When it comes to accessing educational services for their student, most families have no idea what services are available. Many schools are not very forthcoming about what they have to offer, either. While some school districts are helpful and informative about the process to receive educational services, most parents find navigating this process completely foreign and overwhelming. As a professional working with adolescents, you can provide much-needed information and support to these families.
When Knowledge Truly Is Power
Some kids who come into treatment did not previously have any problems in school, while for others, struggling in school may have been one of the reasons they turned to drugs or alcohol. Either way, chances are that many of these families did not have a good working knowledge of how to best access educational services for their child.
For programs that are supposed to help students with learning disabilities, they can be shockingly complicated to access. Teachers, schools, and districts are often overwhelmed with requests for services and exceptionally short on resources. Parents typically have no idea that services are available.
Sometimes, teachers simply do not do the simple math and put two and two together and arrive at the answer that with a certain resource, a particular student could go from struggling to excelling. Also, there is sometimes information that parents have at home regarding the student’s functioning that the school does not have; the school may not be aware that the student has a disability, for example. Knowledge truly is power.
The importance of Being a Third-Party Resource
This is where you, as a mental healthcare worker, can be an invaluable resource. You have access to knowledge about the student’s abilities and limitations, how they function at home and school, and much more. When you add some knowledge about accessing educational services in your area, you can become an important link between home and school to help the student access the services they need.
How Do I Know How to Help?
There is plenty of information available online about accessing services, and there are also webinars, seminars, and training that can educate you about the basics as well. You do not need to become a legal scholar or a paid advocate to be helpful; any knowledge of the system will be helpful to your clients and their families.
For example, it is important to know the difference between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 Plan. The IEP is a legal, binding document based on a determined disability or need and requires a team involving parents, teachers, and school staff members. Support services are listed with requirements to be met by the school or the district and annual goals made for the student’s academic growth. This is ideal for a student with a mental health diagnosis or learning disability.
In contrast, a 504 plan is not legally binding but is rather a document that makes recommendations to teachers for the academic support of a student. A 504 plan might be helpful for a student who is returning from treatment and trying to catch up, for example.
Offering Support to Families Through Information
There are multiple ways that you can support your client and their families in navigating educational services. The most helpful is through information. By learning the basics of navigating the educational support system and then learning which services are available at their school and in their district, you can help families know what to ask for when it comes to getting help for their student.
You do not need to be an expert or necessarily diagnose a specific disability to make recommendations for the types of services that could help your client. For example, if your client expresses to you that math is very stressful for them, but you see that they have previously managed good grades in math, perhaps all they need is extra time on tests and assignments. As a third party, your recommendations mean a lot in this process.
Supporting Families in Person
Some people enjoy supporting families in this process so much that they become paid advocates and immerse themselves in IEP law. That is not necessary, however, as anyone can be invited to an IEP meeting to support a family or student. When the IEP invitation is sent to the parents and the student, simply have them add you. You may attend meetings with them and speak as to what you know about the student to help determine services (maintaining client confidentiality, of course.) Sometimes, these meetings need someone to say a few positive things about the student, too. Either way, your support is valuable, whether simply by offering knowledge or by showing up in person.
Navigating educational services to get academic support for students can be overwhelming for families. As a third party, you have the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge to share with all of your clients and offer support in this process. Whether you choose to simply pass along this knowledge or take the extra time to show up and offer support in person, you can be an invaluable part of your client’s academic success. At Sustain Recovery, our primary focus is helping adolescents put their lives back on track. This includes finding a balance with educational goals, which may require academic support to maintain. Our extended residential program offers students three hours per day, five days per week, of intensive studies with individual attention due to our very small class size. We tailor our educational approach to each individual’s needs. Contact Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your client.