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The Importance of Parent Advocates for Special Needs Families

parent advocate

Going to a meeting at school can be intimidating for many families. Now imagine how it feels for the parents of a child with special needs. They go into a room filled with teachers, administrators, and therapists of all kinds. Many may be new to this process after a new diagnosis. They can easily feel overwhelmed and unprepared. They may not understand what is being said to them. This can add to their stress and make them feel like outsiders in the IEP or other meetings taking place.

Inform Families of Advocate Availability

When families are told that they need to have a meeting at school, inform them of their rights to have an advocate with them. Have packets of information which will explain what the purpose of a parent advocate is and how they may be able to assist them in this process. Make sure that they do not feel alone in this process. An advocate gives them the ability to have someone who has been in this position and can help guide them.

Parents should be able to request an advocate and have a way to communicate with them before any upcoming meetings. Help them to connect ahead of time. The parent advocate will also be encouraged to attend meetings with the family. If the families approve, they can chime in with questions or information which may asset with IEP updates or more. In addition to this, the advocate is another set of ears in the room. They will be able to discuss the process after the meeting if the family is unsure of something.

Parent Advocate Training

Districts should reach out to advocate training agencies which may exist in your state. Many are willing to have events for district families to learn about their rights, educate them on advocacy, and support them.  In New York, the Parent to Parent Network has been around since 1994. They are a not-for-profit that pairs special needs families up with others who have experiences like them. Their mission states, “Parent to Parent of New York State builds a supportive network of families to reduce isolation and empower those who care for people with developmental disabilities or special healthcare needs to navigate and influence service systems and make informed decisions.”

In addition to this, schools need to see if families who are more comfortable with being advocates for their children would help others. Some may be willing to volunteer on a case by case basis to talk, mentor, and go to meetings with them. There should be information presented to these individuals on where they can go for training if they would like something more formal.

Discuss what protocol needs to be in place for special education teachers and therapists to suggest a parent advocate to families. Does your school promote parent advocates to special needs families? If you do please explain your experience and whether or not many take advantage of this option.

4 people have commented - add your two cents!

  1. Billie-Jo Phillips

    I have a 15 year old special needs child and would be interested in being an advocate. I enjoy helping families access the services that are available to help their child, and family make the most of life.

    1. Ibrahim A. Maikori

      I am a Special Education teacher with a number of years in the classroom, and have worked with parents that have suffered exactly the pain your program, now seems to have come late, but many parents may benefit ProCare Theraphy may grant such parents peace of mind to have experience advocates to afford their children adequate advocacy.

  2. Ibrahim A. Maikori

    This job opening has come a little late for many parents who did not know of its existence, but, those families who are lucky will reap the benefit of the brilliance of the founders of this long awaited program. We need to thank ProCare Theraphy for instituting this grand opportunity to ease the pain of parents who love their children to access programs that should meet their adequate academic, social, physical, and all areas of the human needs.
    This service is a must for parents, and guardians, who love their children, however were scared to go into meet well prepared experts in a room and totally unprepared to advocate adequately for their beloved children. Hoorah !!! for parents for the initiators of ProCare Theraphy.

  3. I have three children, 21,18 and 16. I have been through the IEP process since my son was in kindergarten, and now with our 18 year old daughter who is currently a senior. I am interested in being an advocate.

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