Children are not in a position to advocate for themselves. Ensuring that the interests of children are represented and their fundamental life needs addressed requires that the larger community have the capacity and motivation to advocate for them. Effective child advocacy begins with the engagement of stakeholders who have the knowledge and financial and political clout required to move the needs of children on to the civic agenda at the local, state, and national levels. From that foundation, the needs of children must then compete for attention and funding against other – almost always more powerful – political interests.
When child advocacy is mentioned, legislative advocacy is often what comes to mind. There are, however, broad range of available strategies for advocating for the need of children, youth and families. Research can be used to identify and analyze key issues and to provide information on policies and programs that are effective in meeting children’s needs. Legislative advocacy and budget advocacy – carried out at the national, state, and local levels – focus on the legal and policy frameworks in which children’s issues are addressed, as well as the financial resources available to invest in promoting the well-being of children. Public awareness campaigns and social marketing initiatives are employed to raise the visibility of critical issues and promote specific causes. Public awareness efforts are increasingly using e-advocacy methods.
Administrative, case, and legal advocacy can be used as tools to secure individual rights and effect policy change. Electoral advocacy goes to the root issue of determining which policymakers are in office to make critical decisions related to the needs of children. Electoral advocacy can also be used to make policy of budgetary decisions through the use of referendum. Civic engagement is another form of child advocacy focused on engaging community leaders from all sectors in efforts to address the needs of children and support the investments needed to promote child well-being.
Employing the right strategy at the right time is crucial, and it is often the combination of two or more strategies that is the most effective approach. Against this general backdrop of the types of child advocacy strategies that are available to advocates, more detailed information is provided here on the specific strategies that are being pursued in a focused, targeted fashion in the St. Louis region and the state of Missouri and Illinois.