- What is independent advocacy?
- What does substantial difficulty mean?
- Who can have an independent advocate?
- Who can be an independent advocate?
- What is the role of the independent advocate?
When an adult has contacted a council for help with their care and support needs or come to the council’s attention because of a safeguarding concern, they must be actively involved in the council’s processes. This is because people’s wishes, feelings and needs must be at the heart of the assessment, care planning and review processes.
Where the council believes that a person has – what is called – ‘substantial difficulty’ in fully taking part in the processes, it must find out whether there is anyone appropriate who can support them. This might be a carer (not a professional or anyone who is paid), a family member or friend. If there is no one who is appropriate, the council must arrange for an independent advocate who will speak on their behalf; this is called independent advocacy. Under the Care Act 2014, the council must make sure that everyone who needs an independent advocate to represent them, can have one.
The Care Act outlines four areas of substantial difficulty – a person just needs to have one. They are:
- understanding relevant information: if someone cannot understand relevant information, even though it is presented appropriately and time is taken to explain it;
- retaining information: if a person cannot remember information long enough to be able to weigh up their options and make decisions;
- using or weighing up information: if a person cannot weigh up information to be able to fully participate and choose between the different options that are available to them;
- communicating their views, wishes and feelings: if a person cannot communicate their views, wishes and feelings whether by talking, writing, signing or any other way, to help the decision process and make their priorities clear.
When a person is being considered for independent advocacy, it is their ability to communicate their views, wishes and feelings which is vital, rather than their diagnosis or specific condition.
When a person has substantial difficulty in taking part in council processes and there is no appropriate person available to support and represent their wishes, the council must arrange an independent advocate for the following:
- a needs assessment;
- a carer’s assessment;
- the preparation and review of a care and support plan or a support plan for carers;
- a child’s needs assessment;
- a child’s carer’s assessment;
- a young carer’s assessment;
- safeguarding processes.
Examples of people who may need an independent advocate could be someone with mid-stage or advanced dementia, significant learning disabilities, a brain injury or mental ill health; with Asperger’s, confusion due to an infection, or who is near the end of their life and appears to have disengaged from involvement and making decisions.
An advocate must:
- have appropriate experience: for example, working with people who may have substantial difficulty;
- appropriate training: for example, training in advocacy or working with people with learning disabilities or dementia. Independent advocates are expected to pass relevant independent advocacy qualifications;
- competency: advocacy organisations need to make sure its advocates are competent and have regular training and assessments;
- integrity and good character: this should be assessed through interview and recruitment processes, including references and DBS checks.
Acting as an advocate for a person is a responsible position. It includes supporting the person to:
- understand assessment, care and support planning and review and safeguarding processes;
- communicate their views, wishes and feelings to staff carrying out assessments, developing a care or support plan or reviewing an existing plan, or carrying out safeguarding enquiries or reviews;
- understand how their needs can be met by the council or another organisation;
- make decisions about their care and support arrangements;
- understand their rights under the Care Act;
- challenge a decision or process made by the council, if necessary.