WHAT IS CITIZEN ADVOCACY
Citizen Advocacy aims to recognise, promote, protect and defend the rights, welfare and the interests of people with intellectual disabilities who are vulnerable and/or at risk of abuse, neglect and/or social isolation.
It does so by establishing and supporting one-to-one relationships between a person with a disability (protégé), who is vulnerable and has unmet needs in one or more important areas of their lives; and a responsible citizen who is resourceful and principled, free from conflict of interest, and who makes a personal freely given commitment to protect the protégé’s interests as if they were their own. This support may take many forms, from spokespersonship to emotional and material support.
The Citizen Advocacy Office, which is independent of service providers, is responsible for recruiting, orientating and matching the citizen advocate and protégé and then supporting the advocate in the relationship as they respond to the advocacy needs and interests of the protégé.
Each Citizen Advocacy relationship is unique. The Citizen Advocate may in some instances speak out and protect a protégé from abuse; or give the protégé the experience of family, new experiences and opportunities for friendship.
Citizen advocates, with the support of the Citizen Advocacy office can and do make such a big difference in the lives of people who are quite often mistreated, rejected and isolated and have few opportunities to experience ordinary life. Support and friendship can result in richer, safer lives for people with intellectual disability.
Citizen Advocacy has often been described as –
Ordinary People Doing Ordinary Things of Extra-Ordinary Importance.
WHY IS CITIZEN ADVOCACY NEEDED
Everyone needs justice, love, security and control over their lives. From time to time we all need practical support and representation. Unfortunately, these universal human needs are often not met for people with disabilities.
As a result of destructive social attitudes, people with disabilities are often rejected and isolated and have few opportunities to experience an ordinary life.
This often means that people with disabilities receive unsuitable or poor quality services, or are denied services entirely. Further, some people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to unfair treatment, exploitation, neglect, abuse and isolation.
This disadvantage and vulnerability that people with disability experience in their lives creates a need to have someone who:
- Is prepared to make a personal commitment to stand beside the person;
- is prepared to take action when action is needed;
- will ensure that the person’s interests are understood and effectively responded to; and
- is prepared to take the person’s life seriously.
People with a disability who are experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability in their lives need allies, and citizen advocacy is one of the most significant ways that such alliances can be established and supported.
The most common negative life experiences of people with intellectual disability include
* low social status;
* rejection, by society and sometimes by family, neighbours and human service workers;
* congregated with other people with disabilities and segregated from the rest of society;
* cast into negative roles, being viewed as a menace to society, an object of pity, a burden, a problem etc.;
* powerlessness, having little or no control over one’s life;
* relationship discontinuity, a life time of short term relationships;
* physical discontinuity, frequent moves and no place to call “home”;
* natural relationships replaced with paid relationships;
* always being treated as part of a group and few opportunities for individuality and little respect for individual choices.
WHY CITIZEN ADVOCACY WORKS
Citizen Advocacy …
- Is based on positive, natural human responses to need and vulnerability,
- Is grounded in the community,
- Regards every person as a valued human being with skills, rights and roles in the community,
- finds people who have very little access to services and miss out on getting support,
- is undertaken according to well defined principles and practices proven effective over 40 years of successful operation in numerous western societies,
- Utilizes universally recognised principles of building and maintaining relationships,
- Has the people most in need are at the heart of the program,
- Redefines the person in need as a valued human being,
- Relationships are on a 1:1 (or near 1:1) basis,
- Relationships are freely given (unpaid),
- Has the capacity to find people who would otherwise be forgotten or lost,
- Presence of the advocate can prevent crises from continually arising,
- Advocates are not responsible to the program, families or services. Their focus and loyalty is with the person in need only.
There are a variety of different roles that a Citizen Advocate may adopt in order to understand and represent a vulnerable persons interests.
Citizen advocates on the Sunshine Coast have made a difference by:
- helping a person who was homeless to secure accommodation and access support agencies;
- monitoring and reviewing services being provided to a person with a disability
- being in a friendship role and assisting the person to share the experience of friendship and family life;
- providing social opportunities and introducing new experiences that most people take for granted and assisting a person to become a valued participating member of the community;
- assisted a person to continue to live independently by offering practical and emotional support and protection;
- being a spokesperson and vigorously representing the interests of a person;
- being there through the good times and the not so good times, when no one else would; and assisting a person to re-establish contact with their family.