The ACA Advocacy Competencies: A Social Justice Advocacy Framework for Professional School Counselors

Article excerpt

The recent endorsement of the advocacy competencies by the American Counseling Association signals their relevance to the school counseling profession. This article outlines the importance of being a social change agent, the value of advocacy in K-12 schools, and how school counselors can use the advocacy competencies as a framework for promoting access and equity for all students. Implications for professional school counselors and school counselor educators in using the advocacy competencies are also addressed.

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Social justice advocacy is a key task of the 21st-century professional school counselor. Calls for school counselors to adopt social justice advocacy as a platform have been well documented (Bailey, Getch, & Chen-Hayes, 2007; Brown, 2005; House & Martin, 1999) and are supported by national organizations such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2004, 2005) and the Education Trust (2006). The need is for school counselors to embrace a social justice advocacy perspective and help lead school reform efforts to challenge educational inequities such as achievement gaps stemming from the less than ideal learning environment that is prevalent in many schools (Bemak & Chung, 2005; Cox & Lee, 2007). Social justice advocacy is warranted to right injustices, increase access, and improve educational outcomes for all students. To this end, professional school counselors can serve as agents for social change by using the American Counseling Association's (ACA) advocacy competencies (see Appendix A) as a framework for executing social justice advocacy strategies (Ratts, 2006). The proposal that school counselors incorporate the advocacy competencies into their practice seems timely given their endorsement in 2003 by the ACA Governing Council (2003).

This article provides a conceptual framework for how the ACA advocacy competencies can meet the growing demand for professional school counselors to be social justice advocates. Specifically, this article outlines the importance of being a social change agent and the value of advocacy in K-12 schools. It also provides a rationale for the competencies as well as a brief overview of their development. In addition, this article offers examples of how school counselors can use the framework of the advocacy competencies to promote access and equity for all students. Implications also are addressed for using the advocacy competencies in the school counseling profession as well as in school counselor training programs.

SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCACY IN K-12 SCHOOLS

Lee (2007) has stated that school counselors have both a moral and ethical responsibility to advocate for students and serve as agents for social and political change. This belief has roots in Menacker's (1976) suggestion that sometimes it is the system and not the student that needs adjusting. He noted that school counselors need to go beyond helping individuals adjust to the system and need to also advocate for systemic change.

Lewis and Bradley (2000) concurred:

   Advocacy is an important aspect of every
   counselor's role. Regardless of the particular
   setting in which she or he works, each counselor
   is confronted again and again with issues
   that cannot be resolved simply through
   change within the individual. All too often,
   negative aspects of the environment impinge
   on a [student's] well-being, intensifying personal
   problems or creating obstacles to
   growth. When such situations arise, effective
   counselors speak up! (p. 3)

Understood within the above quote is the message that school counselors cannot ignore the realities of oppression. Neither can they operate solely from the comfort of their offices if they wish to best serve students (Vera & Speight, 2003). Rather, the school counselor role needs to include intervening in the social context that affects students. The rationale is that interventions that focus solely on individual students will, at best, only be partially effective (Goodman et al. …