Kevin and Fran
Kevin and I have been in a citizen advocacy relationship for 25 years. We were originally matched because Kevin wanted to be part of a family and he had no close relatives in his life. Over the years there have been many times when as Kevin's advocate I have had to challenge the system, take action and defend Kevin's rights as a citizen. Kevin was deprived of money he was owed by the government and he received this as a result of my advocacy. Another time Kevin was able to stay on a trust board when his role was being challenged unfairly. Recently Kevin was in hospital and it was important that I was there for Kevin to listen to the medical staff and explain to Kevin what was happening and to advocate that he receive the best treatment available. Over the last 25 years there have been sad and difficult times and being in an advocacy relationship has been important for both Kevin and myself. Kevin and my family and friends have shared many enjoyable times together including birthdays, celebrations, community events and time spent at my sister's in Australia. Being an advocate for Kevin has enriched my life immensely and I hope it has made some difference for him.
Linda and Liz
I became involved with Citizen Advocacy when someone needed an advocate urgently for what was thought to be for a short time only. I have now been an advocate and friend for Linda for fifteen years.
Since our first meeting I have been involved in her life in many different ways, for example going to social events, going with her to medical appointments, making a complaint to police about her neighbours and helping her to move house.
Over the years there have been a wide range of issues and problems that she has asked for or I have offered my assistance to help her with. As an advocate, I have become very aware of how some people treat other people who look a little different. People can be thoughtless and insensitive towards others and an advocate can help to reduce that happening.
Linda says that having an advocate means that it gives more weight when trying to express herself in any situation and that others will give her more respect. That means she feels people are more likely to believe what she is saying when she is with me. When on her own she says she is often ripped off especially when dealing with trades people or when paying for a service. I have certainly noticed that trades people tend to do a poorer job for her and sometimes charge her more than what the work is worth.
I enjoy being a citizen advocate and know that the help I give Linda is appreciated. Being a citizen advocate does make a difference in someone’s life.
Susan and Sue
Susan and Sue met each other in 2001 at a time when the only people in Susan’s life were people who were paid to be there. That’s not to say Susan didn’t have family, service friends and life partners who in the past had shaped her life including a few who had a strong influence that sometimes resulted in not such great outcomes for her. And it’s not to say that paid professionals didn’t care because they did, despite the challenges Susan sometimes presented. In 2003, some time after Sue left her professional position Sue asked the Citizen Advocacy coordinator to ask Susan whether she would like Sue to be in her life as a citizen advocate. Sue and Susan talked some more, Sue became Susan's citizen advocate and they’ve enjoyed a mutual friendship since.
Sue: My family see Susan as one of the family. If Susan calls and I’m out, her message is passed on to me as soon as I walk in the door and I’d better not forget to call her back! We both like celebrating Christmas and birthdays. I don’t always get it right though and we’re learning about each other as the years roll by - fair enough that a calendar of Cliff Richard wasn’t what she was really looking for. Our family have discovered Susan’s great at helping to prepare a roast, and she’s the queen of the tea pot. Susan has been coming to our place for Christmas and Boxing Day for many years now, and is warmly welcomed by our friends for Christmas tea; there can never be too much dessert! Since my adult children have all left home, Susan has been given the tour of their new homes. So when Susan turned 60, family were definitely on her invitation list and we all went to Waiheke for the weekend to celebrate.
Susan and I enjoy getting out and about around Auckland. She is really a tea-girl but when she was introduced to a flat white there was nothing stopping us from exploring the café hot spots around town Generally we just like spending time together talking, and this gives me a chance to listen deeply to what’s going on for Susan. When the occasion calls for it, then my advocacy role kicks in.
One of the things about living a life under a service is that people get used to having things paid for. Sixty-two bucks isn’t much when it has to cover getting out and about, clothes, going to the doctor, paying for medication etc. At first I thought Susan saw me as a ‘cash cow’ but on reflection the journey has been about Susan learning that I’m not staff and that she’s my friend. Friends sometimes pay for each other and sometimes they don’t, sometimes they take turns. The notion of the give and take of being a friend can be a challenge at times.
Even though Susan gets cross with me from time to time, I keep telling Susan I’m committed for life and I’m always going to be her friend and this does not depend on money. As the saying goes, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” At some point though we all depart this mortal coil and a few years ago my mind turned to encouraging Susan to build up a circle of friends because I believe that it’s through our social networks that we are included, and it's through our social networks that new roles are identified, nurtured and developed. This isn’t easy because Susan seems to have capacity for only one or two people she wants to call a friend, and she doesn’t distinguish between people who are paid to be there, and people who are not.
Susan’s own reluctance to talk about part time work or even volunteering also means lost opportunities for work connections and roles. So after talking with Susan and key people in the service that supports her, I got over an ideological reluctance to advertise and placed an ad in the Coffee News community flyer for a coffee buddy for Susan. Sue and I met L. at a cafe, and over coffee we began to tentatively look for common connections and potential new acquaintances. Some promising starts haven’t ended so well; Susan has a dislike of bossy people. She’s always sorry when she loses her temper.
People aren’t always nice, kind or trustworthy and Susan has her own reasons for being reluctant to connect with new people. Rejection and wounding go deep. I still worry about my advocacy role in Susan’s life because I feel I’m not doing well enough by Susan in connecting her to a wider network of people. So I ask myself, have we all taken enough risks including Susan herself. Susan’s life wounds have cut deep and what right have I to expose her to fresh wounds and rejection? What right have I not to? As Bob Rhodes has said:"We are hindered by both our beliefs and our self belief. It is important to test the veracity of our assumptions and find ways around our self limitation where this impacts upon folk we aspire to assist"
Susan has been married twice and was in a significant relationship with Ellis who passed away unexpectedly in December 2013. As Susan’s friend, citizen advocate and her Welfare Guardian, it was a busy time for me supporting her to organise the funeral, meet with the Public Trust, and follow through on everything that needed to be done. Susan often talks about Ellis; her loss is deep and profound. She visits his grave as often as she can.
Susan wants to please the people in her life. Of course she does, she’s dependent on so few people that she must. Susan is getting closer to retirement age. Since the age of 17, Susan has spent most of her life in services, some contained, and some that offered flexibility. She’s very clear that she wants to live in a home to call her own, closer to town where there are buses, shops and cafes that she can get to.
Susan’s world right now is dominated by nice people, good people, well intentioned and skillful people. Despite the plethora of principles that abound in all New Zealand’s policy documents, Susan holds the opinion that other people hold the power and direction over her life. Susan wants to leave where she is living, but she doesn’t like any of the other services because she’s had a taste of them over the years and this tension can often cause her to be distressed. Lately we’ve been talking about thinking of a good retirement plan. Susan is really clear about what she doesn’t want.
Sue: “So Suze, you’re 65 in a couple of years. If you were able to truly live the life you have imagined for yourself, what would your life look like?”
Susan: “I want to live in a state unit or council flat with one bedroom. I’d love to have a pet. I’d make cups of tea for all my visitors. You and your family could come for dinner and I’d make you a roast.”
Sue: Over the past fifteen years our relationship has weathered the storms that relationships experience. We’ve had our ups and downs. Like good friends we tell each other how we’re feeling. Except for times when I’ve really annoyed her, usually because things aren’t happening for her quickly enough, Susan still ends our phone conversations by saying “I love you Sue” and I say “I love you Susan” and we both mean it. Love’s so strong isn’t it.
Susan trusts me to do right by her. Chauncey Depew said “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
And so our Citizen Advocacy journey continues.