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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 encourage 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.
In Colorado, Family Voices is an organization that might be able to help navigate systems and support your child with special health care needs.
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.
A: First of all, congratulations!
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.
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
A: Start with your own elected officials. 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 issues.
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.
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.