As I come to the conclusion of my discussion on Social Justice manifested through the Family Care Network’s Practice of Caring, I will focus on one of the most important roles I play as the Leader of this organization; but one we all must embrace–Advocating for individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by Social Injustice!
Social Justice is rooted in the idea that all people should have equal rights, opportunity, and treatment. It promotes fairness and equity, safety and security, health, and wellbeing across society. As I have demonstrated, our Practice of Caring is the process of delivering what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of our most vulnerable populations: victims of neglect, abuse, and social injustice. Advocacy seeks to ensure that all people in society are able to:
- Have their voices heard on issues that are important to them;
- Have their rights protected and promoted; and,
- Have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.
Social Justice says, “Everyone should have a voice in decisions that affect them and the opportunity to have their story heard!”
Effective Advocacy is a thoughtful method to systematically pursue change. It is the foundation of our democracy and a process that allows ordinary people to shape and influence policy at all levels. It involves identifying priorities, crafting strategies, taking action, and achieving results that will positively change everyone’s future. Here are my Principles of an Effective Advocate:
Effective Advocates are driven by compassion and a deep seated belief that all people are entitled to equal rights, opportunities, health, and treatment, based upon fairness, equality, safety, and security which will produce wellbeing across society. Advocacy is synonymous with Caring!
An Effective Advocate is very knowledgeable. In essence, they are a “subject matter expert,” able to articulate clearly and convincingly about their advocacy issues. They must be able to answer questions, and provide concrete examples and data to support their assertions; supported by genuine passion and concern.
Knowledge is important, but an Effective Advocate must be a Skilled Communicator able to present their knowledge in a way that connects with the heart and emotions of their audience. I learned many years ago that “12 inches” is the key to Effective Advocacy – the distance from the head to the heart! Advocacy is the skill of stirring the heart of others to action.
Becoming an Effective Advocate requires research and learning, but most importantly, Listening. In order to be a “voice” for others, you must hear what is important to them. What are their needs, wishes, hopes, dreams; as well as their concerns, fears, frustrations, and discouragements. Effective Advocacy is the skill of translating the language and voice of a constituency group into an impactful message.
An Effective Advocate understands and employees Strategy. Advocacy requires a well-planned, systematic effort to affect change. It is rare to have a significant impact in a “one-off” encounter. Strategies that work must be multifaceted, creative, and aggressive, but not offensive! As with any strategic plan, there must be a high degree of flexibility and adaptability. We work and live within a rapid paced, ever-changing world. Today’s challenges and issues will soon be eclipsed by new priorities, crises, and unanticipated bends in the road. An Effective Advocate is able to maneuver through treacherous waters without losing sight of the end goal.
Effective Advocacy is not an individualized, unilateral effort--it is a Collaborative, Team-Driven process! There definitely is strength in numbers. An advocate making a passionate, effective, intelligent argument can’t achieve the same impact that a thousand people making the same argument can. Equally as important, it can’t be a one-way dialogue. Effective Advocacy is Bilateral Engagement with the decision-makers. Again, it is listening and learning while adjusting and adapting strategy and messaging.
Tenacity and Stubborn Perseverance are key characteristics of an Effective Advocate. I have spent decades advocating for the disenfranchised and victims of social injustice. Honestly, it is a hard fight! Foster children, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the hungry don’t have paid lobbyists to wine, dine, and bribe decision-makers on their behalf. As Bob Dylan said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears!” It is amazing how campaign contributions have far more sway on legislation, than Social Justice does. Thus, we have to work much harder, much longer, much more aggressively to achieve the slightest accomplishment. Social Justice says, “Fight on and don’t give up until you have earned the prize, reached the goal, and see every person free from injustice!”
Effective Advocates embrace the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “For all of us today, the battle is in our hands. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. We must keep going.” “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
The Family Care Network has embraced Social Justice in our Practice of Caring. Our mission is to enhance the wellbeing of children and families in partnership with our community. We do this by strengthening families, delivering treatment services that promote healing and recovery from trauma and social injustice, and providing housing and skills training for individuals and families to become self-sufficient. We work hard to prevent children, youth and families from entering or continuing within public systems and supports, and we promote resiliency, self-reliance and dignity. And, we aggressively Advocate to ensure that all people in society are able to have their voice heard on issues that are important to them; protect and promote their rights; and have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.
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