When schools and parents don't agree on how to best help a child, or even if a parent just feels more comfortable having "someone on their side" in school meetings and negotiations regarding services and accommodations, parents may choose to hire an educational advocate. An advocate can help with anything from talking with teachers and other school personnel to providing ideas on accommodations and modifications, both at school and at home, to monitoring the implementation of modifications.
Once a parent decides to hire an advocate, how would he or she go about finding an advocate and what makes a good advocate?
Where to Find an Advocate
There are a number of reputable websites and directories on the internet to help parents find an advocate to work with the school district. Wrightslaw has a "Yellow Pages for Kids" to help parents search for advocates and consultants, psychologists, educational diagnosticians, academic therapists, tutors, coaches or attorneys.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates also provides an advocate locator. In addition to specific directories such as these, other ways for parents to locate an advocate serving in their area include:
- Ask other parents in your area, those parents working closely with your school, or other schools in your area may be able to provide you with referrals to reputable area advocates.
- Contact disability groups in your area. These can normally be found in your local phone book under special services.
- Contact the Parent Information Center in your state. The Department of Education has a listing of all Parent Information Centers.
What to Look For When Choosing an Advocate
Most states do not have licensing or training requirements for educational advocates, therefore choosing a reputable advocate falls to the parents. However, while there are not licensing and training requirements, there are training opportunities for educational advocates. When talking with a potential advocate, ask if and where they have received training. In addition to basic and initial training, ask the potential advocate where and when they take refresher courses. The special education laws, regulations and statutes must be kept up with and you want an advocate who continues to learn.
Many educational advocates work alone and in most cases, this is all parents may require. However, in some cases, specialized help may be needed. Ask the potential advocate if there is an attorney he or she works with, or has access to, should you need specialized legal help to procure services for your child. Although an advocate may work alone, there may be an attorney in the area he or she normally consults in more complex cases.
Ask the potential advocate about his or her experience in working with children with ADHD. You will want an advocate familiar with accommodations and modifications often used for ADHD in the classroom. In addition, the advocate should want to review school records, talk to teachers and the parents as well as the child in order to fully understand what services will best help the child to succeed.
Talk to the potential advocate about his or her specific experience. How many IEP/Section 504 meetings has he or she attended? What school districts does he or she normally work with?
In addition to an advocate's experience and judgment in working with the school, it is important to remember, you must also be able to work with the advocate. Ultimately, you are the parent and your opinion must matter. The advocate must not be able to make decisions for your child and must not act on behalf of your child without your input and direction. Respect for the parent's rights as well as the child's rights is always important.
Finally, discuss fees upfront before making any commitment to the advocate. Fees for advocates vary and may be dependent on many different factors. Discuss the fee schedule so you are not surprised at any charges and are prepared to pay for services you have received.