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What is an Advocate?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone else. The term is often used in the legal profession to describe someone who has received some legal training which allows him or her to represent another individual in legal settings such as courtrooms and hearings. People can also advocate informally, as for example when someone writes a letter to the editor of a newspaper to speak out about a community issue.

This term comes from the Latin advocare, “to summon for counsel.” As human societies grew more complex, the legal field arose in response, creating a team of professionals who specialized in legal issues and could render assistance to people struggling with legal matters. Advocates make up a part of that profession, offering advice or counsel to people who are unfamiliar with the legal system, and also speaking out for people who lack the ability to do so on their own.

A classic example of an advocate is the advocates used in child and family services in many regions of the world. These individuals meet with children and families to gather information and inform children and families of their rights and responsibilities, and they report back to judges and staff members. For example, a child who may be undergoing abuse might meet with an advocate who would determine whether or not the child was being abused, and what the best course of action might be.

People also work as advocates for individuals negotiating the health care system, victims of crimes, divorcing couples, and many other individuals. In some cases, advocates are simply passionate volunteers, while in other instances, they may have received specific training, and they are paid by their clients, or by organizations. Working with an advocate can be very helpful for someone who is trying to navigate an experience with which he or she is unfamiliar, and the advocate may be able to secure more rights and other forms of assistance than someone would be able to obtain alone.

Someone who is interested in working as an advocate should think about the kind of advocacy he or she wants to do, and obtain appropriate training from there. For example, family advocates may be graduates of psychology programs, or they may have attended courses and workshops for certification, while an advocate who works for an environmental organization to defend the environment and speak up for it whenever possible simply is enthusiastic about the environment, sometimes with the backing of a college education.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon202384 — On Aug 02, 2011

I am trying to see how I could become an advocate for people on disability, the disability affecting your breathing, in what department for transportation!

I, for one, have been having a problem with transportation during the summer months. I could barely go outside due to the quality of the air, so how am I expected to withstand getting in a van in 90 degree weather without air-conditioning? I finally switched to another provider, and lo and behold, no air-conditioning and it is 85 degrees with high humidity. The reason give was they were low on fuse, but how is that my problem? This is torture for me and I am sure I am not the only person out there going through this. What and where do I go to voice my concerns and be heard?

By manykitties2 — On Jun 06, 2011

If you are interested in becoming an advocate for a cause, and wish to do so informally, a great tool to utilize is social media. With the ability to reach millions of people with the click of a mouse, online advocacy is growing at a huge rate.

For example, getting people to sign a digital survey is just as effective as a traditional survey, but people are more accessible and often more amicable to filling in something online, rather than being stopped in the street.

Other popular ideas are making interactive sites that teach people about your cause and adding pages to the most popular social networking sites. You can get a huge following for your cause with just a little work.

By letshearit — On Jun 05, 2011

If you are passionate about a topic, there is a good chance you can become an advocate for your cause. Getting involved in the things you believe in is a great way to give back to your community and become more fulfilled in life.

While not everyone has a university degree and can get into advocacy as a career, you can easily join an organization that is already focusing on the movement of your choice.

If you think the need to go green is vital, volunteer at your local chapter of one of the great environmental groups. Attend meetings, get informed and spread the word.

By precarious53 — On Jun 05, 2011

@sweetPeas- A fairly large literacy advocacy organization in the United States is the John Corcoran Foundation. You can apply to volunteer your skills as a literacy tutor from time to time, and they always appreciate the support of passionate volunteers!

By sweetPeas — On Jun 05, 2011

I have always been interested in teaching literacy. For many years, I taught English as a Second Language. Now that I am retired, I would like to begin volunteering. There are many American adults who cannot read or read at a very low level.

Volunteering as a reading tutor would be very rewarding for me. Not being able to read affects their self esteem, ability to get jobs, filling out necessary forms, and just the pleasure of reading an interesting book.

Being an advocate for the literacy program and actually volunteering is something I hope to do in the near future.

By Esther11 — On Jun 05, 2011

I have an intense interest in becoming an advocate for early childhood education - especially for the poor and disadvantaged. Studies have shown that those who receive care and nurturing from 0-3 years, are much less likely to need special education, welfare assistance or prison. These all cost lots of money, but expanding the Head Start Program is well worth the extra money.

The government needs advocates, as well as the administrators and the workings of the system.

I hope I can find a niche to work in.

By sneakers41 — On Jun 05, 2011

@Sunshine31 - That sounds like a great volunteer opportunity. I did want to say that being a disability advocate or a special education advocate is also very rewarding.

Often people with disabilities are able to do the work that other can do, but just need some minor modifications. I think that legislation like the ADA act really has come a long way in making sure that employers do what they can to accommodate those with disabilities.

Children with special needs can work in a mainstream classroom for special subjects like art and music, but for the core subject like math and reading they could receive special attention in a pull out program so that this way they get the extra help that they need and get to socialize with kids their own age which makes them feel more connected to their class.

By sunshine31 — On Jun 05, 2011

A while back when I was in college, I was interested in becoming a child advocate for minor children needing help with respect to the legal system. The program was called a Guardian Ad Litem program that was a volunteer program in which a lay person got trained to represents the interest of a minor child at a court hearing.

Usually this guardian worked with the social workers and the judge to make sure the child is properly being taken care of because children in this program to don’t have parents that they can count on which is why the court looks to these guardians as another person that could check on the child to make sure that they are okay.

It is a really rewarding job and often the guardian is the only positive influence in the child’s life. I did not sign up to be a guardian because I had to commit to serve for a year and the training was too intense and interfered with my school schedule.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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