Meeting tips 2: Negotiating the best outcome you can

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Successful negotiation is usually a combination of being clear about what matters to you, and open to others’ ideas. Here are some tips for negotiating the best outcome you can for your child.

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Speak up – it’s okay to disagree

Your role is to speak up for your child. The school staff will have their own perspective, and it’s important to be open and to respect all points of view. But your opinions are very valuable, so don’t be afraid to share them. Decisions will be made about your child’s education whether you speak up or not – so speak up!

It’s important to work cooperatively with the school, but it’s also okay to disagree. As a parent or carer, you have a job to do – as Christel says (see below) – and that job is to advocate for your child. The school relies on you sharing your unique knowledge of your child, to better understand their learning and support needs. This is an integral part of the support system.

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It’s okay to take your time

Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to something if you feel uncertain. You can always tell the school you need time to think things through, before you agree to a course of action. You might wish to talk over or research the issue further, or to seek advice from an advocacy organisation like ACD, before you meet again to agree on a way forward.

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Be clear in your aims, but open to suggestions

Be optimistic about what you want, and push for the best possible outcome. With the right support, students with disabilities can absolutely achieve their potential at school. A good understanding of your child’s rights and your own, and your child’s entitlements in the support system is critical, to give you confidence that what you’re asking for is reasonable, and within your child’s rights.

Be clear in your suggestions and the reasons for them. But also acknowledge that there might be other solutions, and strive to be open to other people’s ideas. Sometimes, the school or others involved can offer suggestions that are just as effective (or maybe even more so) as those you initially had in mind.

Be prepared to negotiate, and to compromise if necessary. Your child is entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to meet their needs – which includes balancing the needs of everyone involved. A solution does have to work for everyone, in order to work, and to last. But don’t feel pressured to compromise on what is most important to you. Thinking about this beforehand will help a lot. An advocate or support person can be a very useful ‘sounding board’ to help you think about what is negotiable for you, and what isn’t.

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Remember that things take time – but focus on follow-up

Try to be realistic about what changes can occur, and how long things can sometimes take. Naturally, you want to things fixed right away. A speedy resolution can often happen in the case of a specific decision (for example, that your child not be allowed to take part in a school event) that the school agrees to reverse (for example by providing support for your child to attend). In other cases, it might take time to make changes – especially if those changes need to be communicated to all staff in secondary school, or if additional funding is required.

Follow-up is really critical. In the context of a busy school and multiple demands on teachers, actions agreed to in a meeting – with excellent intentions – can sometimes get lost in the delivery. This is a frustration for many families.

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Seek support and know your rights

The strategies discussed in this section of Learning Together might seem like a lot to focus on. But in reality, you have probably been advocating for your child for years, negotiating with services to get the best outcome you can. Many of these tips might just be useful reminders, which can help if you’re facing a particularly tricky problem or dealing with a staff member who is not experienced or skilled in responding to concerns or criticism from parent and carers.

Remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Whether you’re facing a really big issue or just want help to deal with day to day issues, consider whom you can reach out to – whether someone from your current circle of support, a support worker from an advocacy or disability organisation, or someone in your family or community network.

Perhaps most importantly, get informed about your rights, and your child’s rights in the system. Read resources like Learning Together, share strategies with other parents and carers, and seek support from advocacy organisations.

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