Citizen Advocacy Sunbury & Districts Inc
As a Board member and on behalf of Citizen Advocacy – Sunbury & Districts organisation I thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission for consideration by the Department of Social Services (DSS) in the conduct of their review of the National Disability Advocacy Program.
Although Citizen Advocacy is included in the NDAP along with several other forms of advocacy, we believe that our “model” is superior in terms of the cost of establishing the program, its ability to be adapted to remote and culturally diverse communities and most importantly, the quality of outcomes for both the participants (protégés) and volunteer advocates.
Who are we and what do we do?
“Citizen Advocacy” is a community based program which operates in several Australian states. It recognises, promotes and defends the rights and interests of people from culturally diverse backgrounds and situations within their communities, who have an intellectual disability. We do so by recruiting and supporting caring, responsible citizens (advocates) on a long term one to one basis who are prepared to act voluntarily to make a positive difference in the life of a person (protégé) who may be lonely, face difficult challenges or be in a risky situation. We carefully match citizen advocates to protégés, ensuring that there is a good fit between the needs of the protégés and the abilities, resources and commitment of the citizen advocates. To be clear, we do not provide direct advocacy to individuals with a disability, we match them with a volunteer who does so and on an ongoing basis we support these relationships through regular contact with the advocates (not the protégés).
Our view, and a fundamental principle of our form of advocacy is that in order to be a genuine and unbiased “advocate” for a person with a disability, one must be truly independent of service providers, funding agencies, families and even paid advocacy services. We also believe that to eliminate any possible conflicts of interest that advocates should be unpaid and independent citizens, free to develop a primary loyalty to the person they are assisting and to be able to act totally independently on their behalf. We also strongly believe that all government funded advocacy agencies regardless of model (ie paid or voluntary), should be funded via government agencies not under the direct control of the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), Department of Social Services (DSS) or the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). This will help to ensure that any advocacy service provider or advocate does not have any conflict of interest or is subjected to outside influences when acting on behalf of the person they are supporting.
Why Citizen Advocacy?
We believe that the “Citizen Advocacy” model would greatly assist with the problems associated with providing advocacy services to culturally and linguistically diverse communities and also in remote locations where formal services are sparse or simply not available. Being volunteer based the program would in many instances significantly reduce (although not totally eliminate) the need for paid advocacy as local volunteers would be trained and supported by a CA Coordinator (on an “as needs” basis) to assist with many of the minor challenges faced daily by their protégés and which would otherwise require some paid assistance. This support could be structured in a variety of ways to suit the individual needs of the relationships involved, including face to face visits, phone/skype and regular training and social functions.
The “Business Case”
In an ordinary suburban environment one coordinator would be capable of supporting approximately 60-80 (subject to geographic factors) relationship matches and we believe that the cost of this (approx. $160K – 180K p.a.) will be significantly less than the potential cost of paid advocacy for the 60-80 persons being supported. It should be noted also that most forms of paid advocacy are episodic, mostly short in duration and occur following an incident or need of some sort.
Citizen Advocacy can :
– be more timely to the need (available 24/7),
– better addresses the unique and sometimes complex needs of the individual,
– help to build great community relationships,
– help to build resilience, self-esteem and independence for the protégés.
– be scalable (subject to funding and availability of volunteer advocates) to fit any community or range of cultural needs.
While strongly promoting the benefits of Citizen Advocacy for the reasons articulated above, we also understand, recognise and applaud the great work carried out by all agencies to ensure that people with disability are able to communicate their wants and needs. Adequate supports must be made available for people with disabilities to ensure that their basic human rights are protected in an NDIS (market) world.
Citizen Advocacy Sunbury & Districts Inc