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Written by Rebecca Bardenhagen, M.Ed. and Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

As a service provider, you will have opportunities to strengthen the confidence of parents/guardians when advocating for their child with disabilities. When parents/guardians are effective advocates, they feel that they are an equal partner with professionals in formulating educational goals for their child. Following are five advocacy strategies that you as service providers can empower parents/guardians to employ:

1. Share information and ask questions

  • Parents/guardians should get to know those working with their child and keep an open line of communication.
  • After establishing a relationship with school staff, parents/guardians can ask clarifying questions in a respectful and calm way (Morin, n.d.).
  • The clarifying questions can serve to guide discussions towards specific areas of concern and ideas for solutions to those concerns.

2. Maintain a record and organize all communications

  • Parents/guardians have the right to access all their child’s school-related information.
  • Remind parents/guardians to keep an organized notebook of all report cards, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), assessments, medical records, and work samples.
  • Additionally, maintaining a communication log will help parents/guardians keep track of who they spoke with, when, and a summary of the discussion. This notebook can be helpful in noticing progress as well as issues that need to be addressed (Morin, n.d.).

 3. Become familiar with their rights and that of their children

  • Parents/guardians should know their child’s rights under the Individual’s with Disabilities Act (IDEA). To find out more specific information, parents/guardians can contact their state’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center.
  • IDEA provides money for each state to have at least one PTI whose goal is to assist families with children birth to age 22 who have disabilities. The Center for Parent Information and Resources website has a listing of each state’s PTI.

4. Learn important terms related to the needs of the child

  • To fully understand the kinds of assistance a child is receiving it may be necessary to ask for clarification of terms.
  • The Center for Parent Information and Resources can aid parents/guardians in understanding key terms in special education.

5. Talk to professionals about transition plans

  • The goal of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is for students to be contributing members, to the best of their abilities, in work and community life.
  • Parents/guardians can contribute to the transition process by encouraging their child to attend and lead their IEP meetings.
  • Additionally, parents/guardians can advocate early (by age 14) for their child to receive a comprehensive career assessment and access to school-to-work transition
    • A comprehensive career assessment addresses the areas of academic skills, daily living skills, personal and social skills, occupational and vocational skills, career maturity, vocational interests, and vocational aptitudes. These assessments can help identify students’ aptitudes and abilities, allowing parents/guardians and schools to plan realistic future coursework (Levinson, E.M. & Palmer, E.J., 2005).

Download a printable version of these tips and our checklist below!

Tips to Empower Parents to Become Effective Advocates

Checklist for Providers Empowering Parents to be Effective Advocates


Levinson, E.M. & Palmer, E.J., (2005).  Preparing Students with Disabilities for School-to-Work Transition and Postschool Life.  Retrieved on February 17, 2018.

Morin, A. (n.d.).  10 Ways to Be an Effective Advocate for Your Child at School.  Retrieved on February 17, 2018.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on March 09, 2018.