Expert Tips from Just Ask Children's

January Advocating for Your Child

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This month's topic: Advocating for your child 

What does it mean to advocate for your child? It means to speak, plead or argue in favor of and to support them. Kids’ voices aren’t always heard, and sometimes they need our help to speak up for them.

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we ask parents to speak up. Parents know their children best, and we consider patients and families critical members of our care team. Parents can advocate and speak up for their children in many areas of life, including school, in politics, in healthcare and with other parents and kids.

Parents have many questions about how to best support their kids, and our pediatric experts have the answers. Here are the top 10 questions from parents:

Q: What does it mean to advocate for my child in the doctor’s office or with our healthcare provider to make sure my child gets the best care possible? 

A: Your child has rights as a patient and you also have rights and responsibilities as a parent in your child’s healthcare. Some of those rights include taking part in all decisions regarding your child’s care and treatment and to ask questions freely; to ask to see another doctor, get a second opinion or change doctors or hospitals; and to ask for things to be explained more clearly if you aren’t understanding everything fully. Read more about Patient/Parent Rights and Responsibilities at Children's Colorado.

We work closely with parents and family members and provide several services and resources to help make a sometimes difficult experience as easy as possible. Read more about how we work with families at Children’s Colorado.

Join us for a free parent workshop on January 22, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. This advocacy workshop will help attendees build skills to empower them to become effective advocates for children and patients in a healthcare setting and beyond. Visit Power of a Parent’s Voice - An Advocacy Workshop and Hospital Resource Fair for more information.

Q: What does patient and family-centered care mean? 

A: Patient and family-centered care is when the healthcare providers and the family are partners, working together to best meet the needs of the child. This allows parents and patients to ask questions, share information and truly be a part of the treatment and decisions that are being made. Be sure your child’s healthcare providers practice family- centered care. They are there to acknowledge and support you. 

Family-centered care manifests itself in hundreds of ways throughout Children’s Colorado, from helping parents administer their child's medication to implementing a home treatment plan to asking a nurse if she washed her hands. For more information, read about how Family Centered Care began at Children’s Colorado.

Q: I need to make sure my child has health insurance. Where can I go for more information? 

A: If you are employed, first check with your employer to see what options they might offer. To learn more about private health insurance and public health insurance options for your family, please visit Connect for Health Colorado. For more information about financial assistance at Children’s Hospital Colorado, visit Financial and Medical Assistance Programs for Families. 

Q: Is it appropriate to talk to my child’s teacher about ways to work together to help my child succeed in school? 

A: It is not only appropriate, it’s necessary! Being involved in your child’s education is a powerful influence in their academic success. You and your child’s teacher should have a partnership and together, you and the teacher can develop plans to make the school experience as positive as possible. Sometimes in-person conferences just aren’t feasible with work schedules and busy family lives, but there are alternate ways to communicate with your child’s teacher, and doing so can shed light on any problems or issues your child is having, as well as assure you how well your child is doing in school. Sending notes back and forth in your child’s backpack, emails or even trading voice mail messages can all be alternatives to in-person conferences. If are you able to attend meetings in person, here are some tips for parent teacher conferences.  

Follow these additional tips for your elementary, middle or high schooler and watch your child thrive.

Q: My child has some special needs with school. How do I work within the “system” to make sure my child receives all the assistance that is available? 

A: Whether your child has special healthcare needs, learning disabilities or challenges, or is a gifted child, resources are available to help make sure your child is successful in school. Most importantly, develop strong partnerships with your kid’s teachers, therapists, counselors and school personnel, and have regular conversations about how your child is doing in school. 

When children have healthcare needs, learning disabilities or challenges, most issues have a good chance of being addressed to everyone's satisfaction within your school community. There are Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 education plans that can be put in place to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding what support is needed for your child.  Ask your child’s school about options and read more about learning disabilities or IEPs from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Learn more about how to help your child in school if they are struggling.

For complex healthcare needs, Children’s Colorado offers the Medical Day Treatment Program. This program provides an educational placement alternative for children whose needs are too complicated to allow them to attend regular school. Children are able to continue to meet school expectations in an environment that provides the medical and emotional interventions they need daily.

If for any reason you are unable to get to the resolution you need with the school, be aware that legal means are available. If your child's disability affects his/her educational performance, you have the right under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to have your child tested to determine his/her special education eligibility.

Many schools also offer programs to address the needs of gifted children. Programs and classes for all kids should provide them with stimulation and challenge in their areas of strength and should encour¬age more creativity and originality. For gifted children, the difference in the programs offered should be their accelerated pace of learning and the increased breadth and depth of topics covered. Some gifted children may not live up to their potential and could be due to a learning disability. Read more about gifted education.

You can also read more about getting involved at your child’s school.

In Colorado, Family Voices is an organization that might be able to help navigate systems and support your child with special health care needs.

