Advocacy is just one way of working to ensure that people’s rights and wishes are respected. As well as advocacy for different groups of people being established, a number of terms have been developed to describe different ways that a person can be supported to ensure that their voice is heard and responded to.

Traditionally advocacy comes in two broad categories, Self advocacy and representational one to one advocacy. All advocacy models should be seen as equal in value and can best be described as tools in a tool box to be used for the right job at the right time, and complementary to each other. What form of advocacy is used and when, should recognise the diversity of those who choose to access it and depend on what is best suited to the individual at a particular time.

Self-Advocacy or Speaking up for yourself is to speak up for oneself, either as a member of a group or as an individual and contains an element of developing the confidence, skills and knowledge to do this. Self-advocacy groups are the same as self-help groups but will often involve the use of a facilitator or supporter where additional skills are required that members of the group do not already have.

One to one advocacy – An independent organisation with knowledge of the different agencies within the legal, health or welfare systems, recruits advocates who use their skills and expertise to represent another person’s interests, to assist that person to get their point across more effectively. This service may be provided by independent paid professional staff or by volunteers with relevant training and/or experience. This type of advocacy is common to all client groups and occurs when one person speaks up on another’s behalf. An advocate stands beside the advocacy partner and focuses on seeing things from that person’s perspective. The advocate is not there to represent their own views but to represents the advocacy partner’s interests as if they were their own. An advocate does not make judgements about what is in a person’s “best interest”. An advocate will always encourage a person to speak for themselves where ever this is possible.

The following are all forms of Self advocacy:

Collective advocacy

People in similar situations come together – with or without external support – to address a common cause, draw strength from each other and get their collective voices heard. This type of advocacy is common with survivors of mental ill health such as UKAN (United Kingdom Advocacy Network) the national federation of advocacy projects, patients’ councils, user forums and self-help and support groups working in the field of mental health.


Self-Advocacy is to speak up for oneself, either as a member of a group or as an individual, and contains an element of developing the confidence, skills and knowledge to do this. Self-advocacy groups will often involve the use of a facilitator or supporter, to offer additional skills and knowledge that members of the group do not have. This term for advocacy is most common among people with a learning disability who will often refer to themselves as self advocates.

Self-advocacy groups are mostly groups of people who use services, have the same interests locally or have a common cause, and people work together to influence and challenge the way services are run. Groups can become lobbying organisations, involved in awareness raising and often provide training to service providers on issues that are relevant to them.

People First groups

Some Self advocacy groups are referred to as People first groups. People First is an international civil rights movement that campaigns for people with a learning disability to be treated equally and fairly. Locally they are independent groups promoting self advocacy and are run by their members. They link into, or are affiliated to, a national network called ‘People First’ to form a collective voice in order to lobby those in authority to bring about change.

The following are all forms of representational advocacy

Long term volunteer Advocacy (Citizen Advocacy model)

Volunteer Citizen Advocacy is about individual active citizenship, where one member of the community makes a commitment to the rights of another who is disadvantaged and/or socially excluded. This commitment can be either time limited to assist a person in dealing with a specific issue, decision or crisis or it can be a longer-term commitment where an advocacy relationship develops. The longer-term Volunteer Citizen Advocate helps to identify problems and assists the person in taking steps to help resolve them. A main aim of longer-term partnerships is to combat the discrimination and social exclusion experienced by the Advocacy Partner.

Key features of Citizen Advocacy:

  • Long term, one to one relationships
  • Advocates are unpaid
  • Advocacy schemes ‘match’ advocate and advocacy partner and support the relationship
  • The advocate is accountable primarily to their advocacy partner
  • Advocacy schemes are structurally independent from service provider agencies

For more information see CA Coalition website – National Coalition of Citizen Advocacy Schemes

Peer Advocacy

Peer Advocacy refers to “experts by experience”, and is used to describe advocacy relationships where both the advocate and the advocacy partner share similar experiences, difficulties or discrimination. This can include looked after children, with experience of children’s homes, those with mental ill health, the elderly or people with a learning disability.

Peer advocacy is often spontaneous in such settings as day centres, residential homes, hospital wards, self advocacy groups, or self help groups. Often it happens because one person feels more able to speak up than their counterpart and people feel united because of a common cause. The relationship is based on mutual support and empowerment and has the added benefit of a special insight and close rapport being developed between the people involved. The primary qualification is their own experience of disability, exclusion or using services.

Some people with substance misuse or mental health issues for instance may prefer to have an advocate, who has similar experiences. They are then supported by someone who “understands” by experience and will not be judgemental about their circumstances.

Issues Based Advocacy

This model of advocacy is referred to by many different names including Short Term, Crisis, Professional and Casework advocacy. In general it means that advocacy intervention is offered to address a specific issue or situation and is not intended to be ongoing. It is not necessarily in a crisis situation and it may not be particularly short term but will exist for the time it takes to resolve the issue.

This can include support to choose a new home, moving out of a long stay hospital, child protection cases and parenting issues, personal finances, support through hospital admittance, any involvement with the legal system, access to appropriate health and social care and so on.

This model of advocacy provision is usually carried out by members of staff employed by established advocacy organisations. Sometimes an organisation will have a group of experienced volunteers who are also willing and able to undertake issues-based work and who will be supervised and trained for this role. Sessional advocates may sometimes be used when advocacy organisations are under pressure and need additional help to meet the demand for their service. These advocates will often be self-employed and work on a consultancy basis.

Key points to this type of issues based advocacy are:

  • It is temporary and does not involve a long term commitment
  • It can bring in advocates with specialised knowledge and experience
  • Advocacy relationships focus on resolving specific issues and come to an end when targets are met.

