At People First, we’re proud that we work with local education providers to offer student placements within our Advocacy team. Since we started, we have met outstanding and inspirational students; embracing challenges, learning through practice and becoming part of our team. Today, we say goodbye to Sara, who has been with us since July. Looking back over the past six months, Sara has written about her experience as a student at People First:
Status: Social Work Student
Role: Independent Advocate, People First
Likes: Marmite, yoga, wellies and travel
Dislikes: Negativity, gales, gossip and palma violets,
The People First Experience
I started placement with People First back in July (2019). I was welcomed into the organisation with open arms. The friendly and warm nature of People First as a whole and on an individual level made it super easy to develop good working relationships. What I found particularly special about People First is their lack of obvious hierarchy. Everyone is treated as an equal. I just knew within the first few hours that this was a very special place.
An outstanding aspect of People First is the diversity of its employees. It truly reflects the variety of society and the people it supports. The business goals of this charity are informed by the people it serves; to ensure equal representation, half of the board is made up of voluntary peers that have used the service, are using the service and/or have a learning difficulty.
People First’s vision is to create “a world where each and every individual is treated equally, fairly, and where their rights, choices, and beliefs are respected”. Their mission is to “listen, engage and empower.” My experience of working within the organisation and the direct work with people proves this mission is on point. The Advocates whom I shadowed were exceptional in how they listened, engaged and empowered within every interaction.
What is an advocate and what do we do?
An advocate is a champion of people, an extension of the person who will amplify voice and volume so that organisations and professionals see, hear and understand the persons’ ‘views and wishes. The Advocate takes all practicable steps to ensure that the individual can participate in all decisions regarding their needs and is central to the process using a person centred approach.
The Advocacy team are a tenacious, fearless team who will challenge people and systems to get the best outcome for the individuals they support. People First Advocates share knowledge – knowledge is power and power is freedom. (Foucault 1999). This power and freedom allows individuals to take control of their lives and in cases gain the confidence to self advocate. This is all done with love, empathy, compassion and a desire to change people’s lives through social and cultural change.
Studying with People First
At University we are taught a catalogue of theories on how to approach social issues and work with individuals, which at times felt abstract. My placement at People First has transformed the abstract into theory through practice. The levels of supervision from colleagues and managers in the Advocacy team has been gold star and I feel I have learned so much that I will take forward in my practice as a Social Worker. It is simple really, people come first, above bureaucracy, figures, commodities, time and resource. People must come first.
When might you need and Advocate?
You may need an Advocate if you are going through a Local Authority process such as a care assessment, a carers’ assessment, a review or a safeguarding process. In this case a self referral or a referral from an external agency would be initiated and a Care Act Advocate allocated. https://wearepeoplefirst.co.uk/wp-content/referrals/index.php
Local Authority processes can often feel overwhelming. The Advocates role is to make the process clear, give information, explore choices and support the individual to make decisions and self advocate where possible. Advocates empower people to take control of their own lives and challenge when appropriate.
Theory into practice
I recently met with a man who struggled to ask for help and voice his opinions regarding his health and social care needs. He has a condition known as Fragile X Syndrome, a form of autism that affects his speech, cognition and makes him hyper sensitive to light and sound. Together we explored what was working for him and what he may need help with in a friendly, informal way. I invited his Support Worker and Care Manager along so he would feel supported and comfortable to speak openly. We reached an agreement together that he would like more 1:1 support so he can visit his favourite football grounds and go out for tea or visit with his family. I supported him to attend his review meeting and explained I could speak on his behalf or support him to speak up for himself. This placed the man at the centre of the decision making process. We are hopeful Adult Social Care will allocate more hours so he can reconnect with family members and pursue his hobbies and interests.
Another type of Advocate is the IMCA (Independent Mental Capacity Advocate). If a person has been assessed as lacking capacity to make decisions about their care, medical treatment or accommodation and have no family or friends able to support the decision making process, then an IMCA will be allocated.
The IMCA acts as a safeguard to protect individuals from discrimination, inequality and assumptions. The IMCA will creatively and empathically communicate with the individual and reach a mutual understanding of their needs, feelings and wishes. The IMCA is highly competent in finding alternative, non verbal methods for individuals to communicate if speech and language prove to be a barrier.
Capacity can be affected by substance misuse, neurological and, or physical disease and it may be that the individual’s understanding and ability improves over time and capacity is restored. The Code of Ethics relating to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 states that capacity should be assumed in all instances until proved otherwise. The IMCA is ethically grounded and makes good use of current legislation such as the Mental Health Act 2007 and Mental Capacity Act 2005 to promote and protect human rights.
A powerful experience
My favourite aspect of being an Advocate is the direct work with individuals, building relationships and getting to know peoples stories. Narrative sharing is such a powerful tool to empower and make people feel valued. The skill of the Advocate takes the focus off the process and places the individual at the very heart of the matter. I have really found my tribe here at People First and feel very, very lucky for the opportunity.
I have made great friendships here at People First. It is a truly diverse place to work, full of quirky, colourful characters with big personalities who have made my placement here an absolute treat. Thank you all so much for treating me like part of the team from day 1.
I am really sad to leave but off on my next adventure. Vietnam, and, on that note Tam Biet!