We’ve been talking about elder abuse and its effect on clients and our society. We also know that sometimes clients are unhappy with aspects of the care and support they receive. But where do you, or the client, go if professional help is needed?

Advocacy assists in upholding client rights.

I’m reminded of a situation that my mother recounted to me. She had a neighbour who wasn’t happy about the support she was receiving through her aged care provider, however she was unsure about how to approach the agency. She was also concerned that if she complained things would get worse for her.

This client is representative of so many of our current client demographics in Australia, and other parts of the world. These are the people who lived through war and recessions, or experienced other significant traumatic events and who often didn’t have a lot of choices throughout their lives. They’re stoic and grateful for the support that they are getting, not realising that they have rights and that they can exercise these.

An advocate is someone who can help the older person to recognise and exercise their rights.

What is advocacy?

Advocacy is a practice that supports vulnerable people in our society to voice issues that are of concern to them. It upholds their rights and ensures that their views and the things that are important to them are considered when decisions are being made that affect them.

What does an advocate do?

An advocate represents the individual they are speaking up for. When a person becomes an advocate, they put aside their own thoughts, wishes and desires and focus on what the individual they are representing wants. They work in partnership with the person, taking instruction from them and taking into account the person’s unique preferences and perspectives.

An advocate seeks to reduce the potential for conflict of interest and remain independent, referring to other agencies where they feel unable to appropriately represent the request of the person. They don’t take over from the individual, and where possible will assist the person to speak up for themselves. The advocate seeks to redress inequality, discrimination and social exclusion.

Who can be an advocate?

Sometimes, it’s the aged care worker who advocates, or speaks up, for the client they are supporting. Perhaps they notice that something doesn’t seem right, or the client expresses a desire for something to be changed, but they are anxious or uncertain of how to approach someone about that change. The care worker can pass on information to the relevant person in their organisation about the concerns held by the client and any changes requested or issues raised.

Sometimes, it is the person’s family carer or a friend who advocates for the older person. It is the right of a client to choose who they would like to advocate for them. Their advocate must be heard and considered as if the client were speaking themselves.

But if the person wants or needs a professional advocate, the Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN) is a free, independent and confidential service in Australia. It supports older people and their representatives to raise and address issues relating to accessing and interacting with Commonwealth funded aged care services, such as the Commonwealth Home Support Programme and Home Care Packages and residential aged care.

The OPAN network is made up of nine State and Territory based organisations. As well as providing advocacy support to individuals, they also provide information and education for consumers and service providers. OPAN are currently running a series of webinars on the introduction of the new aged care client rights and have developed a simple video that assists service providers and their clients to understand and apply the rights.

So next time you encounter someone who needs a little help to speak up or is concerned about exercising their rights, perhaps you need to refer them to an advocate.

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