When families are faced with advocating for their child's needs alone, the process can be emotional, confusing and overwhelming. In the United States we have federal laws that require public schools to provide a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE) to all children with disabilities, regardless of the type or severity of their disability. Each state has other laws that can provide a higher level of service, but cannot be below the federal standard. Following are some commonly asked questions families have about how to find and work with an advocate.
What can an advocate do for my child and myself?
An advocate can help you:
- Navigate the complexities of the federal and state laws that shape and guide the special education system.
- Help to ensure that your child's school district is held accountable to the laws and standards set forth by the Individual's with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Massachusetts General Laws pertaining to the education of children with disabilities.
- Develop a strategy for obtaining an appropriate education for your child.
- Write challenging, yet achievable goals that ensure your child's access to and progress in the general curriculum.
- Strengthen the relationship between you and your child's educational Team to ensure a productive outcome that benefits your child to the greatest extent possible.
- In cases where you come to an impasse with your child's district, help you understand your legal recourse, and help you decide on the best path to meeting your child's educational needs.
How do I know if I really need an advocate for my child?
You may need an advocate if:
- You believe that your child's Team is not including your input in decisions regarding the most appropriate services for your child.
- You feel that your child is not making effective progress in the general curriculum.
- You feel that your child is being denied access to the general curriculum because of his or her disability.
- You feel that your emotions are interfering with your ability to focus and advocate for your child effectively.
How do I choose the advocate that is best for my family?
As with any professional relationship, you want an advocate who is professionally qualified and with whom you feel comfortable. Look for someone who is:
- Professionally trained and can provide you with references.
- Has a proven track record and experience.
- Is knowledgeable about the special educational law.
- Communicates and negotiates effectively.
- Charges fees that are within your family's budget.
I want an advocate who will ‘fight’ for my child – can you do that?
Our personal and professional belief is that your child benefits most from a productive and respectful relationship between you and your child’s Team. Therefore, our strategy is to:
- Collaborate and negotiate, while holding the school district accountable to the laws, standards, timelines and compliance regulations that protect your child.
- Help both you and the Team to stay focused your child's educational and emotional needs.
- Respect each person's role, responsibility and opinion.
- Maintain a professional and courteous meeting atmosphere.
- Keep expectations and demands realistic and reasonable.
- Set limits and ground rules in the event of offensive remarks or comments.
- Give parents, who often feel powerless, a voice and the support to become an active and critical member of the Team.
Do you have experience with my child’s disability?
We have worked with wide range disabilities, in a variety of educational settings in the Metrowest Area. Rather than focus solely on the disability or diagnosis, however, we prefer to draw on a wide range of multi-disciplinary resources to address:
- The needs that are created because the disability exists.
- Each child's unique needs (knowing that the same diagnosis varies greatly from child to child).
- The family's knowledge of their child's disability and specific needs.
- When necessary, the need for expert evaluators and diagnosticians who can provide scientific data to support your child’s diagnosis and specific needs.
Are advocates expensive? Who pays for advocate fees?
Most advocates are in private practice and have varying fee scales, however:
- In most cases, families pay for their advocate.
- Some agencies can link you with free advocates.
- Some advocates offer sliding fee scales for families of limited financial resources.
- Advocates charge substantially less than most attorneys.
- Typically, advocate fees are not reimbursable, even if you proceed to a hearing and prevail.
Will you charge me for telephone calls and emails?
Yes. Because we receive such a large number of calls and emails, we do charge for telephone conversations and emails. However, we do not charge for your initial inquiry call before our intake consultation, and we do not charge for occasional calls that last under 3 minutes.
Since our goal is to empower families, we encourage you to do the following before calling or emailing:
- Make a list of the issues you want to discuss - be clear about your goals.
- Consider which issues are priorities, or how you can problem-solve without a consultation.
- If you have questions about IEPs or other paperwork, make sure that you have read it through carefully before calling with questions.
- Plan your calling time around a block of time that you know will be uninterrupted.
As always, we are here to assist families, so if you have an emergency or urgent matter, we will do our best to be responsive and accommodating. In an urgent situation, we will try to get back to you as quickly as we can. For non-urgent matters we will do our best to return your call by the end of the next business day.