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VOL. 131 | NO. 42 | Monday, February 29, 2016

Parent Leaders are the ‘Voice’ for Their Children and the Community

MELISSA PERRY | Special to The Daily News

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Parents take on many different roles in the lives of their children: cheerleader, counselor, teacher, friend, and so many more. A role we don't hear about as often though is advocate. What exactly does that mean?

Simply stated, advocates are the "voice" who speak on behalf of their children. Parents can be leaders and advocates in the home, in their children's schools, in their neighborhood and community, or in the larger society. Their advocacy and leadership shapes the development of children, schools, programs and policies, and other families.

All parents are advocates and leaders in the lives of their children. When choosing a pediatrician or a childcare program, you are acting as an advocate and leader. Parents advocate for their child's well-being, and they grow as leaders as their children grow.

Parent advocates can act as mentors in the classroom, share skills with other parents, coordinate events for children and families, or serve as translators or cultural liaisons. They bring out the strengths in other parents.

Advocates participate in parent meetings, advisory committees, policy councils, and other governing bodies as well as community or state coalitions. They also represent children and families in the development of policy legislation.

Why is advocacy so important? According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, parents who act as partners in their children's development are critical to healthy development, early learning and school-readiness. Parents who serve in leadership roles strengthen families, service systems, and communities that support children's readiness for school. Research supports parent leadership as a way to create stronger families and organizations.

A prime example of advocating for your child and parent leadership having national, long-lasting impact is the evolution of special education services for children with disabilities. Parents have been the driving force for creating civil rights and educational legislation at the national level.

Being an advocate for your children reaps benefits for everyone involved. Parents who are involved in advocacy and leadership activities positively influence their children's learning experiences and serve as an important role model, not only for their children but for other parents as well. Benefits to programs, schools and agencies include more accountability and improved services for the family.

Since 2008, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee's Parent Leadership Initiative has led the state in developing parents as leaders in community efforts to prevent abuse and neglect and promote community support for healthy child development.

The Parent Leadership Initiative engages parents whose children or families are directly impacted by local and state programs and child welfare and education policy. The initiative teaches and encourages leadership skills, giving parents the essential tools to advocate for their own children and to be the "voice" to speak on behalf of other families at local, regional and state levels. The initiative also provides training, on-site consultation and "Community Cafés" to promote parent leadership and assist local and state organizations in their efforts to infuse parent voices in program and policy decisions.

For more information about Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee's Parent Leadership Initiative, or to nominate a parent in your community to serve as a Parent Leader, please visit pcat.org.

Melissa Perry is parent leadership coordinator for Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee.

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