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Advocacy: State Level Advocacy


State Level Advocacy

Home Visiting Legislation

Legislative Action Center(off-site)




Vision: The statewide system has a strategy to advocate and secure sustainable funding for HFA/home visiting.

Advocacy means giving voice to an interest or need. Activities include educating community leaders on your issue, lobbying for specific legislative proposals, commenting on proposed regulations, and meeting with editorial boards, to name a few. The target of your advocacy campaign will depend on your goal. You can choose to focus on a local community, a county, a state, and/or the federal government. The most successful advocacy campaigns recognize the interconnected layers where influence can be made, and effectively use the voices of staff, families, child advocates, community leaders, and others who share a common vision.

Advocacy can influence not only funding for programs (appropriations), but also decisions impacting how services are structured and delivered. You will likely find that your immediate advocacy efforts will focus on sustaining HFA and home visitation in your state through increasing direct funding and authorizing home visitation as an allowable use of funding within federal and state programs. However, there are larger aims that you will address as well, such as: educating lawmakers about prevention and where it falls within the spectrum of service provision; helping build awareness of the varied resources needed to support young families; and giving voice to those parents who have been benefited along with their children from Healthy Families America in your state.

Examples of successful advocacy strategies employed by state systems include:
  • providing advocacy training to staff and program participants;
  • hosting a lobbying day, legislative forum or town hall meeting;
  • arranging site visits for state and federal lawmakers;
  • inviting policymakers on home visits;
  • using legislative alerts to raise awareness of important decisions;
  • preparing concise materials for effective meetings on Capitol Hill or with state legislators;
  • testifying on the importance of home visitation; and
  • utilizing media and communications expertise to effectively convey persuasive messaging.
Public policies are captured in laws, regulations, statements, rules, and many other formal and informal actions taken by government entities. These policies directly and indirectly address myriad interrelated public issues and create the framework that guides societal responses to contemporary needs and concerns. Public policy highlights what we learn from research and help determine how our social institutions should respond, be it through services, legislation and/or financial support.

Advocacy and Public Policy. Public policy work sets forth recommendations to address specific needs while advocacy serves as the vehicle through which public policy can be influenced.. Neither can function successfully without the other. Ideally, a state system is involved in both arenas and can facilitate the exchange of information to create the best program outcomes.

State Systems Framework Guidelines for Public Policy/Advocacy

1. Designate personnel to implement/lead all legislative and advocacy efforts.

To effectively incorporate and institutionalize advocacy within the state system, the necessary infrastructure is needed. Leadership, consistency, relationship-building, and motivation are essential. Similarly, strategic planning for advocacy activities, events planning, and materials development are all critical. HFA state systems have found that having consistent staff resources is the best means to increase the efficacy of advocacy efforts.


State systems with limited personnel and/or resources should, at minimum, identify a key advocacy liaison responsible for communication among all parties working on advocacy efforts. In some instances, an advocacy committee has been formed where formal staff functions have not been available to completely address advocacy needs. External resources can then be employed to supplement the work, such as working with existing state-level child advocacy coalitions, the PCA America chapter, the local Voices for Americaís Children member, or the state Childrenís Trust Fund. These organizations offer expertise and training resources to bolster the skills of your personnel.

Some state systems have also utilized lobbyists, either as paid staff/consultants or enlisted on a pro bono basis. Lobbyists can be useful due to their contacts and knowledge of the policy process, and their ability to consistently monitor interest in your issues and the politics involved in key decision-making.

2. Establish an organized, broad-based coalition of agencies, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to support HFA/home visiting.

Supporting the varied needs of young families takes concerted effort and coordination among service providers. Coalitions can serve as a vehicle for proactive messaging about the value of prevention. Through building broad public support for an issue, as opposed to sole voices fighting to be heard, more impact can be accomplished. Ensuring a continuum of services, speaking with a unified voice, capitalizing on strengths and reducing duplication are at the heart of effective coalitions.


Case Study in Coalition Building: Massachusetts Citizens for Children
In 2002, Massachusetts faced a severe budget deficit with large cuts to social services looming ahead. A proposed cut to the Department of Social Services would mean fewer child protection workers for growing caseloads. To mobilize against this action, The Committee to Save DSS and Our Children was formed and included of a broad range of agencies serving children and the labor union representing DSS caseworkers. Op-ed pieces in local papers that were co-written by a community member, radio ads by local celebrities and action alerts were all critical pieces of the coalition's shared media strategy. A Remembrance Vigil in tribute to children who lost their lives to abuse and neglect was held outside the State House. Ultimately the state legislature restored a significant portion of the funding and secured funding for fiscal year 2003. The success of this coalition is attributable to a comprehensive strategy that convinced state legislators there was public support for well-staffed child welfare services.

