Using Mind Of My Own: Handy Independent Advocacy

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Handy AdvocacyThis 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 .

Using Mind of My Own: Brett’s Journey

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This is the story of Brett, one of four fictitious personas we’ve created to help us design Mind Of My Own. Brett and his fellow personas are based on a combination of ethnographic research and personal experiences of our team as young people and advocates.

Meet Brett

Brett - a young personBrett is 15 years and 8 months old and has lived in care since bring 3. His dad was never around and his mum was unable to cope with looking after him due to her substance misuse problems. Since being put in care Brett has had no contact with her or his siblings.

Between the ages of 10 to 14 Brett went through four years of life and placement chaos living in seven different childrens homes and foster placements. Since then he has never attended a review and sought minimal contact with his social worker. However, for the last 18 months Brett has been in a stable foster placement where he feels safer and more supported.

Brett is in school, but doesn’t enjoy it and is predicted mainly D and E’s grades in his GCSE’s. Though he’s not academic he is smart and notices whats going on around him. He enjoys KFC, skate boarding and hanging out, though he isn’t passionate about anything, and likes to keep his own company. Brett often feels lonely.

Brett’s MOMO Journey

Brett’s journey with MOMO begins when he is told that he is leaving care and will have to move out of his placement in four months time. He likes his placement and the stability it has given him, and is unhappy and upset about the news. He doesn’t get on with his social worker, is very insensitive towards him. To Brett he just doesn’t ‘get it’.

Brett finds MOMO through an advocacy flyer he gets sent through his social worker. With the threat of his placement ending Brett feels like he wants to do something about it, but he doesn’t know what. He’s motivated by the idea of not having to rely on another person for help, to be in charge of what he does, and to prove his social worker wrong.

When Brett opens up MOMO he sees the options to ‘make a complaint’ and ‘challenge a decision’ both of which appeal to him. He wants to make a complaint about his social worker and he wants to challenge the decision about him leaving care. MOMO validates his views, encouraging him and giving him a sense of purpose. It’s easy and clear to use.

MOMO helps him to write down, quite bluntly, what he thinks. It supports him to state his views constructively but also truthfully for him. When he uses a swear word it gently lets him know that people might listen less but it doesn’t judge him for it and supports his choice of words. It also presents him with the opportunity to send his statement to an advocacy service for them to give him feedback on how he could state his views even more powerfully.

Brett decides to print out his complaint and statement of challenge and posts them to his social worker. He feels positive about doing something about his situation through he also feels skeptical if it will help.

After a week MOMO contacts him asking if he heard since he sent the letter. Bret hasn’t heard anything so MOMO offers a list of what he could do next. It suggests using an advocacy service or a pre-generated letter to find out what is happening. Brett decides to use the letter.

Though Brett still gets very little response from his social worker, MOMO has given him confidence and helped him feel  that it’s ok to challenge what doesn’t feel right. He contacts the advocacy service who  then help him pursue his complaint and challenge. Brett also decides to use MOMO with his advocate as a way of inputting into his pathway plan and propose how he could stay in his current placement for longer. It supports and improves a dialogue between him, his foster carer and social services.

Summary: What Brett wants Mind Of My Own to be able to do to…

  • my choicesAs a young person I want something that isn’t another person to rely on – I want to know it can’t let me down, it won’t talk about me, and it won’t make me see them
  • As a young person I want to be in charge and feel able to challenge peoples judgements about me
  • As a young person I want MOMO to have words that appeal to me, and give me scenarios that are relevant and I can impact on
  • As a young person I want my views validated. I need encouragement and something that gives me a sense of purpose
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be clearly laid out. It needs to be quick
  • As a young person I want help to say want I think in a constructive way
  • As a young person I want MOMO to give me feedback on the language I’m using and make me aware of the impact it could have
  • As a young person I want to have the option to print out or email what I want to say
  • As a young person I want MOMO to not give up on me and my thoughts
  • As a young person I want to be presented with follow up steps and ideas, and for them to be simple and easy to carry out
  • As a young person I want MOMO to give me confidence – in my thoughts and myself
  • As a young person I want to be able to use MOMO on my own, but also be able to use it with a professional or another adult
  • As a young person I want to be able to make my own choices, create my own pathway and have my own say
  • As a young person I want MOMO to improve the contact I have with everyone involved in my care

Brett’s story is one of four user journey’s we’ve created. To see the rest click here.

