Key elements of the advocacy role
“Advocacy is taking action to help people say what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests and obtain services. Advocates and advocacy schemes work in partnership with the people they support and take their side. Advocacy promotes social inclusion, equality and social justice.” From the ‘Advocacy Charter‘ p. 6
In her compelling, must read book, Dealing with Sexual Abuse: A Young Australian’s Insights (2015), Hannah Baker writes:
“I like this [George Jones Child Advocacy] centre in particular because it offers support to the child/young person who has been abused for as long as they need it. I can only imagine how much easier my life would have been through the legal process and aftermath if I had that guaranteed, local face-to-face support which was so sadly lacking in my situation…
… I really like the idea of a case management/advocacy approach where a young person has one local ‘go to’ person who coordinates the services they receive and also links them in with other services, and finds information to questions as needed. I think what services sometimes forget is the importance of stable, face-to-face support, especially for young people who have experienced trauma and damage in their families. It is important to have a human connection and not just be palmed off between various professionals.“
The advocacy role with victims/survivors of sexual violence aims to provide:
- Accessible and known not only for those who access services, but also for the majority of victims/survivors who don’t report or access services
- Client led supports – someone who follows the client’s lead and is overtly ‘on their side’
- Informed decision making via selective information and processes
- Empowering opportunities for the views, wishes and need of clients to be heard and progressed
- Emotional and practical supports based on priority of need and client wishes
- Independence of agency, professional and personal bias
- Criminal-justice and welfare systems supports to help navigate these systems
- Coordination of multi-disciplinary and inter-agency services
- Family support for non-offender caregiver/s and their children
- Systems advocacy through client feedback, review procedures and organisational structures
The above elements may be embedded within another role, or may be the basis of an entire role.
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“The evaluation reveals that in the immediate aftermath of rape most victims/survivors want a more flexible and practical form of support, and relatively few are ready at this point to undertake counselling. A combination of support, advocacy and information on case progress were their priority needs. How these needs were met varied across the SARCs. Where there is limited or no specific support work these needs tended to be picked up by counsellors and specialist police officers but in an ad hoc and unco-ordinated way.”
Lovett, J, Regan, L & Kelly, L (2004) “Sexual Assault Referral Centrers: Developing Good Practice and Maximising Potentials” P74
Issues underpinning the need to specify an advocacy role for this client group include:
- Feedback from those who have victim/survivors strongly supports both the stand-alone advocacy role as well as the need for improvements in the advocacy role within other professional roles.
- Sexual violence is often dis-empowering, disabling and distressing
- The criminal-justice, welfare and health systems can be intimidating and confusing
- Agency, professional and personal agendas may reduce or distort the wishes and needs of victim/survivors
- The idea of ‘counseling’ may provoke fear and anxiety in victim/survivors
- Basic needs such as physical safety, accommodation, health, hygiene, clothing, money, transport, child care arrangements, etc., often precede the need for therapeutic counseling and may be all the client wants
- Multiple agencies and disciplines require a coordinated approach with client needs at the center
- Without coordinated case tracking, victim/survivors can get lost in the system. ‘End to end’ support not only reduces this risk, but is also appreciated by service users
- Most victims/survivors of sexual violence do not access services because of situational factors and fears from combinations of the above factors. These people often have the smallest voice and the greatest need. By nature, advocacy and advocates proactively seek ways to support this huge group who are currently poorly serviced by professionals and agencies with rigid role boundaries..
Where a legal case was proceeding, a lower proportion of those contacted twice or more by the Support Worker withdrew from the CJS [Criminal Justice System]. These findings suggest that flexible support and advocacy are the most vital support functions SARCs should embrace.
- “The model at child advocacy (or multidisciplinary) centres is that police, counselling and medical services are all located in the one building. The professionals work together to provide information and support as needed. Having one centre as a point of contact would have been much easier than navigating several different departments and buildings and often professionals not being able to clearly tell me where I could go for the the information I was seeking.” Hannah Baker p. 243. In the USA, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Turkey, Israel and South Africa approximately 900 Child Advocacy Centres (CACs) have been established. The George Jones Child Advocacy Centre (GJCAC) in Western Australia is the first of these in Australia.
- Click here (go to Appendix 1 on p 48) for a description of the Advocate Role at the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre.
