Getting to know: our advocates

Our advocates: Conrad Morris, Leila Plush and Sarah Meakin

What is an advocate?

As an advocate for children and young people in care we work with young people to empower them to advocate for themselves. It is about educating them about their rights and giving them the tools they can use to speak up for themselves for what they want and need.

Many children and young people have told us the system they live in often leaves them feeling like they are silenced. We are here to ensure they are being heard.

What are some of the key issues you provide advocacy for?

The main issues we provide advocacy for are:

  • not feeling safe in their placement
  • not enough sibling contact
  • not enough contact with family
  • not going to school and a lack of education programs
  • leaving care at the age of 18 and the plans for their transition out of care.

How do you work with a child or young person to help resolve their issue?

Some children and young people are not natural advocates for themselves or have limited people in their lives who can actively advocate for them. Being an advocate for yourself is a learned process so it takes time to build the skills and confidence. One of the ways they learn is from seeing firsthand what advocacy is and how it works – this can be through watching us when we meet with them and their case worker and talking about what it is they want.

We try to get the young person to stand up and voice their views. Sometimes this isn’t always done in a way that is well received, more often than not because the young person is frustrated with the issue or the system and doesn’t know how to communicate their needs clearly or in a way the case worker can relate to.

We work with the young person to look at things differently; sometimes just a change in the way they approach issues can get a better result. If the young person has tried to advocate for themselves and it didn’t work out, we will talk them through what they did, how they did it and what options there could be going forward. They might need to adjust their expectations of what they want. For example, if the young person wants to see their siblings by themselves and is unable to do so for safety reasons, maybe they can arrange to see their siblings supervised by an adult.

Young people will be encouraged to speak up and stand up for themselves if they can ‘experience success’. If their advocacy results in a good outcome for them they will see that it is worth doing, and can be effective. That can be really empowering for them.

What are some of the ways in which you can help a child/young person needing advocacy?

There are many ways we can help a child/young person, such as:

  • listen to what the child or young person wants and needs – as a first principle, being ‘heard’ is a powerful thing
  • provide tips and ideas on what they can do to advocate for themselves (i.e knowing their rights, being able to communicate why the issue is important to them, and knowing who to speak to are all important)
  • if they have exhausted their other avenues of support, we will advocate on their behalf about their concerns
  • attend meetings alongside them with their case manager
  • talk to the Department for Child Protection on their behalf.

What is the process of providing advocacy to a child/young person?

When a case is referred to us, we like to meet with the young person face to face if they feel this would be ok.

Aboriginal Advocate Conrad Morris said he always offers to meet with children and young people to talk through their concerns and provide them a safe place to talk.

“I also offer for them to bring a support person if this makes them feel safer to talk through their concerns. This works well given their lack of trust of adults and the child protection system,” Conrad said.

“If a child or young person doesn’t want to meet and prefers to speak over the phone this is supported, acknowledging whatever is best for them at the time to talk though their concerns. I have found this approach allows them to be in control.”

As advocates, we will talk to the child or young person to find out what the issue is and what outcome it is they want. We will then talk about what our role is, what their rights are and work out what steps the young person needs to take to work towards this and how we can be of assistance to them.

Throughout the advocacy matter, we will be in contact with the young person regularly (by visiting them or calling) and updating them on the progress, even if there have been no developments. Once the issue is resolved we always seek to deliver the final outcomes and let the young person know that our role in this matter is no longer needed. Of course, we will let them know that we are always here for them if another advocacy matter arises.

How can someone speak with an advocate?

If a child or young person wants to speak with an advocate they can call our office. Initially they will speak with one of our Assessment and Referral Officers who will determine if there is a role for us – sometimes issues can be addressed and resolved by speaking to the young person’s case manager. If there is a need for advocacy we will call the young person to start working towards how we can address their issue together.

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We acknowledge and respect Aboriginal People as the traditional owners
and custodians of the land we live and work on, their living culture and their unique role in the life of South Australia.