As the new school year kicks off, it’s important to be prepared to advocate for your child. Tragically, certain articles present children from adoption in a poor light, warning of behavioral difficulties. These articles and other stereotypes can negatively affect perceptions of children with a trauma and loss background, thus amplifying challenges these children already experience.
According to RaisingChildren.net.au, being an advocate for your child means promoting and defending their rights, interests, and needs. If you believe your child is at risk of harm, isn’t having their needs met, or is even being denied important rights, advocacy may be the right next step.
In an Adoption.com article, adoptive mom Shannon Hicks highlights her concern for her children. She emphasizes the need for parents to trust teachers as professionals, ensuring they can access resources necessary to help students be academically and behaviorally successful at school, as well as making home a safe place where children can find emotional security.
Despite this, there may still be instances when parents may want to use the tips listed in this blog for advocating for their child in a school setting. Hicks’s article encourages parents to help teachers help their child by notifying them about potential triggers. Since up to 25% of students have experienced early trauma (Adoption.com), your child’s teacher will benefit from this info.
Six ways to be present in your child’s education are presented in Orphan Care Alliance’s “Advocating for your Child’s Needs at School,”:
- Communicate regularly with your child’s teacher. Keep lines of communication with your child’s teacher open through meetings, email, and notes, and be open to hearing the ups and downs your child may experience.
- Encourage your child’s teacher. Find unique ways to thank your child’s teacher and to appreciate their effort and partnership.
- Be involved. Volunteer for events at your child’s school or sporting events as often as you can. This will help you build close relationships with your child’s educators.
- Get a comprehensive evaluation. If you sense your child is facing emotional, learning, or behavioral difficulties, receive a full assessment. This will identify any diagnoses, as well as point you toward potential treatments and supports.
- Identify who is on your team. Know that you have support from other professionals, like doctors, social workers, therapists, and counselors, as well as parents who have similar experiences.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. If your child is struggling and you don’t feel heard, don’t give up. Continue advocating through meetings with your child’s teacher, principal, and counselor.
If you sense something is wrong, attempt to understand the situation, so you have a clear understanding of what your child is facing. Consider what you want for your child, so you know what change or support you’re advocating for. Knowing the solution you want to present is more effective than complaining (RaisingChildren.net.au), and will prove to school professionals you have an interest in supporting them as well.
Like the list from Orphan Care Alliance, Child Mind Institute also gives “rules” for advocating for your child in the face of psychiatric or learning difficulties:
- Communicate with your child and ask questions. Ask your child direct questions on a regular basis so you know when something needs to be addressed. This also builds trust between you and your child, so they know you are a safe place for them.
- Recognize that your child behaves differently at home and school. Be sure to utilize conversations with your child’s teacher and get a clearer picture of your child’s day-to-day by asking plenty of questions.
- Maximize parent-teacher conference time. Similar to #2, prepare for conferences with plenty of questions.
- Don’t delay getting support for your child. If there is an issue, don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences to ask for support from your child’s teacher. Schools are required by federal law to ensure children receive the services they need to reach their potential.
- Request special services in writing. If you feel your child needs special education services, request his or her evaluation in writing.
- Meet with the people who evaluate your child. Arrange a meeting with those who have evaluated your child to discuss results and next steps. If you disagree with evaluation results, request an independent one.
- Understand the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Become familiar with the IEP process so you can fully and effectively advocate for your child.
- Monitor your child’s moods. Many children with diagnosed psychiatric disorders also have learning disorders. Pay attention to your child’s personality and mood in the same way you watch for changing grades. Your child’s academic achievement is tied to his or her emotional wellbeing!
RaisingChildren.net.au also suggests parents help children advocate for themselves by building their child’s confidence, listening to their child, and teaching them how to speak up, even if there are negative consequences for their self-advocacy. “If your child has any negative consequences from being an advocate for themselves, it’s important to back them up… As your child practices speaking up for themselves, they’ll become more confident about expressing their point of view,” (RaisingChildren.net.au).
School can be a vulnerable place for children of all abilities and histories; however, with your support, your child can have the resources and supports necessary to make the school year a little easier. Build trusting relationships with your child’s school professionals early in the year to set your child up for success. At the end of the day, trust your parental instincts and speak up for your little one when necessary. You know your child best!