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Leveling the Playing Field: IEP/IFSP Facilitation As Equalizer. Presented by: Diana MTK Autin, Esq., Executive Co-Director, Region I Parent TA Center @ the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of NJ (c) 2005. What is facilitation?.

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Leveling the Playing Field: IEP/IFSP Facilitation As Equalizer

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Leveling the Playing Field:IEP/IFSP Facilitation As Equalizer

Presented by:

Diana MTK Autin, Esq., Executive Co-Director,

Region I Parent TA Center @ the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of NJ

(c) 2005

What is facilitation?

-Facilitation is guidance of a group in a problem-solving process. The group leader -- a facilitator -- is neutral in regard to the issues or topics under discussion. The facilitator works with the group as a whole and provides procedural help in moving toward a conclusion.

What is facilitation?

  • It is managed by the facilitator with the consent of the participants. The goal of both the facilitator and the group is to arrive at a collective decision through substantive discussions.

  • Facilitation leads toward empowerment and consensus. To the extent that a group is representative of stakeholders, the conclusion is a position or a level of consensus it has jointly achieved.

What is facilitation?

  • Group energies are focused on a task or a limited issue;

  • Discussion is structured without controlling what is said;

  • Discussion is kept to the topic, with new issues identified and reformulated as they arise;

  • Participation in discussion is equalized; and

  • The facilitator probes for consensus or agreement on issues.

What is the difference between meeting facilitation & mediation?

  • Facilitation is similar to mediation in that participants work toward mutual understanding with the help of a leader. However, facilitation works toward building consensus within a meeting, right from the beginning of the process, while mediation is usually employed when an impasse is reached.

What emotions do families feel at IEP/IFSP meetings?

What emotions do families feel at meetings with professionals?

  • Walking on eggshells

  • Fear

  • Fatigue

  • Hurt

  • Exasperation

What emotions do families feel at meetings with professionals?

  • Sadness

  • Disappointment

  • Panic

  • Shame & embarrassment

  • Hopelessness

What emotions do families feel at meetings with professionals?

  • Generalizations and assumptions

  • Intimidation

  • Loneliness

  • Defeatism

  • Paranoia

  • Powerlessness

  • Retaliation and revenge

What emotions do families feel at meetings with professionals?

  • Betrayal

  • Distrust

  • Confusion

  • Anger

  • Guilt

  • Anxiety

  • Misperceived

  • Frustration

  • Shock

What emotions do professionals feel at meetings with families?

How do these emotions affect the potential success of the meeting?

Who’s Got the Power?

Who’s Got the Power?

Who has:

  • All the records?

  • Access to professionals at no charge?

  • Access to an attorney to prepare for and consult with during the session, or represent them if it fails to resolve the issues?

Who’s Got the Power?

Who is sure to:

-Speak English?

-Be literate?

-Be paid to participate in the meeting?

-Have transportation?

Who’s Got the Power?

Who may:

-Fear retaliation against their child?

-Have self-doubts?

-Worry what others might think?

-Have to remortgage their home to afford an attorney if things don’t work out?

How can the scales be balanced?

  • Five things can help balance the scales:

    • Knowledge (what does the law require? What does their child need?)

    • Access to legal resources

    • Effective communication & advocacy skills

    • Ongoing support

    • “Fair” environment

How can the scales be balanced?

  • In your small group, identify 3-5 things that could happen:

    • BEFORE the meeting

    • DURING the meeting

  • Who should be responsible for making sure this occurs?

Balancing the Scales: Knowledge

  • What do parents need to know in advance of the IEP/IFSP meeting?

Balancing the Scales: Knowledge

  • The law:

    • Special education rights

    • Parental safeguards

    • How the meeting process works

    • What happens if the meeting is unsuccessful

Balancing the Scales: Knowledge

  • What actions require their consent? Which do not?

  • How long do they have to give or withhold consent? To challenge a decision with which they do not agree? What happens if they do nothing?

  • How do they show their disagreement?

Balancing the Scales: Knowledge

  • Their child’s needs:

    • What does the most recent evaluation mean?

    • What kind of progress is their child making?

    • What services is their child receiving & what is the impact of those services?

Balancing the Scales: Legal & Other Resources

  • What legal resources are available to help them prepare for the meeting? Accompany them to the meeting? Represent them if the meeting is not successful?

    • Parent centers

    • Protection & Advocacy

    • Legal Services

    • Private attorneys

Balancing the Scales: Legal & Other Resources

  • What can states and parent centers do together to enhance the knowledge and resources available to families to prepare for the IEP/IFSP meeting?

