“We all see only that which we are trained to see.”
Robert Anton Wilson
Independence in advocacy means the ability to support and represent your client without bias or conflict of interests.
The Action for Advocacy Quality Standards for Advocacy Schemes, is very specific in its standard about organisational independence: “The advocacy scheme will be structurally independent from statutory organisations and preferably from all service provider agencies. The advocacy scheme will be as free from conflict of interest as possible both in design and operation, and actively seek to reduce conflicting interests.”
When structural independence is not possible or compromised, advocates and managerial staff should:
Be aware of the many possible areas of competing interests such as a focus on prosecuting the offender, statutory child protection issues, agency’s funding linked to a particular outcome such as number of counselling sessions, boards or funding which do not allow critical review of service provision
Operational independence is developed through designing procedures and policies to minimise the organisation’s structural bias and conflicts
Disclose the issue to clients: see the example of the opening quote from the NSW Attorney General and Justice Victim Services website above
Role bias occurs when role and professional orientation leads to conflict of interest and bias. One of the less obvious examples of this is the role of counsellor in sexual assault services. Bias may occur if the role description, training and agency orientation is heavily weighted towards the importance of therapeutic healing at the expense of other client wishes and needs.
Other possible role bias can occur with child protection workers who may be working to a policy which favours removal of children from the family home, or a refuge worker whose orientation is towards the victim/survivor leaving the abusive situation, or the forensic nurse who is focused on obtaining evidentiary specimens at the expense of tracking if the client is still OK to continue with the procedure.
The advocate’s role of developing and maintaining interagency and multidisciplinary coordination can also result in divided loyalties. Attempts to smooth over or prevent conflicts with partner agencies by modifying negative client feedback is one example. Advocates may similarly fail to adequately present the wishes of children to caregivers and child protection workers when they know these wishes conflict with the views of these influential adults.
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We all have our personal histories, cultural identity, values and approaches to relationships and life. The high incidence of sexual assault and the disproportionate number of those in the helping professions with past trauma as well as work-related vicarious trauma means its likely many support staff may be influenced by their own trauma history.
We may also be unaware of our own cultural bias including socio-economic, professional, religious, racial, gender and other cultural influences.
Psychological and role bias can be challenging to identify as well as to deal with. However, psychological and role independence can be improved by:
Being aware of possible areas of role, professional and personal psychological bias. This requires;
– Consciously using reflective practices to identify bias
– Utilising supervisory supports to specifically identify possible areas of bias
Working on own psychological, emotional and social health, particularly any unresolved trauma issues
Disclose role, professional and personal bias to the victim/survivor where they cannot be avoided
If available, offer the choice of another advocate if the disclosure of bias has left the victim/survivor feeling the advocate may not be able to fully represent their views and wishes
Ensuring the wishes and views of victim/survivors are presented, heard and incorporated into decision making and planning by those whose structural, operational, role or psychological independence may be compromised
Cultural issues represent such an important consideration as a potential area for bias and discrimination. While it’s presumed advocates have already undertaken cultural competency training, (click here to brush up on some areas) the following two papers and reflective exercise is likely to further reduce possible culturally-related bias:
- Click here for NASASAV National Standards – Cultural Competency (p 23-28)
The Intersectional approach as a useful way to integrate the complexities of culture and individual experience to reduce discrimination.
Click here for Hovane, V (2007) White Privilege and the Fiction of Colour Blindness: Implications for Best Practice Standards for Aboriginal Victims of Family Violence.
Click here for self-reflective exercise on culture by Walker, R & Sonn, C (2010) ;Working as a Culturally Competent Mental Health Practitioner” in Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice pp 172-176.
Click here for Standard 5 – Cultural Competency
Click here for Standard 6 – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victim/Survivors
from “Advocacy Standards for working with Children, Young People and Adults who have Experienced Sexual Violence” (Australian)
A Real Life Example of Managing Organisational and Professional Bias
Watch the video of how Kathleen Parker, in her former role as a Child Witness Preparation Officer for the Child Witness Service, dealt with issues of organisational and professional bias.
Of particular relevance are her skills in gaining trust, engaging with the young victim/survivor, culturally sensitivity and advocacy skills.
- Click here for Standard 3 – Independence from “Advocacy Standards for working with Children, Young People and Adults who have Experienced Sexual Violence” (Australian).
- Click here (bottom of page) for summary view of above standard.
- Click here for the Independence standards and indicators from Action for Advocacy (UK).