2.5 Who can be an advocate?

Anyone can play a key role in supporting children, their families and communities to claim their rights. Often those people who have most contact with children in the course of their ordinary practice are best placed to advocate on their behalf. Any advocacy work that is undertaken will depend on the circumstances and the resources available, but does not necessarily need to involve significant resources. It does not necessarily need to be a special ‘added on’ activity but can be built into your day-to-day work of practical support to children.

Health workers, whatever their role, are particularly well placed to advocate for children. You are in a strong position to identify unfair or unhealthy environments and practices that are harmful for children or that violate their rights. For example, if services that children need are not available, you can play an important role in highlighting the gaps. You can then make the case for why these services are important. You can be a natural and powerful advocate on behalf of children’s health. Consider the following reasons why you are uniquely suited for advocacy:

  • You put a human face to the statistics. You care for children every day who are affected by the environments in which they live and work. When you tell your story, you can make people understand the issue of children’s health in a way that fact sheets or statistics alone cannot.
  • You have credibility. By the nature of your role, education and training, people in your community respect and trust you. When you speak out on an issue, you bring credibility and relevance to that issue.
  • You have influence. Because you instil trust in others and add credibility to your cause, your investment in the community can inspire others to do likewise. Moreover, your voice may be listened to when other voices are not.
  • Your patients are depending on you. Children cannot vote. They need your help to tell their story. You have the power to not only advocate for children, but for their families. Through advocacy, you can help ensure that decision makers are not simply recognising children’s health and well-being as an important issue, but that they are actively working to improve their health and their lives.
  • You have passion. Advocacy allows you to dig deeper into your interests and touches on why you originally became a health professional. Through advocacy, you can channel your passion for health and well-being into lasting change. Advocacy allows you to help improve the lives of children while at the same time strengthening the role of your profession within the community.
  • You have well-suited skills. Health practitioners already have the skills of an advocate. The same skills you use every day to establish trust, develop relationships, provide solutions to your patients and clients can be applied in your community advocacy work.
  • You are not alone. Through advocacy, you can join other health practitioners, school personnel, youth organisers, agricultural groups and others.

Activity 2.2: What makes a good advocate?

  1. Think of a time when someone else helped you to get across your views or argued on your behalf.

    How did that feel and how did they do it?

  2. What do you think are the skills and characteristics of a good advocate in working with children? Try to identify at least five things.

    If you are working in a group discuss which skills are most important to fill in the boxes in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1 The skills and characteristics of a good advocate


  1. Reflecting on personal experience can help us think about good and bad experiences we have had. This might be realising the importance of advocacy, when you wished someone had been able to speak up for you but no one did. If you have had a good experience, what was it that made it successful? What attitudes or skills did the person have who helped you? This should help you answer the second question.
  2. Although there is no ‘correct’ list of skills, some of the following can be valuable for effective advocacy:
    • to be a good listener – so you really understand what the issue is
    • to be a good communicator – as you would need to be able to work with children and young people of different ages, and also explain the issues to other people
    • to value the opinions of children – you must accept that children have valid opinions and that their experience is important
    • to be assertive or persistent – some people might not be prepared to listen to the views of others, particularly those of children
    • to be creative – as there is usually not just one approach for every situation to address the issue of children
    • to be patient – as it might take a while to achieve change.

This is not a comprehensive list: you may have identified many others. For example, it is difficult to fairly represent the views of children without putting our own interpretation on what they have said or feeling that we know what they should have said. Good advocates are also often passionate about achieving change for the better. It is a skilled role but as you can see some of these skills will be ones that you should have anyway, as a result of your work as a health practitioner, also basic attitudes and values are equally important.

Children themselves have ideas on ‘what makes a good advocate’

  • take the time to listen
  • remain neutral
  • have a friendly, informal approach and not be too rigid about things
  • be good at working with young people and give information in a way that suits them
  • take time to get to know them and their needs
  • do not speak down to them
  • only share information with others when they agree that it’s OK
  • do not jump to conclusions
  • consult them on all things.
(NSPCC/Voice, 2005)

You can see that there is some overlap with our adult views but children also raise some issues that adults may not have in their list: for example their concerns about confidentiality – that passing on information they give to an advocate will not just be shared with everyone without their permission. You will be aware of this issue from Module 3.

2.4 Why advocate for child rights?

2.6 Approaches to advocacy