What is Citizen Advocacy?
Citizen Advocacy is a movement which seeks to promote, protect and defend the rights and interests of people who have intellectual disability.
The concept calls for the establishment and support of a one-to-one relationship between a person who has intellectual disability, who has unmet needs in one or more important life areas, and a resourceful and principled citizen, who is free from conflict of interest. They make a personal, voluntary commitment to the person to provide some of the emotional and/or practical support required to help meet the person’s needs. Citizen Advocates are recruited, matched, oriented and supported by staff of a Citizen Advocacy Programme.
What is a Citizen Advocacy Programme?
A Citizen Advocacy Programme is an independent, local, non-profit community action group. It provides the legal and administrative framework within which the concept of Citizen Advocacy is implemented.
Citizen Advocacy Programmes are guided and managed by a Board made up of leading local citizens who are committed to seeking justice for, and the acceptance of, people with intellectual disability within society.
A Citizen Advocacy Programme employs a small professional staff whose role it is to establish, encourage and support citizen Advocacy relationships, but not to undertake individual advocacy themselves.
How are people with disabilities recruited?
Sometimes the person with a disability approaches the Programme for assistance, in other instances a family member, service worker or concerned citizen may approach the Programme on the person’s behalf. However in addition to learning about the needs of people from external sources, the Programme also undertakes to seek out people who would otherwise not come to the attention of the Programme. This often involves visiting facilities like nursing homes, institutions, boarding houses 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 Programme is careful not to make promises it cannot keep. Therefore no waiting lists are kept or ‘referrals’ taken. Instead the Programme keeps a ‘working list’ of about five people at a time, to whom it makes a definite commitment.
Once accepted into the Programme, the person with intellectual disability remains involved unless they choose to withdraw from the Programme, or move so far away from their advocate that continuing support is no longer feasible. Sometimes this means that the person will be ‘re-matched’ with another advocate, should the first match have to conclude for some reason.
How are Citizen Advocates recruited?
The Programme recruits Citizen Advocates using a wide variety of means, including personal networking, ‘word of mouth’ and public promotion of the concept. In some instance, potential advocates step forward of their own accord, having seen a brochure or having heard about the Programme from someone else, possibly another Citizen Advocate.
However most Citizen Advocates become involved in the Programme as a result of having been directly approached to do so by either the Co-ordinator or a member of the Programme’s Board.