Choosing An Advocate

What is an Education Advocate?

Advocates are not attorneys. With the exception of a few states, most states do not allow an advocate to attend a Due Process hearing with parents/guardians, as is the case in CA where parents can represent themselves or obtain an attorney. An advocate’s role is to support and guide a parent/guardians through the public education processes – such as in an IEP – so that the parent/guardian can make informed educational decisions for their child. Some Education Advocates work only within the confines of Special Education. Strategic Education Advocacy however, provides advocacy services for families of students in a variety of protected classes such as disability, race and ethnicity and LGBTQ students. 

What Does an Advocate Do?

Advocates assist families:

  • Obtaining educational records and organizing records and communications
  • Obtaining assessment plans and appropriate assessments in all suspected areas of disability before a child has an IEP and/or after. 
  • Placement issues and negotiations as well as understanding LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) options 
  • Obtaining behavioral supports
  • Obtaining services 
  • Reviewing goals, baselines, progress summaries and overall student progress 
  • Ask for or Obtaining an IEE (Independent Education Evaluation)
  • Assist with communication with schools and district 
  • Educate, inform and empower parents 

Advocate Training

While there is no mandated certification for education advocacy, training matters a lot! When hiring an advocate, always ask them about their training and what type of ongoing education they participate in. Ask about any organizations they have membership with as well. SEA advocates have had training through COPAA, WrightsLaw as well as numerous workshops and training in specialty areas and we continue with our training year after year.

Advocates often have specialty areas so ask about any that may be relevant to your child’s specific needs – such as dyslexia, autism, emotional disturbances, intellectual disability, behavioral needs, Title VI (racial discrimination/harassment), Title IX (gender discrimination/harassment), ADHD and more. An advocate with specialized training can guide parents in their decision making process by explaining all the options available in each given scenario as well as the parents and students rights. 

Advocates Should NOT Do Certain Things

  • Advocates are not attorneys and should never claim to represent parents or children. 
  • Advocates do not and should not, maintain educational rights and decision making. That ALWAYS should belong exclusively to the parent/guardian.
  • Advocates should never ask nor require Power of Attorney rights. 
  • Advocates should not represent in Due Process in any state that does not allow advocate Due Process representation (such as CA). 
  • Advocates should not advise parents/guardians on what decisions to make. Instead advocates should provide all necessary information and answer questions to support parents/guardians in making informed educational decisions. 
  • Advocates should not discuss decisions with districts or school without parents being included or without explicit permission from parents to discuss a specific issue with schools and administrators. This includes emails, parents/guardians should always be copied in all email communications.   
  • Break confidentiality. 
  • Keep records after the discontinuation of services. All records should be given to the parents/guardians and the only information maintained after services are complete should be invoicing. This is to protect families. Here is why: if families should end up in litigation with the student’s school/district then the district legal counsel could subpoena the records, including all notes and use them in litigation. Advocates do not have client privilege as is the case with attorneys.  

There is a wide variety of advocates with unique and specialized training, so know that not all advocates are the same. We each have a variety of specialties and many have advanced skills and knowledge in specific areas. Remember, you are hiring an advocate and it is important to interview any advocate you are considering hiring and make sure they are a good fit and can meet your advocacy needs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, a good advocate should always be comfortable answering any questions you may have about their training, skills and experience. Once you select an advocate, be sure you are provided a contract and that all parties are clear on services, cost and expectations. 

Last but not least: your advocate should help you feel supported and empowered and heard. As advocates, our goal is to elevate the voices of families. Your voice and the voice of your student matters.