Building an agency’s capacity to best serve LGBTQ youth and/or families is an ongoing, long term effort. Implementing a staff advocate role (sometimes called an ombudsperson or champion) at an agency is one strategy for ensuring this work is sustainable and prioritized.
Staff advocates are identified to all colleagues and clients and charged with resource collection and dissemination, advocacy, support and intervention. Those who serve in this role are especially important for LGBTQ clients receiving services who can face barriers and challenges due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.
Agencies must demonstrate the existence of a staff advocate for LGBTQ clients and a description of how this person has fulfilled this role, their capacity for this work on top of any other responsibilities and their requisite knowledge to do so.
All Children – All Families has identified the following guidance for agencies working toward the staff advocate benchmark:
- There is no "one size fits all" approach for establishing a staff advocate at an agency.
- If your agency does not currently have anyone serving in this role, think about what is most needed at your agency before creating a role description. Tailor the position to the needs of your agency by thinking about how your agency's clients would benefit most from this role and the most effective way the role can be implemented at your agency.
- The role of staff advocate varies depending on the size and scope of an agency.
- Larger public agencies often have formalized staff advocate roles. These advocates may be working specifically on LGBTQ client advocacy, or on a range of client advocacy issues, with an explicit inclusion of LGBTQ client advocacy. For smaller agencies, the staff advocate role may be more informal and they may view all staff as being advocates for clients or the executive director may serve this role. Agencies that provide direct services to youth in out-of-home care should have a more formalized staff advocate role in place.
- Staff advocates' internal focus is on building the agency's capacity to provide LGBTQ competent services and ensure this work is sustainable in the long term.
- Supporting an agency’s efforts to provide LGBTQ inclusive and affirming services is the most integral part of this role. This can include advocating for an LGBTQ client navigating the various services an agency offers, compiling comprehensive resources for staff, organizing efforts for continuing education on best practices for working with LGBTQ clients, leading the agency's All Children - All Families efforts, etc.
- Staff advocates’ external focus is on helping LGBTQ clients and colleagues access services and resources available outside of the agency.
- It's imperative that LGBTQ clients feel supported in their direct work with your agency as well as in experiences with services they are referred to, the challenges they may face as a result of becoming an LGBTQ foster/adoptive parent, and in any other capacity related to their foster care or adoption journey. For example, a staff advocate may intervene if an LGBTQ client has a grievance with an external service provider or they may use their knowledge of resources in the community to assist a client.
- There should be clear internal and external messaging of the availability of the staff advocate as a resource.
- In order for staff and clients to take advantage of the resources and assistance available to them through the staff advocate role, they need to know the role exists. Whenever appropriate, clients should receive clear communication informing them of their opportunities to connect with a staff advocate. Staff members should also be made aware of the staff advocate and the ways in which this person can assist them in performing their duties. Modes of messaging around staff advocates vary depending on the size and scope of an agency as well as formalized this role is at an agency.
Examples of Staff Advocate's Role Description based on Agency Size
Illinois Center for Adoption and Permanency, Chicago, IL
The Department of Children and Families (DCF), Boston, MA