Let's Leave A Good Impression
We here at the Lab are excited about the many upcoming opportunities for foster parent advocacy. To help make each of those conversations as powerful as possible, we've compiled four tips for having effective conversations.
These come out of our own experience, as well as some specific recommendations that we've been told by leaders and legislators. We hope they are helpful!
We've written the tips below specifically for foster parents, but hopefully they are helpful for everyone.
There are many reasons to feel frustration and outrage within this system, we totally get it. However, we've also been told that sometimes, when a foster parent is really angry, it is hard to understand the core of the issue in the midst of that anger. So be honest. Share what's hard. But also remember that your goal is for the person you are speaking with to take action, so make sure they can clearly understand your concerns.
Raise your hand if you've done therapy or any other training that works on "I" statements. If you haven't, don't worry, we will explain.
An "I" statement simply means that you share your personal experience without discussing someone else. For example: "I am exhausted and frustrated, and it's increasingly hard to get an update about my case from my social worker." This statement shares what is hard and explains the problem, but keeps it focused on your personal experience.
Which is different than: "I am so frustrated because my social worker refuses to answer phone calls or emails, I don't know what is wrong with her." Now we are swimming in the blame pool, and the water there isn't good. Statements like this can distract from the point you are trying to make.
Imagine that you only have 30 seconds to advocate. What would you say? You want them to hear the core problems in a way that is clear and memorable. Narratives (meaning that you start at the beginning of the story and plow on through) can be overwhelming and confusing. Also remember that your listener may not be familiar with more detailed acronyms or jargon.
Let's look at two examples. These two explanations could be about the same case, but which one would you be able to remember at the end of a fast-paced advocacy event?
"My foster daughter has been in care for 25 months and in that time has had 5 social workers. She has also never been assigned a CASA, so I am concerned that no one who can speak for her truly knows her needs."
"My foster daughter moved in right after Christmas in 2013. She was in PICC for two months before that, then placed with us. The CHIPR they gave us was completely inaccurate and the CHET screener . . . . . that social worker lasted for three months, but we never saw her, we had a courtesy worker . . . "
And finally, tie your story to the big picture. The person you are speaking with has a job to do, what is it? If they get up the following morning and take action on your story, what would that be? Whether it is a legislator or a Children's Administration leader, their job is to see the big, systemic problems and find patterns. Help them do so by being brief and clear.
Also, we know that there are many big topics on the top of foster parent's minds - permanence, attachment, respect, and more. All of these topics are incredibly important, but depending on the event, they may be outside of the current agenda. So take some time to consider the goals of the event and how your story fits in. It doesn't mean the other things aren't important, it just means that we need to find focused, actionable steps in the midst of this complex problem.