How to Advocate for your child:
- Who is my child's best advocate?
- Are there other advocates?
- What steps can I take to be a better advocate?
- Are there any groups or sites that can help me?
Who is my child's best advocate?You are!
You live it every day, you are the one who sees the successes and the frustrations. In advocating for your child, it is important to be objective. It can be very hard, and at times impossible, for you to set aside your emotions when speaking for your child's needs. Your emotions can easily create an "enemy" relationship with the school. No matter how understandable that may be, your ultimate goal is to get your child everything he/she needs to flourish over his/her disability. Anger and frustration hinder the communications process.
Many parents of disabled children benefit from support groups, ongoing counseling with a social worker, therapist, psychologist and/or psychiatrist. There are also many self-help websites to help you deal with the emotions that are and will be a contstant part of your life. Use every tool available to you to keep your emotions from affecting your ability to advocate for your child.
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Are there other advocates?There are many resources available if you need help advocating. Your child's doctors, therapists and teachers can be some of the strongest advocates for your child. Each can help you to understand and explain your child's condition and needs. They may even stand up for you at the meetings.
You may be able to obtain free legal advice or representation through one of the Legal Services for New York's Bronx offices:
579 Courtlandt Avenue
Bronx, New York 10451
Tel: (718) 928-3700
1118 Grand Concourse, 3rd Floor
Bronx, New York 10456
Tel: (718) 928-3700
Private lay advocates, such as parents who have raised children through the system or individuals who work in the system, therapists or teachers, have also formed companies to advocate.
Lawyers are available to protect you in all aspects of the system.
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What steps can I take to be a better advocate?Document!
No matter how comfortable you are with the team and services your child is receiving, please learn to document everything as it happens. Make and keep notes of every conversation you have with your child's teachers, therapists, providers, doctors and school administration. Keep a folder, in date order, of every letter and form you send or receive. Make and keep notes of every meeting, formal and informal.
You can never tell when you will discover that your child has been deprived of some service or accommodation. Going back after the violation without a documentation system will be almost impossible. If everything goes well and all you ever do with the documentation is throw it out, consider yourself lucky.
Take the time to prepare for every meeting.
- Review your child's past evaluations and plans.
- Make notes of what you think has worked, and what you think has not worked in the past.
- Make a list of services you think should be increased, decreased, dropped or added, and write out the reasons why.
- Speak with parents of children who are in, or have been in, the same programs your child may be going into. Make written notes of what they say is good and bad about each program, service or provider.
- Make notes of what evaluations you disagree with, and why, and what evaluations you think should be done and why they would show how your child would benefit from other or additional services or programs.
- Get copies of any articles that show how helpful services you think your child should have would be. The Internet is a great source for these types of articles and it will help you to deal with a teacher's claim that they know something better than you.
- Make an outline of every point you want to cover at the meeting. This should include every service, placement or change you want for your child.
- Explain each point you want to make to as many people as possible before the day of the meeting. This will give you valuable practice in making your points clear. You will also find at the meeting, that this will make you much more comfortable in expressing you thoughts.
- At the meeting itself, organize your papers so that you can get to each point easily. Always keep your outline directly in front of you and check off each point as it is finished. If you do not feel that the discussion on a point should be closed, do not check it off - just keep pushing the point. After you refer to other documents or notes, or the school covers some other point, go right back to your outline to make sure that every point is completely covered.
- If you have any concern about speaking up in the meeting, bring an advocate or attorney with you.
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Are there any groups or sites that can help me?The internet is a great source for information about your child's needs and how to deal with the system. The following is a list of some of the most helpful sites. If you find a site that you think should be added to the list, please let us know.
Wrightslaw.com. An Education law site run by Pete and Pam Wright.
VESID.nysed.gov. NYS Department of Education Special Education site.
VESID's Parent's guide. NYS Special Education Parent's Guide.
CERC. The Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
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