Citizen Advocacy began with the recognition that people with intellectual disability are often rejected, segregated, neglected and even abused.
The need for Citizen Advocacy has evolved for many reasons.
- Many people with disability have no one in their lives apart from paid support staff.
- Many people with intellectual disability are limited in their ability to deal with the practical affairs of everyday life.
- The rights and opportunities of people with disabilities are often limited and, in some cases, people are unaware that they are entitled to the same rights most of us enjoy.
- With the closure of the traditional institutions, many people with disability have moved from being “shut in” to “shut out,” remaining socially isolated.
Citizen Advocacy is a way of assisting a person with disability to improve the quality of their life:
- to have a spokesperson if required
- control over decisions affecting their life
- an education
- meaningful work
- engagement in the community
Firstly, Citizen Advocacy identifies an individual with intellectual disability with unmet needs and little or no support from family or friends (a protégé.) We then find a community member (a “citizen advocate”) to voluntarily promote, protect and defend the rights and interests of the protégé.
A citizen advocate is free from any conflict of interest and is prepared to make a personal voluntary commitment to provide some of the emotional and/or tangible needs of the protégé.
Citizen advocates are recruited, orientated, matched and provided with ongoing support by the Citizen Advocacy office.
Citizen advocates are of all ages and come from all walks of life, each bringing their own very individual range of life experiences and expertise. Many are active people, some working full time. These people are choosing to weave this voluntary role into their busy lives. You do not need to have any special qualifications or experience; indeed, most citizen advocates have had no significant prior involvement with people with disability.
Broadly speaking, a citizen advocate is someone who:
- believes in the right of all people to be treated with dignity and respect,
- does not look for material rewards for helping someone in need,
- is genuine about making a long term commitment to a person,
- has high expectations about what people with intellectual disabilities can achieve with the right support; and
- demonstrate to the community by their actions and attitudes that people with disability have the same needs and interests as any other member of society.
The program recruits citizen advocates in a variety of ways. First and foremost, you can volunteer through this website or by telephoning our office. Citizen advocates also become involved in the program as a result of having been directly approached by the staff, a member of the program’s board of management or advocates within the program. Others become involved through the internet, word of mouth, or public promotion.
All citizen advocates participate in an orientation program that spans several meetings and is conducted by the Citizen Advocacy office. References are checked and a Federal Police clearance obtained before any advocate is linked.
All citizen advocates participate in an orientation program that is conducted by the Citizen Advocacy office. The aim of the orientation is to provide citizen advocates with an insight into the concept of a Citizen Advocacy program. At the end of orientation there is specific discussion regarding the needs of the person with whom they will be matched, their role as a citizen advocate. Some initial steps and long-term goals for the relationship are also proposed.
Citizen advocates are encouraged and supported to develop their understanding of their role and their protégé’s needs throughout their relationship. The Citizen Advocacy program assists by providing opportunities for advocates to meet together to hear about and discuss important, relevant issues. Advocates are also regularly informed of external workshops, seminars and training events that might be beneficial.
Once matched, the advocate’s loyalty should be directed totally toward the person with disability. That is, they are not answerable to the Citizen Advocacy office, the service provider, the person with disability’s family, or anyone else. Coordinators stay in contact with advocates and are always available to offer support, information, resources or any other assistance an advocate may seek.
The time involved is variable and entirely flexible. Some citizen advocates are in contact with their protégés several times a week, whilst others much less frequently – there are no hard and fast rules but an average may perhaps be a few hours every week or two. Many citizen advocates work full time, as do many people with disability.
Frequently a family member, service worker or concerned citizen approaches the program on the person’s behalf. Occasionally, although rarely, a person with disability may personally approach the program for assistance.
The program also undertakes to seek people out who would otherwise not come to the attention of the program. This involves visiting facilities like hostels, group homes, nursing homes, supported workshops, and so on and meeting people directly. Sometimes it is these people who may be in the most need of advocacy.
