I am grateful for this guest post from @DVHurts who discussed the notion of ‘parent advocates’ explored at the recent conference on 29th October 2018 organised by the Family Rights Group. This is something I have long thought would be a very useful addition to the system; such thoughts were cemented by discussions on November 3rd at a workshop organised by journalist Louise Tickle about opening up the family court – again what is repeated by parents is that they need help to understand the process and to get the best out of their lawyers.
My position was clear and inflexible. I didn’t want counsellors working out the personal problems on my payroll. I wanted at least five years of sobriety, regardless of how much education they had. They had to have been no breach of sobriety to grasp the spiritual nature of recovery and to ensure that the focus would stay on the client and not shift to themselves
For a little light reading over the last week I have been browsing through Slaying the Dragon, The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, by William L .White. By grace, I do not have addiction problems myself , but I am interested in the treatment of addiction. The above quote originated from one of the addiction counsellors in the treatment centre, he was himself an alcoholic in good recovery. He was employed by the facility , alongside others in recovery and paid the same as other staff members in similar grades of work. The care team is described as inter-disciplinary not multi disciplinary.
Also this week I attended this week Your Family Your Voice Alliance conference: Tackling the care crisis-Families Driving Reform run by the Family Rights Group I came away with hope in my heart, that change is not only possible but will happen. the conference outlined one of the catalysts for change should be the training and employment of parent advocates. Just as a recovered alcoholic has been shown by research to be the most effective person to lead another into sobriety, a parent who has been through the system, will as an expert through experience, be able to come alongside a parent and guide them through.
The conference was opened by the Your Family Your Voice Co- Chair and a Family Rights Group trustee Angela Frazer -Wicks, who like me is a birth parent. She has campaigned and worked with local authorities and is an excellent example of how a dedicated parent can work within the system.
There were a number of topics covered in the conference, but in this post I am just want to concentrate on parent advocacy. I am birth parent and this therefore is a personal view. A large part of my journey and recovery into wellness has been due to peer support and so I am an enthusiast. One of the primary factors was not realising that I was not the only person in the universe ploughing through the muck.The other has been my situation is not hopeless, there are tools to use , that others have done so in the past and I wanted what they had and I could get it when I had put the work in. They were willing to get down into the hole I found myself and show me the way out. During this process of change I also had help on a 1:1 basis and having the ability to call on someone who understood the situation from their own experience has been key. By putting in the work, which includes looking into how your family ended up in the situation in the first place , which absolutely must not be a shaming exercise, (shame is negative as I explored here) but a realistic evaluation, combined with solutions.
What is an advocate?
The dictionary definition relates more to a lawyer, one who puts your case in a court of law. So normally a well educated professional. Yet peer advocates who are now widely used within mental health services do not fulfil this role. They are more a bridge between the service user and the professional, when the service user does not have the capacity to understand , whether through mental health problems or simply fear.
There is another word paraclete, which originates from late Greek, which also means advocate and mediator. I understand lawyers can be both, however I think I am trying to look at a different role, with boundaries that are there but less rigid than between a lawyer and a client. It actually is more helpful as a definition, as it explains that a paraclete is one who is a comforter as well as speaking on you behalf. In Christianity the Holy Spirit is referred as the paraclete, the one who speaks to God on your behalf when you don’t know what to say and signposts you in the right direction. He is always there to call on and if you listen, you will be looked after. It is a personalised “service”.I understand, that some won’t like the religious illustration, but it is most effective way, I can personally explain what I see the role of the advocate to be.
Parent advocates, alongside other measures instigated by parents in New York City have reduced children in out of home placements by 82% since 1992. There are still approximately 100 parent advocates in New York today. David Tobias, Ph.D. who as Executive director of the Child Welfare Fund, was at the coalface of the change to parents being seen as partners in the child protection system.In his address to conference , he stressed that not every parent could become an advocate and there was extensive training before they were accredited as advocates. This goes back to the quote at the top of this post. Parent advocates , would have to be selected from those that have the necessary maturity and qualities that can act as that bridge. They would not be a disruptive force, sure they would have their own bias, as we all do but would have worked through that , in order to put the family they are supporting first. They would need regular supervision, just as counsellors do.
When questioned, David said we need to get a curriculum together to train advocates. That sounds easy enough as it could draw from mental health advocacy training. So what else is stopping us? Money basically and to a lesser extent geography, as of course we are talking about a country not a city.
The other problem that arose in addiction centres is the professionals accepting the recovered addicts as equals in a team, the hierarchy being flattened was not universally popular, though these problems ironed over time.
We have been discussing this a number of years now, it needs to become a reality, the evidence is there, that parent advocacy works and the system is sinking from all perspectives, care figures rocketing ,parents broken, courts over stretched, social workers stressed and leaving the profession.
Last but not least the system is failing children. It could be started, it could be evaluated,what financial cost would there be of a number of parent advocates per area in relation to the millions spent on proceedings and looked after care at the moment?
There has been a discussion on Twitter and I think this is an excellent suggestion:
Perhaps the same approach that Louise has taken with @openfamilycourt: private grant givers. There's about 8,000 grant-giving orgs in the UK.
— perditioning (@perditioning1) November 3, 2018