Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy is independent of but funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services: National Disability Advocacy Program. Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy is not an advocacy service that only responds to referrals. We actively seek out people with intellectual disability who are highly vulnerable to – or are experiencing – abuse, neglect, harm, exploitation, social isolation, and/or inappropriate over-protection, who:
- do not have the capacity or means to self-refer;
- are denied the opportunity to access advocacy that is independent of their services, family or decision makers.
Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy is an independent, local, non profit Advocacy Program. It provides a legal and administrative framework within which the concept of Citizen Advocacy is implemented.
Citizen Advocacy is when a one-to-one relationship is established between a person with a disability (protégé) who has unmet needs and a competent and valued citizen who is unpaid (advocate). The advocate, who has minimal conflict of interest, chooses to understand the person and to represent the person’s interests as if they were the advocate’s own. The commitment of an advocate to a protégé may last for life. The Citizen Advocacy Office, which is independent of service providers, is responsible for recruiting, orientating and matching the advocate and protégé and then supporting the advocate in the relationship as they respond to the advocacy needs and interests of the protégé.
The range of Citizen Advocacy roles is perhaps the single most powerful determination of the right level of protection. For example, a Citizen Advocate may need to take on one or more formal roles. Formal relationships are created by the due process of law and include Guardianship, NDIS/Centrelink nominee, adoptive parent, and/or Financial Administrator.
Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy supports a large network of local people who care about and value other people in the community. We particularly focus on those members of the community who have an intellectual disability, who are often neglected, vulnerable and alone, and who need someone to speak up for them and represent their interests. To make them valued and contributing members of an inclusive community.
We respond to that neglect, vulnerability and loneliness by encouraging and supporting lasting relationships in which practical assistance, support and friendship can result in richer and safer lives for people with an intellectual disability.
Many feel that contact with a person with a disability is best left to professional experts. Maybe this is why some people with an intellectual disability have in their lives only those who are paid to be there. Maybe this is why people with an intellectual disability are prevented from having real and meaningful inclusion in society.
Citizen Advocates are ordinary people who do not replace paid professionals. They are involved because they have made a voluntary commitment to be loyal to a person with a disability … to be someone who will when necessary, protect and safeguard their interests. Citizen Advocates on the Sunshine Coast have been friends for those who have no friends and no family; visited regularly those who have never had a visitor; believed in a person’s capacity to understand when no-one else does; noticed things that no-one else notices; and made time to be with someone who has little in their life but time. Most importantly, Citizen Advocates have included people with intellectual disability in their own family, social life, work life and community. This is true and meaningful inclusion.
We ask individuals to make a lasting voluntary commitment to someone else who needs someone to stand alongside them to make them safe and have meaningful contribution in the community. Sometimes these commitments are even lifelong. We ask because we know that there are good people in our community who will respond.
There are many well regarded and competent people in this community who will give their time freely to become Citizen Advocates; and bend over backwards to protect and defend the rights and interests of those people who are vulnerable and at risk, people with intellectual disability who are (or at risk of) experiencing abuse, exploitation, neglect and social isolation. It is our role as a Citizen Advocacy Program to give well regarded and competent members of the community the opportunity to seek justice on behalf of another.
The Citizen Advocacy Board
The Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy program is guided and managed by a group of active voluntary local community members, who are committed to seeking justice for, and the acceptance of, people with intellectual disability within society. As such, the Board of Management at Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy are taking a leadership role in their community.
The Board of Management guides and has the overall responsibility for the Citizen Advocacy Program. This includes:
- developing policies that will best achieve the goals of Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy;
- raising awareness within the community with regards to the Sunshine Coast citizen Advocacy program;
- seeking and managing funding;
- negotiating with the government; and
- working with and supporting Citizen Advocacy staff.
