Is Advocacy Neutral? Should it be?

Author – Frances Macaulay
Advocacy is many things. Neutral is not one of those things. Advocates take a stand, using their voice, resources and savvy to work for individual, systemic and social change and justice.

Child advocacy centers posit advocates in the midst of complex social service, criminal justice, mental health and medical systems that respond to child abuse. Regardless of the action any individual system is able to take with an individual child, advocates are staunch reminders of the child and family’s lived experience. Advocates in CACs are responsible for consistently weaving the child and family’s experience, desires and safety needs into all pieces of their daily work with the MDT and the larger community.

Advocates feel immense pressure from intervening systems to placate the justified anger and frustration children and families feel in the aftermath of an investigation or disclosure. Yet, if advocates work to silence the family’s frustration they are trampling upon their most basic responsibilities: to give voice to the lived experience of families. Failure to act, although it may well be easier than a tough MDT discussion, only serves to institutionalize power structures that look to silence children’s voices and prevent critical examination that can lead to lasting systemic change.

CACs were founded on the belief that children should experience as little repeated trauma during an investigation as possible. Advocates serve an incredibly important role in that they keep the child and family’s needs and lived experience with the system and safety present at every step of the process that follows an interview. Effective advocates for individual, social and systemic change for children and families impacted by child abuse know that while neutrality is undoubtedly easier, it does nothing to move the needle on creating long-term safety for children and families.