  • Think about tools to develop & disseminate, trainings to conduct

Preparing for the Meeting

  • Develop easy-to-use, “fill in the blanks” forms for families to use when preparing for and participating in an IEP/IFSP meeting. Ensure the form elicits from the family information on each required component of the IEP/IFSP.

  • Provide easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions for completing the form as a part of the form itself.

  • Disseminate them widely to families as part of Basic Rights manual, parental rights booklets, and workshops.

Preparing for the Meeting

  • Pilot tools with diverse families to ensure that they are appropriate for families from diverse backgrounds, languages, etc.

  • Make sure the form and instructions are in multiple languages and in language that families with low literacy can understand.

Requesting meetings or changes

  • Develop model request forms that contain some of the most common concerns, cites the relevant sections of federal and state law and regulation, and gives examples of how parents might write their concerns and suggested resolution. Model forms can help parents think about exactly how they feel about what is happening, and identify what they would like to see happen to meet their child’s needs and/or resolve concerns.

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • What skills do families need to be able to participate effectively in IEP/ IFSP meeting?

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • Ability to speak, read, and understand English or

  • Effective translation & interpretation assistance

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • Information presented in a clear and understandable way without using jargon or acronyms

  • Time allotted to their participation; space made for their ideas

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • Deciding what they want to achieve

  • Prioritizing what they want

  • Explaining to others what they want and why: the reasons behind what they are asking for

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • Expressing themselves without being rude or aggressive

  • Understanding others’ perspectives & points of view

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • How not to put the other party on the defensive by reviewing all the things that they perceive have gone wrong.

  • How to describe their ideas about what can be done to improve the situation.

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • How not to get too excited and hopeful about a new idea without taking time to carefully consider it. A new option may seem very attractive just because it's new.

  • How to take time to assess carefully, and to consider why a particular option might or might not be appropriate and satisfactory.

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • How not to forget that the issue is FAPE in LRE for their child (IEP) or appropriate services for child & family in natural environment consistent with family routines.

  • How to focus on the unique needs and strengths of their child & family.

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • How not to become so committed to one idea that they don't recognize a good opportunity when presented.

  • How to keep an open mind.

Balancing the Scales:Effective Communication & Advocacy Skills

  • How not to get trapped by previous experiences, or past dissatisfactions which get in the way of current options.

  • How to focus on the present and the future, and recognize their long-term interests in their child’s development.

Balancing the Scales:Ongoing Support

  • What are possible sources of support for families before and/or at IEP/IFSP meetings that will help balance the scales?

Balancing the Scales:What does the research say?

  • Effective meeting facilitation may require special preparation for participants. Some groups may not be sufficiently well-organized to participate. All participants, including less powerful interests, must have equal standing within the process. Consideration must be given to participants’ range of knowledge and experience with the subject matter. Special printed material and briefing sessions are often necessary to give all participants an equal level of basic knowledge and understanding so they can participate effectively in the meeting process.

Balancing the Scales:Preparing for the Meeting

  • Offer telephone or in-person technical assistance to families regarding how to prepare for a meeting. Help the family talk through their goals and/or concerns.

  • If they have concerns, why do they feel that their child’s program or placement is not appropriate? What kind of “evidence” or facts do they have to support their position? What would they like to see happen differently?

Balancing the Scales:Preparing for the Meeting

  • Listen to the parent’s story

  • Help them identify:

    • Facts

    • Relevant law

    • Proposed solution(s)

  • Help the parent plan & walk through presentation of their thoughts

    • What their child needs for FAPE in LRE & supporting documentation

    • What is actually happening & documentation

    • Proposed solution

Balancing the Scales:Preparing for the Meeting

  • Help parent identify who they might bring to the session to provide support

    • Friend

    • Parent center staff

    • Advocate if needed

  • Explain to the parent what will happen during the meeting & what happens if it does or doesn’t resolve the issues

  • Explain conflict resolution options such as mediation, due process, request for complaint investigation

Balancing the Scales:At the Meeting

  • Work with the state to develop clear procedures for IFSP/IEP meetings, including providing independent, non-biased facilitation at the meeting at the request of the parent or the district/EI team to make it more likely that the meeting will result in agreement on IEP/IFSP.

Balancing the Scales:At the Meeting

  • Work with the state to develop a training protocol and implement trainings for meeting facilitators. Ensure that the facilitators who are selected for the program are unbiased. Identify parent center staff to participate in the training program as trainers and as potential facilitators.