Citizen Advocacy Programs have been and are supported and active around the world since the commencement of the model in the United States. In 1966, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania many families posed the question ‘What happens to my child with a disability when I’m gone?’ Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger (who later became the founder of Citizen Advocacy) was in attendance and took note of the limitations and shortcomings of each of the protective measures discussed at the conference. In response, he conceptualised an entirely new form of advocacy scheme that placed the needs of vulnerable individuals at its heart. This model would eventually become known in 1968 as Citizen Advocacy.
The first Citizen Advocacy program began in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1970. It later received a Presidential commendation. Workshops followed and people from throughout North America went away to start other Citizen Advocacy programs. By 1972, USA Federal grant money paved the way for over 200 programs in USA alone.
Since its conception, Citizen Advocacy has solely focused on the identification, engagement and use of community linkages and social responsibility to help those more vulnerable and in need. Citizen Advocacy is able to increase the visibility and social role of people living with disability, support community engagement for people with a disability and enhance public awareness around issues of disability.
In Australia, Citizen Advocacy first began in Western Australia in 1980. There are now a number of programs operating in Australia of which two are in Queensland. Citizen Advocacy on the Sunshine Coast began with the formation of a committee of interested citizens in 1990. The committee met regularly to study Citizen Advocacy and to plan for the eventual establishment of a citizen advocacy office on the Sunshine Coast. The Program was funded in 1996 and the office opened in Woombye in January 1997.
OUR MISSION AND PHILOSOPHY
To promote, protect and defend the personal well-being and interests of a growing number of people with Intellectual Disability, in order to enhance and defend their identity and role as growing and developing persons, and citizens, by establishing and supporting a range of individualised, voluntary, personal relationships between such persons and valued, competent citizens, prepared to undertake committed and sustained relationships based upon the representation of each person’s interests.
The philosophy of Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy is that people with disabilities are entitled to a quality of life based on the same normative rights, freedoms and opportunities as enjoyed by other citizens. People with disabilities have a wide variety of needs for representation and relationships which can be met by citizen advocates. The Protégé and the Advocate are matched to provide the best ‘fit’ between the Protégé’s needs and characteristics and Advocates skills, commitment and characteristics.
In order to support the development of effective advocacy relationships, a citizen advocacy program must be independent and separate from agencies who may operate direct services involving (potential) Protégés.
Also, In order for citizen advocates to effectively represent Protégé needs, they must be free to develop a primary loyalty to Protégés and to act as independently and with as little conflict of interest as possible in meeting protégé needs.
Citizen advocates should see themselves as supported by the Citizen Advocacy Program, but:
a) independent of, the advocacy office itself,
b) independent of any of the agencies or settings which provide services for Protégé; and
c) independent from families of Protégés in those instances were family interests are not in the Protégé’s best interests.
At all times and in all ways the program must project and promote positive images in relation to people with disabilities. Valued thoughts, words and activities are needed to meet this important social responsibility.
The priority for Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy is the promotion, protection and defence of the personal well-being and interests of people with intellectual disability.
The ongoing core activities of program staff include:
- Identifying and Recruiting vulnerable people with intellectual disability who would benefit from having a Citizen Advocate in their lives.
- Recruiting suitable community members to become Citizen Advocates.
- Conducting Orientation to prepare community members for their roles as Citizen Advocates.
- Matching people with disability and suitable community members in freely given, one to one, long term relationships.
- Keeping in touch with the people involved in each Citizen Advocacy relationship through regular communication and gatherings.
- Providing ongoing support to Citizen Advocates by offering training opportunities, the chance to discuss ideas and personal assistance through the many and varied experiences that their roles may bring.
- Recruitment of “Advocate Associates” from a wide range of relevant professions (e.g. legal, medical, education) to provide expert information and support to Citizen Advocates (as required).
- Recruitment of community members with suitable skills and experience to act as “Crisis Advocates” in situations requiring specific and urgent short term action.
Our Staff and Board Members
Craig Agnew – Chairperson
Ronda Quinn – Vice Chairperson
James Rostas – Secretary
Vanessa Drewery – Treasurer
Andrew Barton – Ordinary Member