“Advocacy is giving a voice to children and families.”- Christie Marra, Virginia Poverty Law Center

12182791_10153291169835735_4258584389047997579_oOn Tuesday, November 17th, in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, SCAN invited individuals from across Northern Virginia to participate in its 4th annual Stand Up for Children Advocacy Day. (#standupforchildren)

Participants in this year’s training spent the morning with Christie Marra from the Virginia Poverty Law Center in the Be Heard Advocacy Seminar, where they learned advocacy basics and how to navigate the Virginia Legislature to become stronger voices for Virginia’s children and families.

Delegate David Bulova joined us this year to provide a case study on how he was able to advocate for the successful passage of the Safe Sleep for Infants Act (HB1515). He provided many insights for the participants on how to persevere in the process, and the importance of making your advocacy personal “so that legislators can relate and remember.”

Del Bulova also empowered advocates: “Bills often take more than one try. Learn from experience and know the value of your advocacy.”

In the afternoon Christie Marra was joined by Amy Woolard from Voices for Virginia’s Children and Kendra Kielbasa from Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William County for our policy panel discussion. During the panel, participants had the opportunity to learn and discuss the upcoming legislative agenda items surrounding Kinship Diversion, Youth in Foster Care aging out of the system, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Following the policy panel we welcomed Northern Virginia legislators to provide more insight on their goals for children and families in the upcoming 2016 General Assembly. Joining us on the panel was Senator George Barker, Del. Alfonso Lopez, Delegate Dave Albo, Delegate-Elect Mark Levine, and Delegate-Elect Paul Krizek.

IMG_0274Participants were very active in voicing their questions and concerns for the upcoming year, and one noted that they “loved the legislative panel at the end, that it was very engaging!” The legislators took great interest in the topics being discussed and engaged participants to learn more about the critical issues children face in Virginia. Del. Albo, Del.-Elect Levine, and Senator Barker even took the opportunity to express interest in working with one another to sponsor a bill regarding Kinship Diversion , showing the strength of collaboration.

This concept of collaboration was a recurring theme noticed throughout the day. Delegate Bulova noted that legislators love “peace in the valley” – when stakeholders work together ahead of time on an issueCollaboration is something that advocates should constantly be striving for, noted Marra: “There is power in numbers.”

So how can you be a stronger voice for children and families?

  1. Know your legislator. Use the “Who’s my Legislator” tool at http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/.
  2. Be engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable. As service providers you see how policies adversely affect your clients every day, and have knowledge about what will work. As Del. Bulova said “Be sure to know the WHY, and be specific with the HOW.”
  3. Collaborate! Facilitate connections with other advocates in your network. If you are nervous about being heard, then make your voice louder by speaking up with others.
  4. Follow SCAN’s Connections blog to stay up to date on current issues and trends affecting Northern Virginia’s children and families.

— Sydna Cooper, SCAN MSW Intern

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