Using Mind of My Own: Laura’s Journey

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This is the story of Laura, one of four fictitious personas we’ve created to help us design Mind Of My Own. Laura and her fellow personas are based on a combination of ethnographic research and personal experiences of our team as young people and advocates. 

Meet Laura

Laura PersonaLaura is 17 years and is a mental health service user from Guildford. She’s been accessing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) since being 14 when she started to suffer from severe depression and self harm. She is still on anti-depressants but is more stable.

Currently she lives at home with her mum, dad and twin 11 year old sisters. She also has an older brother than lives away at university during term time. Her dad works full time and mum part time. Her home life, while safe, is very up and down. She feels ignored by her family.

Laura attends the local college and is in her first year of studying BTEC in Health and Social Care. She has a small friendship group and has lost contact with a lot of her old friends from school.

She likes pizza and plays football for the college.

Laura’s MOMO Journey

Laura’s journey with MOMO begins as she gets to three months from her 18 birthday and a potential transition into adult services. Her trusted psychologist, Amanda has recently left CAMHS, her dad has just been made redundant and she is feeling pressurised by college to fit in. Even worse, her care coordinator has told her it is very unlikely that she’ll qualify for adult services and therefore CAMHS are looking to discharge her from their service

Laura’s scared: scared of what will happen to her family now her dad has no work, scared about not having support and scared about the future. She’s angry that Amanda has left, but also that she has may not get more help after she turns 18. She doesn’t like having to use CAMHS but also likes the safety of having them there.

Before Amanda finished working with Laura she mentioned Mind Of My Own to her. It’s late on a Monday night and Laura is alone at home feeling anxious about a meeting with her care coordinator. The meeting will discuss her discharge from CAMHS. She doesn’t expect her care coordinator to listen, nor does she expect she’ll ever be able to change it.

Laura is initially skeptical about MOMO and how it could be relevant and helpful to her but as she trusts Amanda she attempts to use it. She finds a “CAMHS discharge” scenario and looks through the prompts and questions it offers her. MOMO also gives her information about discharge and her rights as an adult, and provides information on what she can do to get help. It asks her questions and prompts her to think about what she wants, not just what she’s being told will happen. She doesn’t complete any of the forms, just reads and explores MOMO’s information.

Laura’s meeting with her care coordinator goes well and is much better than normal. She sees instant results from the information and thinking she gained through MOMO and so decides to continue using it.

Over the next few weeks she uses MOMO to plan her discharge on her terms, creating a care plan and pathway of her own.

Summary: What Laura wants Mind Of My Own to be able to do to…

  • 24-7As a young person I want something I can use on my own, in my own time, any time of the day
  • As a young person I want to be able to find a scenario that applies to me easily and in language I’m familiar with
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be reassuring
  • As a young person I MOMO to be easy and intuitive to use – I don’t want another system to get lost in
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be relevant, it needs to feel personal and safe.
  • As a young person I want MOMO to provide me with information about my rights and entitlements
  • As a young person I want something to help me challenge the system with me
  • As a young person I want to know the options available to me – I want to be shown that it’s not just about what’s happening but what I want to happen
  • As a young person I want something that is mine – it gives me a sense of control and power
  • As a young person I want something that doesn’t pressurise me into signing up or filling out forms – I want the time and space to explore it without committing
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be consistent. I need to know that it won’t change or go even when everything else is
  • As a young person I want to see results instantly
  • As a young person I want MOMO to help me create a pathway plan, on my terms

  Laura’s story is one of four user journey’s we’ve created. To see the rest click here.

Using Mind of My Own: Jermaine’s Journey

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This is the story of Jermaine, one of four fictitious personas we’ve created to help us design Mind Of My Own. Jermaine and his fellow personas are based on a combination of ethnographic research and personal experiences of our team as young people and advocates.