Citizen Advocacy is a small scale endeavour which is only able to assist a limited number of people each year. For this reason the program does not make promises it cannot keep. We, therefore, do not keep a waiting list or routinely accept ‘referrals.’ Instead, the program keeps a ‘working list’ of 5-10 people at a time, to whom it makes a definite commitment.
Once accepted into the program, the person with disability remains involved unless they choose to withdraw from the program, or moves so far away that continuing support is no longer feasible. Sometimes, this means that the person will be re-matched with another advocate, should the first match conclude for some reason.
If you are aware of someone with intellectual disability who you feel is vulnerable and in need of an advocate, please let us know.
A Citizen Advocacy coordinator spends time in getting to know the person. This includes (as far as possible) consulting very carefully with the individual to ascertain their own views and aspirations, observing the circumstances of the person’s life and (as far as possible) with the person’s permission, seeking relevant information from other people who know the person, such as neighbours, any family, and/or service workers.
Citizen advocates and people with disability are matched according to the ‘fit’ between the needs, interests, and expectations of the person with disability and the abilities, location and time availability of the citizen advocate.
The matching process is very personal and individualised, the needs of the person with disability being the primary consideration in determining the ‘fit’.
Citizen advocates have ongoing contact with the Citizen Advocacy office and its staff, which also provides support to each relationship in the form of information, resources and contacts.
The Citizen Advocacy office is always on hand to offer guidance and advice to citizen advocates when this is sought, to provide assistance in clarifying situations from the person with a disability’s perspective, and to provide encouragement for advocates to persevere if situations facing the advocate become difficult.
The majority of citizen advocacy relationships are like other human relationships and do not require legal recognition, only the willingness of both parties to be involved.
Citizen Advocacy believes that it is much better for the person with a disability to have their needs met informally, with the assistance of a caring fellow citizen, than it is for them to have to go to court or tribunal to have these needs recognised. Citizen Advocacy therefore strives for the least formality possible in relationships.
However, a citizen advocate sometimes requires formal legal status in order to meet or expedite their protégé’s needs. In such instances, a citizen advocate may seek limited guardianship for a person with disability.
A Citizen Advocacy program is an independent, local, non-profit community action group which provides the legal and administrative framework within which the concept of Citizen Advocacy is implemented.
Citizen Advocacy programs are guided and managed by a voluntary board of leading local citizens who are committed to seeking justice for, and the acceptance of, people with disabilities within society.
A Citizen Advocacy program employs a small professional staff whose role it is to establish, encourage and support Citizen Advocacy relationships, but not to undertake individual advocacy work themselves.
Long term role (described above)
Short term role addressing urgent issues.
Offering expertise or experience as a resource for advocates.
Drawing upon networks to recommend potential advocates.
Overseeing the operation of the program.
Committee member or volunteer
Assisting with specific tasks or projects.
Donations or sponsorship
Contributions are most welcome and tax deductible.
The role of a long term citizen advocate has been described above. Other ways to be involved in Citizen Advocacy are described below:
CRISIS/SHORT TERM ADVOCATES
A crisis advocate has many of the same qualities as a citizen advocate and goes through the same orientation, but instead of committing to a long term relationship, the crisis advocate is ‘on hand’ to respond to urgent issues.
Crisis advocacy roles typically involve a degree of spokesmanship. A crisis advocate has the self-confidence to effectively seek out and relate to the key persons involved in a situation in order to address the issue experienced by the person with disability.
The relationship will only be expected to last as long as the crisis continues. There is potential, however, for the crisis advocate and the person with disability to choose to broaden their relationship after the crisis situation has been resolved, if they so wish.
We recognise that crisis advocates are not always available to assist every person with disability who may be in urgent need of assistance. Consequently, the office endeavours to have a reserve of crisis advocates on hand so that at least one may be in a position to accept a crisis role when the need arises.
Occasionally, situations arise when long term citizen advocates are unavailable for a number of weeks or months. In these circumstances a short term advocate is recruited to step in during the long term advocate’s absence.
An advocate associate has expertise, knowledge or experience in an area which can be useful to citizen advocates, for instance, health, vocational guidance, education, housing, social security, law, training services, etc.
