Category Archives: Advocates.

Chewing it over.

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The other day I was recalling the time when I worked as an advocate for parents with learning disabilities. I often accompanied families to court as almost all of them were heavily embroiled in child protection proceedings.  Over time I got to know many of the judges and some of them had a fearsome and quite deserved reputation.  Some of them were lovely characters and warm, one in particular liked the barristers and me to bring in home made cup cakes and sausage rolls to court and she would enjoy them in her private rooms.

One day I turned up and all the courts were full, they were spilling over actually so this particular hearing was held in some rooms at the back of the building. As is my habit, I was chewing on some Wrigleys that morning, you can sometimes sit about for hours waiting to be heard and my mouth gets so dry. I don`t know what made me think it was ok to keep my Wrigleys in my mouth when we were called in but that is what I did. I took a seat at the back of the court and looked at the judge. I had not met her before.  To put it politely, she was a very large lady and she had the most enormous bosom I have ever seen in my life. Her breasts were at least twice the size of her head and were swathed in her very capacious black silks.  As she moved about shuffling papers around, her enormous boobs hung and swung like big, soft pendulums, over the polished wood of her desk. So mesmerised was I by this fascinating site, when she asked me for my name I quite forgot where I was and answered her quite naturally with a smile.

It all happened so quickly, for a moment I was confused as to exactly what was unfolding. Raising her billowy arm and pointing at me with a great, long finger nail, her deep voice boomed out over the court room, “ARE YOU CHEWING GUM?”

I immediately turned into a quivering five year old and meekly replied in a tiny voice which is most unlike me, “Yes m`am.”

“WELL GET OUT OF MY COURT AND DON`T COME BACK UNTIL YOU HAVE DISPOSED OF IT!” She yelled at me.

Red faced I got up to make my way to the door when suddenly, all hell was let loose.  The court alarm started to ring out in an even more deafening fashion than the judge`s voice.  It all became a bit shambolic, barristers ran hither and thither, security people with worried expressions appeared as if from nowhere and other people in the room did not know what to do.  When it had quietened down and everyone was settled again and I had disposed of the offending gum, I was told that in raising her arm to oust me, one of the judge`s enormous mammaries had hit the court alarm button, situated on the top of her desk.

I don`t think I have laughed so much in ages. Discreetly. With no chewing gum!

 

 

 

 

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What is Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy?

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What is Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy?

A day in the life of an IMCA. (Independent Mental Capacity Advocate.)

Ever since I was a child I have awoken at around 5am. I get up with my little dog Alf, we have a cuppa and watch Jeremy Kyle. After my bath, Alfie and I have breakfast, go for a walk and then I drive to the top of my road, to work.

I work for Solihull Action through Advocacy as an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate or an IMCA for short. In the UK, IMCA`s have provided a statutory service since a court ruling in 2014 which has become known as The Cheshire West Case. The legislation arose because of an appeal relating to an individual`s liberty (Mr. P) who since 2009 had been cared for in a supported living situation. He received 24/7 one to one care to manage his idiosyncratic behaviours. He was learning disabled, never on his own and was not free to come and go.

The Court of Appeal stated that this was not a deprivation of liberty, but the judge, Baroness Hale did not agree. She said,

“If it would be a deprivation of my liberty to be obliged to live in a particular place, subject to constant monitoring and control, only allowed out with close supervision, and unable to move away without permission even if such an opportunity became available, then it must also be a deprivation of the liberty of a disabled person. The fact that my living arrangements are comfortable, and indeed make my life as enjoyable as it could possibly be, should make no difference. A gilded cage is still a cage.”

If a person is deprived of their liberty in the UK and requires an IMCA then the referral is called a DoLS or a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding.

There are many thousands of people across the UK in situations similar to Mr. P`s. They may have a learning disability, dementia, a brain injury or something else that affects their capacity. All of these people now have a statutory right to their own IMCA to represent them, give them a voice and, if they have no relatives or friends able to do so, make best interest recommendations on their behalf.

