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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: Someone who brings their voice and family experiences to the leadership table as part of a community-based group, committee or board.

What Does Being a Family Leader Mean?

  • 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 Skill-Building Opportunities

Many knowledge and skill-building opportunities exist for families who want to take the next step. Here are a few examples:

Wisconsin Family Leadership Institute (WiFLI)

Sponsored by Family Voices of Wisconsin, WiFLI uses exercises and practice to help participants increase their ability 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, this will get you started on your family leadership journey.
  • WiFLI: Advanced will take your existing leadership experiences to the next level with a deep dive into leadership methods, roles and experiences.

Partners in Policymaking

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

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.

Support Parent Training Sessions

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

Family Leadership Looks Different for Everyone

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

Support Other Parents as a Mentor or Support Group Leader                                                                                             

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 brainstorm solutions to problems.

Join Committees or Advisory Groups                                                                                                                                 

The family point-of-view is valuable to organizations. Your perspective makes these groups more effective at supporting families and children. You can serve in advisory roles, provide outreach and develop or lead projects. As a group member, you learn more about the organization and impact how it works to help other families access necessary resources as early as possible.

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 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.

  • Ready to Get Involved in Policy Advocacy? Attend Advocacy for Change, Family Voices annual legislative day. Families speak with their elected officials and sign up for legislative alerts to learn when their voice is needed. Prepare yourself with, Ways to be Engaged in Systems Change 

You Have the Most Important Skills

You have the desire and the confidence to see yourself as a leader. The opportunities we’ve provided in this fact sheet 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!


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