Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effective Advocacy for Students with Emotional/behavioral Disorders: How High the Cost?

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Effective Advocacy for Students with Emotional/behavioral Disorders: How High the Cost?

Article excerpt

During the colonial and early national period, there was no organized system of advocacy for children. This changed with the advent of the progressive education system and by the 1900s a strong societal sense existed regarding the necessity to attend to the welfare of children. During this time, the National Congress of Mothers, later known as the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, lead by Cora Bussey Hillis mobilized thousands of women in the name of child-saving activism. The Congress mothers justified their activism toward school improvement through their stated obligation to care for all of society's children. These actions continued throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries and were the impetus for a larger movement around the country to identify the needs of children and protect their interests.

Advocacy for children/youth can take many forms, including self-advocacy, peer advocacy, family advocacy, group advocacy and professional advocacy. Fielder (2000) examined the various definitions and concluded that advocacy involves 4 essential characteristics: (1) advocates maintain their loyalty to the individuals they serve despite potential conflict; (2) advocates seek to change the status quo; (3) advocates represent individuals and work collaboratively with others; and (4) advocates endeavor to correct and/or improve identified problematic areas.

Parent and professional advocates have historically been involved in initiating services for children/youth with disabilities at the educational, political, and legal levels (Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, & Soodak, 2005). This study focuses on educational advocacy performed in schools by teachers of students with disabilities; specifically students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD).

The need for effective advocacy is indicated by the fact that students with E/BD drop out of school at a higher rate than any other group of students (Marder & D'Amico, 1992; Rylance, 1997). Given that education is considered an important vehicle to support the successful transition of students with E/BD into adulthood (Cameto, 2003); the loss of educational opportunity is akin to the student's loss of an inalienable right (Goodlad, 1997).

Administrators faced with dwindling district revenues can become frustrated about increasing costs of implementing programs and related services under IDEIA (LaMorte, 2002). Advocating for parents and students with EBD for services beyond what administrators viewed as affordable or as necessary can accentuate the frustration and can become a source of conflict. The cost for the alternative to advocacy or failed advocacy can result in high dollar litigation. The evidence of the disparity in perspectives is shown by the nation's school district expenditure of $146.5 million for special education due process, mediation, and litigation activities regarding appropriate programming and services for students (Center for Special Education Finance, 2004). This costly avenue is the one of the reasons effective advocacy must be considered by teachers and administrators as a viable and positive resource.

Special education teachers, because of their legally mandated close working relationship with students with E/BD, are potentially the school personnel most aware of the educational needs of these students and their families. This awareness puts these teachers in a unique position to advocate for services to meet those needs. Unfortunately, there are various barriers that may inhibit teachers from effectively advocating on behalf of students with E/BD and their families such as school bureaucracy, time constraints, the threat of losing face or status because someone is to blame, employment insecurity, the need to step outside routine operations, opposing perspectives, school-wide need versus individual need, and the threat of litigation.

Herbert & Mould (1992) identified school bureaucracy as a limitation for teachers to perform in school advocacy. …

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