Good Practice: Advocacy and Representative Structures

Rehab’s Advocacy and Representative Structures

Organisation    Rehab group
Country Ireland
Short description The Rehab Group Five-year Strategic Plan states that we will “develop a robust advocacy structure that gives people a real say in how services are delivered, and that supports people to make their voices heard, inside and outside of our services”.

Within Rehab’s service in Ireland, strong representative advocacy structures exist to support people who use Rehab’s services to self-advocate and to play a role in decision making both inside and outside of Rehab’s services. Every person who uses Rehab’s services in Ireland is encouraged to play a role in these structures and there is strong, active participation in every centre throughout Ireland.

These advocacy structure are designed to achieve these key goals:

  • Engagement – engaging effectively with people who use our services to ensure the services are meeting their needs
  • Representation – enabling elected representatives who use our services to participate in decision-making at all levels of the organisation
  • Advocacy – developing independent supports to enable individuals and groups to advocate on important issues.
  • External Advocacy supports– supporting individuals to engage with external advocacy bodies to enable them to influence change in their own lives and in the lives of others. 
Co-productive activities Rehab’s advocacy structures are led by people who use our services. At each level of the representatives structures people are elected to act as peer and self-advocates and to ensure that the people Rehab serves are at the very centre of everything that we do. 

There is an advocacy committee in every Rehab service. Regional and national committees ensure that people in the services are represented at every level of the organisation. People with disabilities also take part in board level meetings. It is fully integrated into all levels of Rehab Group as an organisation. 

The advocacy structures enable a strategic approach to participation in all consultation processes and planning processes within the organisation. It provides a framework within which the organisation can consult with and fully include people in decision making. Advocacy Committees are led and chaired by people who use the services themselves. The agenda is set by members of the committees.
Support is provided by a dedicated Advocacy Team which is managed outside of the operational management of the organisation. This contributes to greater independence for the advocacy groups. Opportunities for external engagement are also sought and developed on a regular basis to provide platforms on which to raise issues of national importance with other similar groups of people.

The Advocacy Team provides a dedicated support service to ensure that people within services and the staff who support them receive the support, capacity building and facilitation to engage and participate meaningfully. In 2015, the Advocacy Team supported 2,116 people.Ongoing support is required for many people and the Advocacy Team works in partnership with local services to ensure that necessary training is provided to staff and members of advocacy committees alike. A strong understanding of the principles of advocacy is required to ensure that the local, regional and national structures are working to highlight issues within the organisation and to play a meaningful role in decision-making.

Underlying theories Rehab’s advocacy structures are led fully by the people who use Rehab’s services. The activities are planned by elected representatives following consultation with people throughout the country. 
Direct impact Over the last number of years, representatives within Rehab’s advocacy structures have worked to highlight issues of importance in a number of areas:

Participation in Rehab’s Strategic Planning Process:  Through Rehab’s advocacy structures, a comprehensive consultation process was put in place to gather and assimilate feedback from people in services to inform the strategic planning process.

The consultation process reflected the diversity of need, the types of services, the geographic spread and the duration of time that people spend using the organisation’s services. 131 people were supported to take part in this consultation process through targeted focus groups and questionnaires.
Policy Development: Through Rehab’s advocacy structures, people are supported to participate in the development of Rehab Group policies. This has included providing feedback to the overall policy and to the development of easy read versions. They have also participated in ensuring that the implementation of policies is carried out in a way that is accessible to all.

Pre-Budget Submission
For a number of years Rehab’s advocacy committees have prepared a Pre-Budget Submission based on the feedback of its members. In 2016, 650 people from 46 services provided feedback to the development of a Pre-Budget Submission.

Comprehensive Employment Strategy Engagement: In 2015, the National Learning Network Student Conference was attended by Minister of State, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. At the conference, he invited the new National Students Committee to come and meet him to discuss barriers to training and employment experienced by students in advance of the publication of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy.

SOLAS Training Allowance: In Budget 2014, the Government announced that the SOLAS Training Allowance of €20 per week would be discontinued for new entrants from the 1st January. This led to strong engagement by National Learning Network students, with support from Rehab Group’s public affairs and advocacy team. Activities included a briefing about the loss of the allowance in Leinster House (July 2014), attended by 53 TDs (members of parliament) and Senators, an online petition gained more than 1,000 signatures, a Pre-Budget Submission and a meeting with the Minister for Skills. The issue was not resolved but financial support for NLN students continues to be a priority for the National Student Committee.

Participation in the consultation process to develop the National Cancer Strategy: 78 people were supported to take part in nine focus groups to gather feedback for the Rehab Group submission on the National Cancer Strategy.

Participation in Partial Capacity Benefit Review: In May 2014 the Department of Social Protection reviewed Partial Capacity Benefit, six National Learning Network students from three centres participated in this review.

Conclusions and results An important lesson is that it is important that representative structures are matched with engagement measures. All areas of the organisation must be aware of and positive to the inclusion of people with disabilities in all decision-making. Everyone within the organisation must be aware of the value and importance of advocacy. This has greatly improved on the opportunities that people have to take part in decision-making. 


Providing continuing and ongoing support to people to ensure that they are fully equipped to take part meaningfully. It is necessary to identify new and creative methods of communicating with groups and individuals.

Maintaining momentum for issues of importance as people leave the service. A great deal of succession planning is necessary to keep advocacy committees active in services where people are only with us for a shorter period of time. A structure similar to a students’ union is employed to make this possible.

External activities need specific support and this is an area where more work is required but plans are in place to grow this activity in future.