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Child advocacy refers to a range of individuals, professionals and advocacy organizations who promote the optimal development of children. An individual or organization engaging in advocacy typically seeks to protect children’s rights which may be abridged or abused in a number of areas.
Rights can be divided into two categories: negative (rights to be free from) and positive (rights to). Children’s negative rights are violated when some dangerous or harmful action is taken directly against them, such as:
- Child abuse
- Child sexual abuse
- Child pornography
- Child prostitution
- Child labor
- Spanking by a teacher
What child advocates do
An children's advocate typically represents or gives voice to an individual or group whose concerns and interests are not being heard. A child advocate will try to prevent children from being harmed and may try to obtain justice for those who have already been injured in some way. A child advocate may also seek to ensure that children have access to positive influences or services which will benefit their lives such as education, childcare and proper parenting. Malnutrition is another form of harm-there are many children who go to bed without eating and it is looked over by DCFS or the police.
Where child advocates can be found
Child advocates exist in school, community, and home environments, and work on an individual, group or governmental level(s) to protect and nurture children. In most circumstances, mothers, fathers, family and teachers all advocate on behalf of children, although it is well recognized that we all have the ability and responsibility to advocate on behalf of children. Eight Canadian provinces. including Ontario, have an official Child Advocate whose job it is to protect the interests and welfare of all the children in the province. Within the criminal justice system, child advocates are concerned with the developmental needs of children and young people, and can play an important role in ensuring due process rights for young people in conflict with the law. They can help provide a voice for children and young people, ensure just and humane conditions of custody, and guard the privacy rights surrounding record provisions. They can also work to ensure that the special legal protections assigned to young people are provided with dignity and fairness.
Child advocacy centers
Child Advocacy Centers are neutral, safe locations where multidisciplinary teams investigate disclosures of child sexual or severe physical abuse. These multidisciplinary teams are made up of law enforcement officers, child protective service personnel, prosecutors, and advocates. Children who have disclosed abuse are interviewed by a forensic interviewer at such centers. Referrals for medical or mental health treatment are also made for the child and their family members.
Child Advocacy Centers are accredited by the National Children's Alliance.
The United Nations
On the international stage, the United Nations has long advocated on behalf of children through UNICEF, whose position on children was formulated and publicly formalized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention sets out a summary of collective ideals and a covenant of commitments to all children on the planet.
One thing that all child advocates have in common is healthy respect for young children. There is also recognition that in most countries, children are not seen as having the full citizenship status which confers certain rights and responsibilities as adults.
Children advocating for themselves
Free the Children is a ‘unique international youth organization that empowers young people through representation, leadership and action’. The organization was founded in 1995 by Craig Kielburger, then a 12 year old living in Thornhill, Ontario, who had been moved to travel throughout South Asia and campaign against child labour by the story of Iqbal Masih, published in a local paper. Iqbal was a child labour activist in Pakistan who, as a debt-enslaved loom-worker in the carpet industry, became an activist against coerced child labour. Iqbal was subsequently murdered when 12 years old, allegedly by angry members of the carpet industry. Since 1995, Free the Children has become the largest network of children working on behalf of children in the world, involving over 100,000 youth in more than 35 countries. Among the advocacy issue campaigns initiated by FTC: child labour, child poverty, war affected children, education, and children’s rights. The movement has directed unprecedented international attention to issues of child labour and child rights, and has also brought about tangible accomplishments. For instance, over the past three years, FTC has helped build about 300 schools in developing countries under the premise that education can provide poor children with a better life, and has also assisted in funding clinics, water projects, and other aid programs around the world.
The Children's Movement advocates for young children under the belief that all children, even very young ones, need to have a voice and should be able to participate in social and political issues that affect them. Some childhood theorists argue that childhood is less about age and more accurately conceived of as a condition of powerlessness. The children’s movement is about contesting the powerlessness of childhood and was born out of frustrations with the exclusion of children’s voices and participation from campaigns for social justice, particularly glaring in organizations and policy arenas that claim to speak for and on behalf of children. Similar to other oppressed or marginalized groups that have rejected the paternalistic notion that others - wiser, more experienced and better positioned - should represent them, the children’s movement insists that children are best able to understand matters affecting children, and the best agents to voice these interests. Regional chapters exist worldwide in areas such as South Africa and Columbia.
