Advocacy Tips for Family Caregivers

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A Call to Action

Families—not institutions—provide the majority of care to chronically ill and disabled loved ones. These families know the enormity of the burden in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other long-term conditions. They also know the challenges in locating appropriate advice, services and respite.

Personal experience with community agencies, round-the-clock care, and financial hardships mean families know what the important issues are. This puts family caregivers in a unique position to act as advocates. Caregivers can educate elected officials charged with development of public policy and funding priorities.

This fact sheet offers tips for effective strategies for families to get involved in local, state or federal advocacy efforts.

 

How Families Can Help Effect Change at the Public Policy Level

Write or e-mail a letter to your elected representative.

  • Representatives rely on communication from their constituents to keep them informed and to know where constituents stand on critical or controversial issues.
  • A personal letter or e-mail are effective methods to get your message across.
  • Write legibly, type or e-mail your message and try to keep your communication to one brief page.
  • Make your message to the point. Example: “I’m writing in support of HR 1, the Long-Term Care Act.” (Refer to the bill name or number, if
    you can.)
  • Give a reason for your position (support or opposition). A personal experience is powerful in establishing your case.
  • Let them know what you expect. Example: “I hope I can count on your support for this bill. Please write back and let me know your position on this important issue.”
  • Include your name and address on both the letter and the envelope or within your e-mail message.
  • Target and time your letter. Representatives will give the most weight to letters from their own constituents. However, if a bill is to be heard in a particular committee or subcommittee, you may need to communicate with the committee leadership (e.g., Chairperson of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee). In this case, explain that while you are not from the legislator’s own district, you hope that the needs of all citizens will be considered in reaching a decision on the bill. Naturally, timing the letter before a vote is taken is critical.
  • Follow up by thanking your representative when his/her actions support your position.

Where to Write:    

U.S. Congress
The Honorable_____________
U.S. Senate     
Washington, DC 20515
www.senate.gov

Dear Senator (name):

The Honorable______________  
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510 
www.house.gov/writerep/

Dear Representative (name):

California State Legislature
The Honorable_______________ 
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator (name): 

The Honorable_________________
State Capitol     
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Assemblymember (name):

Make a Phone Call

When time is of the essence, a phone call can be a practical way to express your concern to an elected representative. The most effective calls are to the Capitol offices, particularly when a vote is imminent.

  • Introduce yourself and give your affiliation if you are working on behalf of a particular group, organization or campaign. Be sure to mention if you are a constituent.
  • Don’t expect to speak to your representative directly. Most likely, you will speak to a receptionist or legislative staff. These individuals are responsible for keeping the legislator informed.
  • Explain why you are calling. Example: “I’m calling to register my opposition to the proposed budget cuts for adult day care centers. Please be sure that the Assemblyman is informed of my concern.”
  • You may need to communicate your position to a committee which is hearing a bill or budget item. If you are not sure of the committee name or hearing schedule, you can ask staff at your own representative’s office.
  • Where to Phone: Capitol Switchboard Washington DC, (202) 244-3121. The operator will refer you to any U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative (Congressman/woman). In California, the Assembly Chief Clerk can help you reach any Assembly member (916) 445-3614. The Senate Secretary will provide phone numbers for any California State Senator (916) 445-4251.
  • Faxing is also an effective way of sending your letter to a legislator. All state legislators and members of Congress have Fax machines. Fax numbers can be obtained from the same sources as legislative and Congressional telephone numbers (see “Where to Phone” above).

Visit Your Elected Representative

Meeting face-to-face with a legislator or designated staff is an excellent way to establish a relationship and convey your point of view.

