Saturday, 18 August 2012

A few simple questions?

In the past few days I've been asked more questions about advocacy than you would believe. Actually, I've been asked only a few questions, but they've been asked lots and lots of times...

What is an advocate?
Do advocates have special legal privileges?
What is a mental health advocate?
What is an Independent Mental Health Advocate.

..and most of these easy enough to deal with  (see Action for Advocacy latest news for some answers).

But the problematic one is explaining that while, yes, there is a well understood role of a mental health advocate (supported by and accountable to an advocacy organisation), it's also possible to describe yourself as a mental health advocate if you are not operating in this way.

This poses a problem for the advocacy sector and places a responsibility on the health and social care sectors. For advocacy: is there a way for us to make it easier for others to know what role and status someone has? For care providers: what steps are you taking to ensure you are clear about advocacy; its role, its boundaries and people's right to access advocacy.

I've worked for almost a decade (the last 6 years with Action for Advocacy) to try to clarify some of these issues. We've created the Advocacy Charter, A Code of Practice for Advocates, high quality training, the Quality Performance Mark and lots of information to help address this issue. We may think people should know about advocacy.

There's a reason this blog is called the distance from should to is, and it looks like we've still got a long way to go when it comes to developing a general understanding of advocacy. But that work is essential if we're going to ensure those who are striving to be heard and to have control over their lives are going to gain access to safe, effective and high quality advocacy. And that's a journey worth making.


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