Ectopia.org is a website that details the campaign of a group of Cambodian girls coerced into false accusations against innocent men by a 'child advocacy' group. Apparently in the interest of spurring donations, the girls were "made to lie, forced to suffer shameful virginity testing, branded as 'victims of rape', which named and shamed them and damaged or sabotaged their marriage prospects," and "were literally defiled by an organization masquerading as their protector." The girls are now attempting to undo the damage these 'child advocates' caused.
Students United for Child Advocacy (SUCA)was founded in 2002 by two college students: Yolanda M. Norton and Andrew J. Shin at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. Their mission is to "promote student activism through child advocacy". SUCA is considered the first strictly student-run child advocacy group in the United States. Since its inception, SUCA has expanded to a national initative recruiting college students at colleges across the nation to start their own SUCA groups on their campuses which emphasize both serving local communities as well as informing national policy discussions concerning children. SUCA's headquarters is currently registered as a not-for-profit organization in the State of Maryland.
The active child citizen: Lessons from Canadian policy and the children's movement
Stasiulis, D. (2002). The active child citizen: Lessons from Canadian policy and the children's movement (pdf). (Authorization required to view document!?)Citizenship Studies, vol 6, no 4, p 507-539.
- “This is going to be the voice of children from now for a long time. You heard our voices now. Are you going to keep listening?”
--Laura Hannant, 16 years of age, delegate from Canada at the United Nations Special Session on Children, May 8, 2002.
- “Your presence here marks a new chapter in the history of the UN. So far, adults have called the shots, but now it’s time to build the world with children. Your voices will be heard, I promise.”
This article explores the manner in which state policy, Canadian courts, and children's politics in Canada have responded to the imagery of the active child citizen intrinsic to the CRC. The Canadian government has provided limited political space to young people and has narrowly construed children's participation rights as limited to family law and juvenile justice. The author argues that reluctance of adult decision-makers to open up policy-making to the contributions of children has been further hindered by an anti-democratic cast of neo-liberal governance. The article examines how quasi-judicial tribunals and the Canadian courts have invoked the Convention in their dealings with child asylum seekers, only to construct childhood participation and childhood protection as mutually exclusive. The article concludes with a brief exploration of the alternative model of children's citizenship revealed by the children's movement organization, Free the Children. In contrast to the relative failure of adult decision-makers to implement the participation rights of children, the contemporary children's movement advances a view of children as empowered, knowledgeable, compassionate and global citizens, who are nonetheless, like other marginalized groups, in need of special, group-differentiated protections. This article provides a support for child advocates in challenging government policy that is not child-centred or child-friendly. The framework suggested in this article could be used by professionals working with young children to improve the mechanisms available to allow for children's more active participation in Canadian life and is applicable in other countries as well.
Included in Wikipedia with permission of the author: Daiva K. Stasiulis, Sociology Graduate Coordinator & Professor of Sociology Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6
Annotated bibliography of child advocacy online resources
- Action Alliance for Children. (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from 4Children.org)
The official site in English and Spanish of the California based publisher of the Children's Advocate, a bimonthly newsmagazine covering trends and policy issues affecting children and their families in California since 1973. The Master Calendar section lists conferences, advocacy opportunities, trainings, print and web resources, and videos for children's advocates and service providers. Articles from The Children's Advocate are organized into categories such as Childcare & ECE, Violence Prevention, Welfare Family Income, and Poverty making information easily accessible. The information at this site is focused mainly on California and local issues however many of the reports are generalizable to other populations and locales and could provide insight into the process of formulating child focused public policy in general. There are links to other child advocacy organizations which could assist in finding related information.
- Canadian Association for Young Children. (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from CAYC.ca)
The website for the Canadian Association for Young Children (CAYC) states as its mission that the CAYC exists to provide a voice on critical issues related to the quality of life of all young children and families. There is also a philosophy statement extolling the virtues of play in the lives of young children. An events calendar provides up-to-date information on professional development opportunities for individuals involved in the care and protection of young children such as conferences, seminars and international forums. The news section includes current Canadian and international articles. There are also links to other Canadian sites related to childcare and early education. The most useful resource on the site are the featured articles from the monthly journal Canadian Children, as well as an index of all articles published since 1993. This collection could be of use to students, researchers or policy developers, particularly within the Canadian context. This site is primarily of use to Canadian childcare providers, educators and those interested in early childhood development.
