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How to Be An Effective Healthcare Advocate for Your Child

When it comes to a child’s health and wellbeing, a parent plays a critical role as a child’s best healthcare advocate.

This is especially true as it relates to a child receiving care at a doctor’s office, hospital, or other healthcare facility. From the onset of a worrisome health problem—including one that can arise from a foodborne illness—to carrying out a sound treatment plan, a plethora of questions arise and many decisions must be made.

Medical challenges affecting kids can also spill over into their school life, which may involve parents taking special steps to find the right educational solutions.

And, in times like this when faced with added stress due to a pandemic, knowing how to be an effective advocate for your child is even more important.

But what does that mean? How, exactly, does a parent carry out effective healthcare advocacy for his or her child?

Let’s take a look with our top tips below. They’ll help you learn how to be the very best advocate you can be for your child.

Tip #1: KNOW YOUR “WHY “

This one may seem obvious as your “WHY” is, of course, your precious child. But, even still, take this point to heart because you may need to revisit it if the going gets tough. Always keep in mind your son or daughter is depending on you to be a STRONG ADVOCATE amidst the potentially treacherous waters of the medical system. Especially when your child is ill, your voice can make all the difference in receiving good care. Being a strong advocate means being proactive and sometimes it means being thought of as “assertive” when necessary.

One great resource is your local hospital’s social work staff or your child’s primary care doctor’s office. They are there to help and can offer a wealth of resources to help you learn how to effectively engage with doctors and other healthcare practitioners. You can also get helpful advice on how to navigate our increasingly complex medical system and learn about resources/programs available to support your child’s developmental, social, and emotional needs.

As a child’s mom or dad, you’ll gain so much peace of mind by learning how to communicate effectively, deal with conflict, and get results you’re looking for when seeking healthcare for your child. It will take an investment of your time and energy to become a strong advocate. But your child is well worth it.

Tip #2: KNOW YOUR CHILD’S SPECIAL NEEDS

Does your child have special healthcare needs, learning disabilities, or mental/emotional health challenges? If so, take some time to understand those really well and learn how to access helpful resources to assist him/her in daily life and at school.

Many healthcare and learning issues have a good chance of being handled successfully through your child’s school community. Be sure to reach out and ask the school for options, which can include:

  • An Individual Health Plan (IHP). An IHP is for a student with medical complications after a foodborne illness or other illness. It addresses health concerns such as the child needing to drink water in the classroom; flexibility for bathroom use; time for taking medications during the school day; and special needs such as checking insulin for a child with diabetes.
  • An Individual Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a written document that serves as a road map for children with learning disabilities/special challenges. It outlines goals and precise education, services, and supplementary aids that the school district will provide for your child.
  • A 504 Plan. A 504 Plan is for a student who does not qualify for a learning disability but suffers with anxiety, depression, or learning challenges after a foodborne illness or other illness. The plan allows for special accommodations in test taking, turning in assignments after a due date, and shortened assignments.


A student can have an IHP and IEP, or an IHP and a 504 Plan.

Along the way, be sure to develop strong, positive relationships with your child’s therapists, teachers, and school personnel to keep abreast of how he or she is progressing with learning and any special care needs. For complex healthcare needs, research your state’s offerings for placement alternatives when attending regular school isn’t practical. Programs are available that provide children an environment in which to receive the medical and emotional interventions they need each day while meeting educational requirements.

Use the internet to research your child’s issues and potential therapies, too. Being informed will give you confidence in decisions you make for your child. If you’re not able to find the solutions you need, know that legal resources are available. If your child’s disability affects his or her educational performance, you have rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which may qualify your child to receive special educational eligibility.

Tip #3: BE DILIGENT ABOUT GOOD SELF-CARE

Being a strong advocate for your child means making sure YOU are well taken care of. It’s vital for you to develop a healthy, rejuvenating daily self-care routine that gives you the energy, vitality, and mental clarity needed to best help your son or daughter. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Keep your cup filled each day by eating safe and healthy, including lots of foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes; enjoy different types of exercise that get your blood moving including stretching, light yoga, walks, and weight workouts; and aim for 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night. Add in other healthy lifestyle habits, too, including meditation and prayer, massage, deep breathing, and connection with positive people to foster good health. 

Tip #4: BUILD EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS

It can be difficult to ask questions of your child’s healthcare providers and challenge them when you disagree. But, this is where the rubber meets the road, and you can be ready with confidence when you’ve brushed up on assertive, effective communication. This blog is one resource we hope you find helpful.

Remember, YOU know your child best.

Don’t be afraid of or intimidated by doctors or other healthcare practitioners. They are there to serve your child and you.

Tip #5: PREPARE FOR DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS

Taking time to prepare for your child’s doctor appointments is well worth the effort, and it sends the message that you’re in control and paying close attention.

Check out Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Appointment, a blog post with excellent tips that cover telling your story, listing your questions, and taking notes.

Tip #6: SEEK HELP FROM OTHERS

One of the best ways to learn and grow in your advocacy skills is to connect with others who’ve been in your shoes. One way you can do just that is by joining our PEER TO PEER MENTORING program.

In this program, we match someone currently dealing with the impact of a foodborne illness with someone who’s been through that difficult experience. You can join as a MENTOR (someone who helps others) or a MENTEE (someone who receives help).

If you have experience being an effective healthcare advocate for your child (or yourself or a family member) and would like to use that experience to help others, your involvement would be especially valuable to us right now!

To learn more and join our Peer to Peer Mentoring program as a mentor or mentee, please contact Stanley Rutledge, Director of Constituent Services + Communication, at srutledge@stopfoodborneillness.org.

As always, feel free to email Stanley with any questions you may have.
We’re always here to help!

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