Make Your Voice Heard – Become a Child Advocate
Child advocates and citizens must ensure that children’s issues are on the minds and position platforms of officials so kids get the attention they need at the state Capitol and in every county across the state. Here are some tips for becoming a better child advocate. Join us at Speak Up for Kids Day or our Parent Academy for more in-depth child advocacy training.
The legislative session provides a variety of opportunities to connect with lawmakers. Be sure to speak up. Come prepared with facts, share a story, and ask thoughtful questions.
- Attend a town hall, debate, or community forum, and ask a question about child well-being.
- Host a coffee to learn more about elected officials in a more casual environment with opportunities for dialogue and conversation.
- Send facts or questions to elected officials by tagging them on Twitter and Facebook.
- Call the official for a one-on-one conversation (find contact information on elected officials’ campaign websites).
- Send an email message asking about child health, K-12 education, or early childhood development.
Child Advocacy Tips
Being an “expert” is not a requirement. It is important to recognize that the best advocate is not a slick lobbyist or public policy professional who “knows it all.” The most effective advocate is one who believes in what he or she is promoting and whose sincerity and commitment to the subject are readily apparent. Your expertise and interest in children’s issues makes you a trustworthy and effective spokesperson.
- Be yourself: Sincerity, honesty, and a strong belief in the concepts and programs you are advocating for will come across loud and clear. If you are passionate about an issue, you already have the most important skill needed to be an effective advocate.
- Know your elected official and their contact information: Between federal, state, and local level representatives, keeping track of who represents you can be difficult. To identify your state senator, state representative, and state board of education representatives, and to access their contact information, enter your zip code at www.votesmart.org. Visit your school district website to find your local school board members.
- Communicate with your elected officials! You can write letters or emails, call them, or meet with them in person. In order for your representatives to represent you, they need to know what you care about.
- When you talk with your legislator, remember to address them appropriately. For example, Representative _____ or Senator _____.
- Always introduce yourself when you speak with your elected official. Let them know why you are interested in the issue and where you live, so they know they are your representative.
- Don’t be afraid to speak from your experience. If you are a parent, let them know where your children go to school, what you are concerned about, and how they can help. Let them know your position and why you feel the way you do. If you are part of a coalition or group, make sure you mention the group you represent.
- Be respectful! It’s important to remember, especially when it comes to politics, that we are all working to make Colorado the best state for our children.
- Don’t forget, above all else, that your voice matters. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out on policy decisions that impact you, your family, or your community.
- Understand the issue that you are speaking about, but don’t worry about being an expert. It’s important to go into a conversation understanding where Colorado stands today and how the policy could positively/negatively impact kids, but don’t worry about knowing every little detail.
- Develop a personal relationship with legislative champions. You can find out who chairs the committee that is dealing with the issue, or talk to the sponsors of the bill. This information is available on the General Assembly website.
- Get involved as early as you can. It’s always easier to change a bill or stop something from moving on if you get involved earlier rather than later.
- Stick with the most critical issues from start to finish, and know when to get involved in the details and when to rise above the noise.
- Ask for something specific. For example, “please vote yes on House Bill X,” or “please voice your opposition to X proposal”.
- Be specific and brief. Many legislators do not have a lot of time to discuss the issues at length. Hearing from you in a strategic and concise manner is helpful.
- Make sure your materials are only one page. It’s helpful to have bulleted materials that get to the point and are easy to understand.
- Leave contact information for questions and follow-up.
- Network with others. Educate community leaders, “talkers,” and community members individually to raise awareness and ask for support for your issue. It’s always easier to make your voice heard when your voice is amplified by others that feel the same way you do!
- What do you think is the biggest challenge facing children in our community today? What strategies do you plan to pursue to address this issue?
- Between 2000 and 2010, Colorado had one of the fastest-growing rates of child poverty in the nation, with the number of children in poverty more than doubling in ten years. What policies do you plan to implement to support struggling families or reverse this alarming trend?
- Research shows that children with a regular source of health care are more likely to access routine and preventive health care services, like immunizations, that help to keep them healthy and out of expensive emergency rooms and insured kids are more likely to have a regular source of care than uninsured kids. Unfortunately, there are (NUMBER) of uninsured kids in our community. What are you doing to provide health care to more kids in (NAME OF COMMUNITY)? [Use district fact sheet to identify number of uninsured kids in your community.]
- Childhood obesity is growing at an alarming rate and being over-weight or obese is closely linked to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. What do you think the most effective strategies are for supporting healthy habits in our kids? What are you doing to create environments that support healthier children?
- Many of the programs that support vulnerable children – health, education and family support programs – have been cut in recent years due to budget shortfalls and while the economy as a whole is recovering, it is a slow recovery. How do you propose addressing funding for programs to support children? What are your budget priorities?
- What do you think are the most pressing issues facing our public education system, and what action do you propose to address them?
- What role should the legislature play in expanding access to early childhood education programs?