If you are like many parents, understanding the special education process is overwhelming. Many parents find it helpful to use an educational advocate to navigate the maze of special education, education law, and reduce the intimidation that parents can feel at school meetings. It is often difficult for parents of children with special needs to advocate for their child in a calm and objective manner for the education and related services their child needs. Parents see an advocate as an individual they can rely on to keep a cool head and apply informed judgement and recommendations throughout the process.
The role of an educational advocate is not to inflame the relationship between the parents and the school; rather to help cultivate a working relationship to make negotiating for special education services and supports easier. The focus is on solving problems and getting an appropriate education for your child to meet your child’s unique needs.
An advocate begins this process by gathering facts and information about your child’s disability and educational history. An advocate will speak with the parents to better understand their concerns. While gathering information, an advocate will review existing documentation include previous evaluations, IEPs, report cards, and any other relevant documentation to understand your child’s educational history.
Advocates inform parents about the special education process so they are aware of the potential costs in time, money, and energy required. Advocates inform families that just because they have independent evaluators and providers does not necessarily mean that the school system will implement the recommendations. In other words, advocates help to keep families expectations reasonable.
Advocates know procedures that parent must follow to protect their rights and their child’s rights. An advocate will provide suggestions on how to approach the school, teachers, and administrators. Furthermore, an advocate will have knowledge of the continuum of services and be able to explain the importance of a steady progress. In addition, advocates educate themselves on the school district to become familiar with the services and programs the school district has for their students.
Advocates are familiar with special education laws and regulations. Advocates are familiar with the governing laws and regulations and with changes in those laws as they are enacted.
Advocates keep written records. They make requests in writing, and document events, discussions, and meetings. The purpose of written records are to serve as reminders of why decisions were made and serve as an accompaniment to all school paperwork. The written records also help to keep all parties accountable.
The role of an advocate in meetings is to ask questions and listen for answers. The advocate carefully balances their approach in meetings and tends to stay away from confrontational approaches or overly chummy approaches. Their reasonable approach helps keep emotions out of the meeting. By not being clouded by emotions, advocates are better able to define problems and use their knowledge to develop strategies and problem solve.
In summary, the educational advocate role is to speak for children with disabilities and special needs who are unable to protect themselves. Educational advocates use their knowledge and expertise to help parents build a healthy working relationship with schools and resolve problems with schools. Through the support of families, educational advocates help to ensure that the school provides your child with a free and appropriate public education.