This is a short story about Handy, a fictitious advocacy service for looked after children and care leavers in Bury. It’s one of five personas we’ve created to help us develop Mind Of My Own and is based on interviews carried out with a mix of six in-house and independent advocacy services. It helps us explore how Mind Of My Own could help advocacy services to do an even better job of helping young people to be heard.
About Handy Independent Advocacy Service
Handy is a national advocacy organisation with a turnover of £780k. They were set up to enable young people to be heard. They now deliver children and young people’s advocacy across the North and Midlands.
One of Handy’s local services delivers independent advocacy to looked after children and care leavers in Bury. The local authority contracts them to provide the service for £47k/year. They employ three part time advocates and a part time team leader.
Handy’s model of advocacy is very issue-based and quite efficient. They deliver 1150 hours per year, covering 200 cases at an average of just under 6 hours per case. Last year they helped 45 x care leavers, 48 x 15-16 year olds going through transition and 103 x under 15’s in care. They usually provide advocacy via face to face meetings with young people but sometimes, if the person knows them well, they do it by phone or email.
Handy experiences the following problems
- Reaching 10% of Bury young people who are living (through placement or move) outside of Bury. Sometimes (5% of the time) these can be the other side of the country.
- Being flexible around appointment times. Though Handy usually meets new referrals within a week young people have to wait until an advocate can meet them at a convenient time. Sometimes, due to prioritisation, some young people have to wait over a fortnight until they next see their advocate.
- Being unable to offer a service outside of weekday working hours – many young people have said they would find this useful but Handy’s operational model does not include scope for regular evening appointments.
- Having capacity to deliver the same standard of service to all young people – sometimes they end up cutting corners because they are very stretched
- Having the extra capacity to reach hard-to-engage young people, who might need different approaches (e.g. digital access, targeted marketing programmes) to enable them to take up the service
- Reporting to the local authority on their impact. They are good at demonstrating outputs but when it comes to the outcomes their work achieves its really hard to reliably capture user’s views. They gain advocate and professional views but this takes up time that could be spent delivering casework.
Handy’s MOMO User Journey
Handy have nine months left on their three year contract. Over the last two years they’ve worked really hard but are finding themselves increasingly stretched by the level of casework and local authority expectations.
Handy in Bury have been asked by their regional director to undergo a restructuring and efficiency improvement process. This involved going from a 35 to a 37.5 hour working week without an increase in salary and the team leader having their hours reduced by 20%. Staff weren’t happy but bore the cuts with dignity and remain committed to their service to young people.
At the same time as trying to become more efficient Handy are trying to offer a better more user-centred service to young people. After all one of their principles is to be accessible and to help young people to remove access barriers to other services. They recognise that they don’t do this well within their own service and that their engagement with young people on platforms that young people use is still fairly limited. They have a fairly average local and national web and social media presence, partly because they’ve never really got to grips with the privacy and confidentiality issues surrounding online communication.
Handy recognises that one size does not fit all when it comes to the level of service that users want and need. They use email and phone sometimes but have no standard approach or training in offering advocacy solely through these mediums unless a young person is an experienced service user. This is the only circumstance in which they feel comfortable talking about what a user wants and then representing them without a face-to-face meetup.
Handy know of MOMO because it’s well-marketed and the advocacy community is a small one, so word gets around. Due to their lack of digital and info management experience they’ve not had the confidence to explore it very far. They also have unanswered questions about whether it could end up replacing their service entirely. However, one of their experienced users has just mentioned how useful it was for them at their recent meeting. After hearing more about how it worked for the young person in terms of their experience they understand it better and begin promoting it to their users.
After a month of promoting MOMO to its users Handy have become familiar with how it works and realise that it could be a useful tool for those clients who can articulate themselves already or who have used their service before. They purchase a subscription and immediately begin to benefit through inviting (by email and flyer) existing users to use the ‘It’s My Meeting’ scenario before a review meeting. When young people complete the online form attached to the scenario it saves Handy time either as they are able to do the rest of the meeting prep by email/phone using the statement as a foundation or because it reduces the length of the face to face meeting.
Over time Handy finds that sometimes they can use volunteers or support other agencies or carers to work with young people and MOMO. The ‘volunteer’ meets a young person and has a dialogue with them about how they might want to use MOMO with or without an advocate. They go through a scenario and its pathway with them. Where needed a professional advocate then gets involved. Otherwise the young person they’ve introduced to MOMO uses it on their own knowing that professional support is very close by if needed. Likewise Handy feel comfortable in young people using it because they know they are doing so and that it’s very easy for the young person to share and show their statement (in progress or otherwise) to an advocate if they choose, but that the young person remains in control of this option, not them.
Handy also begins to see an increase in referrals to the service from young people who have produced a statement on MOMO but want it checking by an advocate. This increases the overall number of referrals they receive from young people who previously may have been harder to reach.
Handy uses MOMO’s reports feature to show commissioners how many young people they have supported to use MOMO and how many others in their area used it without their introduction. Because MOMO asks young people to anonymously rate their experience and state if it led to any good changes in their life Handy can include this as part of their report. In this way they can show outputs and outcomes, providing the data needed to explain their value in more detail to commissioners. This leads to Handy re-winning their contract at only a small reduction in price.
Summary: What Handy want Mind Of My Own to be able to do…
- As an advocacy service I want to deliver advocacy through media that young people use daily but at the same time support them to express themselves safely and constructively.
- As an advocacy service I want to provide the right level of support to young people – some of whom need a human advocate, some both digital and human, and some digital only. This will save us time and increase our efficiency.
- As an advocacy service I want it to be easy for young people to give an advocate access to their statement and easy for the advocate to feedback on it
- As an advocacy service I want to be able to check young people’s statements for them, offering advice and validating their views.
- As an advocacy service I want to make it easier for young people to access their advocacy service
- As an advocacy service I want to reach and help young people who experience a lack of trust in adults and don’t want to start a relationship with another one.
- As an advocacy service I want to be able to see and use data on how many young people have used MOMO in my area and if it helped improve their life (and if so how)
- As an advocacy service I want to help young people to learn self-advocacy skills and advocate for themselves
- As an advocacy service I want to support young people who don’t need a relationship with an advocate because they already feel OK about expressing their views. They know what they want to say, but need help to present it clearly and powerfully, in a way that gets attention.
- As an advocacy service I want to help other adults who have already relationships with the young person to be able to advocate for them
Handy’s story is one of five user journeys we’ve created. To see the rest click here .