View From Washington

Leadership and Advocacy

By Carolyn Mullen
Associate Director, Government Affairs, AMCHP

The fire alarms blared in the background. I yelled at the senator, "We have to evacuate the building now!" I took his constituents by the arm and led them out of the Hart Office building. A couple of minutes later my cell phone rang, "Bring the family to the Capitol, now, I want to hear their story, this is very important to me." I opened my mouth to protest because I thought that 10 minutes was enough time for him to chat with this family but it wasn’t. This was one of my first and most valuable lessons: even when the alarms sounded the perspective of the family trumps my own security when educating a U.S. senator.

During these tough budget times, members of Congress need to hear from their constituents about the value of federal funding for maternal and child health programs. In the current environment, members hear only the loudest voices above the fray declaring that Congress must reduce the federal deficit by cutting programs. Most members do not understand how the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant affects a child with a special health care need or helps established regionalized systems of care for the most medically fragile infants. Stories from the constituent perspective are vitally important to any advocacy campaign, adding color and life to data and funding levels. The AMCHP family scholars program affords the opportunity for families to learn more about how to be an effective advocate and share this knowledge base with others.

Grace Egun, an AMCHP family scholar, joined the program to fine tune her skills and learn new things specific to health care advocacy. "For me the family scholar program is great. Learning the 12 maternal and child health competencies skills helps me become a better leader and advocate." Grace emphasized that it is incumbent upon MCH leaders to understand the problem, develop tools and information to inform policymakers and to share this information with other families. "Equipping myself and other parents so we are viewed as equal partners is critical in the policy-making process. It is imperative that we, the families, are at the table alongside legislators, Title V directors and other policymakers. These efforts help build a capacity for continued efforts in this field thus improving the health and well-being of families."

Together we must work to educate ourselves and the next generation of the MCH workforce about the importance and value of advocacy at the national, state and local levels. Without continued leadership and a voice for MCH, the very programs that we cherish will be demolished by Congress as they try to achieve budget savings. Many policymakers do not fully understand the ramifications of their actions and the impact this will have on their constituents. Remember, your voice matters and you can be a leader like the family that was more important than

the alarms. Their story weighed heavily on the senator’s mind for quite some time and he developed a policy around it to help them. AMCHP staff stands ready to work with you to give you the tools and resources necessary for you to advocate on behalf of millions of women, children and their families.