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Advocating for Your Child

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Survival Guide by Ann Douglas

Part 1

You Are Not Alone

Part 2

Managing Your Emotions

Part 3

Making Things Better for Your Family

How and Why to Advocate for Your Child

Wondering what it means to be an advocate—and how to do so in a way that actually makes a difference? That’s what this next section of the guide is all about. You’ll learn why parents are such powerful advocates, how to amplify or be your child’s voice, how to get results, and how to troubleshoot any road bumps or roadblocks.

Advocating for Your Child

Why parents are such powerful advocates

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What it means to advocate for—and with—your child

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How to be an effective advocate: a few pro tips for beginners!

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Why parents are such powerful advocates

Not quite sure you have what it takes to be an effective mental health advocate? Find yourself feeling shaky rather than certain when you stop to consider just how much is at stake for your child and your family? Most of us remember feeling the exact same way when we were just starting out on this journey with our child. Yes, there’s a lot to learn—but we have full confidence that you can do this. We’ve been in your shoes and we’ve mastered these skills. We know you can, too.

You might find it easier and a whole lot less scary if you stop to consider why you’re the perfect person to advocate on your child’s behalf.

You are fiercely committed to your child’s wellbeing. You will do everything in your power to try to make things better for her—to try to ease her struggle. Giving up is not an option—not when you’re the parent of a child who is struggling; and certainly not when you love someone this much. Your love for your child will move you to action and you will move mountains as a result.

You are uniquely positioned to make a difference for your child. The reason is simple: you are one of the world’s leading experts when it comes to your child (and quite possibly the world’s leading expert). You’ve spent her entire lifetime getting to know her. That makes your knowledge of your child and your insights into what might help to make things better uniquely valuable to everyone else who is trying to help. The mental health treatment team is counting on you to share your deep knowledge of and invaluable insights about your child. You’re a key player on this team.

What it means to advocate for—and with—your child

Being an effective mental health advocate for your child may mean acting as your child’s voice, amplifying her voice, or doing a bit of both.

When you need to speak for your child.

If your child is not yet able to advocate for herself—or to advocate for herself in certain situations or at certain times—you may find yourself stepping in to act as her voice or to share her perspective. In this case, you would be trying to see the situation from her point of view and to convey what you think she’d want her treatment team to know, if she were able to express her thoughts and feelings for herself.
 

When your child is able to speak for herself.

If your child is able to advocate for herself, you will want to look for opportunities to amplify her voice as opposed to speaking on her behalf. This might mean encouraging her to help other people to recognize her strengths, to acknowledge and empathize with her struggles, and to hear her thoughts about what strategies and supports would be most helpful to her right now.

And, yes, this may require some nimble footwork on your part. Sometimes she’ll want you to step aside. Sometimes she’ll want you to take the lead. And sometimes the rules may change mid-dance, meaning that you might end up stepping on her toes. Hey, it happens. We know because we’ve been there. 

How to be an effective advocate: a few pro tips for beginners!

Wondering how to get started as a mental health advocate? Here are the three key strategies we suggest, based on what we learned through our own experiences.

Connect with other parents. While you might feel like you are the only parent who has a child who is struggling, the numbers tell a very different story. Roughly one in five children and youth struggle with a mental health challenge at some point during their growing up years. That means that there are a lot of other families dealing with these challenges—and a lot of parents working hard at advocating on behalf of their children. Connecting with these parents will allow you to learn about the strategies and supports they’ve been able to put into place for their children and what proved most effective in terms of advocacy.

  • Who did they talk to?
  • What did they say to that person?
  • What is their best advice to you as you embark on your own advocacy journey?

Do your homework. Learn how the mental health system and educational system work and figure out ways to make both systems work for your child and your family. (You’ll likely be conducting your advocacy efforts on both fronts.)

  • Understand your child’s rights within those systems. Know whom you can turn to for information and support, both at your child’s school and within the mental health care treatment system.
  • Research your child’s treatment options so that you know enough to be able to ask good questions. Bring that list of questions with you to meetings and appointments with your child’s treatment team.
  • Think about what might help to make your child’s life easier or better at school. Compare notes with other parents to find out what specific accommodations and supports have worked well for their families.
  • Stay focused. Identify your child’s most pressing issues right now and advocate for solutions that will address those needs.

Keep yourself organized. Information is power and you want to be able to tap into that power. At first, you may be able to carry around all the key information in your head, but, over time, that gets harder and harder to do. We found it helpful to maintain a detailed set of records that we could refer back to over time. Some of us relied on a three-hole binder. Others created electronic directories of documents. Whichever approach you take, you simply want to ensure that you can access the information you need quickly and easily. And as for the kind of information you might want that binder to contain, we suggest including.

 

  • A directory of key contacts (name, job title, email address, phone number)
  • Copies of reports, questionnaires summarizing your child’s medical and developmental history
  • Copies of report cards, your child’s individual education plan, and other key documents related to your child’s education
  • Symptom notes (the types of symptoms you have observed in your child and when)
  • Treatment notes (what types of treatments were tried and when and what the results of those efforts were)
  • Meeting and phone call notes
  • Research notes
  • Your child’s crisis plan and/or recovery plan
  • Any other types of information you consider noteworthy or relevant and that you might need to access in a hurry.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone.

If you are a parent/caregiver worried about your child, or a young person looking for help yourself – please reach out. Our network of child and youth mental health centres have 4,000 professionals ready to help children, youth and families with free counselling and treatment. We provide care in person, on the phone and virtually. No problem is too big or small.

Find your closest child and youth mental health centre.

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