Advocacy – a Personal View
There seems to be a bit of mystery and magic about the title 'advocate'. Very many people out there don't know what it is. 'Are you a lawyer?' 'What do you do?' Magic because it seems to confer an authority which can get things done.
A care home manager recently said to me, 'The wheelchair dept take a lot more notice of you than they do of me!' BT was recently asked by a support worker to provide a new ex directory number for a client receiving malicious calls. Nothing happened for a month despite repeated requests. So I phoned one day in my advocate role and it was done by the following morning! Can't put that down simply to my powers of persuasion!
There are so many needy people in appalling situations who simply don't know how to help themselves, how to seek help, or are denied help. Gas cut off and no hot water or heating for a year? Just live with it and beg a shower from a friend. A loved but demented wife in hospital for a small physical problem and the authorities will not release her back into a devoted husband's care without daunting hearings, social workers' checks, medical reports etc. A loved infant grandchild taken away into care and adoption threatened? The network of safeguards is necessary but seen from the perspective of a distressed and angry husband or grandmother, the statutory services seem more of a threat than a support.
Of course plenty of the situations we are faced with are much more mundane - managing an old person's paperwork, helping find a suitable care home, debt problems - and some just require a fairly tedious trawl through paperwork, or information sifting.
To be able to make even a small difference for the better is one of the big rewards of this voluntary work. Then there is the challenge and interest of a new problem. But perhaps the greatest reward is having worked alongside someone for a period and seen them change, become perhaps stronger, more competent, more assertive more able to manage their often fraught lives. Empowerment is a very good word.
The main lesson I have learned over several years' advocacy is a bit of humility. I sit in my comfortable social ghetto and feel very humbled at the stoicism with which unluckier people carry immense burdens of deprivation and pain. Elderly women trapped by stroke in wheelchairs in a nursing home, few outings, few entertainments, few visitors and still lovingly supporting one another and maintaining a sense of humour.
But finally I shall always remember Tom. Ninety some, living quite contentedly in a home but isolated by deafness. I worked hard to get his appointment for a hearing aid brought forward. I succeeded. He got the appliance. He could hear! We had one great conversation. Back at the home he took it out and refused very courteously ever to wear it again. I still don't know why. But I shall never forget that the client is in charge, they make the choices and advocacy is rarely about advice and never about knowing best.