Helping Sunita

What the person’s situation before working with Advocacy Focus? 

Sunita has a diagnosis of Global Development Delay and was completing her final year at a specialist school. Sunita lived at home with her parents and two younger siblings, no package of care was in place to support Sunita. Sunita had disclosed to staff at school that she had been taken overseas by her parents who had informed her that they had arranged for her to get married to a man she had never met before. Sunita’s parents had told her that she did not have a choice in the matter, and for her to display any reluctance to participate in the marriage would bring shame on the family. Sunita told school staff that she felt compelled to agree to the marriage as she feared what might happen if she said no, but that she really did not want to be married.  Staff at school raised a safeguarding alert and the local authority initiated the process of making Section 42 enquiries under the Care Act 2014, while a police investigation ran alongside this. Sunita did not have anyone appropriate to support her involvement in the safeguarding process, therefore an Independent Advocate (IA) was appointed. Mental capacity assessments were completed for decisions around marriage and sex and Sunita was deemed to lack capacity for both.

What did advocacy do to help the person? 

The IA met Sunita at school, as it was identified that Sunita presented as most relaxed speaking with new people when away from the family home. The IA explained to Sunita the purpose of their role and reassured Sunita of their independence from other services and from Sunita’s family. Sunita told her IA that she felt distressed by the investigation, especially the police involvement, and didn’t understand who all the different people involved in the investigations were. Sunita’s IA worked with Sunita to put together a diagram of all the different professionals involved in the safeguarding with simple explanations of their role. 

While engaging with her IA, Sunita explained to them that she did not feel comfortable talking about what had happened when she went overseas and was married. Sunita made very clear to her IA that she had felt pressured to get married against her will, and she wanted people to know what had happened to her but saying the words out loud was too upsetting for her. Sunita stated “I feel comfortable working with you and telling you about what happened, but I just can’t bring myself to say the words. I want people to know though, because I’m worried that this will happen to my little sisters in a few years’ time.”  The IA worked with Sunita to help her find an alternative method to express herself than spoken word. Sunita explained that it helped her to imagine that this was not happening to her personally, but someone else. Sunita explained, “sometimes I imagine that I’m in a fairy tale, this bad thing has happened to me, but I’ll get rescued and have my happily ever after.”

Sunita’s IA supported her to put together a fairy tale book about what had happened to her, so that they could present this to the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) so that Sunita’s voice could be heard in a way which was personal to her own needs and preferences. The ending of the book culminated with Sunita’s marriage ending and her having the freedom to marry whoever she wanted to, when she was a few years older. Sunita explained that she did not want to attend any meetings about the safeguarding but asked her IA to attend on her behalf and show them the fairy tale book, which her IA presented to the MDT on her behalf.

During meetings with her IA, it became clear that Sunita wanted to be more independent from her parents, especially with making friends and going out into the community. The IA put these views forward during the safeguarding process as a point for consideration on Sunita’s behalf. As a result, Sunita was then allocated a Social Worker to complete a full Care Act assessment to look at how this could be explored further. 

What was the outcome? 

As a result of the safeguarding process, a Forced Marriage Protection Order was applied for, which will essentially dissolve Sunita’s marriage and mean that the man Sunita was married to will not be eligible to apply for a spousal visa. This was very much in line with the outcome Sunita expressed she wanted. However, Sunita still expressed some concern about this possibly happening to her younger sisters in the future, which the IA relayed back to the social worker. As a result, the police and local authority agreed to complete some targeted work with Sunita’s parents to raise their awareness and understanding of the law around forced marriage as well as the emotional and social impact this has on the individual. 

Sunita’s IA continues to support her with the social care assessment to help her develop more independence and control over her life, and the same IA works with Sunita for consistency and there has been a positive working relationship established. Proposed outcomes of the assessment are helping Sunita to work towards her goals, including a referral to enablement services for Sunita to learn skills to be more independent in the community.  

How do you think this impacted on the person? 

When Sunita was informed that her wishes had been relayed to the Court and that her marriage had been dissolved because of the safeguarding investigations, Sunita told her IA, “I’ve actually got my happily ever after! I don’t have to worry now that I’ll be forced to be with a man that I don’t want to be with. I can make my own choice!” Sunita indicated that she felt that having people around, such as school staff, meant that she was able to tell them about her worries. Sunita explained that having the freedom to express her views and wishes creatively, in a way that she was comfortable with, meant that she felt able to have a voice, but did not have to keep reliving the trauma of what had happened. Allowing Sunita the opportunity to express herself in her own way meant that the professionals around her were able to clearly ascertain Sunita’s wishes and take action to help her. Furthermore, this intervention has allowed Sunita to receive further support to make choices and develop more autonomy in her life.

Why do you think advocacy support was so effective? 

At the beginning of engagement, Sunita was unclear of each professional’s rol and was highly anxious and distressed by the investigation and the multi-agency involvement. Sunita’s IA helped break down each agency’s individual roles in a format that was accessible to Sunita.

Advocacy involvement helped safeguard Sunita from potentially having to continue in a forced, and therefore illegal, marriage. Ensuring that Sunita could clearly express that she had not been a willing participant in the marriage and therefore the victim of abuse. Engagement between the IA and Sunita also was able to safeguard Sunita’s younger siblings from potentially being exposed to the same risk in the future.

Sunita’s IA respected Sunita’s preferred method of expression and facilitated an environment that encouraged Sunita to self-advocate her own views and wishes in an alternative format to the spoken work, due to Sunita’s individual needs. This also helped raise awareness to the wider professional team that self-advocacy is not just about supporting someone to verbally speak themselves, but that self-advocacy can also be achieved through using different creative methods.   

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