Membership Spotlight – Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance

This week we are delighted to shine our ‘membership spotlight’ on Together member Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance!

Tell us about the work of the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance ?

Independent advocacy is about speaking up for, and standing alongside individuals or groups, and not being influenced by the views of others. Fundamentally it is about everyone having the right to a voice: addressing barriers and imbalances of power, and ensuring that a person’s rights are recognised, respected, and secured.

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) was set up in 2002 to promote, support and defend independent advocacy across Scotland. It is a membership organisation, currently with 38 members, which are all independent advocacy organisations or groups across Scotland. Ten of our members have a remit to deliver services to children and young people.

SIAA provides information and support to our members, gathers and distributes information about independent advocacy. SIAA works to influence legislation, policy and practice in relation to independent advocacy, and represents advocacy organisations at various levels. Our aim is to raise awareness about the value and impact of independent advocacy, influence decision makers ultimately with a view to widening access to independent advocacy for all who need it in Scotland.

What projects are you currently working on?

In February the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) and SIAA published a new briefing laying out the case for incorporation of the right to independent advocacy into Scots law.

The briefing explains the importance of independent advocacy, and the crucial role it plays in helping people to realise their other rights. As the briefing states: “without independent advocacy support, many, many people would simply be unable to participate in decisions that impact their lives. By providing information and understanding, emotional and practical support, directly speaking up and being by the side of rights-holders at the decision-making table, independent advocates directly enable this right to participate to be fulfilled.”

SIAA are part of Scotland’s Mental Health Partnership, which has launched its Manifesto ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, urging the government to implement sweeping changes to meet the needs of the nation in the post-COVID era. Mental health and wellbeing must be a priority, including for children and young people. The Manifesto specifically calls for a National Transitions Strategy to improve outcomes for children and young people experiencing mental ill health in their transitions to adulthood, as proposed in the Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions) (Scotland) Bill. This was identified as an immediate action that the next Scottish Government must take within its first 100 days. We have also launched SIAA’s Manifesto for the 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections. Our manifesto focuses on three key themes:

• Improved access to independent advocacy

• Robust, strategic provision of independent advocacy

• Independent advocacy at the heart of policy making

How do you support children and families to learn about their rights?

Helping children and young people to access information about their rights, and ensuring they understand and can explore choices is a fundamental part of an independent advocate’s work.

Independent advocacy can help to ensure that children and young people are at the heart of decisions affecting them, ensuring their voice is heard. Independent advocacy organisations’ work aligns with Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 12 states that when adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account. Independent advocacy for children and young people helps to ensure that this becomes a reality.

How does the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance influence policy development?

SIAA does a variety of policy and influencing work on issues that affect children and young people, and their human rights. We are currently developing a strand of work with Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) looking at how we can work in partnership with each other and embed independent advocacy in the systems and processes for children coming into conflict with the law, to ensure they have their rights upheld.

SIAA and our members have also worked for several years on the advocacy services related to The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The Act gave Scottish Ministers the opportunity to make provision for children to access support and representation from advocacy services when attending a children’s hearing. More information about this new strand of advocacy provision for children attending a children’s hearing can be found here.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of Together?

The work and resources Together provide around the UNCRC incorporation have been invaluable, even in our short time as members. For a small organisation like SIAA, having access to the Together resources and getting the newsletter, really makes all the difference in us having the capacity to respond to consultations and be involved in policy work.

And something a bit silly to end – if SIAA was an animal what would it be and why?

Well, our honorary member of staff is Smudge the cockatiel! As we’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic, Smudge has joined in on lots of meetings, roundtables and peer support sessions with our members. She’s even made it onto Twitter! Like Smudge, SIAA is small, powerful and agile, good at communicating, always curious and learning new things!

Smudge, the SIAA's real life cockatiel sitting on a wooden chair with her head cocked to one side.
Smudge the cockatiel!

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