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I Became a Citizen Advocate: A Case Study

By: Lynne Conner - Updated: 1 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
 
Challenge Advocate Employer

Jenny Dowles works in an office which sells communication equipment. She has worked there for over 15 years and enjoys the work. However she felt open to a new challenge so when she spotted an appeal for advocates she decided to follow it up. Her employer was offering to free up employees for four hours a month to take up voluntary work. “I jumped at the chance to try something new.”

What is a Citizen Advocate?

Jenny had not come across the term advocate before. “Basically, an advocate speaks out on someone else’s behalf to make sure they are properly treated or receive the care and assistance that they should.” The project that Jenny volunteered for was looking for citizen advocates to work with people with learning disabilities.

At first Jenny was daunted and worried that she would not be up to the task. “It seemed like such a big responsibility, to speak out on behalf of someone else.” But she was soon reassured by staff at the project who explained that she would receive full training. They also explained that she had all the skills needed to become an advocate – a willingness to listen, patience and a good level of literacy. Jenny received training in disability equality, listening and a basic introduction to housing and benefits legislation to give her a basic grounding.

How Training Helped

Once her training was over she was partnered with Rachel who has Downs Syndrome. Jenny accompanied Rachel on trips to the doctor and also assisted her with claiming housing benefit. “Basically I filled in the forms, making sure to follow Rachel’s wishes. It is important that Rachel feels involved and in control at every step of the way. Thanks to my training I was able to explain to Rachel what was happening through the process.” Rachel’s application went through successfully which was very satisfying for Jenny. “I also got involved when Rachel’s landlord raised the rent to help Rachel deal with the changes.”

Since first volunteering three years ago Jenny has worked as an advocate for dozens of people. “I will accompany them along to meetings with social services for example, to ensure that their point of view is heard. It’s not my role to be bossy or in control, my job is to listen carefully and then make sure that their voice is listened to.” Jenny supports people in a wide range of other situations. For example when people need to speak to a solicitor or have reason to speak to the police. She accompanies people to medical appointments where she plays an important role in ensuring that clients clearly understand what medical staff are telling them and that medical staff take the needs of clients into account.

Being an Advocate is a Responsibility and an Honour

“I enjoy the challenge of working in different situations. I also enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them. I spend a lot of time with some clients and we do develop a bond. Because I support them clients develop a trust in me and that feels like a responsibility but also an honour. It is great and very satisfying to give something back in this way and I am always learning something new.”

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