Advocacy and Action: We mobilize hope and hearts for change.

The Advocacy and Action program centers family voices on needed change to better support families with children who have disabilities or special health needs. We provide resources and opportunities for families to connect, learn, and act.

You’re the expert!

As parents and caregivers, we believe we are experts who know first-hand how the health, mental health, and educational systems can best support our children. Decisions about our families must be led and informed by our lived experiences.

Nothing about us without us! We mobilize to educate decision-makers on issues impacting our lives and call for change. Together, we advocate through strategic action:

  • Mobilize families
  • Grassroots advocacy
  • Strategic partnerships
  • Advocacy training
  • Leadership development

The program goals for families are to:

  1. Make advocacy easy. We cut through the clutter to provide families with timely news, information, and calls to action for change.
  2. Provide safety in advocacy. It’s difficult to share about our families in a world geared toward ableism and discrimination against neurodiversity. We create a safe space for families to connect, share, and grow together through advocacy and actions that lead to change.
  3. Create connections. We will help families build their advocacy community and facilitate relationships with decision-makers to elevate family voices on critical issues.
  4. Build skills for change. We offer easily accessible tips and tricks on advocacy, one-to-one coaching, and in-person and online training. 

Here’s what we have to offer to support your advocacy.

Advocacy Newsletter: Sign-up for “The Source for Change: Connect. Learn. Act.” The Source for Change offers timely updates on advocacy news and information, advocacy tips, and highlights of other family advocates and VFN staff. Also, you can learn about events, training opportunities, and how you can take action to create change. You will also receive announcements and alerts when we need families to take action fast.

Connection: Join the VFN Advocacy and Action Council to be launched in the Fall of 2022. It will allow families to deepen their experience by advising on legislative priorities and other issues. The Council will host bi-annual meetings to discuss family needs, learn from guest speakers and inform policy issues.  

VFN hosted advocacy events: Join VFN’s annual meet-n-greet with legislators and administrators and advocacy days at the state house.

Training: Throughout the year, we will offer online and in-person training on how to advocate for change. You can learn the basics and build your skills at your pace. Our training include:

Advocacy 101- Learn about the Vermont Legislature, starting with the basics of finding your legislators, the best ways to contact them, what to say, and how to build a relationship with them.

Advocacy 102- Learn how to share your story for change, leveraging social media, traditional media, and public speaking events.

Storytelling- As parents and caregivers, we want to protect our children and families. Sharing our stories at a hearing, press event, or rally is scary and can even be painful. We’re here for you! We offer a safe space to develop your personal story to fuel change. You can explore what is possible to share and discover the boundaries you want to hold. You’re the expert on your family’s experience, and we know storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to influence how people think about issues and ideas. We can do this together!

Lead and Mobilize- If you’re ready to mobilize others, learn more about designing a campaign that invites community members in and drives change.

Serving on Boards and Councils- When decisions about children with disabilities or special health needs are made at policy boards or councils, you can be a voice for change. Learn more about opportunities and how to effectively advocate while serving on a board or Council.

One-on-one Coaching- If you can’t attend training or if you need a little extra support, we provide one-on-one coaching to ease your stress and elevate your skills.

Vermont Leadership Series: The series trains Vermonters with developmental disabilities and their family members to be advocates for positive social change. Lessons include steps to be a leader, how to get your point across, and key issues in disability rights.

These workshops are short talks, panels, and many hands-on, interactive activities. Trainers model advocating with legislators, ways to promote positive attitudes about disability, and inclusive practices that harness all strengths. Activities are designed to help participants build new partnerships and increase each new leader’s commitment to making Vermont a better place to live for people with disabilities.

The series is sponsored by the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council and Vermont Family Network, with support from Green Mountain Self-Advocates, the Vermont Department of Health, and the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion.

Join today and receive our advocacy newsletter, Source for Change. Email info@vtfn.org

Would you like to support other parents that have a child with a disability or special health care need? Could you draw on your own experience to offer empathy, inspiration, and a listening ear in times of need?

Becoming a Support Parent provides a unique opportunity to encourage a parent who is walking a similar path. We’re always looking for parents who are at a place in their journey to support another parent who requests a one-to-one parent match. We have found that to be an effective Support Parent, it is helpful to be at least one year out from your child’s diagnosis.

Support Parents might mentor families navigating a new diagnosis, health care systems, surgery, mental health, behavioral issues, special education, sibling and family issues, community resources, and life transitions.

Learn more about our Support Parent Program. 

Family-centered care assures the health and well-being of children and their families through a respectful family-professional partnership. Our Family Faculty programs provide opportunities for families to share their own perspective through their family story. We are always looking for families of children with special health care needs who live in Chittenden County to join our Family Faculty. Please contact our Family Faculty Coordinator, Jenny Norris, to learn more. 

Parent Panel Class Presentations

Parents can participate on panels of 3 family members presenting their experiences to undergraduate and graduate classes in UVM Education and Health Sciences courses and at Saint Michael’s College. Each parent speaks for 20 minutes. Daytime and evening classes are held on campus. Parking expenses covered. $50 stipend.

