Advocacy Musings for February 18
How much does an advocate need to know? I have been musing over this question off and on for many years. The answer seems to vary depending on where you stand. One advocate I know was once told by a senior medical practitioner that he would not be able to do an adequate job as an advocate unless he had as much medical and psychiatric knowledge as the practitioner, and that of course could not be acquired in a single afternoon.
The point of advocacy, however, is that we, as advocates, are not standing in the same shoes as the “professionals” and are therefore free to put forward the perspective of the person we are advocating for – whose voice and opinions can so easily be overlooked, unheard or undervalued.
Another, contrasting, example occurred when, some years ago, two new volunteer advocates were recruited. They both worked full-time but had opportunity in evenings or on days off to fulfil their advocacy roles. Their “day jobs” though happened to be for the county council supporting people with learning difficulties. They were both passionate and effective advocates and it was made sure that they did not advocate for people they worked with during the day.
Their senior manager phoned angrily one day and said that it was highly inappropriate that two of the county council employees were volunteer advocates as “they know too much.” So an advocate might not know enough or might be seen as knowing too much.
Advocates themselves may often feel they don’t know enough sometimes and of course it is useful to have a working knowledge of certain current legislation which relates to advocacy and social care. But personally I think it is important to think about what it is that an advocate needs to know rather than how much.
In my view what we do need to know as advocates is why people need advocacy and why we deliver it, and how we should form our relationships with the people we deliver it to (or with). Surely advocacy is about equality and valuing people and as advocates we should know and understand that above everything else. We don’t need to know everything there is to know about someone’s psychiatric or medical diagnosis. A person is a person; an equal citizen to us and others and deserves to be listened to and represented as such. We also need to know ourselves well enough as advocates to see whether we are doing this properly and meeting the person’s advocacy needs. And if we are not then we can improve our skills or back-off.
There is an increasing emphasis on training for advocates and their need to gain national qualifications. All well and good but it is human to human empathy, life experience and communication skills as well as an over-riding desire for equality that trumps professional knowledge in my book. There are many people in “ordinary” walks-of-life who have made and could make excellent advocates because of what they believe and what they have experienced rather than what they know or think they know (or other people think they know) from theoretical knowledge. Perhaps advocacy needs to be rekindled along these lines. I don’t know if these are warming thoughts for a cold February but they could be
Peter Dawson – Advocate/Senior Advocacy Development Worker, Peaks and Dales Advocacy.
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