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How to Choose The Right Advocate for Your Family

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jennifer Bernheim, founder of Right To Read Advocacy, for a conversation about advocacy and the family vision for student success.

As the mom of a dyslexic learner, Jennifer knows how challenging it can be to navigate the special education process in a public school district, and she helps parents demystify this overwhelming process and empower them to support their child's needs.

Her recent education includes the Orton-Gillingham Academy Subscriber Course and WrightsLaw Special Ed Law & Advocacy Training. She has completed the esteemed Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) Special Education and Advocacy Training (SEAT) 1.0 course and is currently enrolled in SEAT 2.0. Jennifer adheres to COPAA’s Advocate Voluntary Code of Ethics.

Jennifer has a master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Rhode Island. She lives in Weston, Connecticut with her husband, their three children, and their Australian labradoodle.

During our conversation with Jennifer, she shared with us how to find an advocate and the questions you should consider before hiring an advocate.

How to Find an Advocate

If someone were brand new to this world and in search of an advocate, an easy place to start is in their community. As with any other type of service provider, you want to make sure that your advocate fits your needs and that you will work well together. You can find out a lot about an advocate by asking those in your community, be it local or virtual. 

Ask other parents in your community who they have had for an advocate and ask them to share their positive and or negative experiences.

You can also reach out to organizations to help you find an advocate. Most states have a Parent Advocacy Center where you can start to gather information. While Decoding Dyslexia and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) don’t provide advocates, they do offer communities where you would be able to ask questions of members and for referrals. 

The Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) can also help you find an advocate in a specific state or area. 

3 Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Advocate

1. Have they worked in your child’s school district?

An important question to ask of a potential advocate is if they have ever worked in your child’s school district before. You want to have an idea of how involved they've been within your child’s school district. Ask if they are familiar with the personnel within the district.

2. What is their advocacy style?

Ask a potential advocate questions about their advocacy style. If an advocate has an aggressive style, consider if that is what you will want at the IEP meeting. An advocate may not share this information with you directly, but you can get the information from other families that they’ve worked with. 

3. What is the pricing and how do they bill?

Advocacy is an investment and knowing what that investment is up front is really important. It is important to make sure that your advocate has transparent pricing.

You don’t want any surprises down the road. Make sure you have a conversation with your potential advocate about how and when they bill. It’s not uncommon for advocates to charge hourly, but will they bill weekly, monthly, or at a different interval? Also make sure you are clear on what classifies as billable hours. 

Connect with our guest, Jennifer Bernheim! Visit Right to Read Advocacy and find her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest

For our full conversation with Jennifer Bernheim, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!
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