Date of Award

8-2005

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Department

Social Work

Supervisor

James J. Rice

Language

English

Abstract

This study seeks to understand how a client's voice is transmitted through an advocate who is representing them in front of a Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT). Three clients and three advocates were separately interviewed in a southwestern Ontario city for an average of fifty minutes. While not specifically trained to work in an adversarial system, the literature reflects that social workers can be well suited to work in settings such as the SBT. This study reports that clients felt that their advocate accurately represented their voice within the hearings and that their voice was stronger than it would have been without the advocate. The participants also shared that there are many ways the SBT, ODSP frontline staff and administrative procedures both hear and silence their voice. This study suggests that the application process for ODSP should be made more simplified and user friendly. It concludes that the weighting of the client application forms and treatment of medical evidence should be clarified. While advocates typically perform their jobs with a high level of excellence, it is felt there is some room to enhance accountability and the client's knowledge of complaint procedures. Advocates should continue to do what they do well; recognizing the injustices clients experience, and working to correct them. They also should seek multi-disciplinary cooperation to target the rules and regulations that they fmd unjust. Further research should continue to highlight the injustices of the ODSP system and seek to better understand how intersecting oppressions influence the client's voice. Finally, advocates have harnessed the power of the SBT to achieve a small level of justice for their clients and should continue to use these techniques as a "manageable and effective technique in the practice of social work" (Kutchens et aI, 1987, 132).

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