Research Paper: Role of Social Workers in Independent Advocacy (UK)

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                                                                     Research Paper on

                                                    Advocacy, Partnership and Participation

                                             Role of Social Workers in Independent Advocacy (UK)

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(since 2006)

The social work can be identified as the profession, which is focused towards bringing social change, promoting

partnership and problem solving and that specifically promotes liberation and empowerment of the people to

increase their well-being (Loue, 2013). Advocacy is an integral part of social work, as advocacy is the process that

engage in purposeful actions that will people advance their rights, opportunities, causes and human dignity

(Thompson, 2015, p. 58). Therefore, the main purpose of social work is to empower people through effective

advocacy in order to bring improvement in the life of people, who are unable to provide adequately for themselves

and those who experience life time challenges with health and overall well-being (Wilks, 2012).

There are various vulnerable and disadvantage groups such as the people from LBGQT community, older people,

women, children, racial minorities, people suffering from mental disorders and other physical challenges. Campbell

et al (2018) informs that Role of advocacy becomes significant in empowering people and enhancing their

confidence. Therefore, this reflection will discuss my personal experience with advocacy during my placement. This

reflection will also discuss various advocacy models and would provide a critical analysis of their strength and

weakness. This reflection would provide information that how I integrated the principles of advocacy in my own role

as a student social worker.

While working in the organisation that works for the homeless adults suffering with mental health problems, I

identified that independent advocacy for such people is necessary for their well-being and empowerment. Therefore,

there is also an opportunity to apply the principles of advocacy to empower homeless people experiencing mental

health problems. According to Boylan & Dalrymple (2009) Advocacy is generally considered as the process of

ensuring the voice of others is heard, others are enabled to speak up for themselves, as well as speaking for others

(Boylan & Dalrymple, 2009). WHO (2003) has also recognized that promoting the empowerment well-being and

human rights of the people suffering with mental health problems is very important. Research suggests that

advocacy for the adults suffering with mental health problems can bring many life changing outcomes for these

people (Thomas et al., 2017). The most important variables of independent advocacy are empowerment, effective

support, and protection for freedom and rights (Boylan & Dalrymple, 2011).

The goal of independent advocacy for the individuals suffering with mental health problems is to address the

problem of unequal relationships between the care seekers and the health and social care providers. JulieRidley &

Sadd (2018) argues that advocacy is important for empowering people to enable them to exercise greater control

over their lives and decision-making. Therefore, Dalrymple & Boylan (2013) have suggested the two different forms

of advocacy- active and passive. In active advocacy, individual is encourage to speak for self, while in passive

advocacy, social work advocates have the role to speak for the individuals who are not able to speak for themselves.

An independent advocate can make a significant difference by speaking for the individuals, who are suffering with

social, economic and health challenges. I learned that as an independent advocate, I can speak for the homeless

individuals experience mental health problems to ensure that they receive appropriate health services. Independent

advocate can also help in streamlining the services and support for them by working collaboratively with service providers.

Therefore, Jugessur & Iles (2009) argued that advocacy also have a legal origin as it is focused on upholding the

rights of the individuals experiencing mental health problems, so that they may receive better services, being treated

with respect, dignity and equality, being protected from abuse and a balance of power is established for helping them

to exercise their rights. Therefore, an independent advocate can insure that individuals are receiving the support

from other services that is their legal and fundamental right.

Thompson (2015) has espoused in his study that giving consideration to thoughts and feelings of the service users is

important for safeguarding and protecting them. One of the major problem that can occur while working with people

experience mental health problem is protecting their rights and dignity. Individual’s suffering from mental health

problems are often deprived of their rights to make decisions as they are considered as incapable of making right

decisions. However, considering the client’s perception, thoughts, feelings and needs are important for providing

them with best services. For a homeless client, the priority is to provide them a safe shelter, potentially where they

can also receive mental health support.

Therefore, advocacy is an important approach in which a social workers or an advocate would subsume their own

perception and ideas about what would be in the best interest of their clients. Corrigan & Bink (2005) states that

people with mental health problems may also suffer from stigma and social isolation and may not be able to

understand their best interest. Therefore, it is when my role of independent advocates becomes imperative in

promoting the voice of service users, promote their interest and enhance their ability to participate in decision

making (Newbigging et al (2015). If it is found that client is being ignored by the health services and the mental

health support they require is not being provides, then as an independent advocate I can encourage services to

address the needs of the clients and provide them effective support and treatment.

