Useful Policy Tools

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Advocacy Tips

Advocacy Tips

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” Advocacy requires an person to take a stand or make her position known about a particular course of action to family and friends, the public, and/or to her elected officials. The most effective advocacy not only makes a statement for a particular action but also influences others to consider the change the advocate seeks. Effective advocacy may be accomplished through changing the minds of the audience and/or provoking them to consider the issue differently.

Who Can Become an Effective Children’s Policy Advocate?

Anyone! All you need is a willingness to learn the facts and express your support for a selected course of public action.

How to Become an Effective Advocate

Stay Informed and Know the Facts

  • Read and learn the latest information about the issue(s) you care about through your local news sources (such as the newspaper, magazines, on line news media) and reported research.
  • Join relevant social networking sites—Facebook and Twitter—of specific organizations devoted to addressing the needs of children or join social networking sites generally devoted to advancing social causes. These sites will keep you updated in real time regarding issues facing children.  Often these sites will alert you of petitions that are as easy to sign as clicking on a link and providing your email address.
  • Attend accessible issue-related events such as seminars, forums, workshops, conferences or symposiums or sign-up for webinars offered about the issues you care about.
  • Meet and talk with others who share your interest in children’s issues.   Join a local issue/policy network or just meet informally with those who share your interest.
  • Adopt a position statement that clearly and succinctly summarizes your position Be sure you have supporting facts, an understanding of the basic costs and benefits associated with the change and the political landscape. Ask yourself:  Is the policy you are advocating politically feasible in the prevailing political, budgetary and economic climate? Decide the best way to message your position and determine how you are comfortable communicating the concerns you have.
  • Select one or more Change Agent Pathway(s) including the following:
    Raise Awareness/Educate Others:
    – Communicate research, analysis or articles to others such as your peer/professional/friend network.
    – Submit articles to the media (write letters to editor, editorials, or blogs) or write for issue-related or policy publications.
    – Create, Host or Participate in Issue-Related Events such as Seminars, Forums, Conferences or Symposiums.
  • Become a Watchdog-
    – Monitor Issue area changes over time (lawsuits, newspaper articles,    reports, self observation, etc.).
    – Evaluate current or new policy effectiveness, implementation and      funding.
    – Report on issue area changes- improvements or declines. (Report can be a formal publication but is more likely to be informal such as written or oral communication with elected officials, commissions or other stakeholders, opinion pieces, letters to the editors, etc.)
  • Join and Participate in Advocacy Network(s)
    Join an Advocacy Coalition, Council, Commission or Special Interest Group associated with issue.
  • Communicate with Decision-makers –
    Attend important public meetings of Committee or Commission charged with addressing or exploring targeted problem and speak for policy change.
    Send letters or emails to your elected official or other responsible public officials and state your desire for a specific policy change or legislation.  These can be sent by fax, email or postal mail stating your views on pending legislation.  Follow the same basic rules for communicating by telephone. (see “Planning your Call or Visit”  below) Note: Many organizations have simplified the process and will provide you with a sample letter.  If you use a sample, it is important to customize the letter if you can.
    Meet with responsible lawmakers if they are local.  There is no substitute for a one-on-one meeting. Ask for her support for a specific policy change or legislation. (For Instructions on “Planning your Call or Visit ”  See Below)
    Call responsible decision makers. Calls are a quick and effective means of communication! Recognize that legislators are often away from the office, on the floor or in committee, so you may get an aide or be asked to leave a voice mail message.  Use the same basic rules and always treat staff with respect.  If you would rather leave a message than talk to a live body, call in the evening (For Instructions on “Planning your Call or Visit ”  (See Below)
    Write editorials that make the case for the policy change you support
    Petitions: Sign or originate a petition. Note: some websites generate electronic petitions (ex:
  • Participate in Policy Creation – assist in review, drafting or proposing Model Legislation, ordinances, proposed bills, rule changes or other policy change).

