All parents must balance many different responsibilities in caring for their children. For parents of children with disabilities there is the additional challenge of advocating for assistance and support services to ensure their child has the best possible educational experience. Parents may feel at a loss about how best to interact with the school team and how to advocate for their child – or even what type of things can be provided. Parents may feel their child’s situation could be better, but lack the confidence or knowledge necessary to make strategic choices to ensure it is better. For parents not satisfied with how their child is being educated or who are unsure of their rights in the IEP planning process, a parent advocate can fill the gap. The parent advocate can be an ally on the IEP planning team providing expertise and recommendations in the best interest of the child, unhindered by school politics or constraints.
Parent Advocates are an Expert on "The System"
If a parent is feeling frustrated because their requests are being forgotten or unheard, a parent advocate can help ease the communication problem. There is no parent advocate program: however, the parent has the right to invite an advocate to participate at meetings. An advocate may be a parent to a student with special needs who understands the law and process from personal experience or; be a professional, trained in education who has experience inside the school setting and a passion for advocating for special education programs and accommodations. A strong parent advocate is an expert in how to effectively communicate with school teams for the best interest of the child. They should have a deep understanding of how schools provide services and be able to offer suggestions to solve problems based on her experience and background. A parent advocate should be an expert on special education law and be able to explain the school's responsibilities for educating your child so you know what to push for and what not to.
Pro-Tip: A parent advocate is not a lawyer and can take no legal recourse. Instead,
an advocate provides alternative solutions to the current program, based on the
needs of your child, and your wishes for her education.
Prior to the IEP meeting, an advocate will review your child's academic records, psychological reports (if needed) and IEP with you to gain a deep understanding of your child. He may speak to your child, thus representing the child's point of view in addition to yours at the meeting to clarify issues for the school team. If a parent is uncomfortable speaking up at a meeting the advocate can speak instead and can do so from a neutral yet strong position. The advocate's ability to listen and offer the family/child's perspective enables opportunities for the team to create an environment in which the child feels empowered to engage with their learning; because it has been tailored to match their unique strengths and challenges.
You are the Expert on Your Child
While the advocate is knowledgeable in areas about the laws surrounding special education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the parent is always the expert on the needs of their child. A good advocate is capable of listening to your concerns, clarifying your top priorities and offering possible solutions for what you are hoping to change. The goal of an advocate is to support the parent while maintaining a strong working relationship with the school team. Upon learning of your most urgent issues to be addressed, the advocate will discuss solutions with you related to how your child's program might be enhanced. You and the advocate will pre-plan how to proceed during the meeting, This enables you and your advocate to remain focused on the desired outcome and work in partnership to effectively communicate your wishes to the team.
Pre-planning also provides time to evaluate the current situation, and prepare examples of what is working in school for your child, and examples of what is not working. Your advocate will be knowledgeable about the situation and be able to support you during the meeting and you will be focused from the outset of what you hope to accomplish on your child's behalf. While an advocate has the ability to speak on your behalf, it is also his role to empower you to with the necessary information so you can speak on your child's behalf as well. For example, your child is entitled to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. As a result, if for some reason, the school is refusing your child entry into a class, your advocate can help.
The School is the Expert in Education
As would be expected, the school is the expert on education and how different accommodations can be implemented to help a child learn and be successful. They have a unique insight into your child's learning styles and preferences and should be considered an partner not a opponent in creating an IEP for your child. The school's point of view should not be dismissed; listening is valuable to your understanding of the school's perspective and consideration should be given. The intent of an IEP meeting is to engage all members in a collaborative discussion to create a program most beneficial to your child. Since half of communication is what the other parties say, staying amenable to their points of view will only serve to assist your child.
Your advocate can help you create an accountability strategy with your child's school team, requesting planned check-ins from the educators working with your child. This will insure you are in a position to understand your child's growth as the year progresses. After the IEP meeting is over your advocate will check in and find out of you are satisfied with the outcome. Insuring your high priorities have been addressed is part of the service provided - with your child's well being and ability to learn in the least restrictive environment being the highest priority of all.
Have you thought of hiring a parent advocate? what qualities are you seeking in that person? Please leave a comment in the comment section below, your ideas might spark someone else and I enjoy hearing/learning from you!! Have a great day and please stop back in the future!