Q: My child is struggling with bullying. What are tips for talking to the other child’s parent? 

A: It’s important to create a network of relationships not only among the child’s peers, but also among their parents so that there are lines of communication between other parents within the peer group to keep tabs on what might be going on in that circle of friends. 

If your child hasn’t been able to resolve the issue on his or her own, it might be time for you to help. When bringing up an ongoing issue with another parent, have the conversation privately rather than in front of other people. Begin by asking the other parent for their help. No blame or shame, just stick to the facts and try to avoid using the word bully. Instead, you might say "treating unfairly," "not being very nice," or "not being respectful." Admit that you may not have the whole story (there are always two sides), so be open to what the other side is. You might even mention how awkward you feel bringing it up, but if your child were not treating people with respect, you’d want to know. Focus on working together to find a resolution that works for everyone. If the bullying doesn’t stop, follow up with the parent again.

In addition, have regular communication with school personnel. Ask your child’s teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, etc. questions beyond academics to find out how your child is doing socially and emotionally at school and within their peer groups. If the bullying is happening at school, they need to be made aware so they can help.

Read more tips on preventing bullying, helping kids deal with bullying, cyber bullying and 5 ways to bully proof your kid.

Q: I am about to have my first baby. Is there somewhere that I can go to learn more before the baby is born? 

A: First of all, congratulations! You can find a lot of helpful information in Pregnancy & Baby, Pregnancy & Newborn Center, and by using this Pregnancy Calendar

Children’s Colorado regularly hosts free parenting workshops at various locations, and expert tips on topics such as Babies 101, positive parenting and healthy cooking seminars. 

Read about how to choose a doctor for your baby, and getting help finding a doctor. If you have questions about child care providers and other important issues for babies and very young children, the Colorado Office on Early Childhood is a good resource for parents. 

Q: How can I make my voice heard by impacting legislation? 

A: You can call, email, write or meet with your elected officials, draft letters to the editor for newspapers, blog, or send information to your email lists or other contacts to mobilize others to contact elected officials. You can tell groups and other activists you are affiliated with to try and grow a coalition to do the same thing. You can ask legislators to vote “yes” or “no” and tell them why, and you can shape public opinion by getting education and information out to the press, blogs, or both. You can share research or expertise or prepare a fact sheet on why to support or oppose a bill or other community issue.

January 7 marked the start of the 2015 state legislative session where lawmakers will debate issues that are important to Colorado kids and families. 

Quick facts for 2015:

  • The 70th General Assembly convenes January 7 and legislators will meet for 120 days at the State Capitol in Denver.
  • Governor John Hickenlooper (D) was re-elected in the November election and this will be his final, four-year term.
  • There are 100 members in the State Senate and State House of Representatives.
  • With 35 total seats in the State Senate, the Republicans will lead the Senate by a margin of 18-17 seats.
  • With 65 total seats in the State House of Representatives, the Democrats will lead the House by a margin of 34-31 seats.

Upcoming advocacy event: Join Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Family Advisory Council and the Children’s Colorado Health Advocacy team for the upcoming Power of the Parent Voice - Advocacy Workshop. During this workshop, one breakout session will include a discussion about legislative advocacy and a preview of the important topics that will dominate this year’s legislative session. We hope to see you there!

Power of the Parent Voice - An Advocacy Workshop
January 22, 2015
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (lunch provided)
Children’s Hospital Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus
Mt. Yale, 2nd floor Conference Center
Registration is required – sign up now! 

Q: What are some tips for talking with community leaders and elected officials about an issue that I really care about? 

A: Start with your own elected officials and find out who they are. Is this issue a city, state, or national issue? Contact the right governmental leader for your issue. Do your research and come prepared to answer questions. Be pleasant, professional, clear, and ask for a specific result, vote, or action. 

See what we do at Children’s Colorado to advocate for kids, and read about legislative issuesSign up for our Grassroots Advocacy Network and stay in the know.

Q: How do I teach my child to advocate for himself/herself, too?

A: It is never too early to start teaching your kid how to advocate for him or herself. Sticking up for oneself is an important tool needed to achieve goals, and become a successful young adult. 

Teach problem solving skills by asking your child to think about what he/she wants the outcome to be, and then help him/her brainstorm ways to get there. Help your child learn good communication skills and show him/her how to be assertive and communicate his/hers needs and wants in a clear, calm and respectful way. 

Coach your child to recognize when help is needed  and that it’s ok to ask for it. Self-advocating doesn’t mean handling everything on  your own. Focus on working as a team and solving problems together when needed. And make sure your child knows that it’s ok to ask questions when he/she doesn’t understand something. 

Teach your child to respond to negative comments without anger or fear, and you teach her how to portray confidence. Read about helping your child develop self-esteem and raising confident kids.

For more information

See other ways Children’s Colorado advocates to improve the health and safety of kids and our health and wellness resources, as well as safety and injury prevention resources.

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