Medical Education Project

Third-year medical students in their pediatric rotation are assigned a home visit with families. The purpose is to teach family-centered care through your family story. Families are needed throughout the year. The assigned student schedules a mutually-convenient time to meet for about 2 hours to hear the family’s perspective. Brief feedback form is sent to us. $50 stipend.

Professionalism, Communication, Reflection (PCR) Class

First-year medical students meet in groups of 8 with a faculty member and a parent for an introduction to family-centered care. Meeting 4-5:30 pm early in the fall semester. Parents share their family’s experience and perspective of having a child with special needs for 45 minutes. UVM Medical College. $50 stipend.

Vermont LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities)

Family-centered care and cultural and linguistic competence are core concepts for professional fellows enrolled in this UVM graduate program. The family connection experience involves sharing your family perspective during a 2-hour home visit interview with one assigned trainee/fellow. $50 stipend.

Printable Flyer

Act 264 Advisory Board

The Children, Adolescent and Family Act 264 Advisory Board is made up of 9 members appointed by the Governor, including equal numbers of parents, advocates, and providers. The Board’s purpose is to advise the Secretaries of the Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Education and the Commissioners of the Departments of Mental Health, Child Welfare, and Disabilities. They advise them in matters relating to children and adolescents with any disability and their families; development and status of the inter-agency system of care; and yearly priorities for the inter-agency system of care.

Building Bright Futures (BBF) Regional Councils

BBF Regional Councils are influential in Vermont’s system of early care, health, and education. Local partnerships are comprised of parents, school districts, government, early childhood and child welfare providers, physicians, advocates, and any other interested community members.

Department of Mental Health Children’s State Program Standing Committee

The Children’s State Program Standing Committee is responsible for participating in the development of the State System of Care Plan and in the agency designation process, and for advising the Department of Mental Health on key issues and developments, such as hiring of key management, evaluation of quality, departmental policy, and other matters. Members are also involved in the re-designation process for the state’s designated mental health agencies.

Division of Disability and Aging Services State Standing Committee

The State Program Standing Committee advises the Developmental Disabilities Services Division on the performance of the developmental disability service system with respect to hiring key management; evaluation of quality; State System of Care Plan; department policy; and complaints, grievances and appeals.

Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities

The Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities promotes equal employment for all citizens of Vermont by advising the Governor on current issues affecting employment of people with disabilities, and through partnerships between business, government and people with disabilities.

Local System of Care Plan

Each children’s mental health and developmental disability service provider must be governed by a board made up of citizens who are representative of the demographic makeup of the area served by the agency. For specialized service agencies and contracted providers, their Local Program Standing Committee acts as their governing board. The Vermont State System of Care Plan describes the nature, extent, allocation and timing of services that will be provided to people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Medicaid Exchange and Advisory Board

The Medicaid Exchange and Advisory Board advises and informs the Department of Vermont Health Access on policy development and program administration for the state’s Medicaid-funded programs and Vermont Health Connect.

OneCare Vermont Patient and Family Advisory Committee

The goal of this Committee is to improve patients’ experience and care. The Committee makes recommendations to OneCare Vermont about its policies and initiative to improve healthcare outcomes, access, quality and cost, and patient experience. Please contact us for more information.

Vermont Autism Task Force

The Vermont Autism Task Force coordinates the efforts of interested parties who serve individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families, and to promote the implementation of best practices throughout the state of Vermont.

Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights

Throughout the year, public hearings are held on a variety of issues before the legislature or administration, particularly when new initiatives or changes to existing programs are in process. Get connected with the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights to receive Action Alerts, learn about opportunities to testify, and to participate in annual Disability Awareness Day at the State House.

Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council

The Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council (VTDDC) is a statewide board that identifies and addresses critical issues affecting people with developmental disabilities and their families. You can learn more about the Council’s activities including how to join their Board by visiting their website

Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance

Election season provides many opportunities to elevate early childhood issues with candidates running for local and state offices. The Alliance supports advocates in talking to candidates about the issues and attending forums to ask about early childhood policy positions. Post-election, the Alliance works with advocates to build relationships with legislators and weigh in during policy discussions impacting VT’s children, families, and early childhood professionals. Learn more about advocacy opportunities.

Vermont Interagency Coordinating Council

The Vermont Interagency Coordinating Council (VICC) is mandated by federal law and is appointed by the Governor to advise and assist Children’s Integrated Services to implement the requirements of Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The VICC  meets quarterly to inform, guide, and support the belief that all children can reach their developmental potential. 

Vermont Special Education Advisory Panel

The Vermont Special Education Advisory Panel  advises the Agency of Education regarding the education of eligible children with disabilities.  Responsibilities are defined in Federal regulations (34 C.F.R. §300.169)  For more information, call us or send an email to AOE Liaison to the Special Education Advisory Panel.

