For the last 24 years, I have worked in the education industry in varying capacities. I started off my career as a teacher and then worked as an ABA Therapist. However, my greatest love has been working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocatefor the past 18 years.
You may ask, why make the change?
The answer is quite simple. During my time in the classroom teaching, I saw firsthand the huge disconnect between what services a child desperately needed and what support services they were actually receiving. This disparity was the catalyst for me seeking the change. Not only were the children’s needs not being met but it was the pure disregard on the part of the individuals that worked in the education industry. The children were treated as a number and as disposable. This not only frustrated me but disgusted me as everyone has capabilities. Everyone has something positive to bring into this world and everyone can make a difference for the good!
The fact that these educators had a “I can’t be bothered” attitude was inexcusable.
Having children in the classroom who learned differently put more pressure on the teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I had heard from (while teaching) from other staff members, that it was easier just to push the child with special needs through. They complained that they only had so many hours in the school day and if they had to address each child’s needs then they could not stay on their schedule in order to get the curriculum taught.
I agree that the school day is only so long, however if the staff and administrators would work with parents to ensure that their child is placed in the correct classroom as well as receives the proper support services, then things overall would move along much smoother for everyone. Most importantly, the child would receive everything that they should and therefore they would be set up for success.
Many, many schools teach to test so the actual time that is spent on each topic within the curriculum is far shorter than it had been in the past. If a child cannot “keep up” their success rate will drop significantly.
This is where an advocate comes in.
Parents and their children are frustrated: They do not know if the child’s placement is correct, their support services (if any) are correct, and most importantly if their diagnosis is correct.
To go one step further, if the child is in fact receiving support services then the question becomes: are the services being administered as they should be? For the correct frequency? Is this information being recorded properly?
In the 18 years working as an Educational Consultant and Special Needs Advocate, I have had many, many families contact me because what they thought what they were doing was the right thing, turned out to be a nightmare. I can’t stress enough that if as parent you have decided that you need to hire an advocate, PLEASE do your homework before choosing one, no less paying one.
Here are a couple of situations that occurred to families I’ve worked with.
A mom contacted me to ask some questions. She explained that she had hired an “advocate” to help her when she needed to attend her child’s IEP meeting as the school was not following through with support services.
The mom told me that although she paid this “advocate” the fee required, the woman showed up to the first IEP meting but stayed quiet for the entire duration of the meeting. She said nothing! She did not advocate at all, left all of the talking solely for the mother to do. It was a very short meeting as the school rolled over the mother while the “advocate” jut sat there.
After walking out of the meeting, the mother asked the advocate why she didn’t say anything and the advocate’s response was “The school had valid points.” The mother then went on to ask if the advocate even looked at the testing results, classroom tests, notes from staff, etc. prior to the meeting. The advocate admitted that she “glanced” at the paperwork that the mother had given her but did not feel the need to read it in depth.
This behavior is not professional, to say the least. The advocate was paid to provide a service which was not provided.
This is fraud!
Although this nightmarish situation took place, the mother requested another IEP meeting. Knowing full well that this “advocate” did nothing but took her money, she contact her once again to represent her at the meeting. When I asked her why, her response was the she did not know of any other advocates to contact so she thought having her there would be better than nothing.
Oh my goodness! NO! The advocate clearly had shown she did not know what she was doing and sadly, could care less. However, once again the mom paid her to attend the meeting. This time, the “advocate” called the mom the morning of the meeting and said that she could not make the meeting as she had laryngitis and could not speak.
I do not know where this mom got this “advocate” from, but this woman should NEVER work in this industry again. I explained to the the mom that there are many resources out there where one could find special needs advocates and attorneys however, BUYER BEWARE! It is a slippery slope and unfortunately, individuals like the one above gives the industry a bad name. Sad to say, this seems to be the norm from what parents tell me.
A mom contacted me because she needed clarification about her son’s situation. Remember, each child should be looked at and considered on a case by case basis. No two children are the same and therefore the handling of the case is “custom made” to that child. If an advocate handles each child the same, then that is a red flag and you may want to find a different advocate.
This mom had hired an advocate for her son. She paid her and spoke with her briefly on the phone. However, after that, the advocate was nowhere to be found. The mom said she had continually tried to contact her via telephone but to no avail. All she received was a message on the voicemail stating that she (the advocate) was not working at this time due to a family issue.
Without asking any other questions, I knew that the advocate took the money and ran with it and most probably she was not the only one.
