As workers in child protection, we advocate all the time. Linking the Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care to that advocacy can add credibility, legitimacy and persuasiveness to our endeavours and lead to better outcomes all round.

Advocacy strategies are readily and naturally linked to the Charter of Rights. The Charter affirms the right of a child or young person to have an advocate and so supports the role of an advocate within an endorsing agency and externally with other agencies that have also endorsed.

When a social worker advocates to their supervisor for a child to be present at their annual review they are pursuing the right for a young person to participate in decision making. A youth worker in residential care advocating for an extra staff member so that a child can go to cricket practice is promoting the child’s right to develop their talents. Clearly linking an advocacy position to the Charter of Rights supports and guides our action and highlights the need for others to consider the Charter and address the rights in their response.

One of the most significant challenges an advocate for a child or young person can face is undertaking advocacy within their own organisation. Advocacy can be misread by colleagues and management as disruptive or obstructive to the work of a team when members should be working cohesively. Advocates may also fear that, as a voice within their team, they will not be as powerful as an external or more senior voice, and so be less likely to pursue an issue.

In effective teams, however, advocacy can encourage reflective practice which promotes professional and organisational growth and encourages considered decision making. The widespread adoption of the Charter and its strong endorsement of advocacy frames the work of an advocate positively, as a legitimate action that focuses attention on the young person’s voice.

To this moment, 46 government and non-government agencies have endorsed the Charter of Rights.  Each agency has committed itself in its policy and practice to actively support the rights and entitlements of children in care. This gives us the opportunity to set aside our pre-judgments, organisational imperatives and even our expectation of an ideal outcome and to give full and first consideration to the rights, voice and point of view of the children and young people with whom we work.

Good advocacy supports the rights of the child, develops the skills of advocates, robust organisations and results in better decisions – and the Charter can promote good advocacy. To support advocates in the field and encourage discussion of advocacy issues, the Office of the Guardian has a new Fact Sheet – Using the Charter in Individual Advocacy which is available now, online at www.gcyp.sa.gov.au.

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