The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) has recently launched an animated film Opening Doors which shows the difference that independent advocacy can make to the lives of parents going through child protection procedures.
Opening Doors follows 3 characters, Laura a young woman with learning difficulties who is pregnant, Ahmed who has a young son and has issues with alcohol and Teresa who has mental health issues. It shows how Moira their advocate helps them know and understand their rights, navigate the system, ensure they are listened to and speak for themselves. The film was made with the help of a focus group made up of parents and advocates with experience of child protection procedures. The focus group helped identify the key issues and used their experience to highlight the difference advocacy makes. Members of the focus group met with the writer to inform the script and ensure that the language was clear and accessible they also met with the animator to ensure that scenes were realistic and that characters were portrayed positively.
The whole process of producing and launching the film was a collaboration with Media Co-op who have a track record of producing high quality, award winning films with a social message. They worked with us to recruit a professional writer, animator and cast of actors. The part of Laura was played by a woman with learning difficulties.
Intelligence we gathered indicated that advocates were increasingly being involved in advocating for parents with mental health issues, learning disabilities and substance misuse issues who were in danger of losing access to their children.
It’s not unusual for advocates to get involved in supporting people in various situations but the feedback we received showed there was a real need for advocates to know and properly understand the complexities of child protection.
The film is the culmination of our three year Families at Risk project funded by the Scottish Government Third Sector Early Intervention Fund which was administered by the Big Lottery. The initial project was designed to raise awareness about child protection issues amongst advocates and to inform social care professionals and children’s hearing panel members about independent advocacy. Phase 1 developed and delivered training specifically for advocates, providing grounding in key legislation and policy. Alongside this, guidelines for advocates working with Families at Risk were developed in consultation with advocacy organisations. The guidelines provide a useful reference to best practice in advocacy. They also are used by people using advocacy to get clarity about what they can expect from an advocate and for professionals who want to understand the advocacy role further.
Opening Doors was launched at the Glasgow Film Theatre with approximately 100 people in the audience. The showing was followed by a plenary session made up of representatives from Scottish Government, Children’s Hearings, an independent Safeguarder and an advocate. The discussion and questions from the audience raised interesting issues around how complex the child protection system is, how difficult parents find it to engage with and how disempowered they feel and crucially the difference support from an advocate can make for everyone involved even if the outcome isn’t what the parents are looking for.
We have received a great deal of positive feedback on the film and it has been viewed and promoted by a range of individuals and organisations across the UK.
Opening Doors will be used as part of training programmes for a range of professionals wanting to learn more about the difference advocacy can make in emotionally difficult and legally complex situations. The film is available in a number of different languages including; Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, French, Polish and BSL (British Sign Language).
We know that there isn’t enough independent advocacy for people who have a statutory right to access it but we believe that in situations where decisions are made that have a long term and life changing impact then advocacy should be available. We believe that in the ideal world services would be person centred following a human rights based approach so that no one needed the support of an independent advocate but until that day arrives we believe that where families are going through child protection procedures then both parents and children should have access to separate advocates.
Some facts about independent advocacy in Scotland
Research carried out by the SIAA shows that during 2013-14 £11.3 million was spent on advocacy. There are advocacy organisations in every LA area in Scotland and during 2013-14 over 27,000 people accessed advocacy.
Find your local advocacy organisation through Find an Advocate on the SIAA website.
Shaben Begum MBE is the Director of the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance