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Your Voice Counts: Being an Effective Advocate

(#2 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.

Advocate: To speak up, promote or to support 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 a 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. Be confident. It is possible to be kind and respectful while being assertive.  If the topic 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 lack of caregivers available in your community? Your personal experience with programs and services provides an opportunity to make a difference. Start with 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. Choose 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 appointments. 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 practices. Speak from your heart to allow decision-makers to see your passion. You have contact with these programs and services. If a decision-maker asks a question you can’t answer or need more information on, it’s okay to say that 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, find out 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. 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 like 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 childcare prevents you from joining a meeting. Or, if transportation is difficult for you, see if another member can give you a ride or if the agency or host organization can help pay for a ride.  



Finally, show up ready to participate!

The Family Voices of Wisconsin’s Advocacy Toolkit has videos, worksheets and more to guide your advocacy efforts. Find it at familyvoiceswi.org/family-leadership/#advocacy-toolkit.  

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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