Parent Ambassadors acquire knowledge about issues and develop leadership skills to advocate for themselves, their families, and others to create positive change in schools, early learning programs, and communities.
All families feel empowered regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status to engage in the process of decision-making at local, state, and federal levels that affect their children’s outcomes and family well-being.
The WSA Parent Ambassador Program, established in 2009, is made possible with support from WSA as well as our advocacy partners at MomsRising, Child Care Aware of Washington, Save the Children Action Network, the Perigee Fund and the Ballmer Group. The parents selected for this program participate in a yearlong parent advocacy and leadership training program. They receive training on communications, leadership, legislative advocacy, racial equity and justice, grassroots organizing, and financial literacy and are responsible for training parents in their local programs and participating in advocacy efforts on both the state and federal level. Parents receive 16 college credits for completing the program.
Over the years Ambassadors have played a pivotal role in defeating the Governor’s plan to drastically cut child care assistance and ECEAP, and have led the charge for improvements to the child care subsidy system, expanded early learning opportunities for children in the child welfare system, and the expansion of ECEAP to all eligible children. Most recently, Parent Ambassadors were at the forefront of the passage of the Fair Start for Kids Act, the state’s largest investment in to early childhood education to date.
Ambassadors have provided regular testimony on key issues that impact children and families including funding for early childhood education, TANF, and WAKIDS—a kindergarten readiness assessment process. Ambassadors have been featured in newspapers, TV and radio including coverage on KIRO 7, NPR, KING 5, and KHQ.
Because of the buzz surrounding the program within the early childhood community, ambassadors have been requested to speak at National Head Start Association institutes and state training conferences, conducting successful training in Washington DC and Pennsylvania. They trained other parents how to give effective testimony, mobilize members of their community, and write effective letters to the editor — several of which were published. The Parent Ambassador program has been expanded to six other states as part of other Head Start Associations and Educare, and it is a founding member of the United Parent Leaders Action Network.
Education, Training, and Mobilization
After several trainings, Ambassadors are expected to take what they have learned and educate, train, and mobilize parents back at their local programs and in their communities. Ambassadors are the crucial link to their communities. Ambassadors provide grassroots training at their Head Start/ECEAP parent policy council meeting and teach parents about pending legislation. Ambassadors are expected to provide frequent updates to parents in their local programs and communities about legislative issues directly affecting their families and strategic opportunities to weigh in with both state and federal elected officials.
If you had asked me when I applied to be a parent ambassador if I could testify in Olympia or walk up to a complete stranger and educate him or her on the importance of early learning, I would have had to say never in a million years. I can proudly say that this year I have gotten over my fear of testifying, and I am a shining testament for early learning wherever I go.
Parent Ambassadors complete a yearlong advocacy training program to learn:
- Basics of government
- Specific pieces of legislation
- How to contact their lawmakers and provide effective testimony
- Leadership skills – communication, team- building, goal-setting, and conflict management
- Social media advocacy
- How to engage parents in their community.
Parent Ambassadors uplift their voices and are heard in many ways:
- Stating their experiences to state and federal lawmakers as well as the Governor
- On advisory groups and committees through the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPA), Department of Health (DOH), and other state agencies
- At Association meetings and as leaders in WSA parent affiliate group meetings
- In early learning coalition activities at local, state or national coalitions
- At national organizations including the Children’s Defense Fund, National Women’s Law Center,
Center for Community Change and National Head Start Association
- With other parents about effectively and strategically presenting their views
- As members and leaders of Parent Teacher Organizations to speak for children and families
- In early learning organizations including MomsRising, Save the Children Action Network, and Children’s Alliance
Being an immigrant it not easy to work within a new system because you need the right information and more support to navigate the system and be able to utilize the available resources. I have personally gotten exposure to the government system and structure that are related to early learning, federal and state regulations for children’s early learning policies. I have gotten a chance to interact with legislators, educators and staff working with our children. The training models I have received have turned my life around. I have gained more confidence and developed a strong support group.
There is a lot of self discovery, trust building, encouragement, open opportunities, and linkages. The WSA Staff, coordinators, and fellow Parent Ambassador positively contribute towards each parent’s desired goals. As an end result our children have benefited more because of our advocacy, better parent- children interaction, expansion of opportunity, clear understanding of our roles and obligations with the early learning process.