Over time, as a parent, you may come across a wide range of professionals involved with your child. You may first be involved with people from the medical field, staff from an early intervention program, and eventually school board personnel. It is beneficial to develop positive relationships with the team of professionals supporting you and your child. Regular communication will be needed to:
- share and update information about your child
- problem solve (any barriers or obstacles)
- develop common goals and strategies that can be implemented in your child’s program at school, child care, and at home
- share successes and progress
- develop a trust with others working with your child over a long period of time
Preparing for a meeting
Formal and informal meetings with your child’s team will take place for various reasons (e.g., set goals, review programming and strategies). Understanding the purpose of each meeting will help you as the parent and primary decision maker for your child to develop and strengthen your role and relationship with other team members.
At times, it may seem frustrating to answer questions that you have addressed in the past with other professionals. With a little preparation, meetings can be a positive way of sharing critical information about your child. Ask the following questions of the person or primary contact who is organizing the meeting:
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
Meetings may have different purposes. The first time you meet with professionals may be for information sharing only, or may include goal setting and program planning for your child. As your relationship with the team develops, you may continue to meet on a regular basis to review your child’s programming, or to address any new issues.
- Who will be at the meeting?
Ask who will be attending the meeting, the agency they are from and their specific role with your child. If you are unfamiliar with a person from another agency ask for a pamphlet or written information about the agency before the meeting.
- What do you need to bring to the meeting?
During the meeting you may be asked questions about your child and general information about any other services your child is receiving. You can choose to share reports or any documents that you feel will benefit your child during this meeting. These reports may include previous assessment reports and programming notes. It is a good idea to organize your reports and documents in one place, such as a binder. Information can be filed as it is collected and organized for easy access as it is needed.
The Child Information Binder can help you create a binder or booklet that contains your child’s photograph, information specific to your child’s strengths, interests and needs, and a list of professionals involved with your child. Check out the For More Information box at the end of this document for details.
Remember that reports and information about your child can only be shared with your agreement. Make sure that you understand why the information is needed and who will be able to see the information. You may be asked for your permission to share information, or to sign a “Consent to Release Information” form.
Tips for a successful meeting
Now that you are prepared for the meeting there are a few things you can do during the meeting to make it successful.
- Bring a supportive person with you
Bring a person with whom you are comfortable to the meeting. It is important that you have someone with you who shares your vision and can help you advocate for other supports you would like for your child. This person may be a professional who is part of the team, a relative, or a friend. Make sure you discuss and agree upon their role before attending the meeting.
- Take meeting notes
It is good to write notes about each meeting. At many meetings, someone will be the designated note-taker. Request a copy of the meeting notes or “minutes”, but keep your own written record as well, just in case.
In your notes you should include:
- who attends each meeting
- what was discussed
- what decisions were made
- the actions resulting from the meeting (e.g., changes to programming, requesting services, contacting other professionals)
- who is responsible for these actions
- the time frame needed for each action
- the date of the next meeting
This will help you remember who is going to do what and when. The Meeting Notes sheet found at the end of this document can help you organize your notes.
- Communicate for success
Building a strong, supportive team can be a challenging task. The benefits of maintaining positive communication with team members, however, can enhance your child’s experience in a program and help to plan for the future. You may not always agree with what professionals suggest or recommend for your child. Even if you don’t agree, the following suggestions may help you build a positive working relationship:
- Always start and end on a positive note (e.g., saying something good that has taken place in your child’s life, or is now happening). The beginning of a meeting is an excellent time to show your child’s picture to the team members.
- Give your full attention to each person while they are talking.
- If you are unsure about any comments during the meeting, ask the person to clarify and provide examples of what they are saying.
- Make sure you have had an opportunity to share information about your child. You can give suggestions or ideas about things that motivate your child, or activities you do at home. Remember that you are the expert when it comes to your child and the team will value your insight.
If you are feeling overwhelmed at any point during a meeting, you can request that the meeting be stopped for a short period. Do not feel pressured into making decisions on the spot when you really need time to think about them. Tell your team members that you would like to take a few days to think over their input before making a final decision regarding your child’s care or schooling.
Despite your best efforts, there may be differences of opinion. You will need to work together to find solutions. Try the following steps:
- Define the problem/concern
Share your concerns. If you feel that a decision or outcome of a meeting is not in your child’s best interests, then tell your team. You may be more comfortable with one member of the team and feel confident to talk to her about your concerns. That person is responsible for sharing your concerns with the full team and looking for solutions. Write down any points of discussion that you do not agree with or would like changed. Give a copy of your concerns to the team. It will provide the team members with a clear understanding of your viewpoint and help to develop a plan of action to move forward.
- Choose the solutions that almost everyone can accept
Evaluate all possible solutions and select realistic options. There is no point in looking at solutions that you know will not occur for another 6-12 months. Record who is responsible for what action and establish a timeline of when they will get back to you.
- Follow-up and evaluation
Set a date for a follow-up meeting. At that meeting you will be able to discuss if the solution is working and if further changes are needed. Choose another option if necessary.
The best relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and openness, where both parents and professionals exchange information and ideas about the best care, medical intervention, or educational program for your child.
Adapted from “OAFCCS Parents as Partners” workshop.