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Your Voice Counts: Introduction to Family Leadership

(#1 of 6 in Series)

Reviewed July 2024

You are an advocate for your children at school, the doctor’s office and in your community. These experiences show the importance of using your voice, especially when decisions about your child’s future are being made. Being a family leader extends the advocacy skills you already have, to benefit all families.



A Family Leader Is

      • Someone who brings their voice and family experiences to the leadership table as part of a community-based group, committee or board.
      • Advocating for the needs of your child and the wider community.
      • Using your ideas and opinions to be part of the solution.
      • Working collaboratively with others to create lasting improvements.

Family leadership looks different for everyone. It can vary in different settings, but it always includes efforts to improve the lives of families and children. Here are some of the ways family leaders can make a difference.

Support Other Parents as a Mentor or by Starting a Support Group  

Families who are beginning their disability journey can benefit from the knowledge and experiences of families who are farther along the path. Organizations offer training to mentor parents and provide matching services for parents seeking 1-on-1 support. You can also plan family gatherings or start a parent support group where families can share information and work together to find solutions to problems.

      • Become a P2P Support Parent: One option to provide one-on-one support to another Wisconsin parent is to become a Parent to Parent (P2P) support parent. Contact Parent to Parent of WI(P2PWi.org) to learn about their training and mentorship opportunities. In addition, the Waisman Center’s Connecting Families project offers parent matching.  Learn more:  connectingfamilies.waisman.wisc.edu.
      • Start a Support Group:  If there isn’t a group in your area, you and other parents can start a group and network with others. This could be in-person or virtual. Family Voices has a series of fact sheet to get you started. Find our Starting and Sustaining a Family Support Group in our Resource Library.

Join a Committee or Advisory Group

The family point-of-view is valuable to community organizations and agencies. Your perspective makes these groups more effective at supporting families and children. Families often serve in advisory roles, provide outreach and develop or lead projects. As a group member, you learn more about the organization and can impact how it works to help other families access necessary resources as early as possible. To learn more, see the Family Leader Fact Sheet #5 Joining a Committee: Thoughts for Families 

Impact Policy and Systems Change  

Policy and systems change, or policy advocacy, involves family leaders at the decision-making table, the podium and in legislators’ offices to shape the policies and program budgets that impact them. Families in this role often share personal stories and recommendations for policy change. This may even lead to a run for elected office or another professional position, carrying your experiences as a family advocate with you. To learn more, see the Family Leader Fact Sheet #3 Families Need to be at the Table.

Tip for Families!

Jumpstart your policy advocacy efforts by attending Advocacy for Change, Family Voices of Wisconsin’s annual legislative day. Families speak with their elected officials and sign up for legislative alerts to learn when their voice is needed.  You can find all our family leadership resources at familyvoiceswi.org/family-leadership




Family Leadership Skill-Building Opportunities

Wisconsin has many learning and skill-building opportunities for families who want to take the next step.

Wisconsin Family Leadership Institute (WiFLI)

Offered by Family Voices of Wisconsin, WiFLI uses exercises and practice to help participants increase their capacity and confidence to be part of the decision-making process.

      • WiFLI: Foundations provides the building blocks to extend the advocacy you are already doing. From telling your story workshops, to understanding how boards and committees work, these sessions will get you started on your family leadership journey.
      • WiFLI: Advanced takes your existing leadership experiences to the next level with a deep dive into leadership methods, roles and experiences. Some of the topics covered include strategic thinking in advocacy, imposter syndrome, managing emotions and finding leadership opportunities.
Partners in Policymaking

These Board for People with Developmental Disabilities sessions cover advocating for policies that support full participation and inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. There is a focus on policy and systems change, advocacy, community organizing and the legislative process.

Serving on Groups that Make Decisions

This is an online resource created by WI FACETS that explains how families can be influential members of a decision-making body. The materials focus on group participation in educational settings, but the tools provided can be applied to any environment. These materials are also available in Spanish.

Support Parent Training Sessions

These sessions are Parent-to-Parent of Wisconsin’s workshops for parents or family members who would like to serve as a volunteer mentor to another parent who has a child with disabilities or special health care needs. These sessions focus on listening, methods to give support and more.

Families as Partners

Presented as the Wisconsin Statewide Parent Educator Initiative (WSPEI), these virtual sessions cover supporting your child’s education and learning, school/staff connections, skills for collaboration and advocating in IEP settings, and more.

You Have the Most Important Skills!  You have the desire and the confidence to see yourself as a leader. The opportunities we’ve listed will guide your learning, strengthen your confidence, and build your skills. You are already a leader in your family—Now, it’s time to take the next step and become a leader on behalf of other families!

Need a Mentor or Someone by Your Side? 

If you would like support joining a committee, applying for membership on an advisory group, or getting more involved in family leadership in other ways, we are here to assist you! Contact Family Voices of Wisconsin and let us know what you need! Email Danielle@fvofwi.org.




Wisconsin Wayfinder: Children’s Resource Network, 877-WiscWay (877-947-2929):  Wisconsin Wayfinder offers families one name and phone number to find services for children with special health care needs. Wayfinder connects you to a resource guide at one of the five Children’s Resource Centers in your area.

Family Voices of Wisconsin, 2024©  |  familyvoiceswi.org

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