Advocacy in Social Work
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Keywords: theories of advocacy, advocacy theory, advocacy definition
Advocacy, Rights and Partnership
This reflective report contains my experience and understanding of advocacy and explains the types of advocacy and its methods and models, I will explain the theories and relate it to my practice and finally discuss the strengths and weakness of my area of practice and discuss the conflicts of interest implication up on the service user.
DEFINITION OF ADVOCACY
Advocacy is defined as a key concept in social work practice. It is defined as exerting influence on behalf of organisations and groups within legal power and political structure.
" Advocacy involves either an individual or group, or their representatives, pressing their case with influential others, about situations which either affect them directly or, and more usually, try to prevent proposed changes, which will leave them worse off" .(Pardeck, 1996).
Gates (1994) cites four variations of advocacy: legal advocacy, the representation of the user in a formal context, for instance a health-review tribunal; self-advocacy, where the individual or a group of individuals speak up for themselves, a form of empowerment; collective or class advocacy, the large organisations who speak for the interests and rights of a category of people; and citizen advocacy, the representation of the user's interests by a competent advocate (eg a Social worker).
Advocacy is a concept embraced by social work and advocating for clients is vital for the social work profession. The primary goals of advocacy are achieving social justice and people empowerment. In achieving these goals, a proactive, responsive and participatory approach is necessary (Pardeck, 1996). My role as an advocate during my placement was to speak on behalf of my clients and to empower them to advocate on their own behalf, whenever their rights have been denied; for example in accessing state benefits or demanding repair work from local Housing departments. The advocacy role, from a social context, includes the redistribution of power and recourse to an individual or group, guarding their rights and preserving their values, conserving their best interests and overcoming the sense of powerlessness (Pardeck, 1996. pg 151).
RESOURCES AVAILABLE WITHIN PLACEMENT
My second year practice placement was with a charity organisation, in the London Borough of Newham called RAMP (Refugee And Migrant Project). RAMP is one of The Renewal Programme projects and is registered with the Home Office - Office of Immigration Services Commission.
RAMP works to enable refugees and migrants (including asylum seeker) to realise their potentials and facilitate their integration into society. The focus of the organisation is to provide advice and advocacy and support on welfare benefits, housing and education and NASS - National Asylum Support Services.
RELATING THEORY TO ADVOCACY
When I began working with migrants, refugees or asylum seekers, I took a very holistic and Person Centred Approach that allowed me to work in partnership and give them the opportunity to go through their own problems and find their own solutions to them. Carl Rogers was the founder of Person-Centred therapy. As a psychologist in the 1950's and 60's he studied the process of counselling and came to the conclusion that a number of basic principles were required in order for there to be a positive relationship and outcome between the client and the therapist. These are also known as 'core conditions':
- . Unconditional positive regard that involves the therapist being non-judgmental and accepting the client and their experiences.
- . Congruence, which means that the therapist displays their true thoughts and feelings during the session.
- . Empathy, where the therapist shows understanding towards the client's experiences without oppressing them.
When engaging with my clients, I demonstrated unconditional positive regard by not judging them as individuals or for the needs they had; I wanted to find out what it is that they wanted/needed. I was congruent in that I acknowledged the fact that I was a student and I was also learning myself, and therefore I may not be able to answer all questions immediately. Finally, I showed empathy by acknowledging similarities that I may have with them such as coming from a minority ethnic community.
As well as the core conditions, I used the Exchange Model of communication to engage in my meetings with my clients. Smale and Tuson (1998) point out that the exchange model believes that the client has an equally valid perception of their problems and that they themselves can contribute to finding the solutions. This also facilitates partnership between the worker and the client. The exchange model was effective because English was the second language for all my clients therefore enabled me to ask them simple, open-ended questions that were free from professional jargon, compared to Procedural model that has pre-set questions to conform to the requirements of the agency.
I used two main theories to look at situations during my practice placement: Systems theory and Muslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Systems theory originates from Bertalanffy's (1971) biological theory that all things are part of a system: sub-systems that make up super-systems (in Payne, 1997). The theory is also known as ecological perspective; family theory and networks theory depending on what context it is used. Systems theory allows you to look at the whole picture and not just one aspect of a particular case. The concept of 'circular causality' is also significant in this theory and it suggests that: if something happens in one part, it affects the other. I therefore did not analyse clients' situations in isolation, I looked at their surroundings and their systems to understand their situations better. Pincus and Minahan (1973) describe 3 systems in which people depend on (in Payne, 1997 p.141):
Societal systems(housing, social security and schools)
For some of my clients, their housing department was part of their societal systems that they may have been experiencing problems with. On top of this, some of their main informal systems - their families - may be missing from them (i.e. still in their own countries). This had a detrimental effect on their self-confidence and achievement as it left gaps in the systems that are supporting them. Maslow's hierarchy of needs highlights that the family is a very important factor in meeting basic needs for example, security. By being estranged from their families, clients are already at a weak point and according to systems theory; this also affects their formal and societal systems. As a social worker, in order to promote and enable my clients and to empower them, it was important that I was able to maintain as many systems around them as possible. This was important for their confidence and future development.