- Canadian Children's Rights Council
Canadian Children's Rights Council is the most visited website in Canada concerned with the rights and responsibilities of Canadian children. With over 2,000 pages concerning all matters of importance to Canadian children's rights, the council provides policy analysis and archival articles concerning children's rights issues from the media around the world. The website has substantial information on youth justice in Canada ( the Youth Criminal Justice Act ) and the implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Canada. [ http://www.CanadianCRC.com }
- Child & Family Canada (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from CFC-EFC.ca)
Child & Family Canada is a unique Canadian public education website. Fifty Canadian nonprofit organizations have come together under the banner of Child & Family Canada to provide quality, credible resources on children and families on an easy-to-navigate website. The managing partner of the consortium is the Canadian Child Care Federation. Information is provided on areas including child care, child development, parenting, literacy, physical activities and special needs. This site is a resource for parents, educators and anyone involved in the life of a child. The resources are comprehensive, and thus can improve the situation of many children and for assistance to parenting coaches and social workers who are supporting children.
- The Children's Partnership. (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from ChildrensPartnership.org)
Website of the United States based nonprofit, nonpartisan, national research, policy analysis, and advocacy organization focused on children and technology, children's health care, and building a broad constituency to support children's issues. Reports available provide practical information and strategies for policy and community leaders on ensuring digital opportunity for all youth and promoting the development of online content for and by low-income and underserved Americans. There is also information on policy ideas to provide more American children with healthcare coverage. The ideas on technology for youth and access to digital opportunity are timely and easily generalizable to an international population. The section of the site most useful to ECE's would be the parent guide in English, Spanish and Italian to computers and the internet. There is a long list of resources which include books and manuals, nonprofit organizations and government agencies which can help parents to support and monitor their children's forays into the digital age.
- Children's Rights, Inc. (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from ChildrensRights.org):
This organization is a leading litigator on behalf of abused/neglected children and kids languishing in foster care and has helped to bring about considerable reform throughout the United States by use of statewide or local class action law suits, brought with the help of local child advocates. At their website, you will find a description of their strategies for child welfare systemic change, information on the progress of, and impact on, all their class action cases (a dozen major CRI cases, brought in 10 states and the District of Columbia, were listed/described as of Sep 2004), copies of written articles/materials by their staff, and other information about their work. Comprehensive statistics on US child welfare, foster care and adoption are available. There is an up-to-date news section which lists news articles of interest to child advocates. Most articles are child protection and U.S. focused but the issues are relevant to an international audience. This site has a wealth of information for child advocates interested in shaping public policy.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from UNICEF.org):
This website is devoted to the groundbreaking United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (known as the 'CRC') which is intended to promote the rights of all children on the planet. The convention sets out a summary of collective ideals for children, alongside a covenant of commitments to children. Almost every country except the United States and Somalia has agreed to make the CRC part of their national law. The CRC gives governments official obligations, but child rights are not just for governments they are everyone's responsibility. This site provides access to the single most important document concerning chidlren's rights in the last century. It also provides background information which could be helpful in understanding the CRC and in helping to spread the word about the CRC. This site is an invaluable resource and reference for every person who is involved, no matter how periphally, in the life of a child the world over.
- ECE webguide (n.d.) ECE webguide Advocacy page. Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from ECEWebGuide.com):
This page is a list of links to articles, organizations and resources for child advocates of all stripe; children, parents and educators. The site is a springboard for locating a wealth of information relating to many aspects of children's lives and addresses among others research and education issues dealing with Children, Youth and Families. This page is easily used by preservice educators, researchers, parents and ECE's. It is an easy means of professional development for ECE's in the classroom who may have questions about a specific area such as child poverty or child homelessness not typically covered in their training.
Free the Children is an international network of children helping children at a local, national and international level through representation, leadership and action. It was founded by Craig Kielburger in 1995, when he was 12 years old. The primary goal of the organization is not only to free children from poverty and exploitation, but to also free children and young people from the idea that they are powerless to bring about positive social change and to improve the lives of their peers. This website could be used to inform and inspire children of all ages about what can be done to improve the lives of other children around the world. There are concrete examples of projects completed and underway initiated and implemented by children and youth. There is also information on how to start a local chapter. This site is a perfect introduction to advocacy for children of all ages.
