Understanding advocacy for children and young people
Boylan, J. and Dalrymple, J. (2009) Understanding advocacy for children and young people. Open University. ISBN 9780335223732
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Publisher's URL: http://mcgraw-hill.co.uk/html/0335223737.html
Understanding Advocacy for Children and Young People is a welcome contribution not only towards the development of advocacy policy and practice with children and young people across the UK and further afield, but also towards the wider field of furthering children and young people's participation, individually and collectively, in decisions affecting them. The book is written in a very accessible style and will be of interest to a wide audience, including academics and students studying childhood and child rights, social work, education and health, ‘mainstream’ practitioners working in these fields as well those with a more focused interest in specialist advocacy provision for children and young people. The book integrates advocacy theory, policy and practice, starting with an historical overview of advocacy within professional practice. This, the authors rightly claim, sets the scene for understanding the dilemmas and issues facing social workers and other professionals who have to balance their traditional advocacy role with the constraints of agency policies and limited resources. In setting the scene in this way, the book works as a challenge to aspects of professionalisation, reclaiming the advocacy role and the promotion of social justice for mainstream social work, education and health practitioners and service providers (a role that too often of late in children's social care across the UK has been constructed as the sole jurisdiction of independent advocacy providers). The central chapters of the book examine the role of independent advocates, the practice of advocacy and the challenges that it poses in the delivery of children's and young people's services across the UK. The debates about advocacy lay bare its contested nature. The various forms of advocacy that now co-exist are described and different models explored before, finally, in Chapter 7, setting out a concept of advocacy as a tool for anti-oppressive practice to challenge the dominant constructions of children and childhood. Most usefully, the book sets the development of advocacy services for children and young people (and the practice of advocating with and on behalf of children and young people) not only in a memorable historical and ever changing policy context, but also in the context of the social construction of childhood, competing discourses on children's rights and the impacts of institutional power. Jane Boyland and Jane Dalrymple are both experienced social work practitioners and academics who have published widely on advocacy, looked after children, children's rights and anti-oppressive practice. The book reflects this wealth of relevant experience and deftly combines the very pertinent theoretical perspectives with case studies and practical illustrations of how these discourses play out in the real world of children and young people's lives. In so doing, the book provides a powerful and timely reminder to practitioners, policy makers and service commissioners of the importance of critical reflective practice in understanding the dynamics at play. Whilst concluding, in Chapter 8, on the optimistic note that ‘advocacy provides an exciting and radical way of working that is constantly developing’ (p. 155), we are rightly advised that if advocacy is to effectively challenge the status quo, then advocates as critical practitioners need to appreciate the power of dominant discourses. Otherwise, the authors caution, with the increasing professionalisation of advocacy, services that pride themselves as acting with and for children and young people could find themselves, even unwittingly, marginalised and contributing to oppressive and unequal systems.