IMCA is a very challenging and responsible role. We are called in to safeguard extremely vulnerable individuals who do not have the capacity to make their own decisions, so we take it very seriously. A typical referral would be to visit someone either in hospital. or in a care home and talk to them, to the people around them, their friends and family and find out what they would want to happen if they were able to say. Sometimes the decisions are around accommodation, medical matters, money or care plans and reviews.

We write a report and in all cases of IMCA DoLS,  the report goes to someone called the Decision Maker, who authorises the DoLS and makes everything legal. We have to remain informed and up to date with the law so that we can confidently assist families when they are making tough decisions on behalf of their loved ones.

I absolutely love my job, it brings me huge satisfaction to know that I can help as far as possible to ensure that very vulnerable people are safe, happy, cared for and not being ripped off by any unscrupulous individuals, including sometimes I am sad to say, members of their own family.

If you would like to know more about IMCA, then please contact me on:

helen@solihulladvocacy.org.uk

or: 0121 706 4696

Sometimes it`s a pain being an advocate.

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I go to court a lot in my capacity as an advocate.  Most commonly the hearing will be related to child protection proceedings and my job is to support parents who are trying their best to understand what is happening.

Imagine yourself sitting in a court room surrounded by at least thirty people in suits, most of whom you don`t know and you certainly don`t understand what their role is.  You believe you are in trouble of some kind and worry about the judge and what they will think of you.  Your learning disability means that it is really hard to follow the proceedings, the barristers are talking too fast and they are using big words like `redacted` and `Residence Order` and `interim` and `Special Guardianship` and you are thinking, “What on earth does that mean – I haven`t got a clue.”

It is a really scary time for any parent and particularly so for those who have a learning disability.  It is why advocates are so important because they play such a vital role in assisting parents to understand what is going on and why and the changes they need to make in order to be the best parents they can possibly be.

Time and again in court, I have been personally thanked by judges for my contribution to the proceedings.  Removing children in to care is one of the most serious decisions a judge can possibly make, with far reaching consequences for the child and their birth parents.  Judges are extremely careful to ensure that anyone with a learning difficulty has received appropriate support and more often than not, too late in the proceedings the judge will be made aware that they haven`t.   Child Protection proceedings can often be delayed for months while judges ensure that parents have had appropriate assessments so that paperwork and court hearings are especially geared for parents` particular levels of understanding.  These delays hurt the children.

Why is it then that social workers and other professionals do not always make the same efforts on behalf of their clients?  It makes me so cross!  Here at Solihull Advocacy it is not unheard of to receive referrals for advocacy a few days before the baby is due to be born, or the day of the final hearing.  It is much too late for us to work effectively with those parents and so the whole episode becomes a tragic, hand holding exercise as we sit with parents while babies are removed into foster placements.  It saddens and disappoints me because many of those mums and dads would be doing so much better if only children`s services had introduced an advocate to the case much earlier.

This week, I went to a Residential Review at an assessment centre where parents live with their children for up to 12 weeks, sometimes longer.  I commented that I hadn`t had sight of the report prior to the meeting which is pretty poor show and I was handed a 30 page report at the start.  I was given little opportunity (e.g. would you like to spend five minutes with Helen before we start?) to properly go through the report with my client and the result was that she became upset, angry and defensive, none of which would help her case. It is just so thoughtless.

It is also common for social workers not to get back to our e-mails and telephone calls which is not only rude and unprofessional but also frustrating for advocates and very unhelpful and disrespectful to the people we support. Not to put too fine a point on it – it is BAD PRACTICE.  Hey you there – social worker – we all have busy schedules you know!  If I didn`t return calls or e mails then my manager would be asking me why?

If you are a social worker or any other professional working with parents who have a learning disability, do me a favour would you, keep me in the loop, the earlier the better!

🙂