On the 23rd and 24th of September last I attended a conference called ‘2Moving Forward Together’ at the Two Mile Inn Hotel in Limerick. It was organised by the Advocacy Structures in the Brothers of Charity Services, that is, the National Advocacy Council and the National Supporters Group. The main speaker at the conference was Michael Kendrick, but there were also presentations by Ned Sullivan and Clare Maher from BOC Waterford, and Mairead Moroney and Elisabeth Brody from BOC Clare. This turned out to be a very good and interesting conference, with a lot of participation and discussion. At the end of the conference Michael Kendrick kindly allowed me to interview him, and this is what he had to say.
What does Advocacy stand for in the context of Learning Disabilities?
Advocacy means, of course, anything that can be said to improve the circumstances of life that people with disabilities face, so what it really means is that we have to give people a vision for what is a good life, a better life for people with disabilities, and to give people the kind of inspiration to make the changes that would make that kind of thing possible.
How can Advocacy bring about changes in Disability Services?
It can bring about changes in Disability Services because it can point out the ways in which services and people with disabilities are not properly working together. Many services actually don’t help very much, and there is reason to complain. What Advocacy does is, it helps to identify these things that are shortcomings, as well as what might be able to correct those shortcomings. So Advocacy can actually be very good for Services because it helps to improve their ability to assist people with disabilities, and if you have services without advocacy, to keep them honest, then they might not ever become as good a services they would, if they took the complaints and the difficulties of people with disabilities more seriously.
What makes a good advocate?
I think a good advocate is a person that helps clarify what the problems are, and what the solutions are. A good advocate is a person who speaks up about an issue, brings it out into the open, and then gets it settled or resolved. Advocates are needed at each stage of that process. A good one, of course, is a person that can be in the middle of a controversy or a challenge to things, and, if you like, behave themselves in the middle of all that, so that they keep the thing moving along. A poor advocate would be one who isn’t very good at either getting the issues clear or who makes the process more difficult than it needs to be. And all of us of course make mistakes. A good advocate makes mistakes as well, it’s just that a good advocate will learn from those mistakes and not make them the next time.
What would a service that has a right relationship with a client look like?
It would look very distinctive. One of the things that would be a sign that it is in a right relationship with a client is that the client doesn’t have much to complain about, because every time they complain, something is done about the complaints because there is a partnership between the service and the person. A service that isn’t very good, would be one in which problems are never spoken of, they are never settled, and in fact, what the client thinks, or wants, or needs, or dreams about, just never gets any kind of attention. But when people feel like they are getting attention, when they feel like they are making the key decisions about their own life, when they have something to look forward to, when they feel that their needs are met, this is generally going to be a good service. And also, of course, when people feel listened to, there is a lot less to complain about. So, a good service, in that way can exist and a lot has to do with the ability of the service, and the people in the service, to essentially be very respectful and good partners.