VoiceAbility: your choice is key

Rebecca Fensome is a community advocate for VoiceAbility and works with adults who have a learning disability, physical disability or sensory impairment. She tells us how VoiceAbility and advocacy services can support people in making life decisions for themselves.

Choice is central in our lives. It gives us the freedom to determine what we want to do and who we want to be.

When balancing our work and family commitments, choice however, is not always an option. I’m sure we’ve all had moments when we’d really like to stay for that extra drink but know that turning up to work a bit bleary eyed the next day is not the best professional move. Personally, I’d love to sleep in until at least 7am every day, but my hyper one year old has other ideas.

Most of us accept that we won’t always have a choice in every aspect of our lives, but when we are denied a choice in the big decisions, it is understandable that frustration starts to grow.

In my role as an advocate, protecting my client’s choice is a common theme. For many people I work with, they often feel excluded from making important decisions that will have a massive impact on their lives. With the recent budget cuts we’ve seen more and more people feeling excluded when changes are made to their care packages. People may still be receiving their full entitlement, but when cheaper alternatives are found it often means that carers who have worked with a client for years have to change… and extras that are not essential but enrich lives are lost.

Local authorities have a difficult job and this article is by no means intending to beat them down. Local authorities do often recognise how important choice is. But the reality is that they have to balance the right to choice as well as budgets, and problems often arise when our clients feel that the balance has tipped more to budgetary concerns rather than choice.

This is often when an advocate is called for; when someone feels that they are no longer in control of their own lives and no one is listening to them. The role of an advocate can often seem unclear and confusing, but the principles of my role are very straightforward. I feel the most important part of my job is to listen. I spend time with clients listening to their views and what they would like to happen. In order to support them to make an informed choice we talk through their rights, what their options are and what the consequences of each option is. I don’t give advice or tell anyone what to do. I am there to empower, not take over.

Once a client has made a decision about what to do, we can support them by speaking to the necessary people, liaising with professionals and joining them for meetings. We don’t speak for clients. We support them to speak up for themselves and ensure their voice is heard.

Through advocacy, the aims are that people will feel empowered, listened to, more in control and, importantly, have choice returned to them. The feedback to our service is that for the vast majority of clients we achieve this. Clients have said they value having someone who is there to listen only to them and who will be on their side and not judge them. Clients have felt more powerful having an advocate on their side, knowing they don’t have to face the deluge of professionals on their own.

So, if you find yourself in a position where you don’t feel listened to or that your choice is being taken away from you, then maybe advocacy can help. We can’t promise to get you what you want, but we can guarantee that your voice will be heard and that choice will be central in your life.

Not sure where to turn to find your local advocacy service? Start by asking your social care team for details, or try contacting Action For Advocacy as it holds details of all advocacy services across the country.

By Rebecca Fensome

Find out more about VoiceAbility by visiting their website.

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