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An interview with Suzi Henderson, Cloverleaf CEO



Cloverleaf’s CEO, Suzi Henderson, talks about how she came to work in the sector, how advocacy has changed since she first started working as an Advocate in 2005, and what she sees as the future for advocacy.


How did you become involved in advocacy?  

I’ve been involved in advocacy for 16 years now (although it really doesn’t feel that long). I started in advocacy on my final placement for a social work degree, and just never left! To be truthful, I didn’t want an advocacy placement because I didn’t really understand what it was, how it worked, and what difference it could make to people’s lives.  Joining Cloverleaf and seeing the passion and values of the advocates, and the leadership of our CEO at the time really inspired me and I fell in love with advocacy!


How has it changed over that time?  

Advocacy has changed a lot - although the values and principles at its core have remained the same. When I first started out, there was no statutory advocacy, for example. Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of Independent Health Complaints Advocacy, Independent Mental Capacity Advocacy, Independent Mental Health Advocacy and Care Act Advocacy. People are entitled to all of these under law and they now make up the biggest proportion of the work we do - it’s been an interesting journey!


At the same time, we’ve also seen the advocacy sector become more professionalised and standardised.  There is now a national advocacy qualification (the Level 4 in Independent Advocacy Practice) and quality standards for services through the Quality Performance Mark (supported by NDTi). We’re really proud to both deliver the qualification and hold the Quality Performance Mark.


What are the biggest challenges that the sector is currently facing? 

We’re facing very similar challenges to the voluntary and health and social care sectors as a whole. There are more and more people needing our support, but not always the funding and resources to match. Quite often this means that funding is prioritised for statutory advocacy and then non-statutory / community advocacy either becomes a very small part of what we can offer, or isn’t funded at all.


As an organisation, I think we’re really fortunate in that nearly all the local authorities we work with recognise how important community advocacy is as a preventative service. Unfortunately, we know this isn’t the case nationally, which means that many people who need help to speak up and have their voices heard just aren’t getting it.


Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge. We’ve had to adapt the way we work to keep people we support and our advocates safe.  This has meant a lot of remote working over the last 18 months, which isn’t always as effective. Thankfully, we’re getting back to ‘advocacy as normal’ now.

Next year, there’ll be big legislative changes when the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are replaced by the Liberty Protection Safeguards. This will change how Independent Mental Capacity Advocates work and the government predicts there will be a much higher need for advocacy. This will present challenges in terms of funding, training and recruitment of new advocates into the sector. 


What do you think the future of advocacy looks like?

I’m optimistic that the introduction of Liberty Protection Safeguards, as well as potential changes to the Mental Health Act will mean more people have a statutory right to an Advocate, or can access one more easily. I also hope that the more collaborative ways of working across the sector, with things like the National Advocacy Leaders network, continue. It helps gives support advocacy organisations a higher profile and more opportunities to shout about the great work we do.


Finally, I would love to see community and non-statutory advocacy become a higher priority for funding - whether that’s through capacity building in local communities or funded services.  I think as a sector we’ve got a way to go in making sure our own voices are being heard and people understand the value and importance of advocacy. That’s why Advocacy Awareness Week is so important - it would be great if it was every week!

An interview with Suzi Henderson, Cloverleaf CEO