Advocacy: An Ethical Mandate

by Frances Macaulay
In exchanging the formal job title of “advocate” for “social work student” I had mixed feelings. While social workers and advocates inspired me to pursue my MSW, I entered fearful of being co-opted by a child welfare system that would leave me without the ability to advocate for individual and broad-scale social justice. Immersed in the second semester, my fears have eased as it is clear that my directive to carry out advocacy for individuals and groups is supported by the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.

As a Child Protection Social Work intern my identity as an advocate is challenged daily by institutional and structural processes. Federal, state, local and ethical models give CPS workers uncomfortable levels of power to intervene. Institutional processes and differences in systemic goals across MDT members can easily leave social workers, advocates and other team members forced to either choose to be on the side of child safety or the side of parents. This forced dichotomy is hard to avoid in the heart of cases of abuse and neglect.

Advocacy skills are imperative to giving voice to families lived experience while facilitating a comprehensive conversation about next steps with the MDT that doesn’t pit practitioners and their goals against each other. This is by no means a small task, and certainly is a thankless one. Yet as advocates, social workers, therapists, executive directors, prosecutors and other professionals who intersect with child abuse and neglect our failure to advocate and support radical advocacy leaves kids and their caregivers without critical resources, support and trust we have to offer.

Although long trail runs and the beautiful simplicity of Mary Oliver poems are trusted sources of inspiration I’ve lately found personal and professional inspiration in the NASW Code of Ethics.

Regardless of your job title, I believe in the power of written words as guides for practice as well as starting points for conversation. Drop me a line with your thoughts, critiques, and ways you manifest advocacy each day in your work: I look forward to hearing from you!