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Advocating after First Steps

Posted Jan 27 2009 8:13pm
The word “advocate” can be used as a verb or a noun. As a verb it means to “speak, plead or argue in favor of,” while when used as a noun is simply “one who speaks, pleads or argues in favor of.” A synonym is “support.” Therefore, because you as a parent know your child best, it is important that you become an advocate for your child, starting in First Steps and continuing throughout his/her life. To be an effective advocate, you must be informed about the laws that govern the program in which your child participates. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs both early intervention programs (Part C of the law) as well as services in public schools (Part B of the law). Ideally, while your child receives early intervention services in First Steps, your providers help you build effectiveadvocacy skills. You learn that you have rights as a parent and that you are an important member of your early intervention team. This provides the foundation for your job as lifelong advocate for your child.

All children receiving services through First Steps transition out of the system by age 3. Some are evaluated and found eligible for special education services. Part B of the law provides guidelines for a child’seducation from age 3 through age 21 (provided he or she remains eligible for special education). IDEA requires that eligibility and services be supported by a child's present levels of performance, objective criteria, and evaluation data. The criteria are very different in Part B of the law than they are in early intervention. Less than 30% of children in First Steps go on to services in special education.

One component of IDEA for school age children is the Individualized Education Program (IEP). In many ways, the IEP is very similar to the IFSP a child has in First Steps. Simply stated, the IEP is a plan of action for your child’s education….how it will look, where your child will learn, your child’s present level of performance, goals your child will aim to achieve, what resources and/or materials will be used to achieve these goals and more. However, there are some distinct differences between the IEP and the IFSP. One main difference is that an IEP is child centered and educationally centered. The IFSP isfamily centered and (overall) developmentally centered. As part of the transition process before your child turns 3, an IEP is developed by a case conference committee (if he/she is deemed eligible for special education). This committee is made up of a school administrator, special education staff, general education staff, related service personnel (OT, PT, etc.), and most importantly, YOU. This initial case conference meeting may also include your First Steps providers. You are a part of this team that makes decisions for your child’s education. It is vital that you develop the confidence to actively participate in these meetings by expressing what you wish your child to learn and standing firm on your convictions. It is also important for you to be ready to discuss what your child is doing now, to participate in making decisions about eligibility, and to discuss possibilities for services and placement.

The most important thing you can do to prepare is to know your rights under IDEA. Indiana’s regulations for implementing IDEA are commonly referred to as “ Article 7 ”. Trainings are available through severalagencies, usually ASK and IN*Source, to assist families in becoming more familiar with the law. Be sure to look for them in your area. (fromFirst WordsMar 2005)
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