Under the Umbrella: Advocating with Government Officials

As a foster or adoptive parent, you have likely had some experience advocating on behalf of a child. Maybe you were able to get him or her an IEP at school or secure an appointment with a specialist sooner than you were originally told. If so, you have already seen what a big impact advocacy can have on your child and/or family. On a larger scale, advocacy is key to developing statewide policies that positively impact children and families throughout Wisconsin. Public policies are established by government officials, but YOU can help with this process.

Your local legislators can influence the creation and passage of bills and therefore are important contacts when it comes to sharing your thoughts on policies. To find out who your state senator and/or representative is, visit http://legis.wisconsin.gov and use the “Find My Legislators” feature. This website also provides information about yours legislators’ background, bills they have sponsored, committees they are involved with, and party affiliations, as well as their stance on certain issues.

When considering making contact with your legislator about a bill, you may want to think about the best way to communicate your concerns. Although some might feel intimidated by scheduling a meeting face-to-face, these meetings are the best way for you to engage a legislator on a more personal level.  To set up a personal meeting, you will need to call your local senator and/or representative’s office to request an appointment. If your legislator is agreeable to a meeting and if their schedule allows, you can expect to have a brief amount of time with him or her – perhaps 15-20 minutes. Having this limited amount of time means that you might want to plan ahead and prepare a few key points to guide your discussion. Think of the meeting as you would think of a job interview: arrive on time, dress professionally, and send a follow-up letter to reiterate your views and thank your legislator for their time.

If your legislator is unable to meet you in person, consider a phone conversation instead. Writing a letter or email can also be an effective way to advocate. Legislators receive a lot of communication this way, so be sure to keep your letter concise (no more than one page), and state the bill number and issue in the first sentence. Be sure to include your thoughts on this issue, as well as personal examples and/or any pertinent articles or materials you have to support your view. Don’t forget to include your contact information so that your legislator can reach you if they would like to discuss your concerns further.

No matter what way you choose to communicate with your legislator, be sure to do your homework ahead of time so that you have a good grasp of the topic you would like to discuss. You do not need to be an expert in a particular field to voice your thoughts or concerns; in fact, hearing from constituents who have direct knowledge of an issue or concern is valuable to legislators. For example, having personal experience as a foster or adoptive parent can give your legislator a good idea of how a particular child welfare policy will affect children and families firsthand. Be sure that your story and experience directly relates to the policy that you are supporting or opposing.

For more information on the structure of state government as well as how you can influence legislation, please view the Legislative Advocacy Guide. This guide is provided by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) – you can also contact them at (608) 284-0580 for additional guidance on this topic. We encourage you to keep up-to-date on decisions being made in the legislature that affect children and families. And please remember that we are here to help and support you and your family along your fostering or adoption journey. You can call us at 800-762-8063 or 414-475-1246 or send us an email anytime to info@coalitionforcyf.org.

Under the Umbrella is the weekly enewsletter from the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families. If you would like to sign up to receive this newsletter in your in-box, please do so here.

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