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Advocacy Stories

Is Changing Your Message to Fit Your
Audience Being Dishonest?......
By: Callie Benton

I must admit when the thought of direct advocacy messaging to a target audience was brought up to me, my reaction was negative.  Is it not dishonest to change your message to suit the audience you are advocating to?   I reflected back on my conversations with individuals about Parents As Teachers and was reminded of a common trend.  Each individual had consistent questions for me every time I visited them.  Some wanted to know how many "high needs" families I was serving or how frequent home visits occur.  Some consistently ask for outcomes upon graduation of the Parents As Teachers program.  The trend has stayed consistent and they want the numbers for the same questions each time.

A common Parents As Teachers question is, "Does your program serve high needs families?"   Knowing the audience of this question is important in your response.  If the question is coming from a parent interested in the program verses a legislator your answer may sound a little different.  For either audience, I would first define how I find and establish high needs for our program.  Upon enrollment requests for the program we receive some basic demographic information about families that may in fact flag them as high needs.  Through an initial in-home evaluation we are able to look at family demographics as well as child development needs to clearly establish need for the Parents As Teachers program.  If I was communicating this information to a parent interested in the program I would be clear in my message to them that our waiting list is operated in a first come first serve and needs based system.  I would want the parents to understand that we do not only serve high needs families, but they do take priority.  If I was communicating this information to legislators I would want to educate them on what specific research leads us to obtaining the demographic and developmental information that we do.   I would share with them the value of our community partnerships in making a strong and fast impact in the lives of the families we work with.

I have had to change the data collection process to obtain the data needed.  And in many cases, collaboration in data collection has grown.  It is now essential that I work with my partnering agencies in order to speak to the true value of the Parents As Teachers program.

Through a partnership with our local schools and Infant Toddler Services, we can speak to the long range impact the Parents As Teachers program is having.  Upon implementation of Foundation for School Success we will soon be capable of providing this essential data on a state wide scale.  Long range data points of interest are often established through conversation with our partners.  I recently learned of a situation where data was collected on attendance to parent teacher conferences and Parents As Teachers enrollment.  In other programs we are collecting data to support the partnership between services.  For example if a child is enrolled in both Parents As Teachers and Infant Toddler services what is the impact?

Will goals established through the Individual Family Service plan be met at a faster rate than those not enrolled in Parents As Teachers.  Collaborative data collection with local schools can result in obtaining data on 4th grade reading levels, overall standardize test scores and parental involvement of Parents As Teachers graduates. In presenting your data staying with Parents As Teachers philosophy of strength based is best practice.  You want to share meaningful information tied in with solutions to relevant concerns.   Tell your stories of success and progress.  Having data is beneficial and adding stories with your data will make it memorable.  "For every dollar invested in early childhood education, seven dollars in special education funding is saved later on". Too many children that need special education resources will never receive them and will slip through the cracks, but we can make a difference in increasing awareness of the importance of early education and intervention. If you need help communicating the benefits of Parents As Teachers please contact Kansas Parents As Teachers, we would be happy to work with you!


One Advocate's Story:
Callie Benton
KPATA President

Q: How do you work advocacy into your busy schedule?
A:  I have a supportive family that helps me maintain a balance. Advocacy is essential in the field of early childhood because we are the voice of the children we serve.  I am a working mother of three and yes I am busy, but I enjoy it.  I would say my "secret" is taking care of myself.  I eat well, exercise and get rest so that I can maintain a busy lifestyle.

Q:  What suggestions do you have for someone who is just getting started with advocacy?
A:  What I have found in working as an advocate is that most of the time people want to listen to me and hear the stories of the impacts we are making.  It is essential to learn your facts before taking action.  Policy makers rely on advocates to get them the facts they need to take action on our behalf.

Q:  Any favorite resources, websites, etc. about advocacy?
A:  www.KPATA.org  KPATA puts forward a strong effort in keeping us informed on political issues concerning early childhood programs and partners.  I really appreciate the work KPATA provides.  My most helpful resources are sometimes my legislators.  I often call and email my representatives to ask question on topics.  More often than not, if they don't know about the topic they get back to me with an answer in a fairly short time frame.

Q:  Favorite advocacy story?
A:  I am happy to say I have been fairly successful as an advocate.  My advocacy started back in high school when I spoke to the KS  Transportation Comm. in support of widening the 169 Hwy and has made a long journey with the bulk on my advocacy being in early childhood.  I am always touched by the stories our Parents As Teachers families share with legislators about how our program has impacted their lives.  We make a difference.

Q:  Optional: do you want to share about running for office?
A:  In January I made the decision to run for Miami County District 2 Commissioner.  My determination is strong to help the Commission of Miami County find innovative ways containing costs, obtaining supportive funds and creating more vibrant business and worker economy.   I am committed to improving the business climate, encouraging responsible growth, broadening the tax base and improving Miami County for workers and their families.