When is a Special Education Advocate Needed?
As a parent, you are your child’s best education advocate. You know your child’s strengths and challenges, and you can help identify and push for the resources your child needs to succeed. By attending parent conferences, team meetings or other official school processes, you are in a position to communicate with your child’s educators on his or her progress and challenges.
However, when there is a breakdown in this process parents are often left having to fight to ensure that their child receives the necessary opportunities and services. If you have tried numerous times to settle your differences with the school district and strongly believe that there will continue to be no resolution, then hiring a professional advocate who brings special expertise to the process may allow parents the opportunity to better participate as an equal partner in decision-making for their child.
Advantages of Having an Advocate
Involving an advocate often can make the difference in ensuring that the child gets the appropriate instruction and services. When the school district says “we cannot do that,” have you ever wondered whether what they were saying is true? An advocate can provide an understanding of your rights and the school district’s obligations. An effective advocate will have valuable expertise, including:
- making sure the student has access to appropriate instruction;
- participating with school-based teams to determine whether giftedness and/or a learning disability exists, and creating a school plan;
- recommending and monitoring the implementation of educational strategies based on the student’s strengths and need areas;
- navigating the school procedures to obtain services and placement for children with exceptional needs;
- identifying and recommending community resources, such as mentorships for students who are gifted in specific areas, to parents and school staff; and
- monitoring legal issues and providing intervention when rights are violated to ensure that the child will receive an appropriate educational experience.
Advocates Help Remove Barriers
While advocates can be beneficial for any student, their skills are crucial in situations where the parents don’t feel they are an equal participant in the process because of their own cultural, language or socioeconomic differences. In these situations, advocates can help parents understand the process and effectively communicate their opinions to the school-based team.
The Value of an Expert
An advocates value is their special expertise in numerous gifted and special education issues. Advocates can not only be a great resource for parents, but also to school staff members. But to be successful the advocate must understand special education law and district policies and have the interpersonal skills to work with collaboratively with school staff and families.
An effective advocate will perform many tasks for families, such as gathering information about the child, determining what steps are necessary to achieve outcomes that are in the child’s best interests, and participating in meetings to ensure that these steps are accepted and implemented.
In order to determine appropriate services, the advocate can:
- assess and/or observe the current classroom(s) where the child is receiving instruction
- assess and/or observe classrooms that may be a future option for the child’s placement
- analyze the current placement to determine whether it is appropriate for your child and, if not, suggest alternatives
What to Look For in an Advocate
While there are many factors that can go into the selection process, here are five things you should consider when making your decision:
- Experience. Is the advocate an expert in special educational issues and law? How many school meetings has the advocate attended? How often has he/she achieved the desired outcomes for the student? What is his/her familiarity with the school system process, including dealing with school district personnel? Is he/she experienced with the specific issue you are facing?
- Personality. Is the advocate’s personality and personal style a match for you and your family?
- Adversary or Collaborator? Does the advocate approach the school staff as adversarial or as a potentially cooperative partner in the success of your child? Does the advocate shy away from disputes or is he/she persistent even when faced with challenging situations?
- Resources. Does the advocate maintain relationships with experts in different fields? Does he/she have resources related to your areas of concern, including how to address your child’s strengths and needs?
- Cost. Can you afford to hire an advocate? Think of the investment and whether to spend money on tuition and additional programming rather than advocacy services.
Many school personnel welcome the presence of an advocate at school meetings. An advocate can communicate issues in ways that both parents and school personnel may not be able to do. For example, the advocate may suggest solutions that school staff have not offered due to budgetary constraints or directives from administrators. However, once offered by the advocate the school staff is free to support what they believe is truly in the student’s best interest.
An effective advocate helps parents and school staff to accurately identify the issues and suggest possible solutions to problems the individual child is experiencing. The goal of an advocate should be to bring parents and school staff together in order to work collaboratively to achieve positive outcomes for the child. For more information of what an advocate can do for you please contact us at Exceptional Learners today!