Planning Your Call or Visit

  • Know what you are going to say before you make the call.
  • Keep your message simple and to-the-point because your phone call will be brief.
  • Who Are You and What Have You Called About?
    – Identify yourself by name and home address.
    – Tell the legislator if you are a constituent.  Legislators are most responsive to the people who can keep them in office.  If you voted for the legislator, mention that as well.
    – Identify the Bill/ordinance/problem and state your desire for a specific  policy change or legislation
  • State your position and how you wish your legislator to vote.
    *Include, if possible, a personal story on comment on how the legislation will affect you or the people you know.
    *Keep in mind the Three Bs that govern public speaking:  Be brief, be brilliant, be seated!
  • Ask the elected official or government representative for:
    * his/her stance on the bill or issue.
    * a commitment to vote for your position, (but don’t argue if the legislator has an opposing view or is not yet decided.)
  • Thank the legislator:
    * for his/her support if he or she agrees to support your issue.  OR
    * for his/her time if he/she does not commit to supporting your position.
    And, either way, let him/her know you will track the issue.
  • Providing Additional Information– If your legislator needs additional information, call a supporting organization to get the information and get it to your legislator as soon as possible.
  • Leveraging the Impact of your Call or Visit:
    Recruit Others to Call– Legislators pay attention to issues when they believe that many of their constituents care about that issue. With phone calls, quantity is critical. Ask as many like-minded friends, family members, or colleagues as possible to make a call. Or post a message on your Facebook or Twitter accounts or send an email to your mailing list with instructions so people understand how easy it is to make an informed call on the issue you care about.
    Report your call if you are part of a grassroots lobbying effort; your participation is helpful only if the people mobilizing the effort know about it.  Let them know that you made the call, and report anything of import that the legislator said.
    Send a thank you letter if the legislator votes as you have requested.  (This lets your elected official know you really are watching what he/she does!)

Research and Articles

Useful Research and Articles

The links below represent a selected list of articles that may be useful to those who are seeking additional information on the below referenced issue areas.

Early Childhood

Baby Brain Mapping: The Brain Map was adapted in 2006 by ZERO TO THREE from BrainWonders, a collaborative project (1998-2001) between Boston University School of Medicine, Erikson Institute and ZERO TO THREE. Select an age range to view corresponding developmental hotspots on the brain. Clicking on a hotspot will reveal questions and answers on how a baby’s brain develops.

Center on the Developing Child, A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy: Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable Children (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2007).

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain (Working Paper No. 3, 2005).

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, The Science of Early Childhood Development: Closing the Gap Between What We Know and What We Do (2007).

National Academy of Sciences of the USA: Economic, Neurobiological, and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America’s Future Workforce, Eric Knudsen, James Heckman, Judy Cameron and Jack Shankoff (reports finding that early childhood experience and programming affects future workforce strength).

Early Childhood Mental Health, University of Minnesota, School of Public Health (Winter 2009-2010) This entire issue is devoted to early childhood mental health issues including screening, interventions and trauma.


Voices From The Street:  Homeless Youth Speak Out on State Policy Presented by the California Research Bureau and New America Media. This is a DVD on the results from the CA Homeless Youth Project, a multi-year research and policy project to bring attention to the issues facing homeless youth in California.

Opening Doors:  Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, United States Interagency council on Homelessness. (2010) This plan outlines an interagency collaboration that aligns mainstream housing, health, education and human services to prevent Americans from experiencing homelessness, with a component focused on preventing and ending homelessness for families, youth, and children in ten years.

America’s Homeless Youth:  National Alliance to End Homelessness, nn4y and First Focus, (Aug 2011) summarizing the state of homeless youth in America, the variety of factors that cause homelessness among youth, a profile of homeless young people and the challenges facing this fragile population.

Closing the Front Door:  Creating a Successful Diversion Program for Homeless Families: National Alliance To End Homelessness Best Practice Brief. Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternate housing arrangement and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing.  The paper describes how communities can begin diverting families from entering their homeless assistance systems.


Childhood Obesity: An Epidemic that is Growing Up Fast, Glenn D. Braunstein, MD The Huffington Post, 6/21/2010.

Mental Health of Adolescents: A National Profile, 2008, David Knopf, M. Jane Park, Tina Paul Mulye, National Adolescent Health Information Center, University of California, San Francisco, (2008).

Early Childhood Mental Health  University of Minnesota, School of Public Health (Winter 2009-2010) This entire issue is devoted to early childhood mental health issues including screening, interventions and trauma.


Urban School Reform as Housing Policy, The Atlantic Cities, Matthew Yglesias, Sep 15, 2011

The Impacts of Affordable Housing on Education: A Research Summary, Maya Brennan, May 2011, a MacArthur Foundation Report

Juvenile Justice

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Factsheet  Children’s Defense Fund, California March 2009.

