What is Parental Advocacy?

Every parent or guardian has the right to advocate for their child, either by themselves or with the help of a parent advocate.[1]

All parents play an important role throughout their child's education, but especially parents of students with LDs. They are central to early identification, as they are often the first to notice that their child is experiencing difficulty in school. After educational assessments have determined that a student has LDs, parents will continue to advocate for their children through the many modes of parental advocacy that are built into the education system, such as Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) meetings, IEPs, parent-teacher conferences, etc.

Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12: Policy and Resource Guide outlines the roles and responsibilities for parents of children in special education. Click here to access this document.

The parent:

  • is familiar with and informed about board policies and procedures in areas that affect the child;
  • participates in IPRCs, parent-teacher conferences, and other relevant school activities;
  • participates in the development of the IEP;
  • is acquainted with the school staff working with the student;
  • supports the student at home;
  • works with the school principal and educators to solve problems;
  • is responsible for the student’s attendance at school.[2]

Supporting parent advocacy

“Parents are vital partners in education. They influence their children’s attitudes about learning, and support learning at home. They are a vital link between home and school. And when they become involved in the life of the school, they make our schools better places to learn, grow and thrive.”

- Parents in Partnership[3]

The best way to assist a parent in advocating on behalf of their child is to create an effective parent -teacher partnership. Educators and parents generally agree that positive, supportive and open relationships between home and school, parent and teacher are desirable. Additionally, research has shown that parent engagement and successful parent-teacher partnerships result in improved educational outcomes for students[4], and this is especially important for students with LDs. However, the role of advocate may not come naturally to parents. Parents may be unfamiliar with school board processes and terminology, or may be overwhelmed by the complex needs of their child.

Read the response below in which Lawrence Barns, President & Chief Executive Officer of LDAO, and father of a son with LDs, reflects on his parent-teacher experiences:

Question: What are the key components of an effective parent-teacher relationship?

Answer: The greatest challenge, for both parents and teachers, is to effectively communicate. It may sound simple, but often conversations are disconnected because the teacher is using language that is specific to the field of special education, and may be unfamiliar to the parent. Having worked in the field for a number of years now, I even find myself doing it. It is important that teachers make sure parents understand field specific vocabulary, such as accommodations versus modifications, at the beginning of a conversation. This will make sure there isn’t an inherent misunderstanding that could later cause problems.

The teacher also needs to actively listen to the parent; it is so easy to get caught up in solutions and methods that teachers may miss feedback regarding what is most effective for the student.  Parents can help to ascertain which supports are working and which are not, and help to make changes that will impact success. In my child’s case, speech-to-text software didn’t work well, so instead we developed keyboarding skills and made progress via a different route.

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC), the key to any successful partnership is to establish a relationship of mutual respect and appreciation. LDAC created a two-page fact sheet, “Effective Teacher-Parent Partnerships”, which outlines tips and suggestions for teachers and parents.

Click here to access a copy of the two-page fact sheet, “Effective Teacher-Parent Partnerships”.

Further, Lynn Ziraldo, Executive Director with the Learning Disabilities Association of York Region,[5] identifies the following characteristics of an effective parent-teacher team:

  • Take time to meet with each other and to listen carefully.
  • Treat each other as integral parts of the planning and decision making team.
  • Allow each person to express opinions and give suggestions.
  • Approach disagreements in a manner that encourages mutual problem solving.
  • Encourage a second opinion when there is unresolved disagreement or when there is no answer to a difficult situation.

Issues tend to arise when parents and educators do not have access to the same information about the student and/or have a different understanding and ideas about the student’s strengths and needs, and the appropriate special education programs and services for the student. When planning a parent-teacher meeting, consider the ways in which you can ensure that the pathways of communication are open and everyone is able to share information freely.

For successful parent-teacher meetings, Ziraldo[6] offers the following suggestions:

  • Focus on the best interest of the student.
  • Concentrate on determining a positive course of action.
  • Encourage parents to come to the meeting with questions.
  • Share information about the students’ strengths, needs, programming goals and instructional strategies.
  • Share information with the student; by attending parent teacher meetings, students can present their ideas and perspectives and learn to advocate for their needs.
  • Set up a procedure for follow up.
  • Summarize the information, as this will be the basis for the next meeting.
  • Express appreciation for each other’s participation in the conference.

Dealing with conflict

Dealing with conflictA positive school climate combined with a relationship of mutual respect can help professionals, parents, guardians, and educators work constructively together to address concerns related to programs and services before they become a source of conflict.  However, even when approached with the best intentions, disagreement may arise over any aspect of the student’s program, such as IEP goals, instructional methodology, the use of assistive technology, curriculum modifications, etc. Typically, conflict arises during the planning and implementation stages of the student’s special education program. If educators and parents find themselves at an impasse, Shared Solutions, a guide created by the Ministry of Education, may be a valuable resource. Essentially, Shared Solutions is a guide to preventing and resolving conflicts regarding programs and services for students with special education needs.

Click here to access a copy of Shared Solutions

Click here to access a copy of the single tear out sheet, “Shared Solutions on the Go”

[1] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007

[2] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2017

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010

[4] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010

[5] Ziraldo, L., 2016

[6] Ziraldo, L., 2016