How to advocate for your child

Have a child-related issue that’s close to your heart? How can you make sure your concerns make it to the right people? Read what one Le Bonheur mom, Cathy Wilson, has learned about advocating for your child. Cathy is a member of Le Bonheur’s Family Partners Council, a group of Le Bonheur families who advise hospital staff and children on how to best care for kids.

Over the last several years, we have had the amazing opportunity to advocate on behalf of children and their unique health care needs. If you had told either of us 10 years ago (before our story with Le Bonheur began) that we would have met with government officials from Memphis to Washington to discuss children’s health care issues, we wouldn’t have believed you. But now through the help of Le Bonheur and the Children’s Hospital Association, we have learned to share our story and the impact stories can have on public policy.

Tell your story. When we meet with elected officials, we usually don’t have one specific law we want to discuss. Our goal each time we are allowed to tell our story is to put a face on the unique health care needs of children with the hope that the next time that government official makes a decision that relates to children, he or she will remember our children. We know from personal experience the importance of children’s hospitals, insurance that does not have preexisting condition exclusions and having an adequate supply of pediatric specialists. We are able to weave those issues into our story as we tell them about the experiences of our daughters, ages 9 and 6, at Le Bonheur.

Be cognizant of time. We have learned to tailor our story for the time allowed. Sometimes you may just have a few minutes, and you need to be able to “hit the high points” of your story. Other times an official may have more time and you can spend more time telling your story. Whether it is five minutes in a hallway or 30 minutes in an office, you have to use that time wisely. It helps us to write down the main points we (my husband and I) want to make and also to divide our story up between the two of us to prepare for what we are going to say. By watching us, our children are learning to tell their own story and advocate for themselves.

Know your resources. We have also learned that there are many ways you can advocate on behalf of children’s health care issues without ever leaving your house. If you go to the Children’s Hospital Association’s advocacy website, you can sign up to receive updates on children’s health care issues. You can also share your story by uploading a video or writing your story. Finally, you can see updates on current legislation and direct links to contact your legislators. Did you know that congressional offices monitor the level of emails they receive on issues? Sending an email is a fast and easy way to help make your voice and the voices of our children are heard on legislative issues.

Pictured above are Cathy Wilson are her girls, Ann and Mary Quay, with Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam.