DDWA Advocacy Service Snapshot
by Maxine Drake, Service Negotiator / Advocacy
This actual case history is being shared as part of our Advocacy initiatives. All personal or identifying details have been altered to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
DDWA Specialist Advocacy
Report on Part 1 of the advocacy (Parent/Education) overview:
DDWA funded this one-to-one and group advocacy facilitated by an Advocate. This was part of a wider exploration of ways to support families to progress the best interests of their children in a range of life settings, including school, home, health and disability services.
Meeting, exploring strategies and taking the first agreed Action:
A single parent with one child is facing the end of the school year with unresolved issues with her son’s school regarding the management of his autism in the school setting, the impact of incidents and suspensions on his standing with the school and plans for the new school year. A meeting with the school is being arranged to address these issues and the primary concern is that the child’s place at the school may not be secure.
The meeting with the mother identifies the critical issues, through the history of the events and her own negotiation efforts to date. A draft agenda for the meeting is formulated, based on the fact that the parent has called the meeting and is entitled to therefore define the main issues for discussion. The school are to be informed that an advocate will also attend the meeting with the mother.
This is not a point of ‘complaint’ or grievance but a critical point of negotiation with the school of a change in the way that the education service is being provided to their child, and by extension, to the family. (Problem-free schooling has a positive impact on all other areas of family life. Equally, difficulties at school can impact on the peace and harmony of home life)
A specialist advocate introduced at this point can allow for clarification of issues and exploration of the best next strategy in these negotiations. The next strategy needs to be congruent with the values and views of the person involved and build on what has happened previously. The action needs to be controlled by the parent and can proceed or be abandoned according to their wishes. If the action proceeds, the parent needs to know that the specialist advocate is available to them to review the effects of the strategy and then consider what could be done next, including support at any meeting that may arise from the approach to the school.
Advocate support at the meeting:
A meeting is arranged by email with the school with the agenda items provided in advance. The right staff to attend (three in number) and the agenda is progressed with the mother taking the lead. The advocate introduces their role briefly and the meeting proceeds. The critical question of the child’s standing at the school, in particular their welcome into the next school year at the school is answered and allows for future planning. Other concerns about communication, management of behaviour; and the teacher and classroom for the new year are also resolved. The advocate intervenes in discussions to clarify agreement on the critical issues and define how these agreements are recorded in the minutes/action sheet. The advocate can summarise observations about the meeting that capture the good intent and agreement about the shared objective of the best interests of the child.
An advocate attends a meeting as an independent third party, supporting the parent to progress the issues on the agenda and achieve the objectives sought. The support the advocate provides is in their presence, which is a form of ‘moral support’ or morale encouragement, particularly when such meetings are often attended by a number of staff from within the school. The parent introduces the advocate but proceeds to take the lead on the meeting. Ideally, a meeting may not require the advocate to speak or intervene in any way, as due processes are followed and discussions lead to agreed outcomes that satisfy the parent. When an advocate does step in to participate, it needs to be done in a manner of supportive participant.
A second episode of engagement was required by the family in Part One on identical terms to the first, including a meeting to discuss the issues, agreement on next best strategy, participation at a meeting (over two sessions) and post-meeting debriefs.
The child had been withdrawn from school and there was an urgent need to address the obstacles in returning to school. Increasing episodes of restraint and the consequent reactions to this in the child (seeking to flee) and an agreed program for supporting the child to learn were the key issues. A meeting was arranged that would include the class teacher, psychologists and the Autism Team representative, with the parent and Principal.
In the context of mutual regard and a determined focus on the child, significant progress was made on all issues. Two meetings were held, two weeks apart, with the same participants and similar agenda. The intervening period between meetings was a trial of a limited (half day) return of the child with the central focus being to support the child to stay emotionally regulated and happy to be at school. The positive and difficult aspects of the two week trial of the child returning to school were discussed. Restraints had not been needed and rewards / motivators had been effective to assist the child to progress in their work and stay engaged. A plan was agreed for the next phase of the child’s return to school and fortnightly meetings scheduled.
The importance of the parent’s trust in the school was raised, perhaps referencing the presence of an advocate at the recent meetings. The need for an advocate was explained as a parental response to a difficulty in negotiating with the school but not as a signal of grievance or conflict. It was stated that an advocate is not likely to be needed in future, given the progress made.
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