Advocate meets Protégé

Advocate meets Protégé

Nathan and James

Each of us are drawn to certain involvements. One can ever know how those involvements will evolve and unfold. All any of us can do is do our level best with our commitments. That is how I was attracted to Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy. I was driven by a sense of injustice. And I was searching for some practical way to involve myself to tackle this perennial societal problem. Many times, I had driven by the office where Citizen Advocacy is located in Maroochydore. Somehow, intuitively, I felt drawn to walk in and find out more about the organisation. After a brief conversation with the co-ordinator, I knew working as an advocate was what I wanted to become involved with. I found home. That was in February 2019.

I believe history is important. Both personal and collective. For one without the other cannot exist. As my co-ordinator shared my protégé’s personal, family, social and institution history with me, not having met Nathan yet, I immediately said to her “you have made the perfect match.” Of course, we only had some details. We would have to work hard to establish more relevant details about Nathan’s personal history. That was because of a lack of co-operation from his aged care operators, as well as others. For when we do not have enough personal history about a vulnerable person, it is more difficult to keep them well and safe. Being unseen by the wider community or being in a family or institutional setting that normalises neglect, abuse, indifference to suffering and wrongdoing, is in fact how vulnerable individuals are dehumanised, controlled, exploited, denied their human rights and otherwise harmed. Being known, seen, heard and valued in our communities equates to being safer. In Nathan’s situation, neglect had become normalised. Perhaps even past abuse.

One can never be fully prepared for advocate and protégé’s first meeting. That was true for me. When my co-ordinator first introduced me to Nathan, back in March 2019, he was sitting restrained in his wheelchair, in a locked dementia ward in an aged care facility. Our eyes met in a long meaningful exchange. I will never forget that moment. Destiny had arrived. I must be honest, I had to fight off my natural impulse to jump the fence and run away from what I had encountered. At first, through the eyes of my co-ordinator, then independently through my own conscience, I immediately apprehended why Nathan should never have been left in those horrible conditions. Where he had lived up until that point for 24 years. I left that day having determined to change his life and give him the life he deserved. And I would do whatever that took to make it happen with the full support of Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy.

The co-ordinator and I sat down and discussed how best to work on getting Nathan out of aged care. He was only 22 years old when he arrived there. Having left the notorious Basil Stafford institution in Brisbane beforehand, which he had been placed in during the first few years of his life. The co-ordinator provided support and learning opportunities to develop my advocacy knowledge, skills and confidence.

And she shared stories. Inspiring stories about successful protégé outcomes and offered me continuous encouragement, all of which would be needed to get Nathan out of aged care and into supported community living. That required gaining co-operation from others that wanted to maintain the status quo.

Visiting Nathan regularly and building up a personal friendship while talking to his carers was an essential part of build rapport and trust. From the start, I wanted to gently point out to staff, management, services and family that Nathan’s situation was not working in his best interests. There was some resistance by people, his parents included. What greatly helped to turn everyone around was the respectful process we followed. Which began with being invited to provide anonymous information to the Royal Commission Into Aged Care. Our involvement focused on providing evidence of conditions that younger people like Nathan are experiencing in aged care. Then we worked to secure a suitable NDIS package for Nathan that would support community living, followed by going to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to gain formal guardianship through the appointment of the Office of Public Guardian to assist with Nathan’s transition out of aged care. I then appointed the best support co-ordination provider I could find. Then went about appointing the best supported community housing provider I could find. Followed by selecting all Nathan’s allied health practitioners. And maintaining and adding new medical support staff determined that he only has the best people in his team. And now with this integrated team approach we provide constant monitoring and facilitation of all the above through meetings and reviews, which of course is ongoing.

The above process took over 1 year to prepare Nathan for moving out of aged care. Then in May of 2020, Nathan’s Occupational Therapist (OT) and I met Nathan at his aged care home. Staff on duty said their farewells and some became quite emotional. Nathan arrived at his new home and got out of his wheelchair walking into his own place. He was visibly excited, as were his OT and community housing owner and staff. Nathan has since settled into his new home and is thriving on all levels of his life.

Over the last 6 months after moving Nathan out of aged care he celebrated his 48th birthday. Since then he has become a visible and valued member of our community. He smiles more. He is free to move whenever he wishes to. He eats when he is hungry and enjoys delicious and nutritious food. He rests when he needs too. He has made new friends. He interacts with his neighbours and their pets. He goes to the barber. He goes to the beach. He goes to the gardens. He goes to the pub where they give him free mocktails! And a new house mate has arrived for him to make friends with. His life has transformed into a joyful one. He no longer feels bored and lonely. Now his days are filled with loving attention and caring responsive people. People love Nathan. He has a way of bringing the best out of them. Because he loves them unconditionally. He is a gentle man with a cheeky sense of fun.

On his birthday, I was heading into visit my daughter in Brisbane. Before leaving I planned to drop into Nathan’s place and sing happy birthday and give him his presents and card. I was hoping his mum and dad would be there too. They were there when I arrived. Nathan was enjoying all the attention. The house felt like a home. Nathan’s life had come a long way since leaving aged care. And so, had he. Nathan was eating cake with his parents. I was talking with Nathan’s mum and dad. Then I asked his mum, “How do you feel about Nathan’s life now?” she responded that “her hesitations were no longer a concern”. That for me was a significant moment. This time in Nathan’s presence.

Our friendship had eliminated doubts and concerns Nathan’s mum and dad initially held over moving him out of aged care. Sometimes people can see what others cannot until they can as well. Advocates and protégé’s have a way of showing others how lives can be made better in significant ways. That is the work of advocacy.

Later, while driving towards Brisbane, tears of joy flowed freely down my cheeks as I knew Nathan’s and my determination to get him out of aged care and into his new life was the right decision. Because it is obvious to anyone that Nathan is significantly better off now. The power of a advocate’s freely given friendship, that is fiercely independent, even of the agency it works with when required, that is based on lifelong loyalty to a vulnerable person and, that is able to withstand all obstacles and challenges in relation to protecting their protégés best interests and well-being from being realised – defines citizen advocacy.

I look forward to the days ahead that Nathan and I have as friends.