Threats to Citizen Advocacy

External Threats

Because of the political and historical roots of Australian society, citizen advocacy in Australia has tended to be fully funded by either federal government or state governments. While this has given relative security to such arrangements, it has always suffered from the actual or potential for “sudden death” when government policy, direction or local vagaries suddenly and without warning defund a program. (For instance, several programs in Australia experienced this as a result of policy decree overnight!) Present government policies seek a ‘professionalised’ form of advocacy that involves payment which is mostly short term, episodic and crisis driven. Some bureaucrats are scandalised by the notion of unpaid citizens conducting advocacy, even though its their independence from government that gives citizen advocates their power.

Government policy can result in turning advocacy agencies into a complaints mechanism (for human service “consumers”) on behalf of the government. Such a perspective fails to see the ongoing nature of vulnerability, especially for those with an intellectual disability.

Further-more, Citizen Advocacy is frequently viewed by some bureaucrats as merely a “relationship” or a “friendship” program (and therefore, not very crucial) and are consequently alarmed by the fact that advocates and protégés determine the nature of their relationship. Though supported by the CA program, the match is not answerable to any external party – even the CA program, let alone government.

But of course it is within the purview of governments everywhere to try and control what it funds.

Efforts to educate bureaucrats about citizen advocacy has often been successful, but very short lived due to the unremitting changes that occur in bureaucracies and therefore such education by the CA movement or the Trust as a deliberate strategy of reform has been largely abandoned, though some local efforts have been worthwhile.

One of the CAPE (Citizen Advocacy Program Evaluation) ratings is to measure the extent to which a program receives funding from a variety of sources. While some government funding can be helpful for the credibility of a program, to have it all come from a single source exposes a program to great danger and to being coerced into directions incompatible with the Citizen Advocacy model, and hence to even the potential that many people will ever have a freely given and protective relationship. As a matter of principle, it would be more desirable for programs to only take money they can readily refuse; but this has not been the case in Australia.

Internal Threats

The greatest internal threat to a CA program seems to come from a Board selecting someone unsuited to the work of a Citizen Advocacy Coordinator and for not taking action to remedy the mistake. Consequently, people with no particular talent for such a role coerce the role to alter towards something that suits them better, which doesn’t involve making many good matches! They might then insist that the CA model cannot be done, or be done the way CAPE lays out, or be done in Australia, or be done in cities etc, etc. Thus, programs need to become much more adept at recognising the talent needed for such a unique role and selecting for that talent, including adhering strictly to probationary periods. An additional trend of less informed boards is to select someone from a human service background who comes with a well developed human service lexicon, and who appear knowledgeable and authoritative to their naive ears. Such staff very commonly want to be referred to as “Program Managers”, so they appear equal to their human service peers. An effective CA Coordinator has no interest in even having human service peers, because their work doesn’t collude with the human service system.

What is known about talent for roles, is that if a person doesn’t have it, no amount of training can put it in (see Buckingham & Coffman 1999), and the sooner a new coordinator is sort, the better.

Other threats include (but not limited to):

  • a slow imperceptible departure from the CA Model, such as via ‘goal displacement’ (doing other things not related to ones purpose or mission);
  • not obtaining regular and external evaluation using CAPE;
  • not developing a plan for protégé and advocate recruitment;
  • not conducting internal relationship reviews or reviews of one’s work and results;
  • not maintaining a Board to be dutiful stewards of the program, but who surrender control to staff;
  • not seeking and receiving regular and up-to-date training.

Watch the Advancing Citizen Advocacy Conference

A wonderful amount of richly informative content was presented by many people from across the world at the Advancing Citizen Advocacy Conference, held in Melbourne Australia in February of 2023.

Now, through the efforts of the Citizen Advocacy Trust of Australia, you can watch the presentations from the conference completely free, on YouTube.


Advancing Citizen Advocacy Conference

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