Bill & Jimmy
Sometimes just being a Friend is all it takes!
It wasn’t so long ago Jimmy (not his real name) was homeless, mixing with a bad crowd, in trouble with the law and dealing with mental illness. He even found himself on that slippery slope of self-medicating with drugs that only exacerbated his situation and sent him on a perilous spiral.
When he eventually reached rock bottom, his family reluctantly took him back under some strict conditions. In an extraordinary further gesture of support, the family even moved house to a new area so as to provide disconnection from the negative influences and bad memories of the past.
Things initially picked up dramatically after the move. There had been a number of positive signs and noticeable improvements in Jimmy’s life in a very short time. Reliance of drugs to improve a mood had soon become a thing of the past and Jimmy was certainly feeling more secure with a roof over his head and three square meals a day.
However, as time wore on, Jimmy wanted much more out of his life than just being drug free and feeling secure. Despite all the advances since the move, Jimmy was becoming increasingly more hostile and frustrated. He now found himself living a solitary existence under the constant eye of his parents and was being regularly reminded of his disabilities and past failures when dealing with government agencies. He was not coping particularly well with this new lifestyle and was beginning to vent his negative feelings increasingly on his support workers and those that were closest to him at home.
It wasn’t that Jimmy was ungrateful for all the support from family and his support workers, it was just that he was bored, short on friends and felt a total loss of control over his life. Whilst readily recognizing that he needed ongoing support and guidance, Jimmy still yearned to be more independent and more in control of his own destiny. He was simply a young man in his thirties who wanted to live his life like people of his age do. Those around him understood the issues as well but were caught between the constant dilemma of running that fine line between duty of care and the dignity of risk.
Jimmy seemed to desperately need someone he could trust and talk to both frankly and openly without being judged. Someone he could also occasionally socialize with outside of the watchful eye of omnipresent family members or support workers. To him, family members and support workers were acting out of either a sense of duty or were getting paid to deliver services to him. What he needed was something different: a responsible friend who didn’t come to his aid with either a personal, prescribed or hidden agenda. A person who genuinely had his interests at heart and would also help him to negotiate and navigate through emerging issues without the usual parental or agency bias.
The parents eventually reached out to Citizen Advocacy to see if they could find someone to fill that particular void but Jimmy was never going to be an easy match. He had left school after Year 7, was on a disability pension, suffered from mental illness and had trouble engaging with others socially.
The role of a Citizen Advocate can vary markedly depending on the needs of the individual protégé. In less demanding cases, the role might just be a matter of being a friend and an independent reference point for a protégé every now and then. Jimmy’s case, however, seemed to have all the hallmarks of demanding a fair bit more patience and time than might normally be required of an Advocate.
Fortunately for Jimmy, however, Citizen Advocacy was able to make a match that has exceeded expectations. Jimmy’s advocate has been with him for 18 months now and they have established a close and productive relationship that has achieved some remarkable results.
Jimmy’s advocate recently reported that the relationship has been building over time and they have become true friends. When asked how he might describe his role as an Advocate in theory and practice, bearing in mind in his own particular experience, the Advocate had this to say:
“My primary and enduring responsibility is to just be a friend who values and respects his protégé. At its basic level, this is just about providing someone to talk to socially outside of the family, to be there when things may be getting him down and to let him know you are there to help him navigate through any issues that may emerge.
Of course, there is and has been a more practical side to my role. I have been involved in several, varied activities with my protégé . I have helped him deal with transactions with Centrelink and other agencies within the bureaucracy. I have also attended NDIS planning meetings along with his carer and supported him at other appointments with doctors, occupational therapists and disability employment agents.
There are also other little things that I have had a hand in to help him arrange, such as initiating steps to obtain a Companion Card and library card. I have also attended Men’s Shed with him and identified and explored other potential community activities.
On the social side, we regularly have lunch together and we have attended sporting fixtures together. I have even supported him during a court hearing for an earlier misdemeanor that occurred before we were matched up”.
That perhaps says it all. Trying to describe the role of an Advocate is like trying to answer the question: “How long is a piece of string?” But we know some things about it for sure – it is a role that is needed, is effective when it is allowed to be performed appropriately and can make a huge impact on the lives of those it serves.
…… and sometimes just being a friend is all it takes!