Definition of Advocacy
There are a plethora of definitions and models of advocacy, and while advocacy as a concept is simple because it is about supporting an individual to share their views, perceptions or wishes, defining the tangible parameters of advocacy remains a complex and difficult task.
Many would argue that while advocacy services provided for children and young people differ from those for adults, the underlying principles remain the same. However, both in legislation and in practice, the understanding and currently applied definitions of advocacy vary amongst commissioners, advocacy organisations and those who benefit from it.
Inconsistencies and lack of understanding of advocacy, have a wide-ranging impact on policy, legislation and practice and the take up of advocacy in general.
In the Scottish context, there is no single lead policy on advocacy. Instead, advocacy is intertwined with many policy and legislative areas separately, including, but not limited to:
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely Article 12
- The Mental Health (Care & Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003
- The Mental Health (Scotland) Act 2015
- Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011
- The Education (Scotland) Act 2016
- The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011
- The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014
In its broadest sense, advocacy is about empowering children and young people to make sure that their rights are respected and that their views and wishes are fully considered and reflected in decision making about their own lives.
The Scottish Government’s guidance on Children’s Advocacy states that advocacy is about supporting a child to express their own needs and views and to make informed decisions on matters which influence their lives. Advocacy workers do not make choices for children – instead, they support children and young people to make their own choices.
Advocacy will most often be required where a child is engaging with a service, such as health, education, police, social work etc.
These definitions echo the view that advocacy is about ensuring that children and young people can express their views and that these views are heard and considered by those who are involved in decision making about children and young people’s lives. The Scottish Independence Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) goes even further by stating that advocacy is about supporting people to help them access information and explore and understand their options, ultimately ensuring they can make an informed decision. It defines advocacy as a process of standing alongside another, speaking on behalf of another and encouraging the person to speak up for themselves. Fundamentally, SIAA argues that advocacy helps to address the imbalance of power in society and to stand up to injustice.
The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) goes a step further and deconstructs advocacy by distinguishing its inherent features, namely support, independence from services, empowerment, challenging inequality and unfairness and promoting social justice. Fundamentally, at the heart of advocacy is the need to address an inherent power imbalance.
Within the context of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 specifically, advocacy is defined as services of support and representation for the purposes of assisting a child in relation to the child’s involvement in a children’s hearing.
Types of advocacy
Advocacy can take many forms and SIAA distinguishes four:
- Citizen advocacy, where citizens support a person who needs help in their community.
- Collective advocacy, where a group of individual experience similar issues, which they campaign to challenge.
- Peer advocacy, where individuals support one another by sharing their own life experiences.
- Professional advocacy, where a paid or unpaid advocacy worker supports an individual to express views and opinions which the person is otherwise unable to express.
Pithouse, Parry and Crowley (2005), on the other hand, define three different types of advocacy:
- Case or systemic advocacy, where learnings from individual advocacy cases help collective advocacy promoting systemic change.
- Passive and active models of advocacy, which vary from professionals and lay people speaking on behalf of an individual to self-advocating individuals.
- Service models, which are commissioned by service providers who maintain some degree of oversight.
Regardless of its specific form, all types of advocacy are based on a voluntary relationship between two or more individuals and the person in receipt of advocacy is always at the centre of the advocacy process.
The type of advocacy to be used to deliver the National Practice Model for advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System will be Professional advocacy, provided by professional advocacy workers, supporting children and young people on an individual basis.
While it is argued that anyone can represent the wishes and views of a child or a young person, some caution should be exercised where there is a potential conflict of interest. Individuals who have a legal duty to act in the best interests of the child or young person, such as Social Workers, Panel Members and Safeguarders, should not also act as the child or young person’s advocacy worker.
SIAA define independent advocacy as structurally, financially and psychologically separate from service providers and other services.
The Scottish Government has taken the view that independence can be achieved by ensuring that appropriate service design, delivery and management insulation arrangements are in place.
In practice, an independent advocacy worker will not make decisions on behalf of the person or group they are supporting. Instead, they will help the person or group to get the information they need to make an informed decision about their circumstances and will support them to express their choices to others. This reflects the Scottish Government’s position that advocacy workers do not make choices for children, but rather support them to make their own choices.
Where a child or young person is unable to give instructions due to their age and stage of development, complex communication needs, long term illness or disability, Non-Instructed Advocacy will be provided.
The Mental Health (Care & Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 Code of Practice states:
“Where a patient has a degree of incapacity, or cannot for any reason clearly say whether or not they would like an independent advocate, an MHO/ hospital managers/ appropriate person should consider how an independent advocate may be involved… The right of access to independent advocacy is for each patient and is not limited only to those who are best able to articulate their needs.”
“Non-instructed advocacy is… taking affirmative action with or on behalf of a person who is unable to give a clear indication of their views or wishes in a specific situation. The non-instructed advocate seeks to uphold the person’s rights; ensure fair and equal treatment and access to services; and make certain that decisions are taken with due consideration for their unique preferences and perspectives.”
Further guidance on non-instructed advocacy is detailed within the SIAA Non-Instructed Advocacy Guidelines, 2009.
Advocacy in the Children’s Hearings System
For the purpose of the National Practice Model within the Children’s Hearings System, advocacy will be defined as:
A discrete child-centred service delivered by skilled practitioners, involving a process of advocacy workers being alongside a child or young person to assist them to participate in decision making processes. Advocacy is based on a relationship between a professional advocacy worker and a child or young person. This relationship is entirely voluntary and the child or young person is in control of how their views are shared. As such, advocacy in this context only represents the views, wishes and concerns of the child or young person.
Advocacy usually involves spending time with the child or young person to understand their life and what matters to them. It involves listening to them and helping them to understand and exercise their rights and options. It also involves explaining the context and purpose of the meetings or proceedings involving them, and then exploring and understanding their situation from their perspective. At the heart of the advocacy relationship is trust - built through transparent, honest, accountable and reliable interactions with a skilled and knowledgeable advocacy worker.
Ultimately, advocacy champions’ children and young people’s rights, views and wishes, helping them navigate through complex systems and ensuring their voice is taken into account.