An advocate associate believes in the concept of Citizen Advocacy and is willing to provide information to and support citizen advocates in their roles, but is generally not involved in advocacy.
Our advocate associates believe that citizen advocates can make significant positive changes in the lives of people with disability and are therefore willing to provide time and information to advocates to assist them in their role, free of charge.
Some of the roles an advocate associate might take:
- Assist the advocate in cutting through red tape.
- Help the advocate to understand the dynamics of the ways a particular system works and the impact this can have on the life of the protégé.
- Provide his/her telephone number to the Citizen Advocacy office to be given to advocates for contact should a situation arise which requires their expertise.
- Advise the Citizen Advocacy office of people who may be in need of a citizen advocate.
- Offer his/her knowledge to the office for the purpose of assisting and/or training advocates.
Advocate associates are given orientation by the office and are included in mail outs, including our newsletter.
While it is self-evident that advocacy and the companionship of an empathetic, concerned person can greatly improve the quality of life for a person with a disability, reaching interested people for that purpose is not always easy. It is therefore extremely valuable for us to be able to call on a pool of ‘link’ people.
A link person is someone who is willing to suggest friends and/or acquaintances from their network of contacts who may be interested in hearing about Citizen Advocacy. We would talk to the person, tell them about what we do at Citizen Advocacy and ask if they, or anyone they know, might be interested in learning more and perhaps becoming involved. There is no expectation or commitment either on the part of the link person or their contact.
Once the link person has been given a short orientation on Citizen Advocacy, if still willing, they may then be phoned every couple of months or so to see if they are able to suggest anyone new whom we might approach. That is the limited extent of this role.
This relatively small commitment on the part of link people is of tremendous value to us in our continuous attempt to widen our network of contacts to find advocates, to increase public awareness and ,of course, to recruit more link people.
Citizen Advocacy – Perth West (Inc) is administered by a voluntary board, which is elected annually. Additional members can be seconded during the year.
New board members are orientated over a three month trial period. A brief, but specific amount of ongoing training takes place at each board meeting with additional opportunities for more in depth specific training arising throughout the year.
In addition to attending and participating in monthly meetings, which oversee the employed staff and the operation of the program, board members are also encouraged to involve themselves in sub-committees and/or projects initiated by the board for the enhancement of the program.
Essential qualities/attributes of board members include:
- Time and energy
- Enthusiasm and commitment
- A sense of social justice
- A desire to make a difference
- An understanding of, or a willingness to learn about, the life experiences and issues faced by people with disability.
Some of the skills and talents prospective members might possess:
- Local standing and community/business connections
- Public relations/marketing experience
- Media experience
- Financial/accounting knowledge
- Knowledge/experience in accessing community/corporate funding
- Organisational skills
A knowledge of Social Role Valorization or belief in such values would be desirable.
VOLUNTEERS AND/OR SUB-COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Sub-committees of just a few people can often take on the tasks of arranging functions or dealing with the details of specific projects. This frees up the board of management and the staff so that they can concentrate their efforts on the main purpose of Citizen Advocacy, which is finding and matching advocates with people with disabilities.
Citizen Advocacy Perth West receives the majority of its funding from the Federal Government through the Department of Social Services, but we rely on additional donations and fund raising activities to meet rising overheads.
All citizen advocates and board members volunteer their time and a small paid staff is necessary to coordinate the program. A minimal budget, however, limits what can be achieved. Donations and/or sponsorship for specific items or projects greatly assist the program to maintain a high standard of service.
We need monetary donations or sponsorship of goods and services for:
- program expansion
- wages for additional staff
- promotional materials and advertising
- sponsorship of our newsletter; and more …
Donations to Citizen Advocacy Perth West are tax deductible.
Citizen Advocacy: a program enabling ordinary, caring people to make a positive difference in the lives of our fellow community members with intellectual disability who may otherwise fall between the cracks in the system. The individuals we assist typically have no involved family or friends and so are especially isolated and vulnerable.