At CHOP, we are committed to advocating for children since they cannot speak on their own behalf in courtrooms or in legislative chambers. Our Government Affairs team advocates for laws that will protect children's health and expand their treatment options.
The following questions and answers about advocacy are based on materials provided by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI).
Anyone who has ever spoken on behalf of a child. It's that simple.
Almost anything done to influence a legislator's position on legislation or public policy. Writing letters, making phone calls, visiting legislators and testifying before committees all come under the heading of legislative advocacy. A lot of advocacy is just a matter of individual, private citizens speaking out by writing, calling and meeting with their legislators and other public officials. It means literally "to plead the cause of another." Legislative advocacy just carries that "pleading" into the legislative or public policy arena and does it on behalf of people we may not know personally. It is a practical way for individuals to translate their concerns about children into policies and laws.
Public policy is critical to children's health and the ability of CHOP to serve them. Children have different health care needs than adults, they represent only a small fraction of the health care marketplace, and they are the poorest segment of the population. As a consequence, they don't have the economic clout to command attention sufficiently to ensure all their needs are met. That is why legislation establishing public policies on children's health is so important. Government programs already pay for the health care of more than a quarter of all children and an even larger percentage of children with special health care needs. Government programs also pay for, on average, nearly half of the patient care provided by children's hospitals.
Grassroots legislative advocacy encourages many individuals who share the same concerns to speak up about those concerns when they talk to legislators and elected officials. In the children's hospital community, it means bringing together many people who care about children and children's health and organizing them to communicate with elected officials in an effective and efficient way, such as letter writing, phone calls and personal visits.
In a 1995 report issued by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, hundreds of state legislators from across the country were asked about the effectiveness of children's advocates. This study and others show that legislators rarely hear from their constituents about children's issues. We can't afford for issues that impact children to be decided by elected officials who are unfamiliar with children's needs.
Examples of people who have become grassroots advocates for children's hospitals are administrators, doctors and nurses, other health care professionals, trustees, volunteers, parents and hospital donors.
In order to build a better future for our children, we need to actively participate in public policy debates and help shape decisions that will influence the future. Grassroots legislative advocacy is the bridge between imagining a better life for children and taking the concrete steps to make it a reality. Your participation as a grassroots children's advocate will ensure that all of our elected officials are hearing regularly from the "folks back home" about what is important for children.
Federal and state governments limit the amount of legislative advocacy in which nonprofit organizations may engage, but there are no such limits on private citizens who act on their own time. In fact, legislative advocacy by a private citizen is a constitutional right of every citizen, protected by our Bill of Rights just like freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The writers of our Constitution recognized that our democratic system works best when individual citizens are fully engaged, advocating their views on public policy to their legislators.
See frequently asked questions about Medicaid in Medicaid 101.