How to be an Effective Advocate for your Child

 By Georgina Rayner

The role of an advocate may be vital at some point in our life to obtain and maintain the necessary changes and opportunities for our children and ourselves. By definition, advocacy involves speaking on behalf of a person(s) or yourself to ensure that their rights and needs are recognized. The word “advocacy” comes from Latin and means ‘to add a voice’. The purpose of advocacy is to assist in securing the rights of one’s self or another. We all need to develop advocacy skills in order to ensure that our needs are met and our rights are respected.

Tips to be an Effective Advocate

  1. Believe in yourself – one person can do a lot.
  2. Be organized!
  3. Identify unmet need(s) or right(s). What is the problem? Listen carefully to what the individual or family’s concerns are and help them to focus on the issue(s).
  4. Research the law for understanding and how it impacts the case.
  5. Be systematic in your approach:
    • Know and build your case.
    • Identify all the key players
    • Narrow down the problem
    • Develop a plan or map of where everyone is on the issue.
    • Do your homework.
    • Document the facts
    • Keep careful notes and logs of contacts and calls
    • Listen carefully.
    • What are the desired outcomes? What is acceptable? What is unacceptable?
    • Identify what conditions need to be developed or altered in order for change to take place.
  6. Know your resources and your allies. Assess the nature of the barriers, resistance you might meet and/or the opposition. Knowing what you are up against will sharpen your strategic thinking. What kind of pressure is possible and from where.
  7. Be assertive and communicate well. Note: an assertive person clearly states a point of view but takes into account other points of view as well, then works for the right outcome cooperatively.
  8. Analyze possible consequences.
    • What is the possible fallout?
    • What historically has happened in other advocacy situations related to this issue?
    • What is the worst case scenario?
    • Can the family/child live with it?
  9. Develop a back-up plan.
    • Look at alternate strategies to achieve the same goal.
    • Be careful what you ask for as you might get it.
    • Make sure you have plan B in case it is needed. Do not accept that nothing will happen or change.
  10. Remember the process is about the needs of the child. Parental egos and/or your personal preferences should not influence the process or outcome.
  11. Provide a process so that the individual/family can undertake their own advocacy the next time.
  12. Provide feedback to the key players. Analyze your own process and look to see what you could have done better.
  13. Be Respectful of your client and their ideals. They may have different cultures, beliefs and ideas than you. If you think that you cannot act independently because of your cultural, ethical, moral, or political belief, respectfully decline the case and send them to someone who can assist them.