Parents know their children better than anyone else and can be the most powerful advocate and support for them. Having the opportunity to learn what the speech pathologist or educational psychologist can teach parents about a diagnosis should be awesome - in theory. However, knowing how to bring parents into the team in such a way that ensures they feel heard, safe and confident that the team has the needs of their child at the forefront can be difficult to convey.
Parents new to the individualized education program (IEP) process may go through stages of confusion, fear, anger and even denial. “Parents look to teachers and principals to be experts.” (Supporting Parents of Students with Special Needs, n.d.) When we do not have all the answers, parents may not understand the team approach to the meeting itself. Early in my career as The Learning Support Teacher, I made the mistake of having a Case Consult Meeting with external partners without discussing it with the parents first. The parents arrived to their IEP meeting along with the speech pathologist, the occupational therapist, physiotherapist and behaviour specialist, the classroom teacher, the principal and the educational assistant. I was horrified as the specialists around the table began talking about the child and all the things that were essentially wrong with them and how they intended to fix them. They talked about the child in matter-of-fact terms and I watched in horror as the parent looked as though they wanted to crawl under the table. I imagined how I would have felt if they had been talking about my child and I was ashamed. It was one of the biggest ‘learning experiences’ I have had in my career of what-not-to-do. Communication, consideration and compassion are critical parts to the process.
Knowing how to invite parents into the meeting with external partners involves a truly responsive and conscientious approach. As leaders, we must be cognisant of the stage parents are at in understanding their child’s diagnosis and learning needs. It is important to ask parents how they feel about having external partners into the Case Consult Meeting and explain the role they will have (and I would suggest limiting to one). Parents need to know and understand that they have a voice and a role in supporting their child’s learning. It often can help for parents to begin to recognize a familiar agenda and structure for the conversation, particularly if engaging frequently in these conversations. Consider using or adapting this Case Consult Team Meeting agenda, which includes notes for sequencing the conversation to really focus on the strengths and interests of the child.
Also consider using the Reflecting on Case Consult Team Meetings Organizer, to assist in reflecting on your team’s Case Consult Meetings and where adjustments or improvements could be made to this critical structure.
When done well, the Case Consult Meetings can help parents feel empowered and leave them feeling more equipped to advocate, navigate, understand and access the complex supports that their child requires. The Case Consult should always leave parents feeling like they are part of their child’s learning team. This partnership can transform the impact the team has in truly wrapping around a child and giving them the team they deserve.