Studies have also informed that adults experiencing mental health challenges as well as other social and economic

challenges in their life are particularly at higher risk of becoming vulnerable. Therefore, independent advocacy for

such people is required to be focused on the recovery based approach. Newbigging & Ridley (2018) developed a

theoretical framework in their study and implemented the ‘Fricker’s concept of ‘epistemic injustice’ (p. 36), which is

considered as the unfairness occurring because of lack of knowledge. According to the concept of epistemic injustice,

people experiencing mental health problems are assumed to be irrational and unreliable and therefore, their

knowledge and decision making capabilities are disregarded (Newbigging & Ridley, 2018). Therefore, during my

placement I was able to understand the importance of independent advocacy as the social work student, as advocacy

would support such individuals in getting access to better services and improving the communication between the

individuals and the professional services (JulieRidley, & Sadd, 2018).

There are various forms of independent advocacy for the individuals experiencing mental health problems and other

life challenges. For example, individual advocacy, in which the advocates and advocacy partner work together to find

the possible alternatives for enhancing the advocacy partner’s health, well-being and quality of life. During my

placement I experienced that such form of advocacy can be instructed and non-instructed. Such as Morgan (2011)

espoused that instructed advocacy is when the advocacy partner or the support seekers can take part in decision

making and understand their rights and choices. However, non-instructed advocacy is when the individual

experiencing lack of capacity to make their decisions ad choices, and then their advocates uphold the rights of such

individuals and ensure that their rights are respected and that they receive fair and equal treatment in care and

support (Luke et al, 2008). I identified that in both the cases, it was important that client is informed about all

developments being made in the regard of their health and well-being. Therefore, I would encourage my clients to

participate in decision making.

However, when an advocate speaks for the individuals it is important that they understand the needs and concerns

of the individuals for whom they are speaking. It is also important to understand the independent advocacy is free

and it should be free from conflict of interest in order to promote the voice and rights of the service users

(Thompson, 2015). Putting the rights and concerns of people first is associated with the principles of respect and

non-judgmental attitude towards such individuals. Other important principles of independent advocacy involves,

empowering people experiencing challenges, providing equal opportunities for social inclusion and equality (Wilks,

2012). However, other two principle of advocacy that I learned as the student social worker are accountability and

accessibility. Accountability is to ensure and protect the rights of the individuals facing metal health challenges and

accessibility is to improve their access to appropriate support and services (Royal College of Psychiatrists London,


Improving the health and well-being outcomes for the individuals experiencing mental health problems and other

life challenges is the main purpose of advocacy (Newbigging et al. 2015). Advocacy outcomes can be identified in the

form of the better support, better collaborative partnership among different stakeholders and bringing a more

effective change in the health and social care services for such individuals (Loue, 2013). Article 1 of the United

Nation Convention on the Right of The Persons with Disability states that “promote, protect and ensure the full and

equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote

respect for their inherent dignity” (Szmukler, Daw, & Callard, 2014, p. 247). Therefore, protecting such rights of

such individuals is significant to ensure they are being heard, their feelings and concerns are being considered. In

this regard a stud conducted by Miller (2011) has also identified three important dimensions of improving the

individual outcomes through effective advocacy. The three dimensions are quality of life it is related to relationship

support, employment and housing facilities), process (their voice is being heard and their rights are being upheld)

and change (there are able to make individual choices and decisions and feel safe) (Miller, 2011).

Social justice has also found a significant place in literature related to promoting rights of individuals experiencing

mental health problems and role of independent advocates (Newman & Yeates, 2008). However, Lonbay & Brandon

(2017) have identified that independent advocacy can also result in causing challenges in regard to the desired

outcomes. The challenge could be associated with the desired outcomes, which means protecting the interest of the

service users, while on the other hand promoting their feelings, concerns and thoughts. Therefore, social workers or

the independent advocates can adopt the legal and regulatory approaches to promote the right of the individuals. For

example various provisions under the Mental Health Act UK, informs that service users may receive their basic

rights and opportunities that they have been denied. Empowering the clients, supporting them through their

recovery journey and helping them to achieve their well-being is most significant aspect of advocacy and partnership.






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