How to become an advocate (with skills and job info)
Updated 30 September 2022
Working as an advocate is a dynamic, rewarding career path that allows you to help individuals in a variety of ways, from supporting individuals with disabilities to helping veterans get support from social programmes. An advocate acts as an amplifier for the voice of those who need it the most. If you're interested in working with vulnerable people, a career in advocacy might be the right move for you. In this article, we explain how to become an advocate and list some core skills for the role.
What is an advocate?
An advocate is someone who offers independent support to individuals who are unable to voice their concerns. Advocates work to ensure these individuals are heard and that their rights are being respected. In some cases, advocates also break down information, such as court rulings, so individuals can understand the information or services available to them.
Advocates make sure an individual has all of the resources and tools required to make an informed decision about important matters, but it isn't about making the decision for the individual. It focuses on supporting them and allowing them to say what they want, even if other people view the decision as unwise or incorrect. Advocates don't acknowledge their own views about the circumstances but focus on empowering the individual they work with by helping them obtain resources and understanding them.
Related: How to become a social worker
How to become an advocate
If you'd like to learn how to become an advocate, take a look at the steps below to find out what's required for the role:
1. Consider qualifications
Depending on the type of advocacy you'd like to do, you may or may not require qualifications. There aren't any specific undergraduate degree requirements for the role, but certificates are helpful. If you're entering the role without any advocacy experience, for example, a Level 2 Award in Independent Advocacy is a great foundation. If you're interested in statutory advocacy roles, then a Level 3 Certificate in Independent Advocacy Qualification is essential. It isn't required for entry into the role as it's possible to obtain this qualification while working in the job.
2. Looking into apprenticeships or trainee programmes
A great way to enter this career path is through apprenticeship or traineeship programmes. If you're new to social care, apprenticeships are an excellent way to obtain real-world work experience and learn more about the role. You work towards a specific qualification and receive a wage, so you're able to support yourself while learning. Apprenticeships tend to be between 12 and 24 months and focus on learning through work. It's a suitable path for people of all age groups with various levels of experience and skills.
An alternative pathway for individuals aged between 16 and 24 years old is a traineeship. This is a more general option that includes skills development and training. You learn how to write CVs, hone your English and mathematics skills and develop other work-based skills through work placements.
4. Develop the right skills for the job
It's important to have the right skills to work as an advocate, which you can develop either on your own or as part of your apprenticeship. Advocacy work focuses mainly on soft skills, such as the ability to develop working relationships with service users and professionals. Other important skills to develop for the role include good communication, strong research skills, public speaking skills and rapport-building skills.
Related: 13 essential social worker skills
5. Start applying for advocacy jobs
Once you've obtained the right training and developed suitable skills for the role, it's time to start applying for advocacy jobs. There are a few different resources available to find these jobs, such as job websites. Care organisations may post job vacancies directly on their website, so it's worth looking there too. Some other resources include local healthcare centres or your local council, as they occasionally post social care roles on behalf of care organisations.
What are the different types of advocacy?
Advocates work across many areas of social care, ranging from support for veterans to helping individuals with mental health. Below are some of the most common types of advocacy:
Independent care act advocacy
Independent care act advocates support service users, represent them where necessary and facilitate their involvement throughout interactions, processes and liaisons with local authority bodies. Their role is to provide different forms of advocacy to empower individuals who have difficulties in working through these processes and support them. They may speak on their behalf, outline key documents or rulings and guide individuals through the process of interacting with the local authority.
Independent mental health advocacy
Independent mental health advocates help service users obtain the right information and guidance surrounding their rights under the Mental Health Act. They break down the sections of the act that apply to their circumstances, provide information about medical treatments that are suitable for them and establish their rights in relation to the Act. They may speak on behalf of the service user or support them in a more general sense to ensure they are part of the decision-making process in relation to care and treatment.
Independent mental health capacity advocacy
Independent mental health capacity advocates work to determine and support a service user's wishes and feelings in a compassionate manner. They tend to work with individuals who lack the capacity to take part in decision-making processes. As a result, they often source resources and the right information on behalf of service users.
A large part of the work involves working with clinicians and other health professionals to get medical opinions about conditions, treatment options and other considerations. They might look into alternative options based on the individual's needs and wants. Where appropriate, they may challenge the initial decisions of health professionals if the treatments aren't in the best interests of the service user.
Litigation friends work in the Court of Protection to act on behalf of an individual who lacks the capacity to make decisions on their own. They help conduct the litigation, instruct solicitors to represent the service user and ensure the best interests of the individual are upheld. Proceedings in the Court of Protection cannot go ahead unless a litigation friend works to act on behalf of the individual who cannot make decisions on their own. In some cases, independent advocates may act as litigation friends if they know the service user well.
Veterans' advocates work with military personnel who have either retired or left the armed forces. Many of these service users struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle after service and it's the role of the veterans advocate to support them in their reintegration into the community. They work across different areas, including health, social housing, finances or family and relationship problems. Due to the unique problems many veterans deal with, specialist support through a veterans advocate is the best way to support and help these individuals.
A children's advocate works with young people to advocate for them and support their needs. They might help to communicate the wishes and feelings of the child to authority figures. In some cases, they represent the child during important meetings with local authorities or their school. A large part of the work is ensuring the legal and human rights of the child are upheld and that they receive fair treatment. They often break down difficult-to-understand information or processes to make sure the child knows what is going on.
What are the main responsibilities of an advocate?
The responsibilities of an advocate vary depending on the nature of their role and the specialisation they work in. Generally speaking, their main responsibilities revolve around supporting service users to make choices on their own. Some of the main responsibilities include:
listening to the views, concerns and issues of a service user
exploring the service users' options, rights and privileges in an unbiased way
relaying information in a straightforward manner to help service users make informed decisions
helping service users contact the right people, such as clinicians or housing officers
providing support for service users in meetings, appointments and hearings
helping keep service users safe during meetings and helping them handle difficult emotions
explaining options and outcomes for service users
ensuring service users understand all the points covered in meetings and hearings
It's also important to understand what an advocate doesn't do. For example, they don't offer personal opinions, solve problems or make decisions for a service user. They also don't make judgements about service users.
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