  • State legislators often go home to their district offices on Thursday or Friday. Meetings at the State Capitol are best set for Tuesday or Wednesday.
  • Congressional Representatives in Washington, DC are more likely to come home on the weekend or on extended holidays or periods of Congressional recess. Contact the Capitol office to determine the best time to make an appointment.
  • Plan ahead. Legislators’ schedules fill up weeks in advance. Plan your first visit before there’s a “crisis” to establish a friendly rapport.
  • Do not set your hopes on meeting with your representative in person. Legislators are busy and schedules often change at the last minute. An effective meeting can be held with a legislative staff aide (often the very people who craft legislation or brief their bosses on important issues).
  • When you call the office, ask to speak to the scheduler. Introduce yourself, explain the nature of the visit, give the names and number of other people who will come along on the visit, how long you will need (15 to 30 minutes), and when you would like to come. You may be asked to send a request in writing.
  • After an appointment has been scheduled, it is wise to confirm the information by mail, e-mail or phone (correspondence should be addressed to the legislator him/herself, even if the meeting is scheduled with staff). 
  • If scheduling more than one meeting at the Capitol in one day, leave 30 minutes between appointments to get from one room to another. (In Sacramento, some legislative offices are located outside the Capitol.)
  • Do your homework by learning something about the person you will visit. Rehearse what you will say, keeping in mind the legislator’s background and interests. You may wish to begin by sharing your own personal caregiver story. Show your knowledge by mentioning any action taken or bills authored/supported by the legislator in a similar area, if appropriate.
  • Be clear about the purpose of the meeting. Example:  “I am here today to familiarize you with the needs of family caregivers,” or "I would like to know if I can count on your support for improving the quality of care in nursing homes.”
  • Add your voice to others who share similar concerns by joining a larger group or organization going to visit the Capitol. This way you can coordinate with existing efforts and increase your clout.
  • Understand that current fiscal constraints make it difficult to advocate for increased funding for programs and services. Do not apologize for this fact. Instead, be clear about the importance of a program or service to you and your family. Example: “I know funding is tight and not everything can be considered a priority, but I am here to tell you what is a critical issue for me and others like me.”
  • Bring a few brief written materials, if available, to leave in the office which relate to the purpose of your visit.
  • Bring a camera. Even if a legislator cannot meet with you in person, he/she may be pulled out of a meeting momentarily for a photo opportunity.
  • Remember to thank the legislator or staff for your meeting. It is also a good idea to send a thank you letter addressed to the legislator.

Other Activities

  • Stay informed. There are a number of organizations which monitor legislative activities at either the state or the federal levels. Newsletters and other publications can keep you up-to-date (see the Resources listed at the end of this Fact Sheet for agency names and addresses).
  • Contribute your ideas and energy: join a committee, task force or campaign. Such groups may work on a single issue or a variety of issues. Tasks might include organizing a public event or drafting policy recommendations. Even if you don’t attend committee meetings you can still lend your support to a letter writing campaign or telephone tree.
  • Write a letter to the editor or opinion editorial “op-ed” piece stating your views in your local news-paper. This is an excellent sounding board to help educate the public about a cause.
  • Testify at a hearing. Legislative and Congressional committees often hold hearings to gather support and expert opinions while drafting legislation. Family caregivers can provide compelling stories of their daily struggles in caring for a loved one. Be sure to contact the committee the day of the hearing; last minute schedule changes occur frequently.
  • All federal bills can be searched and downloaded from the Library of Congress TOMAS website. You can also request copies of bills from your representative. California bills are available at the Legislative Council of California's Legislative Information website.

Selected Advocacy Resources

National Organizations

Alzheimer’s Association
225 N. Michigan Avenue, Floor 17
Chicago, IL 60601-7633
(800) 272-3900
(local chapters throughout the U.S.)

AARP
601 E. Street, NW
Washington, DC 20049
(888) 687-2277

Families USA
1201 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 628-3030

Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 434-3388 or (800) 445-8106

National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
1828 L. Street, NW, Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 332-2275

National Senior Citizens’ Law Center
1101 – 14th Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 289-6976
(Also in Oakland and Los Angeles)

National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
10 G Street, NE, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20004
(800) 966-1935

Older Women's League (OWL)
3300 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 218
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 812-7990

California Organizations

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)
650 Harrison Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 974-5171
(800) 474-1116 for consumers

Center for Health Care Rights
520 S. Lafayette Park Place, Suite 214
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(800) 824-0780 (in LA only) or (213) 383-4519

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
2212 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(800) 348-4232 or (510) 644-2555

Health Access California
1127 11th Street, Suite 234
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 497-0923
(Also in Oakland and Los Angeles)

Resources

Family Caregiver Alliance
785 Market Street, Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 434-3388
(800) 445-8106
Web Site:  caregiver.org
E-mail:  info@caregiver.org

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research and advocacy.

FCA’s National Center on Caregiving offers information on current social, public policy and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers.

FCA's e-newsletter. Caregiving PolicyDigest, offers up-to-date information on national policy issues.

For residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, FCA provides direct family support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, ALS, head injury, Parkinson’s and other debilitating health conditions that strike adults.

Reviewed by Burns Vick, Jr., J.D., Vick & Associates, Sacramento, California. Prepared by Family Caregiver Alliance in cooperation with California's Caregiver Resource Centers, a statewide system of resource centers serving families and caregivers of adults with chronic health conditions. Funded by the California Department of Mental Health. © 1998 Family Caregiver Alliance. Revised 2007. All rights reserved.

Date: 
Monday, January 1, 2007

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