Children's Voice Nov/Dec 2007

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Join CWLA for Advocacy Day, February 26, 2008

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) greets CWLA visitors to his office during CWLA's 2007 Hill Day.

CWLA's National Conference features the single largest child welfare advocacy event of the year--Advocacy Day, formerly known as Hill Day. Child welfare advocates meet with Congress and their staff to talk about the most important issues affecting children. Many relationships with Congress are started, continued, and renewed on Advocacy Day--relationships that help propel children's issues for years to come.

Not only does Advocacy Day have an incredible effect on children's issues, it's also an opportunity to network with colleagues and see Capitol Hill. Some national elections draw fewer than half of registered voters, so visiting Washington makes Advocacy Day participants super patriots for kids.

Visits from child welfare advocates are part of a larger strategy to make children a national priority. Congress will always hear from high-paid lobbyists, but they will never hear from children unless advocates make them listen. Advocates from the front lines can deliver the most direct and accurate version of what's happening to children. Constituents' points and personal stories frequently move members of Congress and their staff to action. Legislation may not be advanced or filed right away, but in conjunction with other efforts, Advocacy Day visits help move issues forward.

How CWLA Members Have Made an Impression on Washington

Many positive signs point to Congress listening to child advocates. The 110th Congress has made more movement on child welfare issues than in past years. Long-awaited child welfare legislation has been filed, and many hearings are being held. Here are a few examples of how Advocacy Day has played a role:
  • Advocates met Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) during CWLA's 2003 National Conference to discuss her interest in child welfare legislation. Shortly after, she filed the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, announcing the bill during CWLA's 2004 National Conference.

  • During CWLA's 2003 National Conference, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) met with CWLA members from Maine and later became a crucial cosponsor of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act.

  • Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and John Kerry (D-MA) also became cosponsors of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act after visiting with advocates from Maryland during Hill Day 2007.

  • After visits from 2007 Hill Day participants from California, Senator Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) office reached out to CWLA staff before introducing legislation to extend federal foster care funding for foster youth to age 21.

How Advocacy Day Works

CWLA holds policy-focused morning workshops and introduces its Legislative Agenda and Hot Topics for the year. An inspirational general session, with speakers from Congress, follows; then participants meet for lunch and head to the Hill.

CWLA provides talking points and constituent lobbying tips for registrants, and volunteer state leaders help schedule appointments with Representatives and Senators. State leaders also hold Advocacy Day caucuses for their states during the National Conference before going to the Hill.

Think You Have a Good Reason for Not Attending? Think Again.

In a recent survey, most CWLA members said federal advocacy was the number one reason they belong to the League. CWLA's Government Affairs staff is on Capitol Hill every day advocating for children, but CWLA members need to reinforce this advocacy. Members of Congress continually refer to where their constituents stand on issues. If constituents haven't expressed concern, the silence becomes deadly.

Talking about his home-visiting legislation, for example, Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) told advocates last spring, "When you go to offices, be sure to tell them you are their constituents, because that makes a difference." Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told a group meeting on foster care and education, "After you meet with members here, go back and meet with them back home so they see you everywhere they go. Then they will know your issue."

Nevertheless, many CWLA members continue to hold misconceptions about how much direct impact they can make on Advocacy Day, and they have many reasons for not attending:

My member of Congress is already "good" on our issues. Regardless of where members of Congress are on issues, they still need to hear from constituents. Representatives and Senators have a lot of issues to choose from, including children's issues, and even those who are considered "friends" need continued education and help prioritizing issues. Even if they are friendly on children's issues, they don't always weigh in where they should; they need to hear their constituents want them to take a position.

Members of Congress who are not so good on the issues still need to know what's happening to children in their districts and states. Some have changed their positions after hearing stories about children. In any event, they are still accountable to their constituents and need to know the realities facing children back home.

What's the point if we just meet with Congressional staff? Meeting with staff is critical. They are the eyes and ears of Congress. Senators and Representatives frequently consult their staffs for advice and recommendations on how to vote and what to support and oppose. Staffs also tend to have more time to meet with constituents.

I'm not an expert. You already are! You don't have to be an expert on policy and statistics, but as an advocate, you are an expert on the challenges children face today. Child welfare advocates can raise their voices on behalf of the children they serve, and they can be heard where children have no voice.

--Cristina Fahrenthold, CWLA Government Affairs Associate

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