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Case advocacy is acting on behalf of a client (individual, family or group) in order to access needed resources, services, or to influence policy change. Keep in mind client consent and involvement in the process. Additional end goals should be client empowerment and assertiveness taught through modeling. Advocacy is what sets social work apart from other professions. As social workers, we generally work with the most vulnerable and oppressed populations, which are the people most likely to need the services of an advocate.


Advocacy falls along a continuum of involvement and commitment.


Knowledge needed for effective case advocacy:

       Agency’s policies, regulations, and administrative structure

       Agency’s appeal procedures

       Available legal remedies

       Agency’s formal and informal power structure

       External forces that the organization responds to

       Consequences (for client and others) of escalating issues (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2000, p.475).


Knowledge // Skills needed for effective advocacy:

Skilled in interviewing and engagement— Attentive listener— Good observer— Understand nonverbal communication—Being empathetic—Being supportive - Acknowledge resistance to change—Understand decision making in groups—

Be knowledgeable about the issue— Have good problem solving skills—Be non- judgmental—Teach people to be assertive by modeling—Know the rights of the client and avenues of redress


What sources of power do advocates have available to cause change?

       Legitimate power- when person A believes person B has the right to influence him/ her

       Reward power – to provide positive reinforcement to another

       Coercive power- ability of someone to punish or use negative reinforcement

       Referent power- one person is influenced by another because of admiration for that person

       Expert power- available to those we consider to be authorities in that area

Multiple sources of power can exist in an individual or organization (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2000, p.482).


Questions to ask before advocating:

       Is the goal to acquire new resources or improve existing ones?

       How long has the problem existed?

       How serious is it?

       How many people are affected by it?

       Is there any history of advocacy efforts that would add information to the current assessment?

       If past efforts failed, what were the reasons for the failures?

       Has anything changed that would make the decision to advocate more likely to succeed?

       In the end, can you influence the decision maker?   (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2000, p.483)


Questions relating to the client:

       How important is this issue to the client?

       Is it an emergency or less pressing?

       Does the client have any ability to compromise, or is the issue too basic?

       Will this effort cause problems for the client at some later point?

       What resources does the client have (verbal skills, determination, social skills...)?

       Does the client have any other sources of power? (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2000, p.484).


Guidelines for advocacy:

1.   Serve as an advocate only with clear permission of your client.

2.   Acknowledge to the client and yourself that acting as an advocate can affect your relationship with other people and organizations.

3.   Advocacy is appropriate only to help the client, not to pursue your personal agenda.

4.   Get the facts first. Do not go into a situation unprepared.

5.   Always enter an advocacy situation with a clear list of questions and concerns.

6.   Look at the issue from both sides.

7.   Keep a record of things that are said in meetings that relate to your goal.

8.   Always find out who makes decisions at the next higher level.

9.   Record all steps you take to resolve the issue.   

(Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2000, p.486).


NASW Standards for Social Work Case Management

“Advocacy is often required to ensure that the agency meets its commitment to provide access to and adequacy of services, the services are actually delivered, the needs of the client are recognized, and the client is not prematurely discharged by the service providers. It also is the case manager’s responsibility to present agency executives, community leaders, and government and consumer representatives with documented information about resource limitations and other major case management problems, and recommend solutions. The case manager has a responsibility to participate in community needs assessments, community organization, and resource development to see that the needs of clients are identified and understood and that community action—public, private, or voluntary—is initiated to meet particular needs.”

Alinksy, Saul.  "Rules for Radicals."  February 1972. 
Children's Council of San Francisco.  2005 Retrieved from

Ezell, Mark.  "Advocacy Practice of Social Workers."  Families in Society. January 1994.
Free A Child.  2005.  Retrieved from

Kirst-Ashman, K.K., & Hull, Jr., G.H. (2000). Understanding generalist perspective (3rd ed.) . Pacific Grove, CA:  Brooks/Cole


Mcnutt, John G.  "New Horizons in Social Work Advocacy."  Journal of social work. v.1 #1 February 2002
UNICEF.  2005.  Retrieved from
Valocchi, Stephen.  A Way of Thinking about the History of Community Organizing.  Retrieved from 
Voices for America's Children.  "2004 Voices Network Policy and Advocacy Priorities."  September 2004.  Retrieved from