When carrying out my work with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants I was very much open and holistic in the way that I looked at the multiple forms of discrimination and oppression that this client group may face. For example I did not only focus on the obvious forms of oppression. Such as race, religion and gender, I also looked at underlying issues such as relationships with partners and domestic abuse. I ensured that I did not ignore the oppression and discrimination that they may face within their own communities.
Other theories, models and methods which I used included Crisis Intervention, Task-Centred work, Loss & Bereavement amongst others. I found that being able to study, understand and relate these to my practice guided me immensely in my practice. They provided me with the knowledgebase, which I could use to eclectically and effectively in order to work with the many different situations that I worked with.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH SU
Adams (1998 p314) sees advocacy as a form of empowerment which, "involves representing a person's interests in circumstances where they are not able to do so themselves". It strives to promote social inclusion by empowering marginalised people and therefore, has a direct relationship to anti-oppressive practice in social work. The ethical principles underlying advocacy reinforce working in partnership with users and carers, a key concept in social work practice and community care. Furthermore, the skills required for successful advocacy reflect core skills of social work practice (Bateman, 2000p17).
Professionals get involved in people's lives most of the times to help, but then oppress them by making decisions for them. Oppression is:
"Inhuman/degrading treatment of individuals/groups; hardship And injustice brought about by the dominance of one group over another; the negative and demeaning exercise of power. Oppression often involves disregarding the rights of an individual/ group and is thus the denial of citizenship" (Thompson 1997 p31).
In a situation where the Social worker made a decisions without consulting him, his needs and interests were not considered. As Adams (1998p301) affirms "remedies to problems encountered lie primarily with experts and thus undermines self determination and authenticity". Most professionals take it upon themselves to make decisions for people as they assume that they cannot make choices for themselves, yet the Mental Capacity Act 2007 argues that almost all including the most severely disabled are capable of making choices and expressing their views and preferences. Therefore it is the Social worker's role to "challenge the abuse of power for suppression and for excluding people from decisions which affect them" as stated by Stanford (accessed 5/01/2009) in the code of ethics.
People requiring access to services should not feel that they are beggars, their welfare needs should be met as a right and dignity and respect should be maintained all the times.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF ADVOCACY
To assist service users, advocacy may be appropriate to protect the rights of the service user. An advocate will inform an individual of their options, and talk with other services on their behalf, if required to. The role of an advocate is to allow the service user to make their own self-determinations by ensuring they have all the relevant information, whilst at the same time not imposing their own views on the situation (Coulshed and Orme 1998).
Difficulties with advocacy arise if the advocate tries to impose their own opinion on the service user, who may be vulnerable, and open to suggestion. The lack of statutory advocacy means that most services are provided by those who have already experienced similar situations, and who may have a biased view or are not trained to deal with difficult situations (Adams et.al. 2002)
Anti oppressive practice (AOP): Looking at the structure of oppression developed by Thompson (1993) called the PCS model. I can illustrate how oppression is occurring, because this model is used to 'develop our understanding of discrimination and the oppression that arises from it'. (Thompson,1998:12). It operates at three very separate levels, which are inter-related. These levels being personal, cultural and structural '(the term PCS model)'. (Thompson,1998:12).
'Oppression itself is a powerful force. On a personal level it can lead to demoralisation and lack of self-esteem, while at a structural level it can lead to denial of rights'.
(Dalrymple and Burke,1995:57)
This statement proves to be true because at the personal level, because the majority of the community that come to our organisation are feeling oppressed by themselves because of not being able to access facilities and not receiving the advice in maintaining their health, hygiene and environment.
At the cultural level oppression is coming from other communities because they feel that they are superior to them, due to the fact that they are more familiar with the services and maybe able to speak English, therefore demoralising the community .
At the structural level, institutions such as schools, hospitals, social security offices, advice centres the list is endless do not provide a facility whereby individuals from the community can access them, whereby denying them their rights.
As an advocate it was my duty to challenge what the service users where feeling and going through, whereby I would empower them to access necessary services and direct them to attend relevant courses in order to tackle there problems and emotional feelings.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST WHICH MAY ARISE IN ADVOCACY
The most common conflict of interest that I was faced with whilst advocating was the language barriers between service users and advocacy staff , In reflection throughout the advocacy I noticed the significant difference that language plays throughout society. It made me realise that not having the language skills can be very oppressive to a person and can leave them marginalized from the rest of society.
Communication is a skill in itself and it is central to the role of social work (Thompson, 2000). Communication can come in many different forms; this can include verbal, non-verbal, listening and writing skills.
In conclusion to the finding throughout research and practice, it shows a huge importance in working in partnership with service users and other professional, good partnership helps social workers and other professional to delivery an effective service.
Social workers are helping to promote change; even though they are working within statutory agencies their role can have a huge influence from advocacy.
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