Mental Health Issues in California’s Juvenile Justice System,  Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice.

Foster Care

Ready to Succeed: Changing Systems to Give California’s Foster Children the Opportunities They Deserve to Be Ready for and Succeed in School (2008) Recommendations and Implementation Strategies from the California Education Collaboration for Children in Foster Care

Extending Foster Care to Age 21: Weighing the Costs to Government against the Benefits to Youth Peters, Dworsky, Courtney, Poliack, (June 2009) Chapin Hall, University of Chicago.

Never Too Old:  Achieving Permanency and Sustaining Connections For Older Youth in Foster Care.  The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, July 2011. This research document is a policy and perspective that looks not just at adoption, but at all the effective approaches being considered today for achieving lasting connections for foster youth and therefore, better outcomes.

Useful Websites

Useful Websites

The links below represent a selected list of sites that may be useful to those who are seeking additional policy or advocacy information.


LA Department of Public Health

The site offers summaries of county health data as well as links to many reports on recent trends, key indicators, as well as special reports on children with special health needs, asthma, children’s health initiative unit and more.

First Five LA

This organization invests millions of dollars in support of local children ages 0-5. Their extensive site offers, among other things, a list of local First Five policy and investment strategies for LA County, a list of current projects, community bulletin board as well as useful links and articles.

Los Angeles Women, Infants and Children Project

The Public Health Foundation Enterprises Women, Infants and Children Program (PHFE WIC) is a nonprofit agency that has been providing WIC services in the Los Angeles area. In the Research and Projects section of they offer information, surveys, and reports on the local needs of the population they serve.

LA Partnership for Early Childhood Investment

This local public/private funding collaborative, comprised of some of the country’s largest private foundations, (including Everychild) family foundations and public funders, seeks to promote local investment and policy improvements which will enhance the life outcomes of local children ages 0-5.

211 LA County

A private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, this is the largest information and referral (I&R) service in the nation. 211 LA is the local site and functions as a gateway to LA County’s vast and complex social service delivery system.

LA County

County Directory of information and services.

Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families

Public Counsel

Los Angeles County Education Foundation

Los Angeles Superior Court

Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles


Legislative Analyst’s Office

A nonpartisan fiscal and policy analyst government organization in Sacramento. They prepare analysis of many different budgetary issues as well as reports on legislation and policy issues. A number of reports are available on website regarding CA. children’s issues.

Children Now

Publishes an annual State of CA’s Children’s Report Card.

Healthy Cities

This is a unique website that offers nonprofit and other service provider data mapping along with statewide and local data and resources for California and Los Angeles area service referrals.

California Youth Connection

California Alliance for Families & Children

John Burton Foundation

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care

California Fostering Connections to Success

California Foster Youth Education Task Force

California College Pathways


Trust for America’s Health

Reports, advocacy guides and initiatives.

Child Trends

Using over 100 key indicators, this database reports national trends and research on children and youth wellbeing.

The Future of Children

A collaboration between Princeton and the Brooking Institute, the Future of Children’s website and journals summarizes and/url links to social science research and articles devoted to translating the best social science research about children and youth into information that is useful to policymakers, practitioners, grant-makers, advocates, the media, and students of public policy.

Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Foundation focuses on disadvantaged children and the website offers data, publications and other resources. They are well known for their Kids Count Data Center.

Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health

This website collects and makes publicly available data to foster improvements in children’s health, education and wellbeing. Both national and state and local data is provided in selected areas.

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

This research-based policy website is focused on children and the communities where they live. They have unique expertise in the studies of child abuse and foster children.

Rand Corporation

This policy think tank publishes national policy research and analysis in a variety of areas including education and children and families.

Professor James Heckman’s Website

Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman’s website offers his research, powerpoints and other tools aimed at advancing wide spread understanding about the need to invest in early childhood. He is widely credited for advancing the premise that investments in early childhood offer the greatest return on investment.

EPA Office of Children’s Health

Offers information and resources about chidlren’s environmental health concerns.

Zero to Three

A National Center for Infants, Toddlers, Zto3 supports program, parentling and policies that improve outcomes for very young children. The Zto3 Policy Center is a nonpartisan, research-based resource for federal and state policymakers and advocates on the unique developmental needs of infants and toddlers. Seeking to ensure that public policies reflect best practices and current research in support of our nation’s very young children, the site offers advocacy tools, guides to policy issues, and more.

Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care

Fostering Results