What are Advocates? 

Navigating the special education system can be challenging and it can helpful to feel you have someone in your corner who understands the system, who you can turn to for advice and aid in communicating effectively with your IEP team and the school to achieve the best outcome for your child. Educational advocates, also sometimes called student advocates, parent advocates or by many other names, have the potential to be this person. However, there are some things you should be aware of before deciding to enlist an advocate. 

The Services an Advocate Provides

A good advocate can provide several benefits:

In essence the role of the advocate is to help advise you as a parent and to help you communicate more effectively with the educators on your IEP team.

What You Need to Understand About Advocates

The profession of advocate is not an official one

There are no professional certifications or standards. Anyone can say they are an advocate regardless of their experience. This means its especially important for parents to conduct due diligence. The links below provide some guidance for parents:

Advocates are not covered by insurance

Advocates are usually an out-of-pocket expense for parents and the costs can range widely between advocates. There are some agencies that do provide pro bono advocates (see Resources for Families: Advocates and Attorneys)  

Advocates are not attorneys 

While experienced advocates should know the special education process and laws, an advocate will not have any legal training. You should be cautious about relying on an advocate for specific legal guidance or relying on an advocate during appeal hearings, which involve attorneys from the school. Unlike with attorneys there are also no provisions for recouping the cost of an advocate for hearings. For more information see Understanding the Dispute Process.

Frequently Asked Questions About Advocates

Will Adding an Advocate to My IEP Team be Seen as Negative by my IEP Team or the School?

Generally the answer is no. The use of advocates is fairly common and school's understand their role is to assist parents in more effectively navigating the IEP process and special education system. Whereas adding an attorney to your team might well raise concerns, schools typically understand that advocates are there to help parents foster collaboration more effectively.  

Are There Training Programs for Advocates?

FCSN does provide training available for both parents and advocates through their Parent Consultant Training Institute (PCTI). Asking what training an advocate has completed can be a good question to consider when conducting your due diligence.

How Can I Find an Advocate?

There are several resources for locating advocates you can find on our Resources for Families: Advocates and Attorney page and some advocates are listed on our Resources for Families: Service Providers page. Parents networks are also a great resource to help find advocates other parents have used. Please note that we at Reading SEPAC do not conduct due diligence on or endorse any service providers including advocates. 

For More Information

A Parent’s Guide to Selecting a Special Education Advocate in Massachusetts - Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN)

Educational Advocates: A Guide for Parents - The National Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE)

Guidelines for Choosing an Advocate - Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates 

10 Tips for Special Education Advocates - Wrightslaw

10 Tips on Hiring an Advocate - Wightslaw

Please note that we at Reading SEPAC cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information presented on any third-party website listed on this site, nor do we endorse any informational content appearing on third-party websites of any of the providers listed. We endeavor only to provide a listing of potentially helpful information available. Its up to you, as a consumer, to do your own diligence and research. Also note that any summarization of the laws, rules, regulations, processes or similar related to special education, or advice proffered is based exclusively on the experience of Reading SEPAC members as parents of children with special needs. Its in no way an official reflection of the position of the FCSA or the Reading School system and we make no claims of expertise in communication, law, education or any other areas. While we have endeavored to provide simple-to-read language for parents, we are not experts, do not claim to be, and make no warranties or claims of accuracy related to the informational content of this website.