The Advocacy Champion Programme
‘When people who are not used to speaking out are heard by people who are not used to listening, then real changes can happen’ (John O’Brien).
This innovative project, funded by the Citizens Information Board (formerly Comhairle) commenced in September 2006. It is aimed at up-skilling service users to become ‘Advocacy Champions’—agents of change within their own organisations, with a view to contributing to the further development of systems and cultures of advocacy within each agency. The programme involves members from the Interagency Advocacy Movement, which over the last three years has organised a variety of initiatives including conferences, research, the development of an educational ten-poster set, an advocacy charter, advocacy workshops, and a series of education sessions in Trinity College for people with intellectual disabilities.
As part of the current project, training is being offered to service users (advocacy champions), their staff supports (mentors) and to members of agency management teams. The Advocacy Champions training is being provided by staff and students from the School of Occupational Therapy in Trinity College, Dublin, and is focussed on developing problem solving, team building, listening and critical analytical skills, as well as inter-agency networking for service users. One outcome of the training to date is that many of the Advocacy Champions have commenced challenging some of the existing ways that they have been able to voice their satisfaction and complaints. There is also a reported increase in peer advocacy, with some service users gaining confidence and skills to think beyond their own individual needs to include those of their peers.
Frontline Autumn 2007
Training for advocacy mentors, which is being provided by Gogarty Consulting, is aimed at enabling staff to lend further support to the Advocacy Champions, to up-skill staff in their knowledge of advocacy, and to challenge thinking and ways of operating, while also allowing a forum to network and share ideas, problems and constraints with other mentors. Management training, provided by Gogarty Consulting and Inclusion Ireland, is focused on providing a detailed examination, practical understanding, knowledge and insight into the area of advocacy, with specific emphasis on agency or organisational advocacy-related change. In addition to the provision of advocacy-related training, another aim of the project is to examine existing advocacy models, using published literature and research, and to relate such models to current practices in the participating agencies.
A variety of challenges have emerged as this project has progressed. These challenges relate to:
- The provision of support and assistance for service users who are non verbal,
- Progressing a change from staff-led advocacy models and practices, to service-user led advocacy,
- Assisting Advocacy Champions to use and apply recently learned skills, while extending the opportunities to put them into practice,
- Influencing existing management structures and cultures of the participating agencies,
- Promoting participation of Advocacy Champions in organisational decision making in true and meaningful ways.
For further information:
Angelina Veiga and Gerard Keane,
St John of God, Carmona Services,
Glenageary, Co. Dublin