Abstract: An interdisciplinary Approach to Social Support: Advocacy Support and Health Disparities

◆ Kate Magsamen-Conrad, University of Iowa
◆ Jordan Conrad, University of Iowa
◆ Walid Afifi, University of California, Santa Barbara
◆ Jeffrey Child, Kent State University
◆ Katherine Rafferty, Iowa State University

Due to inherent disadvantages in social, economic, and/or environmental resources, vulnerable populations need advocates. This project explores the concept of advocacy support, focusing on the interpersonal relationships within advocacy support enacted within and outside of clinical settings, across relationship types, and as it relates to health disparities. There is a wealth of research which highlights individuals’ desired and received support, as well as the discrepancies which exist between desired and experienced support, and the relational and outcomes associated with unmet support needs (MacGeorge et al., 2011). Likewise, research consistently shows that social support affects, and is affected by health (Rains et al., 2015).

In this interdisciplinary project, we extend the concept of a type of clinical support articulated in other disciplines (e.g., social work, nursing), advocacy support, to communication. We describe how advocacy support relates to information management theory, particularly, the concept of co-authorization in communication privacy management theory. Accessing support through an authorized co-owner is characterized by an interaction between two individuals (support provider, support recipient) that precedes a subsequent interaction where the support provider then communicates with a third party (individual or group) to enact support. All types of support (informational, emotional, esteem, network, tangible) share a common feature of one person providing support to another individual. Advocacy support relates to other types support (e.g., informational) but extends the provider → receiver model, to a provider → third party → receiver model.

Thus, advocacy support is a collaborative process where the provider supports the receiver by speaking or acting on their behalf, often in circumstances where the receiver does not have the power, information, efficacy, and/or communication skills to communicate on their own behalf. The goal of this communicative act of advocacy is to provide another type of support (e.g., tangible, esteem, information) that is enacted through a third party. Advocacy support is not relevant in all cases where other forms of support may be common, as advocacy support would most often be present in situations characterized by a power differential (e.g., related to social stratification, such as race, occupation, institutionalization). That is, people seeking/needing advocacy support are lacking the agency, and/or efficacy to navigate their support needs on their own.

Access to support almost always necessitates disclosure (Child & Starcher, in press), and in many cases where advocacy support would be relevant, disclosure of stigmatizing information. Our construction of advocacy support is contextualized in the context of communication privacy management. The full paper articulates advocacy support and how it is described in other disciplines, then explains how advocacy support manifests in the communication process, the role of information co-owners, the intersections between authorized and unauthorized information co-owners, and clarifies the authorization process. We present an evidence-based measure ( .91) developed by our interdisciplinary team, that was refined through cognitive interviews with members of two distinct populations experiencing ongoing stressors, and chronic uncertainty: people transitioning out of homelessness and parents of children with complex chronic medical conditions, and pilot tested with a sample of 75 undergraduate students.