Advocacy 101

As a parent there is one job that comes with the gig that can sometimes be very daunting. And it can be even more daunting when you are dealing with children with additional needs.

However, as daunting as it may be, this job is possibly the most important one for parents of school aged children.

The job of being an advocate.

So what do I mean when I talk about advocacy?


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The dictionary meaning of advocacy is

The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.

I consider advocacy to be standing up for the rights of your child. To speak up to ensure that your child’s needs are known and catered for. To be their defender and their voice and their go-to person.

You don’t have to have children with special needs to be an advocate. Every parent is naturally an advocate for their child, whether they are aware of that or not. Who else will speak for their children in their younger years when children cannot really speak for themselves?

However, for parents of school aged children with special needs, advocacy takes on a whole new meaning. To be an effective advocate, special needs parents need to be experts in their child’s condition, knowledgeable about relevant school policy (such as discipline, funding and disability policies) and aware of their rights to appeal adverse decisions.

It can be daunting but it is possible to become an effective advocate for the needs of your child, especially if you keep the following tips in mind.

Be informed – know your rights

You really need to do your homework and become familiar with your rights and the rights of your child at school. Each school (based on their overall jurisdiction, be it in the public or private system) will have their own policies and procedures in relation to discipline, funding and special needs provisions.

It pays to be aware of what help or assistance your child may be entitled to so you can follow-up on this if it is not forthcoming. I have heard of a few examples where parents have not been consulted when funding for their child has been reduced or even informed when their child has become eligible to apply. You cannot automatically assume that you will be informed when circumstances change.

As I discovered myself last year, it also pays to know about the school’s discipline policy so you can understand the decisions the school makes when it comes to suspension and other disciplinary action. This knowledge could be essential in cases where you may need to consider appealing a decision.

Open, honest and timely communication – with teacher, aide and school executive

The best way to advocate for your child is to establish strong communication with the school. This means building a good relationship with the classroom teacher, teacher’s aide, members of the school executive (deputy, learning support teacher) and the school principal.

Having a good relationship with the school means that you have a better chance to communicate your concerns and nip issues in the bud. Providing as much information as you can about your child also means that the school has the opportunity to more fully cater to their needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask for meetings with school staff to discuss your concerns. Request a daily communication book if you wish to know more about your child’s progress in the classroom. And insist on asking questions if you are not sure about any aspect of your child’s education.

Be involved – be visible and contribute

I have found that being involved in the school also assists in your role as advocate for your child. Helping out with canteen, assisting with reading groups, joining the P&C or offering to provide ongoing support in other ways to the school goes a long way in building good will for you and your child.

Being involved also gives you a great opportunity to watch your child’s experiences and identify any potential issues before they arise. By being there you can see first-hand how your child is progressing and how the school is accommodating their needs.

Taking the time to provide feedback on school surveys and talking to staff about your thoughts on the school can also help you to make a difference to your child’s experiences while in their education setting.

I hope these tips can help improve your relationship with your child’s school and give you the tools to effectively advocate for your child’s needs. I know that I am a far better advocate for my own kids since realising the importance of these aspects of advocacy.

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16 Responses

  1. Lydia C. Lee says:

    I think the being involved in the school is really important. Firstly, it makes the school a better place for your child (and every other child) and secondly, it allows you to see the children in action or meet the other parents etc, which all become beneficial to you.

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Lydia. I couldn’t agree more – there are so many benefits that more than offset the initial effort and awkwardness of establishing a relationship.

  2. Rhianna says:

    Being involved in school is so important, even without a special needs child. I can only imagine how much it increases with special needs. These are great tips to point people in the right direction. I know that sometimes dealing with the ins and outs of a school can be daunting be if you are informed and involved it makes it all much easier. Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses lovely
    Rhianna recently posted..Things I Know About Breast Cancer

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Rhi. I loved your post the other week about your experience with the P&C – it can sometimes be tricky but I think it’s worth the effort (and the occasional embarrassment!!!) 🙂

  3. Ness says:

    Those are great tips Kirsty. I’m not really involved enough with my boys school, as I have terrible social/people skills, so I tend to shy away from it.
    Ness recently posted..About A Boy, Or Boys, Actually

    • Kirsty says:

      Being involved at school is not for everyone and it doesn’t work for everyone (like those who work full time). Just stick to providing feedback when it’s asked (like in replying to school surveys) and have at least a nodding relationship with the class teacher. It’s just easier sometimes to have those harder conversations when you are talking to someone you know!

  4. Love that pinch and punch, haven’t heard it for ages! I have signed up to be a class helper and also volunteer at tuckshop, I’m also going to get involved in the P&C – while it’s going to add more to my busy life I want to be involved in my daughter’s school. Thanks for tips – have a great weekend hun xx
    Emily @ Have a laugh on me recently posted..Why you should shed your old skin and say yes to invitations out

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Em. I’m a part of the P&C and it really does provide you with information you just don’t get otherwise. Sounds like you are going to be one busy school mum – I hope it goes well!

  5. Rachel says:

    Hmmm this has been a hard one for me to read becuase it is one of those areas where I have to put my hand up to being a bit slack. I’m lucky that the bnoys have not had nay major issues at school and my main contact has been limited to admin avbout excursions and the like. I work full time so it finding time is an issue, but reading this has made me remember that being visible and more involved should be a priority for me. If it’s important to my boys then it should be equally as important to me. Even though I am alergic to tuckshop… 😉
    Rachel recently posted..Inappropriate: Thoughts from the first few months of parenthood

    • Kirsty says:

      I agree with you Rachel – canteen is one place where you probably won’t find me. But I have put my hand up for P&C and do what I can, when I can. The kids love it and if you have the opportunity, go for it, although I can’t imagine how hard it would be to help out when working full time. Good luck with it!

  6. Miss Cinders says:

    I’ve been involved in P&C, been a parent helper on major excursions, done reading groups [and groups in general]… all of it with the three older kids. The younger kids I’m giving myself a break. I’m still very involved with their schooling and know their teachers really well though. Just not in a helper outerer kind of way.

    Great points though. Being known makes a lot of difference for your kids where schooling is concerened.

    Thanks for linking up to TIK 🙂

    MC x
    Miss Cinders recently posted..things i know

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Miss Cinders – I believe you have done enough after seeing your eldest three through school! My kids are still young so I still have a few years of service to the school ahead of me…wish me luck!

  7. Zita says:

    I wish I could bolttle this up and send it to every parent of children I have taught! Sadly many parents (at least at schools I have taught) show very very little interest in their childs education and are always quick to blame the teachers or the school when things go wrong! I could get on my big teacher soapbox about this but I won’t, I will just say GO YOU!!! Well done for being such a great advocate for your children! Such a refreshing post to read..
    Zita recently posted..for FFS Friday!

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks so much Zita. It helps that I am married to a teacher so I’ve got a little more insight that way but it has been a logical and tried and tested approach for me. It is sad that so others don’t see it the same way – I hope that starts to change for you Zita!

  8. Grace says:

    While my twinlets haven’t reached school age yet, we’re very much involved in their education at daycare.
    Our carer is really loving and considerate and we touch base all the time on particular concerns or areas we think need special attention. Open, honest communication is definitely important! Thanks for these reminders, Kirsty!
    Grace recently posted..Curse You, Gastro Scum!!!

    • Kirsty says:

      It’s all about communication Grace. It doesn’t matter whether you are at daycare or school, communication is definitely the key to having a voice and helping your kids thrive.

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