The role of a voluntary Independent Advocate

Advocacy is when an adult is supported to speak out for himself or herself about issues which are of concern.

They are often related to health, housing or social care packages but may be about daily living matters.

Elizabeth Montgomery-Fox, volunteer support co-ordinator with Angus Independent Advocacy, explained.

She said: “For some reason an adult may feel that support organisations are not listening to or understanding their wishes; an adult may have difficulty communicating his/her wishes to them.

“At Angus Independent Advocacy (AIA) we work alongside adults who may have mental illness, a learning disability, an acquired brain injury, frailty in old age or dementia.

“In addition they may not have any supportive family which makes it harder for them to fend for themselves.

“In these circumstances, you need to know that there is someone on your side.”

She went on: “The next question can be about the differences between advocacy and independent advocacy.

“Independent Advocacy can be added value to any services already in place.

“The Independent Advocate’s only loyalty is to the advocacy partner - not to family, not to other organisations or services.

“In other words, the potential for a conflict of interest is greatly reduced. An Independent Advocate is an extra pair of eyes and ears at meetings, to discuss those matters with the advocacy partner later and to discuss what choices exist.”

Elizabeth provided two case studies to give some idea of the variations a volunteer Independent Advocate might meet.

She stated: “Ernie is in his 80s, has no family and lives in a council house.

“His next door neighbour has, during the last few years, helped Ernie with shopping and reminded him to take medication - or so Ernie thought.

“Lately, Ernie told a friend that in recent months the neighbour had been ‘borrowing’ sums of money - variable amounts up to thousands - and calling too frequently and outstaying his welcome at each visit.

“In the short term, there are many possible issues to be dealt with by statutory services and other organisations. Where does an Independent Advocate come in?

“ He or she is most likely to visit weekly and get to know Ernie and find out how he would like these issues to be dealt with.

“An Independent Advocate would accompany Ernie to support him to express his opinion at any meetings; an Independent Advocate would liaise with statutory services on Ernie’s behalf; might talk with Ernie about making a Power of Attorney to protect from financial abuse; might look at alternative housing options. In the long term, an Independent

“An advocate would visit Ernie regularly for a chat, perhaps go out together and encourage him to be in the community as well as continuing to provide support at meetings.”

Elizabeth cited the case of Doreen, who lives in supported accommodation for adults with learning disabilities.

Her only living relative, a brother, lives 300 miles away. He visits briefly once a year for a service review meeting. There is regular telephone contact between them. At the moment life is smooth.

She went on: “In this case, an Independent Advocate would visit - probably monthly - for the long term.

“The Independent Advocate may be the only person that Doreen sees who is not part of services and is the only real ‘friend’ she has.

“As her ‘friend’ you would be looking out for Doreen’s interests (just like your own friends) and be someone that Doreen can trust when, and if, problems arise.

“As a volunteer Independent Advocate you would receive on-going support from AIA, reasonable out of pocket expenses and training opportunities.”

Anyone who would like to know more about being a volunteer should ring 01241 434413 and ask for Elizabeth.

There will be a preparation course to be a voluntary Independent Advocate beginning in September.

Sessions are held weekly, last for two hours and continue for a seven-week period.

On Wednesday, August 10, at 8 pm the Eric Hill Band is performing at Tutties Neuk, Arbroath, to raise funds for AIA.

The music has been described as folk-driven rock and Eric is supported by Sol Christie.

Tickets are available from AIA office priced at £5 and from Tutties Neuk.