Should I choose a special education advocate whom I must pay? Will a volunteer advocate be able to help me as much as a paid advocate?
Many States have paid as well as volunteer advocates. Just because an advocate charges a fee does not necessarily mean that you will get better advocacy services. Alternatively, just because an advocate volunteers his or her services for free does not mean that he or she is not as good as a paid advocate. There are no standards of practice for special education advocates. So, you must check the advocate out carefully.
Before hiring a paid or unpaid special educaton advocate, review the guidelines on the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) website: http://www.copaa.net/. Click the link, "Find an Attorney/Advocate." Then, click the link on the left sidebar to review the guidelines to finding an experienced and knowledgeable advocate.
Just as advocates choose whether to volunteer or charge fo their services, they also choose what services they provide to parents. Some provide nothing more than a friendly face at an IEP Team meeting. Other advocates assist and advise parents at due process hearings and appeals.
You may think that you only need an advocate who will help you at an IEP Team Meeting. If you have ever attended a Wrightslaw Seminar, you understand Pete Wright's Rule of Adverse Assumptions. http://www.wrightslaw.com/schedule.htm.
In short, the Rules of Adverse Assumptions means you should always expect the very worst. Expect that one day you will end up in a special education hearing over your child's education.
If you subscribe to the Rule of Adverse Assumptions,you will want to choose an advocate with experience in due process hearings. That does not mean that the advocate has assisted and advised parents at special education due process hearing. It means that the advocate has knowledge of what happens at a special education due process hearing. An advocate who has this knowledge will make sure that what happens at your IEP Team Meeting assumes that you will end up at a due process hearing. He or she will protect your case for future resolution.
Advocates can obtain this type of experience by:
- Working closely or developing a relationship with an experienced parent attorney.
- Observing a number of different due process hearings
- Being a paralegal or legal assistant for attorneys who represent parents
When you hire an advocate, you must make certain that the advocate will represent your interests -- now and in the future. Check the advocate out carefully. Your child's future may depend upon it.