Effective Advocacy: Guidelines for Assisting Parents


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Maintain Credibility
Your credibility is essential. Don’t be afraid to tell callers you’re unsure of the answer to a question and that you’d like to call them back after doing some research. Don’t feel you must say something to avoid appearing unqualified. It’s better to admit you don’t know an answer at the moment than to give out

erroneous information. Be clear with parents about the issues that you can and cannot address. If you’re not qualified to respond to a question about respite care, for instance, tell the caller about an agency that deals with that service.

Build Trust
Confidentiality can’t be stressed enough. Treat the accounts you hear as precious information given to you in trust. Never forget that you may be hearing about emotions and incidents that the parent hesitates to discuss even with relatives and friends.

When you need to seek more facts and perspective on a situation by talking with a third party:

  • Tell parents you would like to do this and ask for their permission.
  • Let them know what you are going to say to the other person about your understanding of the situation.

It can be a very good idea to call the professionals involved in a situation described by a parent to gain a broader perspective. Be sure to obtain the caller’s permission before doing so.

Stay in Focus
While it may be necessary to be an emotional outlet for a caller for awhile, don’t wait too long to begin focusing on the substance of the issue at hand. Don’t let the discussion concentrate on everything that’s gone wrong in the child’s life since he began kindergarten seven years ago. Talk about the issue as it exists today. What needs to be done now?

Together, clarify and define the central problem. A plan of action has to be based on consensus between the parent and you about what needs to be addressed. Don’t try to solve at once everything that a parent perceives to be wrong. Set priorities. Deal with the most critical needs first.

Write It Down
Write down key points of your discussion with each parent. Details are fresh when the conversation has just ended. Several weeks later, details will have blurred. Note the names, positions, and phone numbers of all the key persons involved in the life of the child whose parent has contacted you. It’s possible you’ll need to communicate with others to help unravel a problem (if the parent has consented).


Be a Connector — Always
In addition to the help you can offer, identify other sources of help for the parent. When needed, link parents with support systems or programs where they can receive emotional sustenance. The time you have available for direct emotional support may be limited. However, the need for such support is valid. Where else can they receive this type of help? Help parents identify and sort through the systems you will work with as you assist them in their search for appropriate programs for their child. Help develop a “road map” for them through the maze.

Even though a parent may call with a question or problem with which you or your agency isn’t equipped to deal, always serve as a connector to another resource that could be of help. Don’t let a parent’s call to you be nonproductive.


Stay in Touch
Even when further involvement on your part looks like it won’t be necessary, always ask parents to call you back and let you know how things worked out for them and their child. It’s important that callers know they’ve reached someone who cares.

Encourage Self Sufficiency
An essential premise: The parents you’re helping will assume responsibility for themselves and their child. Work together with the expectation that they will do things for themselves — attend workshops, read, meet and talk with other parents and professionals. Your role is to assist parents in the process of becoming effective advocates for their own families. Help that fosters continuing dependency upon you doesn’t lead to the parent’s development of advocacy skills.

© 1996. PACER Center, Inc.  Reprinted with permission

www.pacer.org