For me, the past year has given me many different definitions to the answer,
“What is an advocate.” What I found to be most important is that the answer changes depending on who or what you are advocating for. However, the underlying question always remains true, that is, what is the unmet need and how can I help facilitate the solution?
Sometimes advocating for families and children involves an emotional reaction; anger, frustration, discontent, fatigue. I have found disconnecting myself from the emotion the hardest part of being an effective advocate. The counselor in me wants to do just that, counsel, however that is not our role.
I have made a list of what I believe to be the most important skills in being an advocate:
- Be a listener- listen for the details and filter out the emotion
- Take notes and be organized. This will assist you in helping the family you are working with to understand the nuances in the paperwork, plan, and conversation.
- Understand the laws and systems you are dealing with. Don’t speak up until you KNOW that what you are saying is fact. If you misspeak, then you lose the power you have as an advocate.
- Be a strong, assertive communicator.
- Build relationships with the people that work in your system. Knowing who to deal with and who your allies are is worth so much.
- Be respectful of the client and their needs. Don’t pass judgment and remember everyone needs a hand from time to time.
What we are really doing as advocates is demonstrating to our clients the skills they will need to be more effective the next time the encounter a problem. Remembering this is essential! When teaching by example, we are not rescuing or giving the solution.