Six searching questions with Joe Monaghan Chief Officer of the National Coalition of Advocacy Schemes
In light of all the recent publicity on the need for advocacy both formal and informal as part of the #SpotLeukaemia campaign for Leukaemia Care, we thought it would be timely to hear from Joe Monaghan, Chief Officer of the National Coalition of Advocacy Schemes.
Joe has spent his career recognising, promoting and developing informal advocacy in our communities for nearly 30 years. Here are the answers to his six searching questions.
- How did you get involved in informal advocacy for other people?
I started in 1992 in an organised advocacy role – it was basic citizen advocacy really. That was about noticing people in the community who really needed someone to look out for them in as natural a way as possible. Initially, our work was focussed on people with learning difficulties. However, we all need support at different times and that could be for a variety of reasons related to a range of factors.
When matching citizen advocacy partnerships, we would look at people who might have had a shared interest, in football, or gardening for example and put them together. The aim was to create a long-lasting relationship, where someone knew and cared about the other, and could help them speak up for themselves.
- What sort of people advocate informally?
All kinds of people! Informal advocacy can be undertaken by anyone either already involved in someone’s life – a relative or friend or it can be a new contact that we match. It just has to be someone open to listening and understanding. Someone who is willing to take the time to amplify the voice of someone else, whilst not having an agenda of their own.
- Why do you think as a society we have such a growing need for informal advocacy?
People get isolated for different reasons. If we have informal advocacy in place then everyone can be a part of every process, no matter what their circumstances are.
It could be presented as matching the strong with the weak – but life shows us that we can all in fact be strong, but we can also be weak at times. And in those times of weakness, it’s of great value to have some kindness and some help to get our needs and wants heard.
- What is the key difference between formal and informal advocacy? And how do they fit together?
I think we can all recognise that despite our best efforts and willingness to help, we might need to seek assistance from someone who has more knowledge in a specific field than us. Knowing that there are people out there with the confidence and expertise of professional advocacy is hugely valuable to those undertaking informal advocacy – if they feel out of their depth at any point there is someone they can turn to.
And clearly there is a role for independent advocacy services in cases where there are conflicts of interest. This might be a care setting for example, where a resident may have issues with the care they have been receiving, but their only means of voicing their concern is to the care staff who are looking after them.
And I think it is important that we are not intimidated by the word “advocacy” becoming “professionalised”. We all need to be aware of both our abilities and limitations and act to promote and protect our own and others’ rights and dignity. Independent advocacy is very important, but in many cases for it to be fully effective there need to be connections to other support groups. There is a whole range of advocacy out there that can provide help, ranging from friends to legal advocacy.
- What do you see as the biggest challenge for those in need of informal advocacy right now?
I think that it is people’s fear getting involved rather than a rush to do so. One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic has been the realisation for many that there is value in speaking up for themselves, and that if they want to see change, they have to be vocal in what changes they want to see.
Making inclusivity a reality and engaging everyone in the process of decision making about how they live their lives, has got to be a priority. The more we encourage and welcome all voices the greater benefit to all our communities in the long term.
- What has kept you so passionate about promoting and developing informal advocacy for others for all these years?
I think that informal advocacy is so special because you know the person. Some of the people that I advocate for I have known for 20-30 years. It’s a huge privilege to hold such a place in someone else’s life and it is very much a mutual thing. The knowledge that you acquire about that other person is hugely valuable in supporting them. You can tell if they’re not happy and understand and see things from their perspective. In so many areas of life there is such a lack of continuity – but here that is preserved. Having people involved in your life that know and care about you is so important and yet often so lacking for some people.