Any parent of a child with special-needs knows that working with the school system can be stressful. Some school districts are more willing than others to make accommodations, and many parents simply do not have the time or energy to research the laws or fight for their rights. Special education lawyers are expensive, and bringing one into an IEP meeting tends to put the school into defense mode, which can make it difficult to reach a compromise. In these situations, hiring a special education advocate can be helpful.
Here are some of the advantages of hiring an advocate:
1. Advocates are knowledgeable about the laws and your rights as a parent, and can offer advice and help in negotiating with the school.
2. Advocates can communicate directly with the school staff and administration, while lawyers often must go through the school’s legal counsel for ethical reasons.
3. Advocates can often help to resolve disputes before they get to the level of due process. They are not emotionally involved, which can be an asset in negotiations.
4. Advocates are less expensive than special education lawyers.
5. Many advocates are parents who have “been there, done that.” They know what you are going through, and can offer emotional support along with professional help.
6. Experienced advocates can advise parents on when it might be necessary to contact legal counsel and start due process proceedings.
There are also some potential pitfalls to be aware of if you are considering hiring an advocate.
1. Some schools may view bringing in an advocate as an attack and go into defense mode, which can make negotiations difficult. Others don’t take advocates seriously.
2. In many regions, there are no regulations on what qualifies someone to be an advocate. This means that you may be hiring someone who has few qualifications and little experience. It is important to do your research, get references, and make sure your advocate has the ability to follow through.
3. Advocates do not have the same legal training as special education lawyers, and may inadvertently give bad advice.
4. Some advocates are parents who have had unpleasant experiences with their own school systems. They may let their own experiences influence their negotiations with your school staff.
5. If your case ends up in due process, you will need to hire a lawyer anyway. It might be more cost-effective to hire a lawyer in the first place, if you are quite certain that you will need to go that route.
Battling with a school is never fun, and hiring an advocate can be a cost-effective way to resolve the issue without having to go through due process. It is important for parents to be informed, and to make sure that the advocate they hire has the qualifications and experience to get the job done. A good advocate can help you get the services your child needs, without going through the trauma of due process.