Citizen Advocacy Board Manual
Section 5

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Citizen Advocacy Principles: a brief overview

The principles of Citizen Advocacy form the foundation on which each Programme bases its work. For a fuller understanding refer to CAPE.


Advocate Independence

In order to effectively represent protégé needs, advocates must be free to develop a primary loyalty to protégés and to act as independently as possible in meeting protégé needs. This means that:

a) advocates should see themselves as supported by, but independent of, the Citizen Advocacy office itself;

b) advocates should see themselves as independent of the agencies and settings which provide services for protégés;

c) advocates should be able to see themselves as independent from the families of protégés in those instances where family interests are different from those of individual protégés.

The Citizen Advocacy Programme should be structured to support citizen advocates as unpaid, independent volunteers to an individual person.


Loyalty to Protégés

Most protégés will be at least somewhat more dependent on human services and on their families than will others of their age. The people on whom a protégé depends will develop their own perspectives on the protégé’s needs. Sometimes these perspectives are so strong as to distort the protégé’s own interests to conform to the needs of service providers or even families.

It is essential to Citizen Advocacy that the advocate strive to define situations from the perspective of the protégé, and act to influence situations involving the protégé in terms of the protégé’s perspective. While the principle can be simply stated - the citizen advocate gives their time freely to and acts as the agent of an individual protégé - defining a meaningful awareness of the protégé’s perspective is typically a process which will develop throughout the advocate-protégé relationship. The more complex a protégé’s situation, the more this necessary task will challenge the citizen advocate.


Program Independence

In order to support the development of effective advocacy relationships, the Citizen Advocacy office must be independent. Independence implies the greatest possible freedom from conflict of interest in administrative structures and funding.

The Citizen Advocacy office must be administratively and physically separated from agencies which operate direct service programs involving (potential) protégés. A Programme which depends on, or is identified with, a service provider:

a) may face a loss of support if advocates begin to challenge the sponsoring agencies practices or structure;

b) is at risk of losing its understanding or promotion of Citizen Advocacy.

For instance, if the Citizen Advocacy office is perceived as an agency volunteer office by its sponsors or its constituents, it may begin to believe or to think as if it were one; if Citizen Advocacy office staff become identified with service providers, they are likely to develop an agency-centred perception of people’s needs; or a Citizen Advocacy office identified with a service will present the public, other service providers, (potential) advocates, and (potential) protégés with a confused image.


Clarity of Staff Function

In order to develop the full range of its potential, a Citizen Advocacy office needs staff who understand the nature and possibilities of Citizen Advocacy and who communicate this understanding by supporting, not supplanting, advocate-protégé relationships; and by directing their energies toward building and maintaining the Citizen Advocacy Programme as a whole.

Clear and effective staff functioning requires the distinction of a well-defined staff role from the role of the citizen advocate, noncompetition with other advocacy roles, and staff involvement with others involved in developing Citizen Advocacy concepts and Programmes.


Balanced Orientation to Protégé Needs

People with disability have a wide variety of needs for representation and relationships which can be met by citizen advocates. One of the greatest potential strengths of Citizen Advocacy is the flexibility to define and support those relationships which can, if the participants choose, fit the changing individual circumstances of a protégé. However, realising this potential requires that Citizen Advocacy staff should be capable of developing and implementing complex, multi-path plans for recruiting and supporting many different types of relationships.

Many Citizen Advocacy offices have developed in the absence of such a multi-path strategy, and have greatly narrowed both the types of protégé needs they perceive, the kinds of advocates they recruit, and the kinds of support they offer. This narrowing can easily define the pattern of growth of a Citizen Advocacy office over time such that potential flexibility becomes fixed in one or a few categories of response. Narrowing the range of possible citizen advocacy roles can result either in provision of overly restrictive relationships, or an inability to meet a substantial need for protection.


Protégé Characteristics

Many individual characteristics of advocates and protégés must be considered in developing an appropriate individual match. However, review of Citizen Advocacy implementation to date has identified four dimensions of protégé need which have the potential to be ignored or under-emphasised.

These are:

a) a limited age range in protégé recruitment, thus limiting not only the range of their service but also the potential to recruit some advocates who identify more readily with an ignored age group;

b) service to people who have limited ability to reciprocate relationships;

c) people who need active spokesmanship to protect their rights;

d) people who need relationships which will be long-lasting.


Diversity of Advocacy Roles

The range of citizen advocacy roles which a Citizen Advocacy office staff conceptualise and plan for as they recruit, match and support advocates is perhaps the single most powerful determinant of an office’s long-term success.

This does not suggest that citizen advocates are, or should be, bound to any sort of a ‘job description’. Citizen advocates choose the investment they wish to make; and choose, together with the protégé, the direction and content of their relationship. However, most advocates make their choices in the context of options defined and supported by the Citizen Advocacy staff.

Without a complex and flexible scheme for defining potential advocate roles, the complex and varied needs of potential protégés will be funnelled into only a few categories of response.

There are at least three dimensions necessary to define an adequate range of advocate roles:

1. The distinction between formal and informal relationships.

a) Formal relationships are created by the due process of law and include purely instrumental roles (e.g.. conservator or guardian of property) and instrumental-expressive roles (e.g.. adoptive parent, or plenary guardian of a person).

b) Informal relationships are created by the choice of those who are party to them.

2. The instrumental-expressive action continuum where instrumental actions are taken to solve practical, material problems, and expressive actions are taken to meet needs for communication, relationship, support and love.

3. The degree of demand experienced by the citizen advocate in the relationship.


Positive Interpretations of People with Disability

The Citizen Advocacy Programme should be a model in the interpretation of people with disability. This implies both a systematic, highly conscious orientation to avoiding various types of deviancy-image juxtaposition and actively seeking the most positive possible and yet honest interpretation. This does not mean that the Citizen Advocacy office will deny the existence of people’s disabilities, or the nature of their social situation.

Interpretations which suggest negative roles or images, even very subtly, contribute to the devaluation of people with disability. Specifically, the Programme should avoid places, actions, or images which connect people with disability with images or practices which connote:

• death or decay

• triviality, worthlessness

• menace

• subhumanity

• sickness

• eternal childhood

• animality

• pity or charity

Instead, the Citizen Advocacy office should seek the most highly positive, value-conferring and yet valid possible associations which support the developmental growth potential, citizenship role, and individual human personhood of people at risk of social devaluation.

Adapted from: Standards for Citizen Advocacy Program Evaluation (CAPE) by John O’Brien and Wolf Wolfensberger 1979.