Non Instructed Advocacy

Advocates should always commence their role by assuming that the person they are advocating for can communicate their wishes. Advocates should do everything they possibly can to enable the person to understand and communicate what they think. There will however be times when a person’s ability to direct their advocate is so limited, or in rare circumstances non existent, that advocates are faced with the choice of doing nothing or adopting a “quality of life” and “legal and civil rights” based approach.

This may be because of the person’s limitations in grasping concepts or because they are not able to make others understand their wishes because of significant communication barriers or a lack of capacity to do so. Capacity to instruct or understand can be diminished for a number of reasons, for example mental health problems, dementia, acquired brain injury, learning disabilities etc. To ensure that this group of people have a voice an advocate will strive to identify that the person’s fundamental human and civil rights and needs are met.

To do this they will use a number of core quality of life domains, together with relevant legislation, to make comparisons and consider what quality of life or experiences would be usual and acceptable to the general population.

This approach provides a means by which a particular group of people can have a ‘voice’, ensuring their individual needs and preferences are taken into account, through the process of an Independent Advocate asking questions and probing responses. It is important, however, to remember that advocacy of this model should only be used as a very last resort when all other attempts at communication and understanding a person’s wishes have failed.

Other forms of advocacy

Advocacy has fuzzy edges; the work of many agencies includes elements of independent advocacy – for example, Welfare Rights organisations, Centres for Independent Living, Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing advice centres, volunteer befriending schemes – but these agencies would not typically see advocacy as their core activity. Some organisations such as, self-help groups, carers groups, social groups, community groups, religious groups and other voluntary organisations, may also undertake some formal advocacy as part of their wider remit.

Many professionals involved in the lives of those who access service systems to maintain their life, regard themselves as advocates. This may be the whole of their professional involvement as in the case of solicitors, lawyers and barristers; or just one aspect of it as, for example social workers, care staff and health workers. They all contribute to the bigger picture and are part of the advocacy spectrum but very different from independent representational advocacy.

Standards and Principles of Independent Advocacy

There are circumstances in which it is vital that the advocacy that people need must be clearly independent of service providers, families and carers. This independence should prevent any conflict of interest that could arise. An independent advocate assists supports and/or encourages the advocacy partner/client in expressing her/his views and wishes. When appropriate, an advocate might speak on the partner’s behalf. There are things that people should be able to expect from any independent advocacy service. These would include the following:

  • That the advocacy partner is in control of things and will be given information so that s/he can make her/his own choice.
  • That the advocate will help the partner to speak up for her/himself whenever possible.
  • That the advocate’s primary loyalty is to the partner, whose views and rights they support and defend as vigorously as if they were their own.
  • That the advocate will be clear about what s/he can and can’t do and will make this clear to the partner.
  • That the service/organisation will ensure that advocates are supported in their role.
  • That advocacy support is free to those wishing to use it.

Advocacy Organisation Good Practice

There are certain standards that apply to any group working with people. Consequently these equally apply to advocacy services/organisations as they do to other organisations. These include:
  •  Being clear to those using them what information is recorded and keeping it private.
  • Providing information that is easy to understand.
  • Treating all people fairly and equally and having a policy that says how they will do this.
  • Ensuring that the service/organisation is safe for everyone, both involved in it and using it.
  • Checking what it does for people and identifying those it is not reaching.
  • Ensuring that the views of the people who have used or are using the service/organisation are heard and reflected in their management.

Organisational Good Practice in Advocacy

  • Business planning: Should cover the organisational mission statement and purpose, internal governance, need and demand for the organisation/projects, financial strategy and practice, project development plans, evaluation mechanisms, and statutory organisational liabilities and obligations.
  • Equal Opportunities: There should be organisation policies and procedures to ensure that no discrimination plays any part in the operation of the organisation
  • Equalities and diversity strategies: A strategy aimed at ensuring the services are fully accessible to the whole community, taking into account all equalities issues
  • Community development: The organisation/service should reflect the community that it serves and provide a grassroots approach to developing the project that results in services developed and delivered by their communities.
  • Monitoring: A monitoring system should be in place to identify who makes up the local community to help advocacy providers assess whether their client base reflects local demographics or whether there are marginalised groups that are not being reached.
  • Evaluation: Recording systems in place to identify what is working and what is not, with opportunities for whoever is using the service to feedback on the quality
  • Effective use of resources: Developing a knowledge base of services available from both the statutory and community sectors, to help with signposting in the delivery of services and achieving objectives. Thus providing access to additional skills, knowledge and experience and sharing information with other organisations.

Advocacy Core Values

  1. Respect: Advocacy must be carried out respecting the dignity and humanity of the advocacy partner/client.
  2. Identity: Advocacy recognises that Culture is a complex and changing mix of beliefs, customs, morals, laws and past experience. It provides a background by which individuals live, and a set of explanations to use in interpreting the world.
  3. Equality: Advocacy relationships are equal in value and avoid disempowering and hierarchical relationships developing
  4. Self Awareness: Advocates acknowledge their own culture and values with an understanding of how identity is central to ourselves and others
  5. Openness: Advocates will be open to questioning and evaluating their assumptions and preconceptions about the way they work, to continuously improve working practice
  6. Person centred: Advocates encourage their partners/clients to define their own ethnicity and culture within the wider context of their immediate situation, and allows them to identify their advocacy issues in their own terms.
  7. Stereotyping: Advocacy avoids “labelling” their partners/clients by focusing on a single aspect of their identity and recognises that identity is subject to change over time.
  8. Social Networks: Advocacy recognises the value of taking into account social networks in order to empower an individual

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