Podcast Episode: The Advocacy Project
Category: Social work (general)
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
CR - Catriona Rowley
MM Now on Iriss.fm we are joined by Catriona Rowley from The Advocacy Project. Can you tell us what is advocacy if people don’t know what it is?
CR Yes, so advocacy in one sentence - it’s really just about helping people to speak up for themselves and say what they want. We don’t tell them what they should say or what they should choose, it’s all about helping them to say exactly what they think.
MM So basically when you go to meetings, if they are looking for support they would to yourselves?
CR Yes, there is sort of criteria for the service and things, so obviously they would have to meet that. We would help people go to meetings. We try not to do things for people they can do themselves - so some people might just want a person with them for moral support, but some people might need someone to actually speak on their behalf depending on the person’s capacity and their abilities.
MM And is this service available all over Scotland or is it only certain parts of Scotland?
CR It’s slightly different in different parts of Scotland, so the Mental Health Act gives anyone who is affected by that the right to have independent advocacy, so generally for people who would be affected by that - so somebody that is in hospital with a mental health condition, people with learning disabilities, people with dementia - they should be able to get advocacy. We work in Glasgow, across Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire, but there are different organisations in different areas. It is probably more difficult in some areas than it is in others, and not everybody will be able to get services across Scotland.
MM Okay, now let’s speak about your project?
CR Okay, so my team is called the Engagement and Involvement Service - and we are a really small team, there is only three of us, and we have been around for just over three years. And we were created to compliment the advocacy services - so we do a few different things. We do some work that is sort of paid for by other people, helping other organisations to consult with their service users, so that someone independent is asking. So rather than, say a care home, for example, their staff saying “oh how are we”? We will go in, because it’s independent, and we don’t have any kind of bias towards it. But what we also try to do is do sort of collective and self-advocacy groups, so that some people who maybe might have some issues that come up in their life that might not qualify … I say “qualify”- we have a waiting list for our services for advocacy, so sometimes people might not manage to get a service from us when they need it for some of the sort of less serious things. But because we have got these groups, we hope that that’s a way for people to be able to talk about things, and they have got regular contact, and they can talk through their issues, get a wee bit of support and don’t need an advocate, because they are able to do it for themselves. So it’s a way of kind of trying to provide a service to people that we might not manage to get to, but who need a bit of support. I am trying to think … we do an awful lot of different things. We do consultations for other people as well as trying to find different ways to involve their service users. So particularly we focus on people who might have communication difficulties, because you can’t just give them a questionnaire and get them to fill it in the same as you might with other people. So we try to use different ways of getting people’s feedback. So we have used things like talking mats, which is a communication tool, or we will do stuff that is a bit more creative - we have done some film making. We find that sometimes you can get people to come along to a meeting if you don’t tell them it’s a meeting, but if you make it a bit more fun. So we sometimes use kits from the museums, Glasgow Museum’s reminiscence kits and things. So people like to come and talk about that and have a look - and then while they are there you can kind of ask them a wee bit about the service they are getting just now, because meetings are a bit boring and not everybody likes to come along to a meeting. So we try to just kind of find ways to make it a bit more entertaining for people and a bit more engaging.
MM But you also facilitate for your service users, so how has that feedback been?
CR Well to be honest, at the moment, one of the things that our team is working on is increasing the amount of feedback we get from our service users, because we don’t get very much. Most of it is positive - we can’t guarantee people will get the results that they want, but usually they know that, so you know, hopefully people would be feeding back on the service we gave them rather than the outcomes that they got. And it is mostly positive, but we just don’t get very much of it. So that’s one of the things we are working on, is trying to improve that. So we are, at the moment, developing a few different ways to get people to give us feedback, because we have been relying on the traditional kind of questionnaires that not everyone is able to fill in - so people can have telephone interviews, face to face - we are going to start having events … it’s maybe not the right word, but people can come along maybe once a year, come in here and sort of spend half a day talking to us and we will give them a bit of lunch and get a chance to give a bit more feedback. So it’s still a work in progress at the moment, and where it has been not so positive, it’s always useful to find out what you could do a bit better. So it’s good to build on that. But we just need to get masses more, because we have a lot of clients and we are not getting to hear from very many of them. We have just started helping our clients to get involved in other things - so there was a consultation on the Mental Health Act recently and we invited some people who have been affected by that to come and give their views on that, which we fed back on their behalf. And again that is something that we are just starting to do. I think it went very well - people seemed to really appreciate getting the chance to do that, because it’s quite a lot to sit on your own and read a big massive document and give your views, whereas you get the chance to discuss it - I think it helps everybody to formulate their opinions when you get to discuss it.
MM You also hear from people life stories … obviously I am not going to ask you to tell us people’s stories because they are private, but do you find it interesting listening to people’s stories and their background and where they have come from and where they are hoping to go to in the future?
CR Unfortunately, when people come to advocacy it’s usually because they are having a really bad time in their life. So most of the stories we get from people are not that nice. We deal with quite a lot of people who are going through things like Adult Support & Protection, so they are at risk of harm from somebody that they know and trust. So yes, a lot of the stories are really quite upsetting that people tell us - doesn’t mean they are not interesting, but yes, they are certainly not very nice and it’s sometimes a bit difficult to kind of not be affected by it, because you have to kind of keep some distance from the people’s experiences. Obviously there are moments where you have managed to help someone out and it’s really positive and it’s really great to have somebody’s life is kind of for the better because you’ve had a bit of involvement in their life - and that’s the bit that is really rewarding about the job, when you do manage to do that.
MM Well if people have listened to this and say “oh, I might get an advocate because I am going through some trouble at work or whatever”- first of all you can give us your email address and the website?
CR I mean the website is probably the best place to start, because it will tell you what areas we cover and what the service criteria are, so if people are looking to see if we can provide them a service. So the website is www.theadvocacyproject.org.uk. We have a link to the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance website, so if it looks like we don’t cover the area that the person lives in, that website should be able to help. And if people want to get in touch we have got an email address on the website and it’s just firstname.lastname@example.org.
MM Because we are living in a Facebook/Twitter world now, are you on Facebook … your project?
CR Yes, the Advocacy Project is on Facebook and Twitter - it’s mostly me and one of my colleagues that try to update it and we try to do it as often as we can. Please do come and follow us and you can see a wee bit about what we are up to.
MM Okay, thanks for your time and good luck with your project.
CR Thank you very much.
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