Jermaine - a young personMeet Jermaine

Jermaine is 18 and a care leaver from Wilmslow. He left care when he was 16 and has been struggling to grow into adulthood ever since.

Jermaine had mental health problems as a younger teen, diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder probably brought on by his abusive early childhood. He experiences night terrors regularly. This is compounded by his asthma that leaves him struggling for breath after waking.

For the last six months he’s been living with his girlfriend in her flat in Wilmslow. Their relationship is difficult. She works part-time, he has no job and isn’t at college. He is fairly chaotic in his life, with changing groups of friends and an unstable relationship with his leaving care worker who he last saw three months ago.

Jermaine likes rap, reggae, dub and beans on toast.

Jermaine’s MOMO Story

Jermaine’s journey with MOMO begins when he splits up with his girlfriend. She kicks him out and he spends the night on the sofa his friend Fred.

A week later and Jermaine is still sofa-surfing at Fred’s, only Fred is getting fed up. Rather than asking him to leave Fred tries to think of other ways he can help. He googles ‘care leaver help’ and finds Mind Of My Own.

Fred finds out about Jermaine’s rights and entitlements and reads them out loud to him. Fred tells him he probably has a right to help with finding accommodation. Jermaine tells him he’s not interested. MOMO asks Fred if he wants to get a housing problem sorted. Fred tells Jermaine that if he doesn’t try it then he’ll kick him out. He clicks yes and works with Jermaine to make him say what to write.

Guided by MOMO’s prompts and questions, Jermaine and Fred spend half an hour putting a statement together. The statement explains Jermaine’s situation, state’s his right to support and what he would like to have happen. When they are done MOMO gives them some send and save options, one of which is to send it to Jermaine’s leaving care team by email (because the team is registered on MOMO). They click yes.

Jermaine’s statement arrives by email at the leaving care team. They send it on to Ray, Jermaine’s leaving care worker. Ray calls Jermaine and offers to meet him next week.

Three days later MOMO sends an email to Jermaine, asking him has he had a reply and is he happy with it? It gives him the option of sending a standard email to his leaving care team asking them what is happening. Jermaine gets regular emails asking him how it is going and does he need MOMO to give him a hand. He feels supported by this and feels more informed and cool to sort things out with Ray when he meets him. In the future he may use MOMO again to help him get other issues sorted.

Summary: What Jermaine wants Mind Of My Own to be able to do…

  • now waitingAs a young person I want something that I can use here and now without having to wait for my service or worker to register me
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be easy to find – by myself and for other people helping me
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be easy for other people to use to help me
  • As a young person I want something that’s quick and simple to use – it doesn’t take all day
  • As a young person I want it to be easy to understand my rights and entitlements
  • As a young person I want guidance on what to say so that I am heard and people know what I want and need
  • As a young person I want choices around how I express my views and how I deliver them to the people who are there to help me
  • As a young person I want to be supported after I have expressed my views, so that I know what to do if I don’t get a response or am unhappy about what happens
  • As a young person I want MOMO to be kind and helpful without feeling patronising or like an adult who isn’t to be trusted
  • As a young person I want to feel informed and empowered 

 Jermaine’s story is one of four user journey’s we’ve created. To see the rest click here.

A Basic MOMO User Journey

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Earlier this week we were talking about what a young person’s basic user journey might look like. Here’s what we produced.

MOMO Basic User Journey

Next week we’ll be producing some more detailed journeys for young people, advocacy services and social care services. The research we’ve done will inform what goes into those journeys.

Don’t just ask people what they think… the pitfalls of user consultation

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pitfallWhen starting a new project or product build it can be tempting to run consultations on what your users think of your product idea. If you ask them “is this a good idea?” or “what sort of features should this have?” you’re likely to get responses that are overly hypothetical and don’t actually tell you much.  Dave Feldman has written an excellent post on the difficulties of doing user research and testing. Here’s an extract from his article: (more…)

Making Data-driven Decisions About MOMO


Tattoo StoreAt this early stage we’re trying to understand the value of a self-advocacy app to advocacy services and statutory services for children in care and those with mental health issues. To do this we’re just talking to them and trying to get the data we need to make some decisions.

Here’s an example of what we are trying to do (more…)