No matter how supportive your child’s school might be, it can be helpful to have a support person or advocate on your side.
On this page:
- Advocating for your child is not easy
- You can do it – and there is help
- What an advocate or support person can do
You have probably been advocating for your child for many years, for example with health services or disability services, at kindergarten or at school. You might have already had help from a support person or advocate. If not, it might be a relief to know that there are services out there that can assist.
Advocating for your child is not easy
Parents and carers can sometimes find it stressful to advocate for their child, even if the school is trying to be helpful and supportive. Reasons might include:
- the system and the language used can be confusing
- you might be unaware of your child’s rights and your own
- school can be unaware of their obligations to students with disabilities, and resources available to help
- staff might have little understanding of disability or expertise in meeting diverse learning needs
- schools and families can have different understandings of what ‘inclusion’ means
- some parents and carers feel that their views are less valuable than those of teachers or other ‘experts’
- some parents and carers feel intimidated to speak up to someone in authority, or ‘take on’ the school system
- some parents and carers worry that they are ‘making trouble’ for their child if they criticise the school
- these issues can be upsetting, because there are about your child’s wellbeing.
“When we had the meeting [a worker from ACD] attended. The school was like, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a professional here, and they’re from an advocacy group’. It was very interesting to see the dynamic change. The school were very aware that they needed to listen.
For so much of this journey it feels like us against the school. It’s not a nice place to be sometimes. It can be very lonely. When you’ve got a child in a mainstream setting, you’re in the minority.
So having her there was affirmation for us that we were worthy of this. That we were within our rights to expect that Ruby should get this education.” – Denise
You can do it – and there is help
We hope Learning Together provides both information and inspiration to help meet these challenges. We encourage you to explore the resource, and to come back to it when you need it. You might also suggest to school staff that they check out Learning Together. Many schools find our resources very helpful.
As Christel’s story shows, advocating for your child can greatly benefit your child, you and the school. It can be an empowering experience, and can help build your confidence and knowledge for the years ahead. Crucially, it also helps you to give your child the confidence and skills they need, as they grow older, to advocate for themselves.
What an advocate or support person can do
It can really help to receive assistance from a support person or advocate – especially one who has helped many other families facing similar issues. Importantly, that person cannot make decisions for you. They are there to help you to advocate for your child, and to feel more in control in what can sometimes be a challenging situation.
For example, an advocate or support person can:
- listen to your concerns and give you support
- help you think about the outcome you want
- offer ideas about different approaches or solutions
- help you plan how to raise and pursue your concern
- inform you about your child’s rights, and your own rights as a parent or carer
- explain how the school system and support system works
- help you to gather the information you need to raise a concern or complaint
- help you to write letters or emails to the school, or to DET or other bodies
- help you plan how to explain your concerns to the school
- help you to prepare for meetings, and
- come with you to meetings if needed.
In meetings with the school, an advocate or support person:
- provide moral and emotional support – before, during and after the meeting
- explain terminology used by the school
- help you to explain your views in ways that the school can understand
- suggest a break in the meeting if discussion becomes difficult or heated
- encourage everyone in the meeting to follow good process, and to focus on your child’s needs
- talk over the meeting afterwards, and help you to consider what to do next.
Depending on their professional background, they might also be able to provide you and the school with expert advice about the needs of students with disabilities, and your child in particular.