Let Your Voice Be Heard: Be Your Child’s Best Advocate
As adoptive parents, you’ve already proven that you are fierce advocates for children. You’ve navigated unfamiliar systems, acquired a new vocabulary of acronyms and buzz words, and persisted until the end. The skills you developed through the adoption process are a good foundation for the type of advocacy your children may need in a wide-variety of settings.
As much as we’d like to believe that service providers will always deliver the care, treatment, and support your child will need to thrive, it’s rarely that easy. Along your journey you will find allies and adversaries in the most unexpected places. The key is knowing how, when, and where to push, without creating an adversarial situation, in order to make sure your child’s needs are being met.
The following “ADVOCACY” acrostic* offers wisdom and encouragement as you encounter service providers that may not recognize or understand your child’s unique needs.
A: Allow yourself to intervene on your child’s behalf. Speak up and bring attention to what needs to be done or changed to meet your child’s needs. Start advocating by gathering information, identifying alternatives, and sharing additional information that provides a rationale for the accommodation or service your child needs. It’s most effective to be concise and specific with your requests.
D: Don’t be intimidated. Whether speaking to teachers, health care providers, mental health specialists, or other specialized service providers, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the training or background to challenge their information or approach to providing services to your child. There will be circumstances when you will be the most well-read and well-researched person about your child’s particular needs. As the parent, you are the expert on your child. You spend the most one-on-one time together and are best equipped to understand your child’s unique needs. Service providers will come and go, but you are the constant presence in your child’s life.
V: Vocalize your concerns. If you have concerns or questions about what is taking place, you have the right to express yourself and receive additional information. Ask questions and respectfully insist on answers. You do not have to agree to a plan that you think goes against what is best for your child. If your child is denied access to a service or necessary accommodation, ask to speak to program supervisors, agency directors, or others who have the ability to make sure you receive the support your child deserves. You may want to take a support person with you when you meet with a provider to make plans for your child’s care. You’ll want someone with you who can listen to the information being presented, help you address your concerns, and debrief with you following the meeting.
O: Opinions on your child’s rights should be stated. Be sure to learn about federal and state laws that apply to your situation. It is helpful to learn specific buzz words that open doors for service delivery. Every system has its own. Connect with professionals and advocacy groups (see resources below) that address child and client rights in order to receive recommendations, support, and tips for your own advocacy efforts.
C: Continue to monitor all aspects of your child’s needs. You have the most vested interest in your child’s success. Once services have been established, you will need to stay involved by revisiting goals, monitoring progress, and re-evaluating the approach being used in your child’s care. Keep all records of assessments, treatment outcomes, and reports that relate to your child’s needs. This documentation will provide support for future service requests.
A: Anticipate resistance while striving for excellence. Competing priorities, constrained budgets, and overworked staff can contribute to resistance you may experience when advocating for your child. It is most effective to emphasize shared goals for providing what is in your child’s best interest. Focus on workable solutions and look for common ground. Remember to stay calm during stressful situations. Power struggles are unlikely to result in the outcome you desire, but respectful persistence can pay off.
C: Count on your instincts for your child’s welfare. Know when it may be more productive to stop fighting a system that won’t respond and instead focus on finding alternative options. You don’t want to spend so much energy fighting injustice that you have nothing left to give your child. You have to determine if it is better to walk away for a time. Or you may decide it is necessary to take things up a level and draw political or media attention to your situation. Always carefully consider the ramifications of these actions and protect your child and family’s right to privacy.
Y: You can make the difference. You are your child’s natural first advocate and you can empower your child to speak out for himself or herself. Take time to celebrate the small changes and accomplishments that have occurred as a result of your advocacy. Advocacy is hard work, but the results are worth it.
*Original acrostic by Nancy Ireland