Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia
Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia
Submitted by Citizen Advocacy Australia, Trustees of the Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia
The Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia raises philanthropic funds for the sole purpose of creating and strengthening Citizen Advocacy in Australia. Our limited funds are granted for activities likely to provide a favourable and enhancing impact upon Citizen Advocacy practice and availability.
In the 1980’s when the Intellectual Disability Act was introduced over 20 programs were developed across Australia with the support of two state Citizen Advocacy offices. Now less than 10 citizen advocacy programs and no state offices remain.
The most valuable outcome for this review would be when equal weight is given to all forms of advocacy in completing the full range of necessary safeguards for people with disability who will always be vulnerable and in need, even if that may change in degree from time to time.
1. Models of Advocacy
Citizen Advocacy Australia would like to commend the inquiry in recognising the six models of advocacy necessary to safeguard the wellbeing of people with disabilities. We firmly believe that all advocacy forms should be based on the following definition:
Functioning (speaking, acting, writing) with minimum conflict of interest on behalf of a person or group, in order to promote, protect or defend the perceived interests of that person or group, in a fashion which strives to be emphatic and vigorous, and/or which is actually, or very likely to be, costly to the advocate(s).
Furthermore, there are seven elements that should characterise advocacy, especially on behalf of disadvantaged persons:
i. Being clearly on the side of the person(s) one strives to represent.
ii. Having minimal conflict of interest.
iii. Placing emphasis on major life needs and welfare issues.
iv. Engaging in vigorous action.
v. Incurring costs to the advocate.
vii. Demonstrating fidelity (“stick-to-it-iveness”), especially over the long run.
viii. Being mindful of others who may be more vulnerable than the represented person(s), lest one harm them.
Advocacy is a protection schema. It is much more that a complaints scheme or a support service – such as returning a faulty product, filling out a form or making a budget. People with disabilities often need such support but this should never be confused with advocacy.
Effective advocacy happens when the focus is on each person’s or groups need for protection and defence of their human rights.
Each advocacy form will only be strong and successful for people if it does not try to do all things. It is important to understand and value each form of advocacy for what it can do and require each form to work to a set of principles based on the advocacy definition.
The drawbacks of demanding advocacy organisations combine different forms of advocacy is that one form will always dominate over the others and it has been proven around the world that when citizen advocacy is combined with other advocacy forms the number of matches made decreases.
2. Improving access to advocacy supports
One of the major features of Citizen Advocacy is its capacity to find people well outside of the usual contexts where people access advocacy e.g. making a phone call, lodging a complaint. For a very large proportion of people with disabilities and especially those with an intellectual disability, self advocacy is a contradiction in terms. It is precisely the nature of their disability and the lack of freedoms often associated with control by authorities, including service providers, that usually precludes any form of independent voice or access, in the ordinary sense. For many people with intellectual disability the capacity to have contact with anyone outside the service system is highly limited. It is these people that Citizen Advocacy can be especially effective in reaching. These are people of all ages, all ethnic origins including aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are often completely abandoned and have not a single freely given relationship in their life.
Citizen Advocacy works in a geographical area and the relationships built reflect that geographical community.
Citizen Advocacy will also be very supportive to families where the parents are ageing and perhaps desperate to find a means of protection for an adult son or daughter. Citizen Advocacy is the only model of advocacy support that has the capacity to offer long term, freely given relationships that standto protect the person beyond a parent’s own life and shield them from the vagaries and over-riding control of systems, that may well provide services but not intimate understanding, love and fidelity Such pursuits though, are long-term and as such require a measure of continuity and security – which most funding systems have rarely provided. Instead, as with many support entities for the disadvantaged, funding is an annual pilgrimage wasting precious resources just trying to stay afloat.
The primary strategy that works in providing advocacy is to adhere to the principles and to focus on each person’s or groups perceived interests to protect and defend of their human rights.
We agree that people with disabilities would be better protected and benefit if access to all advocacy forms were available in all locations. The Trust knows that is not possible and it also knows that providing a one-stop shop for advocacy is not the answer either. Such an aim would dilute the forms of advocacy, especially Citizen Advocacy, for reasons already stated. What we do urge is an increase in the current number of Citizen Advocacy Programmes throughout Australia and resources to begin the process of development.
Citizen Advocacy acknowledges the many community efforts (eg local councils, community houses, support groups) where people with disabilities can access support and this should be encouraged, but never substituted for advocacy.
3. Improving the advocacy evidence base and coordination on systemic issue
The Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia acknowledges the need for advocacy organisations receiving funding to be accountable to government and to produce evidence based results.
What is of huge importance is that against which their efforts are measured. In the Advocacy arena market measures (as is currently the case) is not and never will be the most reliable way to measure advocacy related quality and outcomes. Relationships are not commodities or packages to be quantified and distributed accordingly. Often in circumstances where the person being advocated for is in such a difficult, vulnerable situation the only effective response may well be to be a presence in their lives until such time as a more concrete measurable response becomes possible.
The Trust urges the NDAP to value and support the models of advocacy by understanding the principles of advocacy which underpins every advocacy effort. Tt they define the essence and practice of quality advocacy and must be taken into consideration when seeking to improve advocacy evidence base and systemic co-ordination. Without them any market measures will fall short in providing an accurate assessment and understanding of quality and quantity.
It is imperative that Citizen Advocacy programs meet the number of matches they agree to, tell stories to demonstrate the advocacy of advocates and submit to citizen advocacy program evaluations to measure how well a program meets the very specific principles and practice of citizen advocacy.
Citizen Advocacy programs encourage advocates to seek out whatever information and connection through broader groups that will promote and protect their protégés needs.. Programs also recruit advocate associates with specialist skills which are available for citizen advocates and protégés to call on when needed.
4. The interface with the NDIS and addressing conflict of interest
We support the continuation of funding outside of the NDIS or any service providing entity in order to maintain the independence of advocacy and thereby strengthen the capacity to act on behalf of people without the presence of conflicting interests.
Some people suggest that the NDIS will be so successful as to eliminate the need for advocacy. But the vulnerabilities of people will very likely continue irrespective of funding models. The NDIS is committed to providing what is “necessary and sufficient” which contains a vast amount of interpretative potential as well as the likely continuation of congregative practices for many people confined to group homes and other congregative models of service where regimentation, de-individualisation and life wasting activities will still be quite probable.
The expectation that the “market view” of a new service system should extend to advocacy is a major concern as is the expectation that advocacy be readily available as a “service”, available to anyone, anywhere. The need for advocacy has always outstripped its supply because the disadvantage of people with disabilities is simply that great.
The market paradigm cannot even imagine the seriousness of advocacy. It might view it as just a range of “options” that people might select, like a menu.
Funding for advocacy should be as far away from funding for service provision and the NDIS as possible so that advocates can act in the best interests of people with disabilities without fear of losing funding or jobs.
When different forms of advocacy are combined it creates an internal conflict of interest over which advocacy will gain the most funding and time allocation. Experience throughout the world, and in Australia, shows that there will always be a dilution or complete loss of one form of advocacy when this happens.
5. Understanding and improving access to justice
It is vital that legal advocacy organisations – both individual and systemic – be adequately funded as people with disability are over-represented in the justice system.
People with disability need skilled representation. Police, human service providers all need ongoing training to identify issues. A community awareness program would also bring the issues to the attention of the general public.