To start off, we want to be clear that there are times when you do not need to hire an advocate. If your child does not have or need an IEP or 504 plan, if the current IEP or 504 plan is being successful, and you are generally content and fairly accommodated by the services your district is providing, you probably don’t need an advocate. Still, we know situations change as a child moves through school and encounters new administrators, teachers, or academic goals. If you are ever questioning how an advocate could benefit your situation, consider the following pieces of advice:
- Advocates bring deep expertise on educational services, advanced education in those areas, or a combination of both! Quite honestly, parents are focused on so many aspects of a child’s life as well as their own careers, relationships, and duties that it’s not feasible to become a master of educational law and strategies to advocate for your child. Bringing in an advocate with expertise allows you to focus on identifying the needs your child has and the goals you’d like them to achieve while the advocate strategizes on how to approach the process. Even if you only hire an advocate for a year (or less) you’ll have expertise attached to the context of your child’s case and be able to know what and how you can get the most appropriate education from the school district.
- Advocates are investments in networks and resources, not just a single person. Advocates know cases and other advocates. They know professionals who can help your child beyond the team at your school district. Imagine working with an advocate and making a connection with a reading specialist that works with children with dyslexia, for example. If your child has dyslexia, this is invaluable. Additionally, an advocate may be able to help you secure funds for highly trained professionals (like our example) that can work with your child. An advocate is a professional team builder!
- You may want to reassess the IEP part-way through the year. Did you know you can do this? Don’t let your child receive a full year of inadequate services! If you want to go this route to fix any glaring issues with an IEP, it is almost always best to have an advocate on your side. Revisiting an IEP during the year can lead to obstacles and roadblock when pulling together the entire education team. Advocates know how to push timelines to ensure change happens quickly so it can still improve your child’s academic year and show that you are serious about getting the best IEP for your child!
- Increasing services outlined within an IEP is a natural part of the process as your child enters high school. You will need to consider post-graduation transition services, more intensive accommodations for more rigorous courses, and approaching high stakes tests that are important to get right in the IEP. Even if you have had an IEP for multiple years without issue, an advocate can be a great way to use the IEP to appropriately look ahead at your child’s future. Consider an advocate for those big years, such as going to middles school or high school, or if your child switches districts.
- Advocates also make a great partner to have for when unexpected occurrences pop up. In the same way you might want a lawyer on retainer if you own a large business, you may find have an advocate you work with occasionally to consult on emergent issues is invaluable. It’s almost like a safety net to ensure that you are making the right steps in each iteration of your child’s IEP.
It’s almost like a safety net to ensure that you are making the right steps in each iteration of your child’s IEP.
The bottom line is this: Advocates are a great option when you need to immediately add a highly trained point of view and powerful voice to conversations and decisions surrounding an IEP or 504 plan. School districts know that a parent with an advocate is serious about achieving the best outcomes for their child and are able to manage a sometimes complex IEP.
As always, we are here to answer your questions surrounding advocacy and encourage you to start a conversation sooner rather than later!