Citizen Advocacy Board Manual
Section 3

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History of the Citizen Advocacy Movement

North America

The first Citizen Advocacy Programme was established in Omaha, Nebraska, USA in 1970 and was soon followed by other Programmes across North America. Earlier, in 1966, a group of parents had met to share their common feelings and experiences at a conference organised by the United Cerebral Palsy Association. Most were concerned about the lifetime care of their sons and daughters and asked ‘Who will take an interest in my son or my daughter when I die?’.

Dr Wolf Wolfensberger, who was working in Omaha at the time, responded to the question and by 1968 had developed an advocacy/protection schema called Citizen Advocacy. The schema is based on the premise that people, with no human service connections, will respond to the needs, and protect the interests of, people with disability when asked. It also has built-in safeguards to protect as far as possible the way Citizen Advocacy works (refer to ‘A Multi-component Advocacy/Protection Schema’ Wolf Wolfensberger 1977).

However, the success of the carefully planned and operated early Citizen Advocacy Programmes led many other groups to establish ‘Citizen Advocacy Programmes’ which did not understand the basic concepts, principles and safeguard of Citizen Advocacy. The result was that many so called ‘Citizen Advocacy Programmes failed and the concept was under severe threat.

In 1978, Dr Wolfensberger and John O’Brien published ‘Standards for Citizen Advocacy Program Evaluation' (CAPE). This developed guidelines and evaluation standards for Citizen Advocacy following intensive study into current Citizen Advocacy Programmes, establishing ‘what worked’ and ‘what led to problems’ in each of the major issues in Citizen Advocacy. CAPE forms the foundation for the operation and evaluation of Citizen Advocacy Programmes around the world.



Australian Citizen Advocacy Programmes began in Perth (1980), Melbourne (1981) and Canberra (1982). The first New South Wales Programme was established in 1982 in Western Sydney under the sponsorship of the New South Wales Council for Intellectual Disability with a grant from the International Year of Disabled People Steering Committee (IYDP) later replaced from what is now the State Department of Community Services. The success of the first Programme, the Western Sydney Citizen Advocacy Programme (WesCAp) as it was then known (now Citizen Advocacy Western Sydney), led to requests from the community to assist in establishing Citizen Advocacy Programmes in other areas. There are now eight Programmes in New South Wales and a total of 25 established Programmes across Australia. In NSW all but Citizen Advocacy Western Sydney are fully funded by the Commonwealth.

The NSW Programmes were established:

Citizen Advocacy Western Sydney - 1982
Citizen Advocacy Northside - 1984
Newell Citizen Advocacy - 1986
Citizen Advocacy Northwest - 1986
Illawarra Citizen Advocacy - 1989
Citizen Advocacy Ryde-Hunters Hill - 1990
Citizen Advocacy Eastside - 1991
Citizen Advocacy City West - 1992

Over the years many hundreds of people with intellectual disability in NSW have been protected from abuse, neglect and isolation by the voluntary efforts of citizen advocates.


Citizen Advocacy NSW Association

By 1983, the need was recognised for a separate organisation to assist development of further Programmes, to provide support for those established and to protect the concept and safeguard the practice of Citizen Advocacy in NSW.

The Citizen Advocacy NSW Association was established in 1984 and the first State Coordinator was appointed at the first Annual General Meeting, in August 1984. Funding was precarious with a short-term Commonwealth Demonstration Project grant in 1985 for two years for two full time staff to establish the new Programmes of Newell and Northwest. Later funding was obtained from the Commonwealth Department of Community Services & Health but at a reduced level (one and a half staff).

While Citizen Advocacy can be of benefit to people with various disabilities, the members of the Citizen Advocacy NSW Association agreed to focus their efforts on people with intellectual disability, who may also have secondary disabilities, on the understanding that this group of people is frequently the most vulnerable to rejection, abuse and isolation. It recognises the value of Citizen Advocacy for many other groups of devalued people, but it also recognises our limited resources and the further problems/hurts which would be caused to people with other disabilities if they were all congregated together.

At this time the primary focus of the State office was to foster and support Steering Committees to establish Citizen Advocacy Programmes and to help their development as effective Citizen Advocacy Programmes. However, because of limited resources and lack of availability of funding for further

Programmes, during 1992 the prime focus moved to supporting the existing Programmes in New South Wales, and providing a leadership role in Australia.

In 1994, a new Constitution was developed and adopted by the eight member Programmes; the organisation became known as Citizen Advocacy NSW Association Incorporated. From its earliest days the Association was established to protect the concept and quality practice of Citizen Advocacy, recognising its prime responsibility is to people with intellectual disability. The Association acts as a coordinating, resourcing and training centre for the Citizen Advocacy movement in New South Wales. When resources become available it is responsible for developing new Programmes. It represents the Association (via consultation with Programmes and Community members) to funding agencies, and in matters dealing with legislation and in wider issues affecting the lives and futures of people with intellectual disability. It thereby relieves Programmes of this work, allowing them to concentrate on the focus of their work of making and supporting matches.

The Member Programmes each nominate two delegates to the Association (16 positions) every year. There is also provision for community members, being people who do not belong to a local Programme but who are committed to and support the development and strengthening of the Citizen Advocacy movement. The representation of Community members is to be no more than three quarters of the total Programme delegates. A minimum of two of these positions must be held by people with intellectual disability and no more than three shall be service providers. The Association also elect the Evaluation Committee.

The Association meets at least three times a year and all members are invited to raise issues for discussion.

The voluntary Board of twelve, is elected by the Association members and, with the State Coordinator and part-time Administrative Assistant, provide leadership, promote the interests of Citizen Advocacy, promote evaluation and provide training and support to Programme Board members and staff to ensure the stability and viability of Citizen Advocacy Programmes.