I've been told that an educational advocate could assist me at my child's IEP meeting. What is an educational advocate and how can I find one?
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An advocate is someone who pleads, or argues, for the cause or promotes the interests of another person. While the word is often used to refer to attorneys who represent the interests of their clients, federal special education law allows families to use non-lawyer advocates to assist them in IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings and, in some states, in special education due process hearings. The rules for what advocates can do differ from state to state. Because there are no state or national standards that must be met, anyone can call themselves an "advocate" whether they have any specialized training and experience or not.
Those who are seeking educational advocates must take special care to determine the qualifications of anyone they are considering for this purpose, whether they are attorneys or not.
Because there aren't often enough lawyers available (and/or affordable) with special education knowledge, it is often helpful to have the assistance of a special education advocate. There are many advocates available that do have training and/or experience in working with parents and schools. Some are in private practice and charge for their services. Others work for public agencies or non-profit organizations. When seeking the help of any advocate, there are some basic facts you want to know:
The advocate's answers to these questions will help one get a sense of their experience level, and gauge whether or not they will be a good fit for the circumstances or situation requiring the advocate's assistance. Here are four good sources to begin you search for an advocate and information about advocates around the country.
- What is their training and experience with special education law?
- How many families have they worked with?
- What is their style or approach, what information do they use, and when would they need to work with a lawyer (if the advocate is not a lawyer)?
- First, the U.S. Department of Education funds Parent Training and Information Centers in all the states. These centers frequently have advocates that may either help train and prepare parents for the IEP or due process procedures, which can mean working through appeals with the school district and possibly with the court system, or, sometimes, may provide direct help.
- A second source of advocates (or special education attorneys) is the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). Every state has an organization that provides legal and advocacy services for people with disabilities, including special education needs. A list of NDRM Member Agencies is the place to start.
- A third source for advocates in your area is the Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates, which is the national organization of people and agencies that can help families in special education disputes/needs. Use the site's Find Attorney/Advocate/Professional feature to begin your search.
- Finally, CHADD members share information about their own experiences and offer ideas and suggestions. Search the CHADD Resource Directory to see if there's a local CHADD Affiliate in your area and attend a meeting, or if you are member of CHADD, you can post a question on the CHADD Exchange online communities asking for ideas and suggestions.
Published: June, 2014