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Safeguarding Adults Week: Non-instructed advocacy and preventing abuse

Kathryn Holland 12 November 2021

Not everyone can tell an advocate their views but they have the same right to be heard. Non-instructed advocacy is the work that takes place to try to understand a person and their likely views when they cannot directly state them.

Advocates are often told by the professional making the referral that the person either has capacity in relation to the decision/​issue or does not. Advocates will always take as a starting point the person’s views and will attempt to gather these. They will often use a mix of instructed and non-instructed approaches. Making judgements about how best to represent a person’s views when they themselves might be confused or struggling to comprehend all that is happening to them are some of the most difficult judgements to make.

But what if an advocate has been told that a person has capacity and they are able to tell us what they want or don’t want? Do they always act only on instruction?

This question is an important one in working to prevent abuse. One of the key learnings from examples of abuse is that people who are being abused don’t always tell us. One reason for this may be because they struggle to know that their experiences are abusive. It might also be because they struggle to make the necessary connections to understand the context for their experiences. For example, behaviours that challenge others can be a reason for restraint, but why those behaviours happened in the first place is often poorly understood. A person may be able to tell their advocate they were restrained but may not be able to explain the conditions that led to their distressed behaviour which resulted in the restraint.

Using non-instructed advocacy approaches does not mean not involving people; it means making a judgement about what is necessary to keep someone safe and make sure they’re heard.

Advocates need to be prepared to make judgements about whether or not they need to go beyond instruction to keep the person they support safe and to ensure their voice is represented.