Formal Advocacy Strategies
It isn’t expected that a peer specialist would initiate formal advocacy strategies; however, it’s important to know what they are. Formal advocacy strategies generally involve bringing in an outside decision-maker. This generally occurs when informal efforts have been unable to resolve things with the person or agency with whom the client has the problem. Examples of formal advocacy strategies include grievance procedures, agency complaint processes, fair hearings, or court action.
A grievance procedure is a process for resolving problems within an organization. After a person files a grievance, there usually is an internal investigation (i.e., by someone in the organization) to determine whether a right, policy, or procedure was violated. If no violation is found, there is often an opportunity to appeal this decision. An example is the patient rights grievance procedure for persons receiving mental health or substance use disorder services within the organization.
An agency complaint process usually involves an agency that has some level of oversight over an individual or organization. After a complaint is filed, the oversight agency usually investigates it to determine if a law, policy, or procedure was violated. If so, it then may take some sort of enforcement action against the individual or organization that was the subject of the complaint. Examples are complaints against an organization or an individual counselor to the state licensing/certification authorities.
A fair hearing is a process that involves the use of a neutral decision-maker. Both sides have the opportunity to present their case in person. Most fair hearings involve someone called a hearing officer, who is an employee of a government agency. An individual who believes his/her rights were violated can request a fair hearing. After the hearing officer hears both parties, he or she makes a decision. If either side of the dispute disagrees with the decision, frequently it can be appealed to a court or to an appeals body which is part of the administrative agency.
Court proceedings can be either civil or criminal. In many civil cases an individual files a lawsuit against someone else whom he or she believes violated his or her legal rights. In other cases a government agency may sue an individual or organization in order to enforce a law or agency regulation. Going to court is a very complicated process with many formal rules; thus, having an attorney to help is critical. Criminal cases require a district attorney to file charges against someone who is believed to have broken a criminal law. The district attorney has discretion about whether or not to file a criminal case.
Advantages of using these procedures may include: 1) getting someone who was not involved in the problem to investigate and make a decision that is unbiased; 2) getting a regulatory agency or court to take action against the person or agency that is causing the problem; and, 3) getting more attention to your problem or issue. Disadvantages may include a need to be better prepared and organized, the time involved in using more formal procedures, and the emotional toll that may result from a more adversarial process.