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A Day in the Life of an Advocacy Worker

In our new series we will be featuring articles that focus on a ‘day in the life’ of people working in a variety of services and organisations across Ayrshire, whose dedication and efforts are key to reducing reoffending and improving outcomes for people caught up in the Justice system, their families, victims, and the community as a whole.

We would like to thank Geoff from East Ayrshire Advocacy Services for sharing his story with us.

Geoff is a Peer Advocacy Worker with East Ayrshire Advocacy Services and supports people in the community who have drug or alcohol issues as well as supporting men in prison within HMP Kilmarnock.

Geoff grew up in a small village in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland where he joined the army after leaving school. Geoff struggled with his mental health and alcohol use which continued until his early 20’s where he was introduced to Heroin and Valium, and this led to a 16-year dependency.

In 2016, Geoff came off Methadone and Valium and was introduced to South Ayrshire Recovery Community where he was given hope that there was life after addiction.  They provided him with the opportunity to help understand his addiction by attending a WRAP course (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) which offers a simple and powerful process for creating the life you want.  Geoff also attended Steps for Excellence which is a six-week accredited course and is designed to unlock people’s potential by encouraging them to take a fresh look at their life. It helps people to see how much they are truly capable of achieving and provides them with the tools to help make that happen. This then led to Geoff going to college and obtaining an SVQ Level 3 in Health and Social Care.  In May 2019 he started working as a Peer Advocate developing the Represent Recovery Advocacy Project for individuals with drug or alcohol issues.

Geoff has worked in various roles growing up and has never had a job that he really loved. From joining the Army as a school leaver to working in factories and supermarkets to driving buses for Translink, he noticed that his favourite part of all the jobs was communicating. Now working as an Advocate communication is a vital part of his role and part of the reason why he loves it so much.

As a Peer Advocate for addictions and recovery Geoff’s role is to work in partnership with people, to support them with any issues that they have ensuring that their voice is heard and that their rights are always upheld. Geoff works with people at all stages of their recovery journey and highlights the importance of understanding that recovery is an individual journey with no destination.

“Part of my role as an Advocate is to ensure that the person’s voice is heard, and they are fully involved in the process”

A typical day

Every day is different and is always changing which is why it is very important to be flexible, and to be understanding to people’s needs. In the morning I go into the office, check my emails, and catch up with any paperwork that needs completed. Often my first call of the day could be from someone I am supporting who is in crisis, whether they be fleeing drug debts, domestic abuse to refusing food in a prison setting.

An example of a typical day starts with my first appointment which often involves assisting someone with a range of issues that they would like support with and on this day, it included a housing application and a health and disability form.  With permission, I also had to contact the energy supplier as any money the person had remaining had been taken on the emergency credit which resulted in them having no money to buy food or further electric.  I also arranged for a food parcel to be collected following the appointment.

For my second appointment, I attended a joint visit with Social Work to try and offer support to someone who was struggling to engage with services due to their addiction and mental health issues and because there had been an Adult Concern referral made.  Part of my role as an Advocate is to ensure that the person’s voice is heard, and they are fully involved in the process as well as understanding of the process during any involvement with the Adult Support Protection (Scotland) Act 2007.

After this appointment it was time to head to Dalmellington to support someone attend the Moving Up Moving on Group (MUMO). Unfortunately, they were not feeling up to attending the group that day due to forgetting to take their medication.  As a result, I supported them to call the local pharmacy where they were able to get the prescription changed to a blister pack so the individual could take their medication as prescribed.

I then attended the MUMO group which we start with a check-in to see how everyone is and what issues they have that need resolved.  Following this we had a jam on the musical instruments, I play the guitar and if I have time, I try to teach basic chords to the group.  After making a few calls for people in the group I then left to head to my final appointment of the day in Mauchline, which involved supporting someone to make a new PIP claim.

COVID-19

As we are all so aware over the last 20 months Covid-19 has presented quite a few challenges, as an Advocate it was important that the people, I am supporting were able to stay connected during this unprecedented time. As a result, I moved my Collective Advocacy Groups online using Zoom and was able to provide Peer Advocacy Groups initially 7-days a week and then gradually reducing this down to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s.  I also set up other online activities such as music jams, virtual walks and an online cooking group that was co-facilitated with someone I was supporting who had been a chef.

With individual Advocacy work I had to move everything to telephone contact and one to one online appointments. If someone I was supporting did not have access to technology, I was able to support them with mobile phones and data packages that would allow them to stay connected with services, family, and friends.

As restrictions started to lift, I was able to have ‘Walks and Talks’ with the people I was supporting and set up a walking group every Friday at Dean Park until restrictions eased and I could get back to business as normal – well as normal as they can be during a pandemic.

If I could change anything

Within the addiction / recovery field things are changing at present and moving in the right direction.  We now know that the war on drugs has been a failure.  Instead of stigmatising and criminalising people with substance misuse issues, we need to be providing clear pathways to services such as Independent Advocacy, Community Addiction, Housing and Benefits, access to Recovery Communities and Rehab – with all the services working together to provide a recovery-oriented system of care and providing a wraparound service to get that individual on their recovery journey.  To have an integrated Community Mental Health and Addiction service so people can get support for their Mental Health and Addiction issues.

“As a Peer Advocate, I can support people who are going through similar experiences to what I did”

Looking to the future

The reason I wanted to work within Health and Social Care and as a Peer Advocate was because when I was battling addiction, I did not know how to break the never-ending cycle of relapse which happened over a 16-year period.  I had never met anybody who was able to beat their addiction and I had never heard of recovery. At the start of my journey, I had a Peer Worker who opened the door to recovery and supported me in my early recovery to access services, recovery groups and activities.

As a Peer Advocate, I can support people who are going through similar experiences to what I did.   By doing so I can provide hope and support them to access services, recovery groups, activities, and other opportunities during their recovery journey.  I can also ensure that they are getting treated with respect and dignity and that their rights are upheld when they are accessing these services.

The Represent Recovery Advocacy Project started with 2 Addiction/Recovery Advocates and now has 3 full time Advocates. Our latest team member was on a placement with the project via the Addiction Worker Training Programme with the Scottish Drug Forum and then secured full time employment as a Peer Advocate. Two additional part-time Peer Advocate posts are shortly going to be advertised.

I am now looking forward to developing and training Volunteer Advocates and expanding the service even further. This will hopefully give people with addictions the hope, skills, and opportunities to develop and grow in their own personal recovery journey.

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