- International Bureau of Children's Rights (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from IBCR.org):
The International Bureau of Children's Rights is an international organization based in Canada that seeks to protect, defend and promote the rights and the welfare of all children. It Supports the principles set forth in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and focuses on implementation of the CRC, child sexual exploitation, child trafficking, child victims and witnesses, and children affected by armed conflict. Reports on these topics are available for download in pdf format. The information available at this site puts the issue of children's rights into an international context and provides concrete evidence of the practical effects and implications of the CRC. This site would be of use to child advocates who are working on a national and/or international level. This could be a resource for university students in education, social work, politics and other related areas as well as being a good resource for policy makers and the public at large who often don't realize that so called 'international' issues are relevant in Canada. The most important section for ECE's would be the Best Practice Statement on Separated Children in Canada which could help them to understand the experience of children from immigrant families.
- Rights of Children Canada (n.d.) Retrieved October 20, 2004 (from RightsOfChildren.ca):
This website in both of Canada's official languages offers resources and information which champion the promotion and protection of children's rights in Canada and internationally. Press releases, brochures and current and archived issues of Rights Now! newsletter are available as well as a resource guide for youth, educators, and professionals who work with young children. There is The Unconventional Canadian Youth Edition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which translates the CRC into child-friendly language and Children's Rights and Global Citizenship, a curriculum resource for use with Grade 11/12 students. There is also a quiz to test knowledge of the CRC. This site has a wide variety of resources to introduce the CRC and expand children's knowledge of what it is and how it pertains to them directly. This site is of particular value to Canadian educators and students. The searchable database is a great tool for making information more accessible but as of October 22 it was still under construction.
- UNICEF (n.d.) Cartoons for children's rights. Retrieved October 30, 2004 (from UNICEF.org):
Cartoons for Children's Rights is a UNICEF broadcast initiative that aims to inform people around the world about child rights. So far, the effort has forged partnerships with nearly 70 animation studios in 32 countries that have developed 30-second non-verbal public service announcements. UNICEF distributes the PSAs to broadcasters for the cost of the tape. The spots have aired on more than 2,000 television stations globally. Some have won prestigious awards. This site is a great resource for broadcasters as well as governments that may not have the wherewithal to create their own media campaigns to educate about children's rights. Cartoons are available in flash format for viewing or download. The resources can be viewed online which means educators can share the cartoons with children in the classroom and parents can watch with their children at home. Contact information is provided so that requests can be made for VHS versions of the material. ECE's can also use the site to educate fellow professionals about children's rights internationally.
- Child Protection: A Handbook for Parliamentarians, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UNICEF, 2004 (from UNICEF.org):
This IPU/UNICEF co-publication, launched at the IPU’s 110th International Assembly in April 2004, serves as a catalyst for action, providing examples of parliamentarians’ responses to the challenges of child protection and addressing 10 specific protection issues. Adopting and enforcing strong laws protecting children, overseeing government activity, allocating financial resources, raising awareness and providing advocacy are what parliamentarians can do to help alleviate children's suffering. The report is available for download in pdf format making it easily accessible and is a great resource for child advocates from grass roots to national and international levels of government. It is also a great resource for students and policy analists who have a vested interest in child protection and children's rights.
- "Educate a Woman, You Educate a Nation" - South Africa Aims to Improve its Education for Girls WNN - Women News Network. Aug. 28, 2007. Lys Anzia
- National Child Protection Reform
- Child Advocacy 360
-  The MY HERO Project features a section on the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
- Child advocacy documents - Natural Child Project
- Child advocacy articles - Natural Child Project
- Supporting Children's Rights through Education, the Arts and Media
- World Bank Early Child Development
- Child Advocate Network of America
- Childcare Advocacy Canada
- Childcare Resource and Research Unit - UofT
- Foster Care Council of Canada
- Missing Children
- National Youth Rights Association (U.S.)
- Casa Alianza (street children in Central America)
- Representing Children in Families conference at UNLV
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