Who Should Represent Your Special Needs Child?
Parents need to be very careful about asking “special education non-attorney advocates” for legal advice.
Not too long ago, I received an email from a parent who requested some guidance. The parent was given conflicting advice from two “special education non-attorney advocates” and wanted to know who was correct. I explained to the parent that, based on the facts she shared with me, both of these advocates were wrong and that she should retain competent legal counsel. Ideally, this parent should retain a special education attorney to offer competent and sound legal advice.
I worry about this parent–and others like her–who places her trust in inexperienced and untrained “special education non-attorney advocates.”
I am aware that many parents hire “special education non-attorney advocates” because of financial issues. Some parents simply do not have the money or financial resources to hire a special education attorney, which can be expensive. However, the fact that a parent may not have money does not mean that she cannot ask questions to determine whether a particular “special education non-attorney advocate” is trained, experienced, and competent.
Connecticut special education attorney Jennifer Laviano is correct that there are good advocates out there who can provide parents and their children the help they need. In Should I Hire a Special Education Advocate or an Attorney?, Jennifer Laviano provides a terrific list of “pros” and “cons” of hiring a special education non-attorney advocate. Her post is definitely worth the read. One of the most important points that Jennifer Laviano makes is that
“The best advocates know when a situation has reached the point that a parent needs to bring in a special education attorney, which many parents would not have known otherwise.”
A good, knowledgeable advocate can offer guidance in the IEP process, intellectual and moral support at IEP meetings, and breaking the IEP down clearly so that everyone can benefit.
But when there is resistance between the IEP team and the parents, or when there is a strong, fundamental disagreement among the parties, a good special education advocate will say, “It’s time you spoke with a special education attorney.”
If, for whatever reason, you decide that you want to hire a non-attorney advocate to help you on behalf of your child, Jennifer L. Bollero, Esq., suggests that you find someone who is:
(1) Properly trained in special education law;
(2) Experienced in special education matters;
(3) Professional in demeanor; and
(4) Sensitive to the needs of both the client and the child.
Unfortunately, I have met or heard of “special education non-attorney advocates” who are not trained in special education law, have no experience in special education matters, do not exhibit professionalism, and take things very personally.
A self-professed “special education non-attorney advocate” who does not know the law or cannot exercise professionalism may cause a great deal of damage: your relationship with school personnel could be rendered irreparable and your credibility may be at risk. Worse yet, the advocate may offer “legal advice” that is not supported by the law, which may place your child’s placement or services at risk.
To summarize: Do your due diligence. Think very carefully about who you hire and who gives you advice.