My only question was this: “How long have you been trying to contact the advocate?”
Her answer: “A few months.”
What? The mom went on to tell me that she called her son’s pediatrician to ask him if he knew anything since he was the one who recommended her. The pediatrician communicated to the mom that he had recommended this advocate to many other families that were in his practice and they too were calling him to inform him that they paid money to this advocate, to never hear from her again.
This is fraud!
In speaking to the mom, she had given me the name of the advocate. I was not familiar with who she was however after hanging up with her, I looked up the advocate. Her website was not up and by all accounts, she was longer “in business.”
As of our conversation, she was still hoping against hope that this woman would contact her. I called the mom back and informed her that the website was not in working order. The mom responded “I didn’t know that.” I was hoping that this particular information would be a turning point for her to become proactive but quite frankly it made no difference at that time.
As a parent, how you handle every situation is your business however when it comes to a child with special needs, time is of the essence.
Time is a precious commodity that cannot be wasted as you are playing with your child’s future and success.
The more time that is wasted until a decision is made, the more you push back any gains that your child may make. Think about all the time that this mom wasted waiting around for the “advocate” to contact her. She didn’t know what to do yet did not inquire either and now that child has been pushed back that much further.
Having a child with special needs is not a situation that can be taken lightly. I cannot implore you enough how you do not have time on your side.
Things to Look For And Remember When Hiring an Advocate:
- The longer you wait to do something, the more detrimental it can become for your child.
- If something is wrong, address it immediately. Don’t think it will get better, because it won’t.
- If you need an advocate, find a great one. It will pay off in the long run. Remember, you get what you pay for.
- You cannot be wishy-washy. Make a decision and stick to it.
- The advocate is on your side. A good advocate will be honest with you and tell you if your wants and expectations are valid and within reason. If the advocate, says yes to you on everything or almost everything then they are ill-informed, ill-equipped and not on your side.
- If you have decided to hire an advocate, they are on your side and should not sit by and let the school run the show. This is YOUR child and as a parent, YOU know your child best.
- Vet them! Check to see that they have a working website, working email, and working phone number. Check to see if there are any reviews.
- An advocate MUST respond to you via phone or email within 24 hours, at the most. This amount I am giving is very liberal. I have been known to be up at midnight sending emails out to parents and school staff and administrators because my day was so busy with meetings, conference calls and school visits. This is my job and my responsibility. Especially, as a parent, you deserve that extraordinary service and every advocate, in my opinion, should be held to this standard. If they do not possess this mindset, then you need to speak with them and explain what your expectations are. This should be discussed prior to you hiring them.
- Find out what their process is. For example: The first thing that I do upon working with a family is I send out an introduction email to all school staff (teachers, administrators, therapists, etc.). I explain who I am and that I will be representing the family and child. I give them my contact information and communicate that they can reach out at any time for any issue (positive or negative). My goal is to always to keep the lines of communication open. This allows for a constant collaboration between home and school.
- As an advocate, you become fully immersed with the family and most importantly the child. My philosophy is that your child is counting on me to do the best I can for them while working with you (the parent) and everyone else that should be on his/her side.
- Unfortunately, many people advertise themselves as advocates. Buyer Beware. Just because a mom or dad has a child with special needs and went to school to get their child services, does not make them an advocate. More times than not I have seen people advertise themselves as an advocate and upon looking into it, there is no working website, phone number (if there is one listed at all) along with no degrees or experience.
- Just because you have a child with special needs, does not mean you are an advocate. This is a very important job that should not be taken lightly. Unless an individual has a proven track record, do not hire them.
- Although you should advocate for your child, there is fine line between being their mom or dad and being their advocate. You should ALWAYS be your child’s parent first. Leave the advocating to a professional.
- Be very careful when choosing an advocate. There are very few out there that know what they are doing, are truthful and truly want the best for your child. This is not something one should do as a hobby out of their basement.This is not something one should do because they want to feel important.
- If in your search for an advocate, you find an individual that has an email that is gmail, yahoo, verizon, hotmail or any other free non-branded email address then they are NOT running a business or taking it seriously. Any professional worth their salt has a branded email address. Like firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was written to help you as a parent — to inform and empower. I can’t say enough how important it is that you do something now for your child. Don’t waste another moment as your child is counting on you. Don’t let them down. He/she did not ask for these struggles and frustrations. Be your child’s hero. They will thank you for it and it will mean more than you can imagine!
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