeholders are to maximize the benefit that advocacy can brings. Among our key messages are that:

  • the government must ensure more people are legally entitled to advocacy by extending the statutory right to advocacy if they are involved in safeguarding or where they need it to participate fully in planning their care and support
  • CQC must deepen its understanding of advocacy so it can monitor if quality advocacy is genuinely available to individuals during inspection
  • advocacy organisations must explore how to use data collaboratively to better campaign on issues like funding and standards
  • social care providers should ensure that staff and managers are aware of what advocacy provision is required by law and what is available locally
  • commissioners (local authorities and clinical commissioning groups) must take a strategic approach to developing and investing in advocacy, so people in priority groups can access advocacy and advocacy is well focused between prevention, improving the experience of social care and safeguarding

Advocacy: frequently asked questions

  • advocacy involves independent support to help people to speak out for themselves, or have someone to take their side and speak out on their behalf
  • Action for Advocacy, the sector’s umbrella body, defines the practice as “taking action to help people say what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests and obtain the services they need”
  • advocates and advocacy schemes work in partnership with the people they support and take their side
  • advocacy promotes social inclusion, equality and social justice

Advocacy is a tried and tested method of support that allows everyone a say in how they live their lives. We hope the best practice in adult advocacy that the report showcases will explain what independent advocacy looks like, how accessible it is, how it can be applied and how it boosts the quality of life, rights and safeguarding of vulnerable people. We want advocacy to be more widely recognised for its role in helping to achieve good quality care and support as well as helping to make the best use of increasingly limited public funding.

Effective advocacy is absolutely critical to disabled peoples’ citizenship; many vulnerable people and their families still live on the margins of society without a voice. This is truer than ever in today’s tough economic climate and with radical welfare reforms underway. Advocacy can make the difference between people merely existing from day-to-day, or living fulfilled lives.

* Advocacy: a voice for our future will be available to download from the VODG website from tomorrow