Community health workers (CHWs), peer advocates, community health representatives (CHRs), and others with similar titles need to understand the essentials of advocacy and develop these fundamental skills.
This critical skill lets them successfully communicate with decision-makers is essential in order to help people access the care they need.
This guide will do a deep dive into this core competency to provide you with tips and strategies to help you become an effective advocate for your clients and their health needs.
What Is Advocacy?
“Advocacy” can cover a variety of actions. Generally speaking, it refers to taking action on behalf of oneself or others.
This can include speaking up and taking steps to advance one’s own interests (self-advocacy) or representing the rights and interests of others (peer advocacy).
It can also refer to systems advocacy for influencing social, political, and economic systems to create change for groups of people. Or legal advocacy for using legal or administrative systems to set up or defend a person’s legal rights.
Understanding the Role of a Community Health Worker.
CHWs are an important pillar in the healthcare system who work directly with clients and families to ensure their health needs are met.
This may involve connecting clients to resources, providing education about healthy habits or navigation through the healthcare system. By educating CHWs on advocacy skills, they can better understand how to advocate for clients’ health needs and ensure they receive the quality care they deserve.
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Advocacy as a Core Competency
That’s because it’s so important for CHWs to know how to advocate for their clients and also teach clients how to advocate for themselves.
Having advocacy as a core competency means CHWs should be able to:
- Connect clients with the right health care or providers for them
- Involve the community in clients’ issues by promoting causes and using existing resources
- Educate community members, legislators, the media and other professionals or organizations about clients’ issues
- Contribute to policy development and change
- Use forums such as social media as an advocacy platform
Let’s have a more in-depth look at how advocacy is necessary for CHWs.
Advocating by Making Strong Connections
Advocacy is about standing up for people who are unable to do so themselves.
CHWs should be able to make connections with their clients to a wider provider network. This helps them advocate for their clients directly to the people who can help.
For example, imagine a CHW is working with a client who has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The client has met with their doctor and has been given general advice to make changes. But they’re struggling to navigate the healthcare system and access the resources they need to manage their blood pressure by getting more exercise and eating better.
A CHW can recognize that their client could benefit from working with a specialist and steps in to advocate.
The CHW reaches out to their network of healthcare providers and finds a local healthy cooking class that the client can attend for free. Next, they find a walking group that the client can join to walk safely three times per week.
By applying their advocacy skills, the CHW teaches their client how to advocate for themselves.
Promoting Causes and Using Existing Resources
CHWs can fight against social injustices and build relationships built on trust and respect.
In their work with clients in the community, CHWs can identify causes that others might not see. They might know that a community has no playgrounds for families, for example. Or they could see that groups are being left out of critical healthcare screenings or vaccinations, as happened with COVID-19. By applying their advocacy skills, they can help communities access these valuable resources and services to improve their life quality.
Being a Strong Advocate for People and Their Families.
This might involve influencing public policy changes that can make a big difference in the lives of clients or advocating for better access to resources they need to thrive. It’s important to always work with clients’ best interests in mind, even when it means pushing back against powerful systems or people.
Advocacy and Other Skills
Advocacy doesn’t exist on its own. It should also be paired with training that will make it easier for CHWs to do their job.
Other skills CHWs should know to advocate include:
- Communication, written and verbal
- Interpersonal skills
- Conflict management
- Emotional self-care
Furthermore, there’s not one proven path to advocacy. What one person can do, someone else might not feel comfortable with. There’s no one way to advocate. Mix and match what works for your team and your community.
Advocacy Skills for CHWs
Finally, program managers and other stakeholders should advocate for their CHWs. Many CHWs work on a volunteer basis or are underpaid. They need to be treated as the critical members of the health and community environments they are.
Follow the tips in this article to give your CHWs much-needed training, and also step in to help them out when they need it.
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