Georgia: United Against Child Abuse Coalition
In Georgia, the United Against Child Abuse Coalition was formed to better educate legislators about the continuum of services available for child abuse and neglect in Georgia. This diverse representative body - including pediatricians, child law experts, court advocates, members of the fatality review panel, and HFA staff - created a one-page document visually depicting the stages of prevention, intervention, treatment, care and oversight. This tool was laminated and placed on the chairs of each legislator as part of a lobbying day held by the coalition.

3. Establish a communications system to alert and invite all sites and supporters to participate in legislative efforts/activities (could be cross-over with communications).

Effective advocacy involves reaching a wide audience, being inclusive, and mobilizing quickly. To do this communications systems such as phone trees, email listservs for legislative alerts, newsletters and websites are all very effective tools. When immediate mobilization is needed, existing communications networks can spread the word quickly. Keep in mind that, while your state legislature may only meet at certain times, members of Congress are active throughout the year, even when on recess. Therefore, it is imperative that communications systems are year-round and consistent.


4. Develop strategies and materials to educate legislators and other key decision-makers about HFA/home visiting on an on-going basis (could be cross-over with PR and public awareness).

Strategies to educate decision-makers should be developed with a consistent, year-round message in mind. This could be viewed as a two-tiered strategy:


Tier One: Immediate messaging
This tier typically consists of those materials you have readily available and that are useful for legislative visits, personal meetings, etc. Your state system will want to have materials that speak directly to your research-based successes at the state level, and document the cost-effectiveness of the prevention of abuse and neglect. Create these materials with your audience in mind. Bear in mind that decision-makers ultimately want to know what you are asking of them, so be sure to clearly ask for their participation on securing funding, changing legislation, sitting on a task force, attending an event, etc. and have that request spelled out. Research evaluations and supplemental materials are critical leave-behind materials, but keep materials brief and prepare executive summaries of all longer reports calling out the findings that are most relevant to the targeted decision-maker.

Your immediate messaging strategy should always include personal stories of the families you serve. Nothing captures the attention of decision-makers more than hearing directly from their constituents. Providing an authentic voice, a personal story, captures legislators' attention, empathy, and interest.


Tier Two: On-going messaging

Building relationships with decision-makers is an ongoing process. Consider adding policymakers and their staff to your e-newsletters or print distribution lists. In addition, your media strategy should seek to identify radio, local television and newspaper messaging opportunities that will garner additional attention from decision-makers and strengthen public support for your policy issue. Op-ed pieces and editorials are particularly influential, as they are widely read by those with political interests and can help garner the vocal community support needed to back your cause.

Not every coalition opportunity will have home visiting or child abuse prevention at the core of it mission. You can maximize your advocacy efforts by learning about other organizations in your community, joining existing collaborations, and participating in committees, task forces, and review panels related to your mission, if not specifically addressing your issue. This will provide additional opportunities to bring prevention to the forefront. As a result of this work, state systems have frequently been invited to participate in legislative hearings to provide testimony on the value of home visitation. Providing testimony impacts a far-reaching audience, influences vital decisions impacting services and funding, and allows a means for families to speak to the value of home visitation.

5. Develop relationships with key decision-makers.

The success you achieve with families largely stems from engagement and relationship-building. The same is true of your advocacy efforts. Maximizing opportunities to meet with decision-makers improves your access to resources and inclusion at the table when key priorities are being established. Challenge yourself to think beyond your state level legislators. Key decision-makers also include:


  • Your Governor
  • County officials
  • Mayors
  • City council members
  • State agency directors
  • State budget officers
  • Members of Congress (particularly those who sit on relevant authorizing and appropriations committees). This can be done through their district offices in your state.
  • State administrators (i.e. State Medicaid director)
  • Researchers at your state university
  • Editorial boards of local newspapers
Developing effective and influential relationships means:
  • Consistent and straight-forward messaging through personal visits
  • Recognizing and praising support
  • Inviting contacts to site and home visits
  • Showing broad-based support for your cause
  • Involving decision-makers through task forces, advisory groups, boards, etc.
Tips for in-person meetings with policymakers:
  • SAFETY IN NUMBERS. Demonstrate the broad support for home visiting by inviting other representatives from your home visiting coalition to participate in the face-to-face meetings with policymakers and their staff.
  • KNOW WHO YOUíRE MEETING WITH. Bios, contact information, and links to websites for federal, state and local officials can be found online at Though it might not be possible, try to identify any past support or opposition to the issue you will be discussing. And of course, be up on any recent local press the individual has received.
  • BE BRIEF AND CONCISE. Chances are that you will have a very limited amount of time to meet with your public official. Be prepared to sum-up your point clearly and concisely.
  • ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. Tell the official the specific action you would like for him or her to take in support of your request.
  • MAKE YOUR POLITICS LOCAL. Let the policymaker know how the issues relate to his or her constituents.
  • DONíT BLUFF. If you donít know the answer to a question, admit it. Tell your legislator that you donít know but that you will follow up and get back to him or her with the information
  • LEAVE EVIDENCE. Bring written materials to leave with your legislator with more information about the issues at hand and about your organization/program. This will provide a reminder of your visit and a refresher on the points you presented. Bring a supply of your business cards, and give them to each person you talk to.
  • ALWAYS REMEMBER TO THANK. No matter how you feel the meeting went, always send a note thanking the legislator and/or the aide for the meeting. This is also an opportunity to mention any points you may have forgotten or to send follow-up information that you promised to provide.
Case Example in Relationship Building: Healthy Families Virginia (HFVA)
The Healthy Families Virginia program has been extremely successful in this area. Through collaborative efforts, they have garnered the support of their state department of children and family services, county officials, their state's first lady and several members of the House of Representatives. Through the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Deputy County Manager of Henrico County was put in contact with HFVA. He joined their advisory advocacy group and continues to be influential in helping the program garner additional supporters. Virginia was also successful in developing a Legislative Advisory Board. Staff from the state system went to the state Capitol to hand out flyers inviting legislators to be on an advisory board to help them better advocate for the Healthy Families program. A group ten interested members was formed. As a result, Healthy Families Virginia has greater visibility (the first lady made a promise - which she kept - to visit every site in Virginia) and stature. During FY 2003 budget cuts, HFVA was at grave risk, yet their established contacts were able to minimize damage that could have greatly reduced home visitation resources.
6. Develop a system to collect data on how all sites are funded (state, local, public and private sources).

