Interview with Tracy Moss, Operations and Development Manager on service user involvement

As a feature for SUID Briefing, Service User Involvement Worker, Nick Povey who curated it along with the Involvement in Action newsletter interviewed Tracy Moss who is Operations and Development Manager within Advocacy for Together on service user involvement. The interview is transcribed below from Nick as Tracy explains how she defines service user involvement, how it benefits advocacy and her plans around working with service users in the future.

How do you personally define service user involvement?

From my experience working in services and the nature of them, in mental health and in advocacy, the person is always at the centre. Service user involvement is a natural model and force within that service. It’s always the person that should be dictating, so if there’s some difficulty there it’s because the professional body is imposing a pathway that doesn’t fit with the service users.

It’s not that service user involvement is an element that should be bought in, it should be the professional that should be identifying why isn’t it happening. In my experience, when it’s discussed. It’s natural but I’ve been very fortunate to work in services where that’s a core element of the model.

How have you seen your own area of work benefit from service user involvement?

There’s a framework to follow in advocacy that is fundamentally about the service user leading the process and how the service should develop. We have an advocacy charter that we must adhere to and so training is really important for the advocate to understand how to initiate the framework, so it doesn’t impact on service user leadership. Again, it’s the advocate that needs to adhere to the framework that’s been developed by the service user in advocacy. It’s a really simple framework. There are 12 elements that you need to have at the core of advocacy, or it doesn’t work, because it’s not service user led.

When advocacy is not working so well, where there is a block happening or they don’t feel that a person is able to get their point across or issue driven forward, it’s because they are not using the advocacy principles correctly. Once they set them back into place, things work better. We have work in advocacy that is under a statutory framework, meaning that we work with legislation such as the Mental Capacity Act, the Care Act, the Mental Health Act, Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.

We live in a society that has another way of viewing decision making i.e. decision making happening on someone else’s behalf, because professionals are deemed to have their best interests at heart, imposing what they consider as safe and right for that person. The advocate will challenge that, and they have the tool of the legislation to challenge that, which empowers the service user even more to take risks and make decisions that do impact on services because services consider their decisions to be risky. But it challenges that thinking because everyone has a right to take a risk and even if you have an impairment of the brain, you have a right to take a risk. It’s fundamentally a human right and all of the legislation that the advocates now work with empowers people to be able to do that.

As advocates we need to make sure that we voice that and they are all on a daily basis breaking through the fog that is often created by professionals, the medical model, the social care model. Professionals do honestly believe that they are coming from a person centred perspective and advocating for people, but when challenged by an advocate who is absolutely working from a person centred perspective, it absolutely breaks open thinking processes.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with trying to make your work more person centred?

We are continually, on a daily basis, are attempting to keep that quality of service. But it’s a challenge, continuously because of the cuts in local government, peoples care packages are being cut, advocates are being excluded when they should be legally involved, so we’re challenging local authorities on a daily basis.

What do you have planned in the next few months?

I’m personally looking at how we involve peer support in advocacy to enhance the model that we have. I’m driving that forward at present. I’m also looking to continue to develop the model that we have now in Together where we have opportunities for volunteer service users who come into the service to be more involved in the diversity within the team that we have. Because we work with people with a learning disability, people on the autistic spectrum, people in mental distress but also people with severe physical and mental disabilities and difficulties, they are able to come into our service and actually share with us how to move the service forward. Because of our volunteer scheme, we’re able to have a position which is recognised, which we weren’t able to do before in statutory advocacy. We’re seeing that it’s really meant a complete change in the way that the advocacy model works in Together. That’s because I’ve always worked alongside the Service User Involvement Team in Together, with Mandy and Jess.

It’s taken for years for us to get to this place but we were always looking for opportunities to get to a place where we felt things fitted better within the Together values and how we bring that within a structure that we have to work in legally and contractually under statutory advocacy. I feel as if we’ve got there now, so it’s about moving that forward and looking at more opportunities for new tenders. We’ve got a really good reputation for tenders in Together for advocacy in the Yorkshire, Lancashire and Merseyside where we deliver services now. I want to take that forward, it’s really exciting and we have a really hard working team who really get it and get what service user involvement is about.

Together for Mental Wellbeing · Together interview with Tracy Moss on service user involvement