It can be difficult to advocate for your child. Depending on your child’s needs, you may need to advocate for services, medical issues, and inclusion. You may wonder: How can I be the best advocate for my child?
As an expert on your child, you already are your child’s best advocate. You should feel confident in expressing your concerns to professionals. Indeed, you know your child better than anyone else.
Advocacy is often broken down into two types: proactive and reactive. Proactive advocacy occurs when you anticipate needing to advocate for your child to avoid a problem or crisis. For example, you may proactively advocate to receive a handicap parking permit so you can access public and private locations. Reactive advocacy occurs when there is a problem. For example, if a child care agency refuses to enroll your child because of a disability, you may advocate for the child care agency to change its stance.
Regardless of the type of advocacy, we have several tips to help you be a good advocate. Below, we provide those tips on generic advocacy, educational advocacy, and medical advocacy.
Document your advocacy efforts. It is important to have a paper trail detailing the circumstances requiring advocacy and your advocacy efforts. Documentation may include saving e-mails, saving documents to your computer, and keeping paper documents in a safe space.
Meet other families of children with similar needs. This will help you learn other advocacy tips. Often, other families have experienced similar barriers and reasons for advocacy. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel! Talk to other families to learn successful advocacy strategies.
Ground your advocacy in what your child needs. It is hard to argue with what your child needs. Remember, this is not about what you want but what your child needs. Your advocacy should always be grounded in “This is what my child needs.”
Write a parent input statement for the meeting. Educational meetings can be overwhelming. Write your concerns into a parent input statement. Share the statement with the educational professionals. This will help document and voice your concerns.
Ask for a copy of evaluations and draft service plans before meetings. It can be hard to prepare for a meeting without having a draft of the evaluation and/or service plan. Ask for a copy of the documents so you can ground your advocacy in these reports.
Bring someone to your appointments with you. It can be difficult to ask questions at medical appointments and advocate for your child while attending appointments with your child. Ask someone to go with you to watch your child so you can ask questions of the medical professional.
Read your insurance coverage. It is critical that you are well-versed about what your insurance will and will not cover. Carefully read materials from your insurance agency to be informed.
Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Newsletter: Summer 2019.