Advocacy is a widely talked about topic, but how exactly is advocacy accomplished? Below, advocacy will be broken down and tips for fighting for your client base or individual client at all levels will be provided. Feel free to comment some of your own advocacy tips, and how you work with various populations.
What is Advocacy?
One role of a social worker is that of an Advocate. Being an advocate entails that social workers support their clients at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels to ensure the client or population conditions are functioning well or improved. Though it is necessary for social workers to advocate for clients, especially through bureaucratic nonsense the client is unaware of, we also must allow the client self-determination so that the client can advocate for the rights and well-being of them self.
There are two general types of advocacy, called Case Advocacy and Class Advocacy. Case Advocacy with when a social worker advocates for a individual client, and their right or need for services, support, or treatment. Many times this may include fighting for a client’s acceptance into a treatment program, or ensuring a judge that a client is able to remain sober. Class Advocacy, or cause advocacy, is a more macro term used to describe advocating for social change at the legislative and policy level, so that groups of people are no longer neglected, discriminated against, and are able to accomplish a particular goal. Class advocacy fights for larger groups of people, while case advocacy fights for an individual (Sheafor & Horejsi, p. 46, 2015).
What Does Advocacy Look Like?
Advocacy can look differently based on the client and the level of practice. If you are in direct practice, micro social work, you will be engaging in case advocacy. From this, the practitioner may advocate for a client to receive treatment for a longer time period or be able to receive a medication for a diagnosis.
In mezzo social work, one may advocate for an agency to change its policy in regards to client care. One example of this occurred at my previous field placement at a Child Advocacy Center. The counselors advocated for the Board and Steering Committee to create policy that would allow the offending youth on the center’s property. The youth attended a Problematic Sexual Behavior treatment group, but policy stated offenders were not allowed on the property. Because these were children, all of whom had significant trauma themselves, the counselors advocated for a change in the policy that would allow PSB attendees on the property when the group was held at 5:00 pm. They were successful, and the youth were able to be treated in a more child-friendly and comfortable environment. Another example of advocacy on the mezzo level of practice could include fighting for your town or county to open a Suboxone clinic to assist in the treatment of individuals with substance abuse disorder or addiction. Mezzo level advocacy can sometimes be case or cause advocacy, depending on the situation.
Lastly, and a more simple concept, is macro social work advocacy. Macro advocacy is usually Class or Cause Advocacy, in that the social worker is advocating for policy or legislative change so that a specific vulnerable population is better served, funded, or treated. This could look like a social worker advocating for child abuse laws that create a more trauma-focused approach to court proceedings, or the legalization of marijuana so that the disproportionate arrests of black men decrease.
As social workers, it is our duty and obligation to serve at-risk and vulnerable populations. These groups are at-risk for a reason, and “the system” has not been made with considerations for these people in mind. As social justice warriors, direct practitioners, or non-profit leaders, we must continue to use our advocacy skills on a daily basis to ensure the quality care is given and clients are treated as the human beings they are.
Sheafor, B. W., & Horejsi, C. R. (2015). Techniques and guidelines for social work practice(10th ed.). Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Crane Library.