Six Ways to Advocate for Yourself and Your Family

Have you ever felt frustrated with the “system”? Ever wished that those who make policies and laws could hear your story and ideas? Well, they can! Policies, budgets, and laws that affect children’s mental health are changing every year. The resources below are provided to help us explore together multiple methods of contacting policy makers, ways to share your story, and the best practices of family led advocacy.

Being an advocate for families is rewarding and challenging work. Here are some things we can do to make a difference:

  • Write a Letter, Postcard or Email
  • Make a Phone Call
  • Send a Text Message
  • Visit a Policy Maker In-Person
  • Give Testimony to a Committee
  • Use Social Media

Advocate by Writing a Letter or Email

Writing a letter can help those making policy or legal decisions understand your desires, concerns, hopes, and challenges, as well as the personal impact on you that their policy or legal decisions will have. For family members who are not wishing to see a legislator in person, writing a letter is a wonderful option. You can do it in the privacy of your home, write and re-write the letter until it fits what you are trying to say. Writing can give you a greater opportunity to say what you want to convey without time restrictions that you could have when advocating in-person. What, when, and how much you write is truly up to you and your needs.

Try using this template to get your letter started: Template Letter to Congressperson

Here are some tips for your letter: Tips on Writing a Letter to a Member of Congress

Advocate by Phone

Effective advocacy can be as swift as a 1-minute phone call to a decision maker. Phone calls are best suited to address a legislator who is currently debating or voting on a proposal that affects you, your family, and your community. Phone call advocacy is short so there is a need to be prepared with what you wish to say before making the call. A person will rarely speak directly with a legislator during a phone advocacy call but will speak to a direct staff person or will be recorded on voicemail and listened to by that staff person at a later time. Phone calls are an effective way to get a legislator’s attention, add a personal touch, and support advocacy for your family in a short period of time.

Interested in a script to guide your phone call? Try this: How to Call Your Elected Officials

Advocate by Sending a Text Message

Text messaging is typically used for awareness raising or mobilization of community members who are united in a common goal. More people read text messages than emails so it is more effective at reaching larger groups of people. It is also more attractive to younger people who are comfortable with this style of communication. Text advocacy can be as short as sharing educational content like a quick fact. Or it can be used to ask people to sign a petition, or to share links and videos to more in-depth information.  With policy makers, texting is  not as effective as in-person meetings or letters, but text messages are also a wonderful way to get a brief burst of information to a policy maker quickly.

Advocate by Showing Up In-Person

Meeting in-person with an elected official or decision maker is the most effective advocacy strategies we can use. Multiple studies have shown that meeting an elected official in person has the most impact on influencing the final decision of that policy maker. Policy makers are not experts in every area at every moment a new debate or vote is being made. They need to hear from us! In-person meetings allow us to be fully present in expressing our perspectives, concerns and desires as well as have the opportunity to share our lived experiences in the areas they serve. Elected officials’ value and lean on your lived experiences and expertise as family members who know how things are working on the “ground level”. Taking the time to schedule an office visit, or attend a town hall meeting, can start the process of building a relationship with your elected official and support positive change for families and youth.

Here’s an OFSN guide to scheduling a meeting with your legislator: In Person Meetings With Your Law Maker

And here’s a similar guide to making your meeting with your representative a success: Successful Legislative Meetings;

And here’s one more such guide: Adopt A Legislator Project

Advocate by Giving Testimony to a Committee

As your experience grows through meetings and working with others, consider the possibility of testifying before a legislative committee. Legislative committees are a large part if the decision-making process for our elected officials when deciding on a new policy, procedure or law. Public testimony by family members may influence a committee’s final decision on a new bill or resolution proposal. Family members usually give a short public speech to a group of committee members to support or oppose a bill, request changes to a bill, or give personal information on how the bill will affect them and others. Public testimony is usually limited to 3 to 5 minutes, so being prepared is important. Although it is short, giving testimony is one of the most effective ways to educate policymakers about the impact that proposed legislation or legislative change might have on you and your family. Legislators are not always aware of all the implications a particular piece of legislation may have on people in their communities and need to hear from you.

Here’s a guide to preparing to speak before a legislative committee.How to Testify to a Legislative Committee

Advocate on Social Media

Social media advocacy platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are another way of getting the attention of our elected officials. Social media can help us build advocacy community groups, amplify our voice and stories, as well as be an effective tool for educating others including our local and national representatives.  One hundred percent of your legislative representatives are on a social media platform. Using strategies such as likes, hashtags, comment sharing, photos, links, tagging others, tweets and retweets, are an easy and powerful tool to bring light to your ideas, desires, perspectives and family needs. 

Here’s a guide to using social media for advocacy: Social Media Guide for Advocates