'Citizen Advocacy organisations' (Citizen Advocacy programs/programmes) seek to cause benefit by reconnecting people who have become isolated from the ordinary community. Their practice was defined in two key documents: CAPE, in 1980 and Learning From Citizen Advocacy Programs in 1987. The theoretical foundation of Citizen Advocacy is found in Citizen Advocacy and protective services for the impaired and handicapped (See also Wolf Wolfensberger) A central idea on which this practice is based is that the devaluation of a person or group by society has profoundly negative effects on their lives. Citizen Advocacy organisations seek to challenge this devaluation by connecting a 'devalued' person with a 'valued' person, prompting the community into valuing the 'devalued' person. A Citizen Advocate is asked to represent the rights and interests of another person as if they were one's own. This is of benefit not just to the devalued person, but to the valued person, the group of people that this devalued person has been seen to belong to, and the community as a whole.
This idea is seen as particularly powerful in the context of certain groups of people whom society identifies (incorrectly) as being somehow fundamentally negatively different from, and of lower value than, ordinary people (for instance 'the mentally ill' or 'people with special needs' or 'autistic people' or 'asylum seekers').
Citizen Advocacy organisations seek to cause benefit by connecting individual people who have been excluded and devalued with someone generally seen by society as being valued. There are some clear immediate effects on the person's exclusion and sense of self-worth. But also very important are the anticipated effects brought about when the ordinary community sees that a 'valued' person has an ordinary relationship with this person (e.g. a friendship), and that this 'valued' person sees them as an equal (i.e. also a 'valued' person). However, the anticipated effects are even wider than this, in that it is assumed that society (in general) will extend their conclusions to cover the group of people whom the individual has been seen to belong to.
There are many actions and influences that can undermine these efforts. Problems tend to revolve around existing social expectations for the 'devalued' person. Often society at large will anticipate that this person isn't really worth knowing, and has little to offer - but that they might be helped through paid services or with the assistance of volunteers. Working in an environment where such expectations are the norm, it becomes easy for an organisations practice to drift towards fitting in with them. An organisation might instead find themselves creating relationships where the 'valued' person is seen to be (or sees themselves to be) a volunteer, at which point it has is carrying out a fundamentally different activity. In this case the effects of the work may even be to add to the devaluation of the 'devalued' person (however effectively the 'volunteer' helps the individual with particular problems or issues in their life).
The first occurs when the founding ideas of this work are misunderstood. In particular, some people believe (incorrectly) that Citizen Advocacy organisations are based on the idea of value 'flowing' from a 'valued' person to a 'devalued' person (as if value was connected to the person rather than being a judgement from outside).
A second, somewhat similar, confusion is caused by people misunderstanding what is implied by 'valued'. For instance it is sometimes said that Citizen Advocacy organisations believe that a valued person needs be white, with money, heterosexual and so on. John O'Brien directly contradicts this in the introduction to 'Learning from Citizen Advocacy Programs' when he writes:
A third misunderstanding arises from the name 'Citizen Advocacy' since the word 'advocacy' has broad uses. In the UK it is strongly associated with the legal task of representing a person in a court, even more so in Scotland. The task of an 'advocate' is understood to be one of representing (or supporting) a person so as to ensure that their point of view is heard or their rights upheld. This causes particular confusion because 'advocating' in this way is a common action that the 'valued' person may undertake.
A fourth misunderstanding arises from the common use of the phrase "one to one relationship" in Citizen Advocacy circles. This was originally used to explain that the 'valued' person and 'devalued' person were being introduced personally, not in a (one to many) volunteer to client relationship. In fact, it is hoped that initial introductions by Citizen Advocacy organisations will lead to the 'devalued' and excluded person being re-included and reconnected (i.e. to many people).
The first of these activities in particular, has been found to have some benefits for some people, and often such organisations in the UK now refer to themselves as practising 'Independent Advocacy'" using volunteers. However confusion is particularly apparent when this kind of organisation seeks to support people by using volunteers in the longer term.
Since these organisations are practising a different activity the founding documents behind the idea of a citizen advocacy organisation often do not fit with their work .
These developments raise difficult questions about the definition of a Citizen Advocacy organisation (program). If the practice of most organisations which use the title is no longer in line with the founding documents, is it correct to say that they are no longer Citizen Advocacy organisations? Or is it correct to say that the practice of Citizen Advocacy organisations has now changed so that the founding documents no longer fit it?
There are also principles directed at ensuring that the organisation's work isn't limited by conflicting interests, and that it isn't seen to have conflicting interests:
Further principles include:
Behind these principles lays the firm belief that people who are currently devalued and excluded by society are of equal worth, and very much worth knowing personally. It is seen that society as a whole will benefit from these people being fully included , and that exclusion occurs because of the social response to groups of people, not because that individual can't be included.
The work of a Citizen Advocacy organisation is fundamentally different from that of organisations that seek to help people cope with their devaluation and exclusion (in that it instead uses a practical method to ensure the person is no longer devalued and excluded). Indeed, one of the key reasons that the idea of the citizen advocacy organisation was created is that society's response to the problems of devaluation and exclusion can be to create service systems which, while trying to help, actually further exclude and devalue people.
Top teacher, student among HoF honorees ; Education foundation to also single out top citizen advocate, outstanding alumnus
Apr 22, 2010; The Centerville Education Foundation will honor its Teacher of the Year, Student of the Year, Citizen Advocate of the year and...