I get this question all the time. Why would someone need an advocate?
I always have the same answer. You don’t “need” an advocate but you want someone.
If a parent has the time and desire to spend hours researching and learning about special education law, communication and facilitation techniques, vision and future planning and understanding how the process works they can most likely advocate very well for their child.
However, many parents already have a lot of responsibilities including jobs and other children to care for. They also may have sports and medical appointments and finding the time to do the research is difficult. There are several reasons I suggest using an advocate.
1. A new set of eyes. There is a lot of information when you attend an ARD (IEP) meeting. There is a lot of paperwork, a lot of people and a lot of questions. Even those who have a full understanding of their rights and the process can miss things. Having someone from the outside review your paperwork and help you process all information can bring to light things that may have been missed and make sure the goals for your child are being implemented.
2. Emotions. There are a lot of emotions when it comes to your child and their education. Parents want to do what is best for their kids and it can be difficult to have conversations about present levels and needs. At times it can feel like no one at the table but you understands your child. An advocate can not only help prepare you for the meeting so you know what you want to focus on, but can also be the support you need on your side of the table.
3. The process. There are many steps to establishing your child’s IEP and making sure that it is appropriate for them. Timeline, evaluation reports, establishing goals, related services, accommodations, and communication are just some of the things that an advocate can review with you. And while an Advocate can not provide any legal advise, they can help you understand the process and what you can do to help make sure your child is in the best situation possible.
4. Conflict. Sometime conflict arrises between a school and a parent. even the simplest and most straightforward meetings can take a turn. There are sometimes differing of opinions on what is best for the student and parents become frustrated. An advocate can help you with research to support your position. Advocates can help you create a plan and help facilitate a productive conversation.
No matter what you decide remember that you are an expert on your child, that you belong at the table, and that your ideas, questions, and concerns matter.