The impact of a Citizen Advocacy office depends on the availability of sufficient staff time to effectively perform a balance of seven key activities listed below. These activities will back up and support volunteer citizen advocates and maximise the probability that relationships will last over time, despite the changing needs of their protégés.
One of the main responsibilities of the Board is to provide accountability for the work of the staff in carrying out the key office activities therefore the Board should require details of the progress in each of the key activities in each monthly report from the Coordinator.
The Key Citizen Advocacy Activities are:
Vision and Creativity in Protégé Recruitment
Follow-along and Support to Relationships
Emphasis on Advocate-associates
Balance of Key Advocacy Office Activities
Encouragement of Advocate Involvement with Voluntary Associations
Sufficiency of Citizen Advocacy Office Staff
The key activities of a citizen advocacy program are identifying and recruiting protégés (or protégé recruitment); recruiting people to be citizen advocates (or advocate recruitment); orienting citizen advocates (advocate orientation); bringing advocates and protégés together (the matching process); keeping in touch (follow-along); supporting the relationship (support); and balance of the key office activities. The key activities are listed as above with how these are titled in C.A.P.E. and in L.f.C.A.P. so that the reader may connect which activity is which. In C.A.P.E., ongoing training and advocate-associate emphasis are treated as separate key activities. Following is a brief overview of these key activities:
As the Learning From Citizen Advocacy Programs (L.f.C.A.P.) manual states (section 3-5) citizen advocacy coordinators must be active and personal in their efforts to identify and recruit people for citizen advocacy relationships. Coordinators must also visit each potential protégé, get to know each one as an individual, and then develop a profile that summarises the persons situation, interests, and needs. A key step in this process is knowing how to determine the actual situation a person is in. Just as important as how coordinators recruit protégés, is whom they identify to be protégés. Every CA office must devise its own recruitment plan for protégés and not be controlled in this matter by an outside service provider.
Many coordinators find it wise to limit the number of people for whom they are recruiting citizen advocates. Looking for too many advocates can overwhelm a coordinator. Conversely, by looking for too few advocates, the coordinator may match a potential advocate to a potential protégé when they are not well suited to each other, or turn away potential advocates because they do not have the qualities the coordinator is looking for. While there is no magical number of people for the working list, the most common range seems to be three to six individuals.
Once a person has been identified as a potential protégé, the coordinator needs to know something about the persons background, current situation, interests, desires, specific need for a citizen advocate and the advocates initial role(s). The profile should conclude with a list of the desired characteristics of a potential citizen advocate and the places and people to start contacting. The profile of the potential protégé should reflect the thinking of the coordinator about where and with whom to begin the process of advocate recruitment.
A citizen advocacy coordinator must identify potential advocates on the basis of the situation, interests and desires of the potential protégé. The recruitment of citizen advocates is specific, begins with the coordinators own personal resources, and then extends to the networks of the board. Coordinators must be persistent and systematic in their recruitment efforts. Citizen advocacy coordinators must be able to articulate the needs of the potential protégé and to approach the potential advocate with a specific rationale for his or her involvement.
The Citizen Advocacy coordinator should offer a "variety of ways for learning about Citizen Advocacy and individualise his/her approach to fit the people involved." The coordinator must make sure that the citizen advocate clearly knows why the person needs an advocate, possible role(s) that the advocate might assume, the principles of Citizen advocacy, the offices role in supporting the relationship, and the social situation of people with mental and/or physical disabilities.
During the orientation process, it is not simply enough that a coordinator go over these topics with a new advocate. A coordinator should check back with the advocate to make sure that she understands the points that are being made. People learn in different ways, so a coordinator must be able to cover this material in a wide variety of ways: written (articles, handouts, summaries); verbally (chats, informal conversations, and informal presentations). Coordinators can invite experienced advocates to be involved in this process, for instance, to meet and talk on a personal basis with a new advocate. Although advocates will learn more about these areas as time goes on and the relationship becomes more established, they will still need an introduction to each of these topics.
When bringing the citizen advocate and the protégé together, the Citizen Advocacy coordinator should clarify the expectations for the initial meeting, and give each person a change to get to know each other. The coordinator may want to make sure that the potential protégé is presented in the best light possible (e.g. well dressed, groomed, out of bed if possible, and so on). Some thought should be spent on where the introductory meeting should take place. Once this has happened, the coordinator asks for a "yes" from both parties, and clarifies the initial focus of the relationship and responsibility both people will have to each other.
As both OBrien and Wolfensberger suggest, on some occasions, the protégé may be unable or unwilling to say "yes" to the citizen advocacy relationship. This should not necessarily be a barrier to finding an advocate for this person. For instance, potential protégés may be unconscious, or their life in danger, or their actions so curtailed that an agreement is not possible, yet the need for a citizen advocate is high. The coordinator must also reaffirm the agreement and expectations of both people after they have spent some time together (this should probably occur within the first two or three visits after the initial introduction has taken place).
The Citizen Advocacy office should regularly contact the citizen advocate to find out what is happening in the relationship. While coordinators may contact advocates frequently in the early stages of the relationship (weekly, then every other week, then monthly, and so on), advocates in an established relationship may be contacted less often. The Citizen Advocacy office will need to have some system in place so that the coordinator can record when she was last in touch with the advocate, when contact should next be initiated, and any other points to note. (However, at times when advocates need support due to advocacy action or the circumstances of their relationship contact would be much more often, even for long-term relationships) Ed.
In providing support to citizen advocates, the coordinator, when requested to do so, should offer support, assistance, information, contact people, and encouragement. The coordinator should also encourage the citizen advocate to seek such assistance and support from the people the advocate knows and should be prepared to bring some advocates together when they share similar concerns in order to clarify their situations and think about the possible courses of action.
Thus, in order to properly support an advocate, a coordinator must do more than simply stay in touch. She must have enough of a sense of what is going on in the relationships to offer supports, for example, a listening ear, problem-solving, or specific resources.
Finally, all of these key office activities must be balanced in terms of the time and energy that is spent on doing them. Otherwise, a coordinator may spend too much time in initiating relationships and not enough time in actually supporting the advocates. Thus many relationships may end in the first few months after the initial introduction took place. Achieving a positive balance is quite a challenge for any citizen advocacy program, and is usually only achieved (although never perfect) over time.
Zana Lutfiyya is teaching in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Canada. Zana has been a citizen advocate, a citizen advocacy coordinator, and a board member.