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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.

Advocate: To speak up, promote or argue for a cause, policy or action.

Families Are Effective Advocates

Advocacy is a powerful way to improve programs. Change happens when families let decision-makers know what is working, what needs improvement, and what can make the program or service more effective. 

Speak Up                                                                                                                                                                            

Share your ideas for improving a program or service. Use your voice to let professionals know what works best for your child and family at medical and therapy appointments or with your child’s IEP team.

Don’t Let Fear Silence You                                                                                                                                                     

Speaking to professionals might feel intimidating. Remember that while they might be the expert in their field, you are the expert on your family and your child. It is possible to be kind and respectful while being assertive. Be confident. If the topic at hand is your family, you understand it better than anyone. Use that knowledge to push through any anxiety you may have about public speaking.

Focus on Your Passion                                                                                                                                                          

Do you feel strongly about education? Are you concerned about the caregiver crisis? Your personal experience with programs and services provides an opportunity to make a difference. Research to find out which decision-makers run the program, agency or service that you want to improve. Reach out, share your experience, and add your suggestions.

Offer a Solution                                                                                                                                                                

Share your experience with a program and how it could have been better. Make sure any suggestions you offer are reasonable, achievable and work toward a better outcome for all families.

Use Your Family Story in Your Advocacy                                                                                                                       

Stories are what legislators and other decision-makers remember. They make the problems real and deepen the listener’s understanding of your issue. Stories also guide decision-makers to find connections in their own lives through friends or family members who have had similar experiences. Use a small slice of your family’s story to illustrate how a program is working well or could be improved for all families.

TIP FOR FAMILIES                                                                                                                                                                    

Clinics, hospitals and medical equipment providers send out satisfaction surveys after you visit. Take the time to provide honest feedback. You may have insights and ideas that can improve services for all families.

Don’t Worry about What You Don’t Know                                                                                                                    

Professionals have access to facts and figures, but families bring real-life stories and experiences that others cannot. Your first-hand knowledge of the issue can lead to better and more effective communication. Speak from your heart to allow decision-makers to see your passion. You are the expert on your family and have contact with the program or service your discussing. Use this confidence to fight off any nervous feelings.

If a decision-maker asks a question that you can’t answer or need more information on, it’s okay to say you don’t know or that you will get back to them with more details.

Do Your Homework                                                                                                                                                           

Before meeting with an elected official or other decision-maker, look into how your situation impacts others. For example, if you’re struggling to find in-home direct care workers, explore how the shortage of workers affects others in your community and the state. Or, if your child’s education is directly impacted by a lack of funding, find out if other schools in your area are experiencing that same problem, and bring that information to the discussion.

Represent All Families Fairly                                                                                                                                                  

Before meeting with decision-makers or speaking at a public hearing, talk to other families. Ask if their experiences or challenges are similar to yours. It will make your message more impactful if your message represents many families.

Get the Support You Need                                                                                                                                                                   

Decision-makers want your input and they understand that it might be hard for you to attend meetings on their schedule. Don’t be shy about asking them for the support you need to take part. Ask if it’s possible for you to participate virtually by phone or video. Ask about stipends if the cost of child care is keeping you from joining a meeting. Or, if transportation is difficult for you, see if another parent can give you a ride or if the agency or host organization can help pay for a ride.  

Finally, show up ready to participate!

Information and Resources 

Developing Your Message video, YouTube: Developing Your Message and Delivering it to Legislators, Presenter, Barbara Katz

Developing Your Message worksheets, familyvoiceswi.org: Developing-your-message-worksheet-for-AFC-2023-compress.pdf

Telling Your Story Guide, familyvoiceswi.org: Telling Your Story

Find more of our family leadership resources and opportunities at familyvoiceswi.org/family_leadership.






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