Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

The Importance of Advocacy and Advocacy Competencies in Human Service Professions

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

The Importance of Advocacy and Advocacy Competencies in Human Service Professions

Article excerpt

The Importance of Advocacy and Advocacy Competencies in Human Service Professions

Advocacy is an important component of human service professions and is a key requirement of ethical codes and accreditation standards for human service and affiliated professions (Di Giovanni, 2009; Wark, 2008). For example, the American Counseling Association (ACA) convened a taskforce in 2002 with a mission to develop guidelines for counselors to operationalize advocacy within the field of professional counseling (Toporek, Lewis, & Crethar, 2009) and the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) incorporated advocacy into their ethical standards in 1996 (Wark, 2008). The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) includes advocacy, a longstanding historical emphasis in social work education and practice, in its 2008 code of ethics (Shdaimah & McCoyd, 2012). Additionally, the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (2012) repeatedly lists advocacy as a component of national program standards and emphasizes advocacy in skill standards for the "community support human service practitioner" (Di Giovanni, 2009, p.106).

Taskforces, accreditation bodies, and ethical codes like these in human service professions led to the development of professional advocacy competencies (Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2003). These advocacy competencies represent guiding frameworks of principles for helping professionals to engage in advocacy intervention. While academics have published, researched, and presented widely on these competencies over the past decade, many professionals still struggle to incorporate advocacy into the daily practice of their work, do not explore advocacy leadership on behalf of their clients, or fail to see advocacy as a component of their professional identity (West-Olatunji, 2010). This paper will explore the concept and importance of advocacy, examine one set of advocacy competencies relevant for helping professionals, and discuss how human service practitioners and educators can emphasize advocacy within their daily practice and leadership roles in the held.

Advocacy Importance and Definitions

What exactly does advocacy mean for the human service professional? Why is advocacy an important concept for human service professionals to embrace? These are two essential questions worth addressing prior to exploring advocacy competencies in more detail and the role advocacy has in the daily practice and leadership functions of helping professionals.

According to the Collins English Dictionary (n.d.), an advocate is "a person who upholds or defends a cause; supporter" and "a person who intercedes on behalf of another" ([paragraph] 2). Advocacy, based on these definitions, implies engaging in defense, support, or intercession with or on behalf of another individual, group, or organization to accomplish a task(s). Further implied in these definitions is the idea that the advocacy task(s) the individual, group, or organization needs would not happen without the intervention of the advocate. Advocacy, therefore, is an active process of helping people accomplish something needed which they would have difficulty achieving without assistance (West-Olatunji, 2010).

Helping professions define advocacy in several ways. Advocacy links to the concept of social justice, which in turn links to multicultural competencies like those of Sue, Arredondo, and McDavis (1992). According to Smith, Reynolds, and Rovnak (2009), advocacy "promotes social justice as a fundamental principle ... through the systemic elimination of social illness caused by various forms of oppression and social inequality" (p.483). Smith et al. state, "the major focus of advocacy tends to be on issues related to power, privilege, allocation of resources, and various forms of prejudicial discrimination and violence toward underrepresented individuals or groups" (p.483). Thus, advocacy intervention focuses on eliminating oppressive forces in clients' lives and working at a systems level towards achieving a more just and fair society for clients. …

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