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You are an advocate for your children at school, at 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. While you may want to take the next step, a variety of barriers may keep you from getting involved in family leadership activities.

What’s Keeping You from Advocating?

Public Speaking

Families tell us that they want to share their ideas and perspectives, but a fear of public speaking can keep them from joining the conversation.

Overcoming this Barrier 

  • Ease this anxiety by bringing another parent or attending as a part of a group. You will be able to support one-another and gain strength in knowing you’re not alone.
  • Write down your thoughts before you leave home. Preparing will give you the confidence of knowing you’re not going to miss any of the important points you want to make and can help you stay focused.
  • Practice speaking out loud. It may feel silly but practice in front of a mirror, to your spouse, your dog, or anyone who will listen.
  • Your experiences are powerful and their affect on your child and family are important for others to understand when considering programs, supports and services.
  • The more you speak in public, the easier it gets. Take a small step out of your comfort zone and you will be surprised how much easier it becomes.

“I don’t like public speaking…It’s super uncomfortable, but I have also learned that things might not get better if I don’t stand up. I hold onto the fact that I’m an expert in my family’s experience. I know this topic because this issue affects my and my son’s lives, and I lean hard into that so I can push past the temporary anxiety of public speaking. Now, I volunteer to speak about my family’s experiences. The more I do it, the easier it gets.”

A Wisconsin Parent

Not Enough Time

As a parent and caregiver of a child with disabilities, life can be unpredictable and leave us with very little downtime. Family members tell us that the thought of adding another commitment or responsibility to their schedule can feel overwhelming.

Overcoming this Barrier

  • Find ways to get involved that fit into your schedule. For example, write to your elected officials after the kids have gone to bed or during your lunch break. You can also support another parent or be a mentor parent with a phone call or text when you have time.
  • Join a committee or board that meets at a time that works for you. You can also ask the committee if you can bring your child with you if it’s needed or if joining a meeting virtually is an option.
  • There are short-term or one-time ways to offer your input and perspective. For instance, if there’s an issue that’s important to you, briefly attend a schoolboard or Parent-Teacher Organization meeting to be the voice for parents who have children with special education needs.

 I Don’t Feel Qualified

You are an expert! Your family has firsthand knowledge of the systems and supports developed for our children. Add your voice to the discussion when decisions are being made by elected officials and other decision-makers. They will welcome your insights into the rules, regulations and policies.

Overcoming this Barrier

  • Be comfortable with not having all the answers. Do your homework and have a grasp of the issues, but you don’t need to be a policy expert. If you feel an important question was asked, you can do a little research later and send the information in an email.
  • Most elected officials know “a little about a lot.” They likely don’t have the day-to-day experiences that your family has. You know how these programs, policies and services impact families.
  • Talk with other families about their experiences with a program or decision being made. This will give you a better understanding of the issue and allow you to be a voice for more children in your community.

Let your passion and heart guide you. Your story is filled with information and emotion, which makes it memorable to listeners. Lean into the details even if you become emotional—Your message needs to be heard by decisionmakers.

Events to Grow Your Skills 

Advocacy for Change At this annual event you’ll learn more about policy advocacy and creating an effective message for decision-makers.

Wisconsin Family Leadership Institute (WIFLI) Guides you on the path to become a family leader and continues to support you long after the event ends.

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