In order to advocate for funding, data is needed to identify trends in funding, current funding levels and costs associated with implementing and running HFA statewide. Additionally, evidence is often needed when presenting the economic argument that an investment in prevention pays for itself in the long run.


State systems frequently monitor funding from the central source that distributes funding to the sites. Other mechanisms include surveying sites or staying in frequent contact with program managers to track their sources of funding, budgets, and average cost per family.

State systems are asked to report their funding information to the national office via periodic surveys. They are also asked to encourage sites to complete and return the annual site profile, which collects program level data. This valuable data assists Healthy Families America in identifying those funding sources and strategies that are most successful for the network. Technical assistance for sustainability of the network is provided based on these trends and legislation impacting major funding for home visitation.

7. Plan and lead the development of long-term sustainable revenue for sites.

As the infrastructure for the sites in your state, the state system is responsible for developing a sustainable funding plan that includes:

  • Incorporating advocacy into the strategic plan;
  • Developing a system to distribute funds among sites and/or providing technical assistance to sites around funding sustainability;
  • Identifying key city, county, state and federal pools of funding and legislation impacting use of these funds;
  • Strengthening relationships with key state departments that typically administer funding;
  • Participating in statewide task forces and coalitions focused on securing funding for home visitation statewide; and
  • Utilizing your advocacy efforts to increase awareness of HFA and ask for funding. Be creative and engage those officials who show flexibility, ingenuity, and a strong commitment to HFA.

Innovative Advocacy Strategies - State System Examples


Healthy Families Arizona (HFAz) participates in a group of service providers and advocacy groups to advise a Children's Caucus within the Arizona state legislature. In January 2003, a bipartisan group of Arizona House and Senate members announced the formation of the caucus, the primary aim of which is to protect state funding for children and families. The Chairman's original budget proposal called for the elimination of HFAz. By working closely with those state representatives on the caucus, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona and the HFAz state system, their agenda included prevention as a priority. They further informed the caucus as they wrote letters and op-ed pieces to advocate that the appropriations process be opened up to allow members of the House and Senate to be involved in the broader policy debate that determines budget priorities. Their consistent contact with representatives and willingness to collaborate gave Healthy Families Arizona the opportunity to impact advocacy for the broader needs of children throughout the state. This largely impacted the new Governor's strong support for Healthy Families and inclusion in the revised budget.


Healthy Families Indiana embarked on an initiative to register site staff and participating families to vote. Momentum created during the 2003 PCA America Leadership Conference spurred Phyllis Kikendall, Director of Healthy Families Indiana, to return to her state and begin an extensive plan to involve staff and families served with the aim of 1) increasing their understanding of the political process and 2) how their voices can help impact this process. After talking with her administrative office to clearly define the parameters associated with such a campaign, Ms. Kikendall received the approval to begin a "Civics 101" campaign throughout sites in Indiana, with the aim of offering each parent served the opportunity to vote. This creative mobilization effort has received strong support state-wide.


Healthy Families Illinois sets a strong example for the sites in their state through their Advocacy and Policy Committee, which meets monthly. Representatives from sites, the state's child advocacy group, state employees, and policy analysts help the sites mobilize around predicted budget cuts, identify gaps in service provision and link the work of Healthy Families with larger statewide services. As a result, one county has successfully integrated over seven service organizations through a coordinated referral and intake process. Sites in Illinois have also gained particular strength in organizing their own advocacy committees with staff, parent and local official representation. The Healthy Families Peoria site has developed a mentoring system, pairing all new staff with a more experienced advocate. Recently, the strength of Peoria's advocacy mobilization enabled national staff to garner the support of their Congressman, Representative Ray LaHood.