To put it simply, advocacy refers to you defending your child's rights, needs and interests. If your child is experiencing mental health disorders and isn't having its needs met outside of home or is being denied its rights, you might need to advocate for it.
We know that mental health disorders as well as other milder or more significant emotional and behavioural problems, can prevent children and youth from succeeding in school. It can block them from reaching their developmental milestones, making friends or becoming independent from their parents. Being an advocate for your child can be challenging, rewarding, and empowering.
There are many different approaches to helping and advocating for children and youth struggling with emotional or mental health problems. Getting help early is one of them. It can help set your child up for success and has a positive impact on your child’s development.
Parents who learn to advocate on behalf of their children early on, can show progress and success in both educational and health outcomes for the child.
Ways to Advocate for your child’s mental health:
Learn: Invest time in learning about services that are available, your rights as a parent and your child’s rights.
Ask: Seek clarification about your child’s school approach in addressing mental health disorders, request summaries or documents that might be published and available from a parent-teacher meeting or with other professionals.
Get organized: Sort and organize emails or documents from your conversations by date and time to access easily when needed and to be able to get further support if needed.
Prepare: Develop goals that you would like to accomplish with your child and its school, prepare in advance so you can be focused in any conversations or meetings and get answers.
Collaborate: Build strong relationships with professionals and teachers as well as your child’s friends and peers if possible and show them that you value them and want to work with them.
Be calm: There will be challenging situations and some conversations and recommendations may not be what you are expecting, but being polite and staying calm can help to strengthen relationships and find positive solutions.
Reach out: Join parent or school groups or organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of children and addressing mental health disorders. Approach community leaders or professionals as well as therapists to get involved and advocate for support and positive changes.
Get help: When faced with barriers, seek additional support e.g. from cultural interpreters, family, friends, additional groups and forums and advocators in the community to make the process easier.
Help your child: Show them how to stand up for themselves and to ask for help when needed. Offer your support by nurturing the relationship, keep communication and conversation flowing and open, ask questions and listen.
Be brave: Do not be afraid to disagree or seek support at higher levels such as learning hubs and national institutions as they have processes in place for families to share their concerns.
It is important to keep the needs of your child in mind and continue your involvement and advocacy to ensure positive progress in your child’s education and health. It is even more important to make sure you take care of yourself too! This can be as simple as tuning into your body and do a body scan to see how it is affected by stress. Practicing mindfulness by focussing on your senses as well as deep breathing is crucial. Regular exercise or stretching, having a good laugh, giving regular hugs or talking to a friend can be a great way to take good care of yourself.
Please see below a couple of suggested resources that will give you more ways to inform yourself about supporting children's mental health and other resources provided.
Another good source is the ‘Office of the Child and Youth Advocate (OCYA)’ which is an independent office of Alberta, that works with vulnerable young people. It provides individual and systemic advocacy for children and youth receiving “designated services” and will possibly be able to provide you with further resources if needed.