Advocate for Change
Are you ready to help make change in local or state systems? We need parent voice and experience to help decision-makers improve many systems, for example, educational, health care, child welfare and legal systems.
What inspires you? What area are you most interested in working in? Your experience can help other families. By getting involved, you can connect with others to build a better community.
In this section you can learn about the power of advocacy and where you can begin. Our communities need champions at all levels, you can start where you feel comfortable. Share your story to help others in similar situations to feel seen, heard and understood. Get involved, your advocacy can inspire, enlighten and create connections. Start your journey today!
Often at meetings, parents are interested in sharing their personal stories, concerns and feelings with other parents, especially about their experiences in trying to get the best possible services for their child. Give other parents an avenue for their voice and to share concerns outside of a formal business meeting by establishing a Support Group. Parents attending these more informal support group meetings can share information, resources and provide direct support one-on-one. For a parent who feels uncomfortable at a public meeting, these small groups are the right fit.
You do not have to do this alone – invite people to start a support group with you!
Take some time to read about advocacy before you begin. Mass NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) has published a Special Needs Advocacy Toolkit which talks about advocacy, effective types of communication and tips on how to become a great advocate (tips on page 7).
- Sharing your story is a personal decision and may be hard to do at first. Remember, your story has the potential to help someone else feel less alone.
- There are many benefits to sharing your story to advocate for change, such as creating empathy, helping others understand, and motivating people to take action. This article, The Power of Storytelling, reviews the benefits to sharing your story and helps you get started.
- FCSN has a storytelling workshop which provides some background on sharing your story. You can review the Sharing Your Story workshop handout here.
TIP: New storytellers can share their story with a friend to get some feedback.
- Some fundamental principles of community work, such as distributing the tasks, empowering others to make decisions, and being organized, can help you be a better organizer. This Community Organizing Guide reviews some of these organizing principles and skills to practice.
Parents are needed to lead and volunteering is a great way to gain experience. Many local and state advisory boards require parent representatives in their board membership.
- The MA Early Intervention Parent Leadership Project has a road map of opportunities within the early intervention system for families to be involved. This website has a chart of parent leadership roles and activities with information about the role, level of impact, whether compensation is provided, and the time commitment.
- Many state agencies are looking for parent representatives for their advisory boards. There is usually a process to be considered for a position and you may have to complete an application. This one-page document offers some tips on how to write a letter of interest to the chair of an advisory board.
- MA has over 700 boards and commissions dealing with virtually every state department and public policy area. You can review a list of Massachusetts’s Boards and Commissions to see if one is a good fit for your interests, and can search specifically for Advisory Boards and Working Groups
- Our state Board of Education has 13 Advisory Councils which require parent representatives to serve as advisors
- Many cities and towns have a local Disability Commission which promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. These Commissions, established by town meeting or city council vote, may require family members and self-advocates to be members of the commission. You can review sample by-laws and goals of a Disability Commission on the MA Office of Disability /Commissions on Disability website.
- Have you thought about running for election to a leadership position? Check out this Guide to seeking local elected office
TIP: Volunteering is a great way to get connected to a cause or group. Your local community may have some volunteer opportunities to build your leadership skills, for example the PTO, SEPAC, or ELPAC.
- Let your elected officials know what is working or what is NOT working in your community. They need to hear from you! This website to help you find your state legislator in MA. You just need to enter your street address, city/town and zip code to search.
- Some newspapers publish opinion letters to the editor which appear as Op-Ed articles in the publications. An Op-Ed is generally a short article expressing an opinion or viewpoint on a topic. Share your opinion to reach people, change hearts and minds and maybe even reshape policy. Duke University has a website with tips on how to write effective Op-Eds.
- Offer to write an article on a topic of interest for an organization that aligns with your interests. Showcase your thought leadership and earn valuable exposure. maybe even make some new connections.
- Maybe starting a blog is the right tool for your written advocacy. A blog is a website that provides insight into a certain topic and can be a forum to share ideas, information and updates. Check out some tips on how to start and write for a blog from Blogging.org. Once you’ve found your niche, be original, interesting and honest!
- Facebook is also an option for written advocacy. Anyone with a Facebook account can Create a Facebook Page, build content around your advocacy topic and ask friends to share in their networks.
TIP: A short, clear statement may have the most impact to communicate your message.
You may need to build your knowledge in a content area to increase your advocacy. Rules and regulations often change and you need to keep up-to-date on policies and procedures to be an effective advocate.
- If you are interested in learning more about the special education system in MA check out FCSN’s Parent Consultant Training Institute. The Parent Consultant Training Institute (PCTI) is an intensive training program (40-54 hours of instruction over 8 weeks) designed to provide families and professionals with a solid foundation in special education laws and procedures. This course is open to people with all levels of experience and is a great starting place for those interested in bringing their advocacy to a higher level.
- Join an online group that discusses a topic you are interested in, for example over 3,000 parents and professionals are talking about post-secondary transition and sharing resources on the Facebook group, Massachusetts Transition to Adulthood
- Make new connections by attending workshops and conferences
- Review state agency websites to get a background on their focus and who is in leadership positions
- Check out our FCSN Leadership Learning page for more options
Empowered parents are uniquely motivated to create positive change and build a better community for their children and others. Connect with others to bring more power to your voice – remember, build trusting relationships to work for change!
For more background on advocacy, you can review the video recordings of these two FCSN workshops on our YouTube channel: