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Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

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Be Your Child’s School Advocate

During illness and treatment, it is important that your child gets the best education possible. As an advocate, you communicate your child’s needs and work with the school to make sure those needs are met.

Here are some ways to be an advocate for your child in school and education settings.

Parent and child talk with counselor in school classroom setting

Family caregivers can work with their child’s care team and school to make a plan that meets their child’s educational needs.

Inform others about your child’s condition

Give school representatives and teachers a summary of your child’s medical history. Provide resources that will help them understand your child’s illness and treatment, including side effects. Let them know how your child’s medical conditions might affect learning. Be open to questions that they may have. Make sure they have the information they need to support your child.

Explain that sometimes children with serious illnesses look healthy. But this does not mean they are healthy. Sometimes, they may be too sick to go to school or can only attend part of the day. Talk with teachers about your child’s ability to complete assignments. Keep the school informed about changes in your child’s condition or treatment schedule.

Your child’s medical privacy is important. Let your child’s teacher know what information they can share with others. Discuss any worries your child may have. Work together to make sure your child feels safe and protected.

Your child’s friends and classmates may want to know about your child’s illness. Talk to your child about what they are comfortable sharing. Help your child know how to talk to others about their illness and how to respond to questions they might not want to answer.

Make sure your child’s needs are met

As an advocate, you help communicate your child’s needs. You will work with the health care team and the school to create a plan.

Once a learning plan is created, you will work with the school to monitor your child’s progress and make sure that the plan is working. You can make changes when needed.

Revisit the plan regularly. Look at what is working well and what is not. If there is a problem, work with the school and the care team to find a solution.

If the school’s representative is not communicating with you, contact a supervisor. It may be helpful to put requests in writing, such as an email. This can help make sure that everyone gets the same information and allows for follow-up if needed.

Ask for help

Parenting a child with a serious illness is stressful. It also takes a lot of time. You may want to ask a trusted family member or friend to help you. Your worship or community center may be able to help.

You may also ask hospital and school staff. Many times, they can provide advocacy services. Your social worker can be a valuable resource as well. They can be an advocate for both you and your child. They will have tips for contacting your child’s school and ways to communicate with them.

Talk with other parents and caregivers who have been in similar situations. Or consider joining a support group or online community. It can help to learn from others about what has worked and not worked for them.

Be flexible

Be flexible and reasonable when working with your child’s school. Remember that teachers have other students and responsibilities. Stay in communication with them and be positive.

Give school staff and teachers time to answer your questions or respond to requests. This will make it easier for everyone to work together.

Help your child advocate for themselves 

Teaching children how to advocate for themselves is an important life skill. It can empower them to identify and express their needs and solve problems.

Children often learn by example. Let them know that it is OK to ask for help when needed. Show them how to communicate clearly and respectfully. Be a safe space for them to ask questions, share ideas, and voice concerns.

If possible, involve your child in discussions and planning. Let them advocate for their own needs and speak for themselves when they are ready. This will help them develop self-awareness, confidence, and independence.

Questions to ask your care team 

  • Who can help me advocate for my child?
  • How do I get this help?
  • What information will I need to give to the school?
  • Does my child need an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 plan?
  • Are there other parents I could talk to or a support group I could join?

Key points about being your child’s school advocate

  • As your child’s school advocate, it is important for you to engage with teachers and school staff to support your child's education needs.
  • Work with your care team to make sure your child’s school understands how your child’s illness and treatment might affect school attendance and learning.
  • Monitor your child’s learning plan and work with the school to adjust the plan when needed.
  • Get support from your care team, community resources, and other families who have been through a similar situation.
  • Help your child build skills in self-advocacy by including them in planning and encouraging them to speak up for themselves when appropriate.

Reviewed: June 2024

Find more information

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