You have the right to bring along your own support person to any meeting with your child’s school. There are different kinds of support people.
A support person could be a friend or family member who is there to support you. Some support people can act as an advocate for your child and family. An advocate is someone who can help you understand the language that school uses, and help you get your point across to the school, as Suzanna and Rodney say.
“If you can’t talk, you can always ask an Indigenous person that you know – a family member, or take an Aunty or a daughter, a niece. Someone that can speak the language that they want to hear, but saying what you want. So you can speak through them. So there is ways to get around.” – Suzanna
“Yeah, there is ways. There’s other people who can speak the way you do, and understand you.”– Rodney
Choosing a support person or advocate
It’s up to you who you want to support and maybe advocate for you. Whoever you choose, they should be supportive and non-judgemental. A Koorie education worker can help you, but they might not always know a lot about special needs. You can choose to bring in a support person from outside school as well.
You could choose an appropriate Elder, with experience of working in schools, or in advocacy for the community. You could choose a family member who understands the system – who works in schools, or understands special needs. You could choose a friend, like another parent whose child has similar needs. Or you could choose a community or disability advocate, or a supportive worker.
A community advocate can be anyone in community that the family trusts and respects as acting in the child’s best interests. They might be appointed by other community members to visit families, and offer support. They can help a first time parent understand that their child has special needs, recommend how get help, and help families deal with paperwork. They share care and also information, so families can learn skills to advocate for themselves.
For Stacey, having a community advocate made a big difference.
“If I didn’t have her in my corner to bat for me and my son, I would have more or less laid down and accepted anything they had to say about him. He was even mishandled by a teacher at school. Normally I would have just copped that, went up the school, went off me head … but because I spoke to her, we put it into a different play. She’s a godsend!” – Stacey
Advocacy organisations and workers
Some organisations have advocacy workers, who can help you sort out a problem for no cost. ACD has support workers who you can talk to. There are also regional disability advocacy organisations, and advocacy organisations for children with different special needs. Sometimes, a case manager or a therapist might step in as an advocate, to help out with talking to your child’s school.
- Find out more about where to go for information and help, including many advocacy organisations.
How they can help
Your support person or advocate can tell you about your child’s rights and the help they should get at school. They can yarn with you about how to bring up issues with the school, and help you write to the school or the department.
Some support people might be able to come with you to a meeting. Make sure you have a good yarn beforehand. Many people find it helpful to write down things to bring up, before the meeting. Your support person needs to know what you want, and what’s important to you.
A support person should not make any decisions for you. Instead, they should help you understand what choices you have. And they should help you get your point across to the school. If you feel upset in the meeting, it can be good if your support person can suggest a break, to give you a breather.
Tell the school how it works in community
Schools usually hold meetings only when the main parent or carer is available. But in community – because of extended family care for children – an Aboriginal community advocate might sometimes be able to attend meetings instead of the parent or carer, if they have other obligations. Let the school know that regardless of who attends a meeting on the family’s behalf, the information discussed will be passed on to the family.