Advocacy: To Give a Voice

“Advocacy is giving a voice to children and families.”- Christie Marra, Virginia Poverty Law Center

12182791_10153291169835735_4258584389047997579_oOn Tuesday, November 17th, in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, SCAN invited individuals from across Northern Virginia to participate in its 4th annual Stand Up for Children Advocacy Day. (#standupforchildren)

Participants in this year’s training spent the morning with Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center in the Be Heard Advocacy Seminar, where they learned advocacy basics and how to navigate the Virginia Legislature to become stronger voices for Virginia’s children and families.

Delegate David Bulova joined us this year to provide a case study on how he was able to advocate for the successful passage of the Safe Sleep for Infants Act (HB1515). He provided many insights for the participants on how to persevere in the process, and the importance of making your advocacy personal “so that legislators can relate and remember.”

Del Bulova also empowered advocates: “Bills often take more than one try. Learn from experience and know the value of your advocacy.”

In the afternoon Christie Marra was joined by Amy Woolard from Voices for Virginia’s Children and Kendra Kielbasa from Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William County for our policy panel discussion. During the panel, participants had the opportunity to learn and discuss the upcoming legislative agenda items surrounding Kinship Diversion, Youth in Foster Care aging out of the system, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Following the policy panel we welcomed Northern Virginia legislators to provide more insight on their goals for children and families in the upcoming 2016 General Assembly. Joining us on the panel was Senator George Barker, Del. Alfonso Lopez, Delegate Dave Albo, Delegate-Elect Mark Levine, and Delegate-Elect Paul Krizek.

IMG_0274Participants were very active in voicing their questions and concerns for the upcoming year, and one noted that they “loved the legislative panel at the end, that it was very engaging!” The legislators took great interest in the topics being discussed and engaged participants to learn more about the critical issues children face in Virginia. Del. Albo, Del.-Elect Levine, and Senator Barker even took the opportunity to express interest in working with one another to sponsor a bill regarding Kinship Diversion , showing the strength of collaboration.

This concept of collaboration was a recurring theme noticed throughout the day. Delegate Bulova noted that legislators love “peace in the valley” – when stakeholders work together ahead of time on an issueCollaboration is something that advocates should constantly be striving for, noted Marra: “There is power in numbers.”

So how can you be a stronger voice for children and families?

  1. Know your legislator. Use the “Who’s my Legislator” tool at http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/.
  2. Be engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable. As service providers you see how policies adversely affect your clients every day, and have knowledge about what will work. As Del. Bulova said “Be sure to know the WHY, and be specific with the HOW.”
  3. Collaborate! Facilitate connections with other advocates in your network. If you are nervous about being heard, then make your voice louder by speaking up with others.
  4. Follow SCAN’s Connections blog to stay up to date on current issues and trends affecting Northern Virginia’s children and families.

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

5 Tips to Advocate for Children in Virginia | “Speak Up for Children!” Advocacy Day Wrap-Up

10620434_10152489822470735_8987194809694495121_oOn Tuesday over 50 professional and community members who wish to be stronger advocates for children attended SCAN’s advocacy training event, Speak Up For Children!, a partnership between SCAN and Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center gave an engaging presentation about the legislative process and how advocates can influence policies that impact children and families.

“An advocate’s role is to know the political climate, reach out for support, and rally the troops,” noted Christie. Participants spent the rest of the day being empowered to do just that.

Jim Pope, J.D., MSW, the Fairfax County CPS Hearing Officer, shared the story of how his work with the Northern Region Child Fatality Review Team led to successful advocacy efforts at the state level. Jim’s case study on writing and advocating for a bill to allow the team access to critical information to properly address child fatality perfectly illustrated the legislative advocacy process presented by Christie.

The training portion of the event was followed by policy and legislative panels. A panel of representatives from Youth for Tomorrow, Voice for Adoption, and the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis spoke about how policy issues are impacting the populations they serve. The topics discussed included child trafficking, child mental health, and foster care and adoption. Participants also learned the powerful impact fiscal policy has on children and families.

“Virginia needs a different approach than a “cuts only” approach to balance the budget,” noted Jeff Connor Naylor with The Commonwealth Institute. As the panel ended, one person noted that she “gained more knowledge about Virginia’s budget process” that would inform her advocacy work in the future.

A panel of legislators from across Northern Virginia discussed potential state legislation dealing with children and families. Senator Barbara Favola and Delegates Dave Albo, Alfonso Lopez and Charniele Herring spoke with participants about everything from healthcare to poverty to child care standards.

“It was helpful to see the legislators in person and hear their perspectives on the legislative climate,” noted one participant. For many, observing the legislative panel and interacting with local lawmakers helped minimize the distance they felt between their own daily work advocating for children and the larger systems which impact that work. Many indicated that they are now much more likely to track legislation that affects their clients, and contact their legislators in the future.

So what next? Participants at the training walked away with these five tips:

1. KNOW YOUR LEGISLATOR: This easy-to-use “find your legislator” tool makes it fast and easy!

2. ENGAGE MORE with your legislators: Child welfare professionals know the issues and challenges children and families face better than almost anyone, so we need to be the one’s to speak up and let our representatives know when there is a policy issue than needs to be addressed. Legislators need us to keep them informed, and they do value our input.

3. EXPLORE THE “LOBBYIST-IN-A-BOX” TOOL: You can subscribe to this service on Virginia’s Legislative Information System (or LIS) and track up to 5 bills for free.

4. SUBSCRIBE TO SCAN’s CONNECTIONS BLOG: Stay informed on the issues and trends in child welfare both here in Northern Virginia and across the United States.

5. VISIT SCAN’S WEBSITE: Our Statistics, Policy & Research page provides current statistics on child abuse and neglect in Northern Virginia, as well as links to additional resources such as white papers and fact sheets.

As one of the participants was completing an evaluation of the training, she wrote: “I feel this training helped a lot, and I look forward to more children’s advocacy trainings in the future.”

We couldn’t agree more! Follow @SCANconnections and  #speakup4kids on Twitter for more information and updates on advocacy throughout the year.

– Kerry Desjardins
MSW Intern at SCAN and Advocacy Training Coordinator

SCAN