A Q & A about Legislative Advocacy

The following questions and answers are based on materials provided by the Children's Hospital Association.

Who are children's advocates?
Anyone who has ever spoken on behalf of a child.

What is legislative advocacy?
Almost anything done to influence a legislator's position on legislation or public policy is legislative advocacy. This includes writing letters, making phone calls, visiting legislators and testifying before committees.

A lot of advocacy is a matter of individual, private citizens speaking out by writing, calling and meeting with their legislators and other public officials. Advocacy literally means "to plead the cause of another."

Legislative advocacy carries that "pleading" into the legislative or public policy arena and does it on behalf of people we may not know personally. It’s a practical way for individuals to translate their concerns about children into policies and laws.

Why is legislative advocacy important to children and Akron Children’s Hospital?
Public policy is critical to children's health and the ability of Akron Children’s Hospital to serve them.

Children have different healthcare needs than adults, they represent only a small fraction of the healthcare marketplace, and they are the poorest segment of the population. They don't have the economic clout to command attention sufficient to ensure all their needs are met.

That’s why legislation establishing public policies on children's health is so important. Government programs already pay for the healthcare of more than a quarter of all children and an even larger percentage of children with special healthcare needs. Government programs also pay for, on average, nearly half of the patient care provided by children's hospitals.

What is grassroots legislative advocacy?
Grassroots legislative advocacy encourages individuals who share the same concerns to speak up about those concerns when they talk to legislators and elected officials. In the children's hospital community, it means bringing together many people who care about children and children's health and organizing them to communicate with elected officials in an effective and efficient way, such as letter writing, phone calls and personal visits.

Why is grassroots legislative advocacy important for children?
In a 1995 report issued by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, hundreds of state legislators from across the country were asked about the effectiveness of children's advocates. This study and others show that legislators rarely hear from their constituents about children's issues. We can't afford for issues that impact children to be decided by elected officials who are unfamiliar with children's needs.

Who are grassroots advocates?
Examples of people who have become grassroots advocates for children's hospitals are administrators, doctors and nurses, other healthcare professionals, trustees, volunteers, parents and hospital donors.

Why should you become a grassroots advocate for children?
To build a better future for our children, we need to actively participate in public policy debates and help shape decisions that will influence the future. Grassroots legislative advocacy is the bridge between imagining a better life for children and taking the concrete steps to make it a reality. Your participation as a grassroots children's advocate will ensure that all of our elected officials are hearing regularly from the "folks back home" about what’s important for children.

Is it legal for me to be a legislative advocate?
Federal and state governments limit the amount of legislative advocacy by nonprofit organizations, but there are no such limits on private citizens who act on their own time. In fact, legislative advocacy by a private citizen is a constitutional right of every citizen, protected by our Bill of Rights just like freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The writers of our Constitution recognized that our democratic system works best when individual citizens are fully engaged, advocating their views on public policy to their legislators. 

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