Today’s interview is with Naomi Studevan, owner and founder of Advocacy Unlimited LLC, her mission is to provide parents with the ability to navigate the education system in a way which provides their child with the educational and behavioral health services needed to succeed in school. In this interview Naomi and I discuss some of the common problems and challenges she encounters while working with parents, their children, and the school system. Naomi offers some advice on how to navigate the system and advocate for your child’s right to be treated fairly and educated properly.
Naomi: I have been a professional advocate for about five years now. And I have been an advocate for 15 years now. When I was pregnant with my son, there were a lot of complications. I felt like things were not right. And when I went to my doctor about it, instead of checking me out, he just assumed it was hypertension, and that it was hereditary. My son ended up having a lot of major medical issues. And then there was a point where he was probably around two or three, he was having a lot of issues. I kept going back and forth to the doctor, and they kept sending us home. And there was one time we were at the hospital, and I was just tired, tired, tired, tired, and they came in and said we were being discharged. I told them you are not discharging us until we figure out what is causing this. So, for me that was like that first moment where I realized that if I stand up for myself and not just take the word of the quote unquote, professionals that I can see things through. I can make sure that me and my children get the support and the help that they need. Okay. So fast forward. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, and I have worked in the mental and behavioral health field for years from the time that I graduated. And what I saw was that my goal was always to help children. But in doing the work, I started seeing a lot of discrepancies with children in the home, children in the schools when I work in the schools on case management. I saw that there were unfortunately a lot of teachers who did not have the student’s best interests at heart.
Akiva: What type of mental health issues do you primarily see when you are working with parents and students?
Naomi: Because I have experience in behavioral health, and I have done TSS work, when you go into the schools and you sit in these meetings, a lot of times the focus is on the behavior. The students are throwing desks, they are flipping out, they are hitting students, they are arguing with teachers, they are walking out, they are running the school. And what I have found is that the more you listen, the more you realize that there were antecedents to these behaviors. So, a lot of times when it comes to mental health that is where I see my role. I am almost training school staff on how to handle children who have ADHD, ODD, and Autism in order to figure out what is going on so that you are not seeing these behaviors as much. For example, if a student starts having behaviors right before math, it could be because they are struggling with math and do not want to do it.
Akiva: Do you provide training for the teachers because it sounds like they need it.
Naomi: That’s what I want to do. That is one of my major goals right now, to partner with the schools. Unfortunately, there is an awful, awful relationship right now when it comes to schools and anybody who is considered an education consultant or advocate. There is this aggressive animosity between schools and these people who are supporting parents in navigating that system. And so that is where I’ve kind of hit a wall when it comes to me supporting schools because I would love to do that. I would love to offer that professional development and have it where all staff members receive the same professional development.
Akiva: So how can you navigate this hard relationship between the advocates and the school system because this relationship is important, and it is needed.
Naomi: Exactly. And so, what I have been doing is trying to attend meetings and build rapport with people within the buildings. My approach to advocacy is more so of a mediator. I am all about the student and how can we all work together to figure out what is best for this student. And so, I have in the past, started building relationships with some of the special education directors and people like that, who seemed to truly just have the best interest of the child at heart. I am hoping that my reputation will begin to show them that that is what I am there for, and that they will see me as someone that they can trust, to provide them with information. Because at the end of the day, what is happening is that because the schools are not providing children with the appropriate services when it comes to behavior, it in turn affects the way that they are receiving education.
Akiva: That’s really disheartening because these children are being lost in the sauce.
Naomi: Yes, yes. And that is what I say. Unfortunately, that is what happens. Red flags are not noticed until children are at least two years behind. And that is what one of my other efforts has been. To reach out to preschools and daycares so that early intervention is in place. So, when they make that transition from those early pre k years into kindergarten the ball is not dropped during the transition. Because if they have services in pre-K, and then they go to kindergarten, but services have not been transferred. It typically takes two years before services are properly in place. And so now we have someone going into third grade, reading, writing, and doing math on a kindergarten level because they did not get the services if they are not transferred.
Akiva: Do you notice that you get called for one type of issue over another?
Naomi: Unfortunately, the red flag is risen because of behaviors and this is where I see it the most. Parents become frustrated with the phone calls. They are frustrated because they keep getting phone calls about behavior, but nobody is doing anything. Or it is education related. This is why I say that now is a perfect time for parents to do observations of their own. Because parents are now home schooling, they are realizing that their children are not doing as well as they thought they were. Parents are seeing that in some school environments, they are not grading for correct answers they are grading for answers. And so that is why I say right now is a perfect time for parents to start taking notes. And now you can hold the school and the teachers accountable, because now you are seeing what you were not seeing before.
Akiva: That’s interesting. So, with that example, because parents are homeschooling their kids, and they see that their kids are not understanding what they are learning, but you are coming home with A’s and B’s. What would you then recommend the parents do?
Naomi: Call them out. Everything is documentation, documentation, documentation. And so again, it will be a process. So, we would start with an email, so I would say, I see we are covering some of that same information, but they are not understanding the concepts. Or ask, can you get on with them, so that you can explain it the way that you’re teaching it and so that I can sit in and listen and make sure I’m not doing something different, because I just want to make sure that there’s no deniability in there. But now you can say, I need my child to be assessed on their understanding and comprehension. Now you want them assessed in the school environment because anytime that you see any discrepancies, or you have concerns for their abilities, you can request for them to be assessed. A lot of times parents will say, well, the school said they do not need to be assessed yet. It does not matter. If you have documentation that shows that there’s legit concerns. You have every right for them to be assessed.
Akiva: What would be a message that you would like to get out, and general advice you would like to share?
Naomi: My biggest message to all parents is document, document, document, and go with your gut. If you have a concern of any sorts you need to reach out to someone, and you always start with the initial person whether it’s a teacher or staff member and you work your way up the hierarchy. But you always make sure you do so using documentation. You send an email, in this day and age we have to utilize our resources, document what we are doing, how we are reaching out. And if your concerned do not feel like you are being a crazy parent, do not feel like you are being an overprotective parent, you reach out and you ask for help. If you are not getting it there, then you need to go outside of the school and get additional support.
Naomi can be contacted with the information below:
We all have a voice and an internal guide for a reason, I know it is all to easy to allow our inner voice to be silenced in the face of experts. We sometimes tend to think that because a person has on a white coat, or all these fancy degrees, and letters behind their names that they know more than us. While they may be more educated and have more training in a particular area, that does not give them the right to dismiss or mistreat us and those that we love. Always trust your gut and follow your instincts. You have the right to advocate for yourself and be advocated for.