Youth Advisory Council

In collaboration with several state agencies and community partners, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation initiated a Youth Advocacy Council in the Fall of 2018.  The group is comprised of youth and young adults with disabilities, ages 15 to 27, who expressed interest in participating in both leadership training and opportunities to impact how Vermont prepares students with disabilities for life after high school.  Members connect with other students in Vermont, advocate for youth resources, and lead while providing community service. Apply here.

Find your voice! Learn how to advocate for change.

Below is information about the Vermont Leadership Series and how to apply. Our team is still working on the details for our 2022 weekend series, check back with us soon for more information!

Nomination Process

  1. Read the Cover Page for what to expect in the Vermont Leadership Series.
  2. Read the Leadership Information Packet for dates and locations of the 3 weekends.
  3. Complete the application. It’s a fillable form if you save it to your desktop and open with Adobe Acrobat. 
  4. Attach your completed application to an email and send it to Joanne Wechsler or mail it to Vermont Family Network, 600 Blair Park Rd., Suite 240, Williston, VT 05495, Attn: Joanne Wechsler. 

What You Need to Know

  • The Vermont Leadership Series trains Vermonters with developmental disabilities, and their family members, to be advocates for positive social change.
  • Lessons include steps to be a leader, how to get your point across, and key issues in disability rights. More than 100 Vermonters have graduated so far.
  • Workshops consist of presentations, panels, and interactive exercises illustrating legislative advocacy skills, ways to promote positive attitudes about disability, and inclusive practices that harness the strengths of all.
  • Activities are designed to help participants build new partnerships and increase each developing leader’s commitment to making Vermont a better place to live for people with disabilities.
  • The Leadership Series is for Vermonters with diverse experiences of disability. For example, parents of any age who support a son or daughter with a developmental disability; adults living with intellectual or other disabilities who want to take their advocacy to a new level; sisters, brothers, and grandparents who are growing into their role supporting a family member with a disability. “If you care about justice, an end to discrimination, rights of people with disabilities – do it!”, commented a recent graduate.
  • For purposes of the Leadership Series, we are using the federal definition of a developmental disability. Under federal law, a developmental disability is defined as “a severe, often lifelong disability that affects people before they reach age 22 and substantially limits functioning ability in three or more life activities such as self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, independent living, and employability.” An individual from birth to age nine who has a substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired condition, may be considered to have a developmental disability without meeting three or more of these criteria if the individual, without services and supports, has a high probability of meeting those criteria later in life.

Leadership Weekends and Graduation

The weekend sessions begin Saturday morning and end Sunday afternoon. More information coming soon!

  • Weekend 1 – October 2022-TBD
  • Weekend 2 – December 2022-TBD
  • Weekend 3 – January 2023-TBD

Sponsors

Sponsors nominate candidates for the Leadership Series. Series sponsors are: the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council and the Vermont Family Network, with support from Green Mountain Self-Advocates, the Vermont Department of Health, and the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion.

Self-Advocacy 

Self-advocacy is the ability to speak up and advocate for your own needs. It is a key ingredient to the success of students with disabilities interested in leading the lives they want. High school students with disabilities should have opportunities to learn and practice self-advocacy skills as part of their education. Learning self-advocacy skills can be accomplished in a number of ways. 

It starts with Person-Centered Thinking and Person- Centered Planning. This helps young people with disabilities plan their future. It should reflect a youth’s interests and preferences, current accomplishments and skills, what they still need to learn, as well as what they want to do in life.

Person-Centered Planning Tools

Self-Advocacy Organizations 

Legislative Advocacy

If you’re interested in legislative advocacy, check out our Legislative Advocacy Tip Sheet.

We are a member of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights (VCDR), which is a cross-disability advocacy organization that seeks to increase awareness of disability issues and effect systemic change through legislative and administrative processes. VCDR staff work closely with member organizations to empower people with disabilities, thus enabling them to directly participate in legislative decisions.

We are also members of the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance (VECAA), which is a statewide coalition of early childhood professionals, parents, businesses, and strategic partners working together to realize the promise of every Vermont child. The VECAA provides training on advocacy and legislative issues and supports Vermont’s annual Early Childhood Day at the Legislature. Here is their 2022 Legislative Agenda.

Legislators

Get Connected

We recognize the power of personal stories. They help to create a shared understanding of who we are and how we live our lives. They hep us celebrate our successes and document our challenges. Stories empower us, and bring policies to life. It helps us to know what’s working and what’s not.

We like to share family stories in our marketing materials and on social media. We can also use your story as part of our grant reports to help funders (and others) understand what we do and the impact of our services. Your words and feelings explain our work far better than anything we could say.

We are always interested in gathering stories from families we have had the privilege to work with. If you would like to share your family story with us, please contact info@vtfn.org or 802-876-5315. A family support consultant would be happy to interview you and draft your story for your review. You may also share your family story using this form.

If you would like, your stories may also be shared through the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights (VCDR) or the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance