Change that leads to better lives

My path to Advocacy

Chris Lerwell from Advocacy Support Cymru talks about how his brother inspired his route to becoming an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate

Aims Chris

When I was little, my younger brother was diagnosed with a Learning Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Chris and his brother

Although I did not know what this was at the time, I accompanied my brother to various appointments with lots of different professionals. As I got older, I began to attend multidisciplinary meetings alongside my mother, because I wanted to know more about my brother’s conditions and support needs. In those meetings, I saw my mother work with professionals, and challenge them where necessary, to ensure my brother’s best interests were being considered fully.

As I was finishing my GCSEs, the looming decision of what I was going to do with my life was approaching. I distinctly remember the moment where I thought about my brother, and the life he would have after he left school and became an adult in the world. It dawned on me that my mother would not always be around to attend those meetings with professionals and ensure his needs were at the centre of the decisions being made about him. Therefore, I asked myself if a job existed where the skills and knowledge I gained would empower me to support my brother and ensure his voice continued to be heard by professionals. I toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse, or a social worker, but I wanted to work independently with these professional bodies, not for them. After some time searching for the answer, I came across the role of an Advocate. This role seemed to tick all the right boxes and was the exact career I had been looking for. I had an appointment with a Career’s Advisor, and I told him that I was interested in a career in advocacy. The Careers Advisor told me that a career in advocacy did not exist, and that advocacy was a characteristic of other professions. With the wind taken out of my sails, I went back to the drawing board.

Whilst in school, I was a member of the school council, and represented people in my class. This led to me volunteering for groups such as the Torfaen Young People’s Forum. These volunteering opportunities gave me insight into how advocacy is so powerful in ensuring people’s voices are heard, and social justice is upheld. I was elected the Chairperson for the TYPF for a year and had the fortune to engage in some fantastic opportunities, such as the first ever Youth Parliament debate held in the House of Commons.

After I left school, I continued volunteering whilst working in different health settings and researching the role of advocacy. I learned about the Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy (IMCA) Service and it was the exact role I had been looking for. When the right opportunity came, I applied to become an IMCA, and I haven’t looked back since!

Advocacy is invaluable in ensuring that people have a voice and can make themselves heard, as well as ensuring their legal rights are upheld. Things have greatly progressed since my time with Career’s Advisor, and there are various statutory and non-statutory advocacy services available to those who need support. The IMCA service is a statutory service that ensures even though someone may be deemed to lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, their rights, wishes and feelings are at the centre of any decisions made about them. I have learned so much from my career, and it feels truly rewarding knowing that my role ensures that people’s voices are heard when it comes to decisions being made about them. I am also part of a fantastic team who support each other when needed. My brother and I are very close, and I feel so happy knowing that independent advocacy organisations are there to support him if and when he needs them.

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Gail Petty

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