What is Advocacy?

Feb 04 2016

What is Advocacy?

By Steven Olender

It can be difficult for us to define what we mean when we say that someone "advocates" for a child. When we think of "advocacy" we often think of political lobbying or campaigning door to door, but the work that Court Appointed Special Advocates do for children in the child welfare system is different and it takes on many forms. An advocate's job is to find the gaps in a child's care and identify what can be done to fill those gaps. There are as many ways to advocate for a child as there are potential gaps in a child's life.

To help give a better picture of what it means to real-life advocate for youth in care, here are eleven examples of ways that CASA volunteers have advocated for youth recently.

  1. A youth in care was one day away from aging out of the system when his volunteer realized he didn't have a state ID. The volunteer dropped everything and spent the day driving to various state agencies to gather documents and ensure the youth obtained this important item.
  2. A volunteer worked with a child who was a talented and passionate artist, but who was embroiled in the juvenile justice system. She helped encourage his artistry and made him a portfolio he could send to galleries, agents and schools.
  3. When her child's behavioral issues were too much for a mother to handle, she gave up her parental rights because she believed the state could do more to help her daughter. Once the girl had received the needed therapeutic interventions, her CASA volunteer worked to reconnect mother and daughter and assisted in locating support in the community. This instilled confidence in the mother and allowed the family to safely reunify
  4. Due to neglect, a child was nonverbal and still not potty trained, but his school still wanted to advance him to first grade. His advocate worked with the school to keep him in kindergarten so he would have time to develop and be successful in school.
  5. When a mother was evicted because of the domestic violence that brought her family into the system, her kids' volunteer connected her to community resources and helped her find a new home that she could afford.
  6. A fifteen year old boy who only spoke Spanish had only completed fourth grade but his school was going to place him with other kids his age. His volunteer was able to get him into an earlier grade and secure him an individual tutor and ESL services. Now he is on track to graduate.
  7. A youth was preparing to age out of care and didn't have a strong network to support him. His volunteer worked with CASA's Family Finding team and discovered he had a sister he didn't even know about. He was able to connect with her and went to live with her upon aging out. This enabled him to transition into adulthood with family support.
  8. A five year old boy with deep trauma issues was suspended from school because of his behavioral issues. His CASA volunteer persisted in arranging a meeting with his teachers and the administration. They discussed his trauma, what triggers him and how they could intervene so the boy could stay in school without creating problems for other students.
  9. A child was being moved from placement to placement every month and his temporary caregivers didn’t know him well enough to adequately describe him to potential adoptive parents. His volunteer stayed consistent in his life, though, and knew him well. She was able to write a letter that lead to him finding an adoptive family.
  10. When mistakes in paperwork were going to prevent a girl from graduating, her volunteer met with her teachers and counselor to sort the problem out. Now, instead of being held back and probably dropping out, she is enrolled in college classes at ACC.
  11. Four kids living with their grandparents were removed because the home was deemed unsafe. The kids were going to be sent to foster care, where they would inevitably be split up. When their volunteers heard from the kids' school that this was a loving home that just needed more support, they worked to get the home repaired and got training for the grandparents in trauma-informed care and working with special needs children so that the kids could stay together and with family.

It can be difficult to define advocacy because it looks different on every case, but the consistent thing is that an advocate is the person on the case who can give a child undivided attention. Advocates don't have dozens of cases to balance; they have a single child or sibling group to focus on. As a result they are often the only person who can recognize and anticipate all the myriad needs a child has and can make sure their parent, the judge, their school, CPS and anyone else involved are able to meet those needs. That is advocacy.