Balancing the Scales:At the Meeting

  • Train parent volunteers and/or parent center staff to accompany parents to the meeting for support, or to be available on the phone during the meeting for families who need support

  • Ensure that they understand:

Balancing the Scales:At the Meeting

  • -The law

    -Meeting procedures and consequences

    -How to provide support to the family without substituting their judgment for the family’s judgment

    -How to actively listen (to the family, the district, and other participants)

    -How to help the family explain their position

Balancing the Scales:At the Meeting

--Other options for the family & how to access them

-How to assist the family to negotiate

-How to explain to the family what they are “giving away” if they compromise or “settle” for less than they believe they are entitled to.

Meeting Facilitation

  • A facilitator can:

    • Provide a problem-solving structure & process.

    • Assure that everyone will be listened to with respect

    • Ensure that everyone understands the process, their rights, and the consequences of various decisions

    • Help the parties begin a meaningful and constructive dialogue

Meeting Facilitation

  • Facilitators ensure that the group is fully aware of the issues prior to discussion of steps to be taken.

  • Facilitators assure that education on technical issues takes place as appropriate and seek out the stances of participants on those issues.

  • Facilitators ensure that points are clarified and elicit follow-up on questions.

  • Opinions are respected by facilitators, who assure that all members of the group are respectful of each other’s views.

Meeting Facilitation

  • The facilitator must be accepted by the group as unbiased, constructive, and fair.

  • She or he is familiar with assisting group discussions via group processes, communication, and conflict resolution skills.

  • The facilitator elicits both facts and opinions and helps the group distinguish between them.

  • It is helpful if the facilitator is also intimately familiar with the subject matter of the discussion.

Meeting Facilitation

  • Neutrality is maintained at all times. If an opinion is requested, it can be given, but prior to offering the opinion the facilitator announces that she or he is stepping out of the neutral role. At no time should a facilitator make a decision for the group. The "what I'm hearing" technique brings discussion back to the agenda and checks on whether people are in agreement.

Meeting Facilitation

  • A facilitator doesn’t:

    • Make decisions for the parties

    • Substitute their judgment for that of the parties

    • Pressure the parties to come to agreement

Balancing the Scales:Ensuring a Fair Environment

  • How can we ensure a fair environment at the meeting?

Skills for Effective Facilitation

  • What are the skills of an effective facilitator at a meeting?

  • What skills in particular are needed in situations where power is not equal?

Meeting Facilitation

  • What is bias? Neutrality?

  • How is one’s bias perceived by those in various positions or from various perspectives?

  • Is it ever possible to eliminate one’s own biases?

  • Does the facilitator owe anyone allegiance based on the structure of facilitation in the state?

  • How can the facilitator compensate for their own biases to remain objective & fair and be accepted as neutral & fair by all participants?

Facilitator Skills

  • Capacity to ascertain existence of power imbalance in the room

  • Ability to determine whether additional information is needed for the parents to be able to pursue the facilitated meeting as an effective participant

  • Sensitivity to when the parent is agreeing vs. being overpowered by professionals

Skills for Effective Facilitation

  • Capable of helping participants:

    • Clarify their views

    • Communicate more effectively

    • Express ideas and concerns without interruption

    • Understand other perspectives and points of view

Skills for Effective Facilitation

  • Knowledgeable that:

    • Consensus is not silence

    • Consensus is what all participants knowingly assent

    • The purpose of the facilitation is not to ensure that a resolution is reached

    • The purpose of the facilitation is to help the parties reach agreement if knowing & informed agreement can be reached

What roles might a facilitator play?

The facilitator may:

  • Share useful information

  • Remind participants of the requirements of the law

  • Provide time for calm discussion of disagreements

  • Periodically check in to ensure everyone is on the same page & understands what has or hasn’t been agreed to and what the issues are

What roles might a facilitator play?

  • The facilitator might:

    • Encourage creative thinking and solutions

    • Suggest options that the parties may not have thought about.

What roles might a facilitator play?

  • The facilitator might:

    • Help parties narrow areas of disagreement as much as possible

    • Focus on major issues of dispute

What roles might a facilitator play?

  • The facilitator might help the parties:

    • Not jump from specifics to generalizations

    • Avoid personalizing their disagreements

Let’s try it out!

  • Divide into groups of 5

    • Facilitator

    • Parents

    • Director of Special Services

    • IEP Team member

  • Read the scenario

  • Plan your meeting

Let’s try it out!

  • Think about:

    • How are you feeling?

    • Who has the power?

    • How can the scales be balanced?

    • How will the facilitator open the meeting?

    • How will the meeting be structured?

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