If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ~ Lilla Watson

In this article we are exploring the worker competencies associated with Advocacy, which involves recognizing individual or group needs, providing intervention on behalf of children and families, communicating to decision makers, and initiating actions to secure or enhance a needed service, resource or entitlement that children and families need to meet personal and administrative goals. Renee Armstrong, Program Policy Liaison for the Training Academy, offers her perspective on advocacy in social work.

There is a parable about a group of villagers working by a river. One day they notice a baby floating downstream, so they rescue the baby and care for it. In the following days more babies continue floating down the river, so the villagers rescue them as well. Eventually their community became overwhelmed caring for all these children. The villagers began to argue with one another: some wanting to save and care for the babies, and others wanting to go upstream to discover the problem and find a solution. In the end they realized that they needed to do both.

This could be seen as an analogy for advocacy in social work at the macro level, however it’s an obligation for workers who work directly with families and children to see their role as one of advocates in addition to meeting direct needs. A workers’ role in advocacy can often be overlooked, put aside for more pressing issues, i.e. the crisis at hand. It is essential that workers are grounded in social work values and best practices of which they can see when there is dissonance at the policy and practice levels and their advocacy skills are required. Further, when workers take an advocacy role within their practice, it can bring a greater sense of self efficacy to their work which supports their sustainability in the field. This is a dynamic to foster with the demands on workers that lead to high turnover.

Some of the foundational competencies ask that workers advocate for active efforts to reunite families and return children whenever possible, and that workers should understand negotiation and advocacy for the development and retention of resources that children, youth, and families need to meet personal goals and agencies need to meet administrative goals. By practicing advocacy, an opening for systems change exists. This illustrates the power workers have within systems that, if understood and yielded, have the opportunity to influence outcomes for children and families at a wider scope than caseload.

An advanced worker competency states that workers should demonstrate the ability to apply coalition-building strategies across diverse communities and providers in order to identify and achieve enhanced and culturally competent services, resources, or entitlements for children and families. With workers being the closest to families, workers need to engage with vulnerability to understand their role at varied levels. Conforming to default processes and services without self reflection on one’s own biases and systemic inequities, not only perpetuates the status quo potentially harming children and families and also limits innovation, and culturally responsive solutions at the systems level. This is where advocacy comes in. In its simplest form, advocacy should be thought of as using one’s voice for a cause or need. Workers have the power to shape not only a family's experience but impact a community, demographic, or population by using their voice to raise awareness, engage with decision makers, and assess policies that impact practice.

The Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework is a set of competencies that have been created to assist child welfare professionals in defining and demonstrating their knowledge, skills, and understanding across a number of different practice areas. Refer to page 13 of the Practice Framework to review all competencies related to advocacy, and consider ways to develop your own knowledge and skills.

If you have discovered other resources for developing competencies in advocacy, please share! Email us at info@mnchildwelfaretraining.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. With a better understanding of the competencies for front-line workers and their supervisors, we can reflect the specific knowledge and skills necessary for culturally-responsive, trauma-informed, and developmentally-based work with children, families, communities, and tribes across Minnesota.