As my own online training program for special education advocacy becomes more common, I get a lot more questions about it. Recently I have fielded several questions about Board Certified Special Education Advocates.

Rather than keep typing up the same response in email, I thought I’d gather up all my thoughts and put them here. That way, when someone asks about a board certified advocate in special education, I only have to send them this link.

A hand holding an iPad with a notepad on it, displaying information from a Board Certified Special Education Advocate.

Board Certified Special Education Advocate sounds pretty fancy and impressive, but is it really meaningful? Or worth the extra cost?

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What does board certified mean?

Before I dig into special education advocates specifically, I want to give an overview of the term board certified.

After all, as parents who have probably been to numerous doctors and specialists because we have disabled children, we’ve probably heard this term quite a bit.

“Board certified” typically refers to a professional certification given by a governing body or board in a particular field or specialty. It indicates that an individual has met certain standards and qualifications set by that board, demonstrating a high level of expertise and competence in their respective area.

In the medical field, for example, physicians may become board certified by completing additional training beyond medical school and residency, and by passing a rigorous examination specific to their specialty. This certification is often seen as a mark of excellence and indicates that the physician has achieved a certain level of proficiency in their field.

Board certification can also apply to other professions, such as law, accounting, engineering, and more, where specialized knowledge and skills are required. In each case, the specific requirements for certification may vary depending on the governing body or board responsible for overseeing that profession.

So, sounds all well and good, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re talking about more training, more exams, and a governing body that has to approve the certification. That has to mean they’re better advocates, no?

Well, not necessarily………..

A Board Certified Special Education Advocate sitting at a desk looking at her laptop.

Advocate Certification Requirements

So, if you’re new to this, as a parent, you may have never heard of this group before. It’s called COPAA. COPAA stands for Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys, and so far, they are the largest group of parent IEP advocates and attorneys who represent families in IEP due process.

I’ve been a member off and on for a long time. I say off and on because I sometimes let my membership lapse.

They have strict membership guidelines, in that if 50% of your household income comes from a school district (LEA) or state education agency (SEA), you cannot be a member. It is strictly for people who are on the parent side of the IEP table.

I don’t know if there is anyone who would argue that COPAA is “the group” when it comes to advocates and attorneys.

And, here’s what they say about special education advocate certification.

no national license for advocates

That’s a snippet from their website and it’s kind of small, so I’ll retype it. (bold mine)

Currently, there are no federal or state legislative regulatory guidelines addressing the educational or credentialing requirements for an individual to serve as an Advocate, nor to inform the practice of “special education advocacy.” It is, therefore, essential that the parents are as informed as possible when selecting a professional Advocate.

COPAA

That “informed as possible” part is what I try to do here on this site.

As an aside, I often am asked if I think that getting health insurance to reimburse you for an advocate is ever going to be possible. My answer relates to the statement above. No. Until there is one single credentialing body for special education advocates, there is no way to monitor who is an advocate and who isn’t.

Basically, yeah, anyone can call themselves an advocate. With no regulatory requirements, you cannot tell someone they are not an advocate.

What it comes down to is experience. It’s why I have listed all of my experience on one page for potential clients to read through.

Board Certified Special Education Advocates

So, back to this board certified thing.

Parents, you do need to be “as informed as possible” as stated above.

If I was hiring someone who was touting this certification, I’d look for more information online. Specifically, here are some questions you can ask.

  • Who is the “certifying body” that grants this board certification?
  • Who is on the “board” of the board certification? Are they professional advocates or attorneys in good standing? What can you find out about them?
  • What “additional training” or testing was required to get this certification?

My son has had two brain surgeries in the past 6 years. His neurosurgeon is board certified. When we were pursuing treatments for his seizures, those phrases came up often.

Of course when I am having someone cut open my kid’s skull, I want them to be qualified. So, I could look online as to what board certified means in pediatric neurosurgery. I probably wouldn’t have hired him to do this if it was “Joe Schmoe’s Brain Surgery Group.”

Sure, advocacy is not brain surgery. Still, your money and your time and your child’s outcomes have tremendous value, and you owe it to them to investigate a special education advocate’s certification or credentials.

lisa lightner and kevin lightner
Me and my favorite advocacy client, the kid who started it all!

Special Education Advocate Certification

Yes, I offer an online training program for people to become special education advocates.

I have taken 3 other programs myself–no, I’m not going to list them. I believe two of the three call it a certification.

I’ve been asked if mine provides a certification. Sure, there’s a cute certificate to print out when you’re done.

But I do not claim to offer a certification, board certified or otherwise, because there are none in the industry.

Surely I could gather up several of my friends, ask them to be on a “certifying board” and then claim that it’s a board certification. But would that really increase the value of the program, or make them better advocates?

A Board Certified Special Education Advocate walking down a hallway with a clipboard.

Certified Special Education Advocates

Most of the best advocates out there started out doing this for their kids. Then, they became knowledgeable, and started helping friends. From there, it blossomed into a small business.

To be a solid IEP advocate, you need:

  • Tools
  • Training
  • Experience

Anything above and beyond that, like passing a test, is just extra. That is, if….that test has any meaning to it.

I took what I learned from all three of the other programs, and made it the best of all 3. That’s not to say that there isn’t any value in the others. But I don’t speak about other programs online.

Yes, there are free training options online and you surely should investigate those as well. I would hold them to the same high standards you have for the programs you might pay for. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time, just because it was free.

Listen, I just want successful outcomes for your disabled child.

As I said, and as COPAA said….just make sure you are highly informed. And I’d add–not just informed about hiring an advocate, but informed about IEPs. Even if you continue to hire an advocate throughout your child’s career, you must know the IEP process yourself. Do not rely upon someone else’s interpretation of IDEA or the process.

Learn it yourself. Good luck in whatever you choose.

You can click this image of a special education advocacy chart to learn more about my training.

A screenshot of a web page for a Board Certified Special Education Advocate.

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