- In the USA, the Advocacy Role for sexual assault has been well developed. There are clear distinctions between those employed as victim advocates (rape crisis advocates) and victim-witness specialists. Click here for more on these distinctions and a comprehensive outline of victim advocates in the USA.
- In England and Wales, the Home Office provides funding to over 80 organisations for Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs). Click here for a description and review of this role by Dr Robinson, Cardiff University (2009) pp 4-9 for Exec Summary. Click here for further discussion of this role.
- In Australia, specific advocacy roles are common in other areas such as domestic and family violence, disabilities, mental health and tenancy, generally undeveloped in the sexual violence field. For example while TAFE courses (which are based on workforce activity) provide advocacy course relating to the areas above they do not yet refer to the sexual violence field .
- While professionals working with sexual assault victims/survivors often incorporate elements of advocacy in their role, this is not consistent or explicit.
- Some services, such as the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs) do emphasise the importance of the advocacy role. Click here for their job description of ‘Counsellor/Advocate’.
- Victim Support Services do provide and name advocacy as a key component of their services. However, as they note in their website, only about 15% of sexual assaults are reported to police. Of the 15% who do report, many do not access Victim Support Services, and of those who do, there may be long period between charges being laid and court proceedings when they have little or no support from these services.
- Standard 3.6 of NASASV National Standards of Practice for Services Against Sexual Violence (2015) specifies advocacy as a specific area of focus. However, compliance with this standard in Sexual Violence agencies in Australia is variable. See bottom of this page for more.
Through paying particular attention to the advocacy role in the context of sexual assault, this approach and supporting resources in this web aims to improve client outcomes, contribute to professional development, and to highlight the need for program designers, contractors and policy makers how best to integrate the advocacy roles and practices into services.
Several examples of innovative programs in Australia and overseas which are working towards addressing these needs have been provided.. Advocacy has been demonstrated to improve outcomes for victim/survivors and their families as well as improved the coordination, development and outcomes for professionals who work with victim/survivors and their families. There is some evidence that conviction rates for perpetrators have also improved and the possibility that greater preventative work will be undertaken by those who overtly practice advocacy as part of their role in the sexual violence field.
Click here for a short video by Kathleen Parker, a former child advocate at the George Jones Child Advocacy Centre, on the essence of the child advocacy role.
The next video by Kathleen in the playlist provides a great example using advocacy skills (managing professional and organisational bias) when she was working in another role for a different agency.
Click here for a video of Kathleen talking about trust between agencies regarding facilitating multi-agency supports.
Click here for a video of Kathleen giving an example of advocating for a child in the criminal-justice system.
Click here for a video of Jodie Gunn, an advocate at the George Jones Child Advocacy Service, speaking about providing practical supports.
Introduction to Advocacy (Australian – 13 min) plus a play list of other short (4 – 5 min) videos on advocacy.
The NASASV National Standards of Practice for Services Against Sexual Violence (2015) recognises the need for advocates:
“When required and possible, sexual assault services will also, with consent of the client, advocate with them, or on their behalf, for relevant, responsive and client centred services from other agencies/services.
Sexual assault services also recognise the role that specialist advocacy services, and appointed advocates can have in assisting their clients access a wide range of services, such as access to the criminal justice system and legal support, they may need.” p 30
These standards also recognise the need for system’s advocacy:
“Wherever possible, sexual assault services will utilise opportunities to engage in systems advocacy on behalf of groups who do not have access to sufficient or appropriate services. Systems advocacy activities may be aimed at increasing capacity of the sexual assault service, be directed toward the capacity of another agency or service or seek to change community attitudes to sexual assault and those who experience it.” p 30
The need for advocacy in sexual assault services in Australia is clearly articulated in Standard 3.6 of the National Standards:
The organisation recognises its role in client advocacy and the role of other advocacy services, or appointed advocates, in promoting the needs of a particular client or client group, particularly those with multiple or complex needs, children or those with a disability.
There is evidence to show that the organisation:
- has knowledge of advocacy services that may be of benefit to its client group/s
- informs clients of their right to, and the availability of, client advocates
- should ensure written client consent as a pre-requisite for advocacy work undertaken by the service, and for working with externally appointed client advocates
- should ensure procedures are in place to maintain client privacy and confidentiality and safety when working as an advocate or with advocates
- should have policies and procedures which support practitioners in their advocacy work
- should provide opportunity for professional development in advocacy
- should be able to quantify and describe its advocacy work.” pp 34-35