Family Advocacy

Resources for Families  

Family engagement is essential for student success and advocacy when accessing special education services. Family involvement improves with more special education knowledge, as do partnerships with school districts. National and State Departments of Education often provide current and relevant information for families to increase their understanding of special education. 

Family Advocacy 

Families may bring advocates to IEP meetings, which may improve family-school communication. Advocates help families: 

  • Communicate with school districts 
  • Understand their rights in IEP meetings 
  • Resolve disputes regarding special education services 

Families are also encouraged to access free online resources to learn about the IEP process, and their children’s rights to special education services. The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund advocates for students and families receiving special education services. They provide sample letters for families to communicate with school districts on behalf of their children's educational needs. The DREDP also hosts free workshops for families overviewing special education issues in English and Spanish. 

National Organizations           

The Center for Parent Information & Resources (CPIR) is a national organization that provides Parent Centers throughout the country, online educational resources, and relevant special education information to support families and communities with diverse abilities. The organization is managed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. It has an extensive online library to provide resources to families, with numerous resources for families in English and Spanish. The organization also works with experts to provide webinars and free online events for families, and local parent centers across the U.S. for families and communities.   

Family Voices is a national organization by and for families and communities whose children have complex health needs and disabilities. It provides a wealth of knowledge regarding education and health for young children with disabilities in English and Spanish to support family advocacy and empowerment.   

PACER Center provides training, education, and advocacy for students and families with disabilities in Minnesota and throughout the United States. PACER’s learning center, resources, and workshops to educate families about the supports and resources available for their children.   

The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) works with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs to support families, educators, and community partners prevent and resolve special education disputes. CADRE resources include parent guides on IDEA dispute resolution options, available in several languages, and a searchable database of special education dispute resolution practices.   

California-Based Organizations   

The California Department of Education created Parent Engagement Module Series in English and Spanish. They overview family involvement and partnerships when accessing special education services.  

The Special Education Rights & Responsibilities (SERR) manual was created by Disability Rights California to share information with families about state and federal special education legislation. 

California Family Empowerment Centers on Disability connects families throughout the state with training and regional support. Family Empowerment Centers are often managed by families, and act as important community resources through their work with families and community organizations. 



Goldman, S. E., Burke, M. M., Casale, E. G., Frazier, M. A., & Hodapp, R. M. (2020). Families requesting advocates for children with disabilities: The who, what, when, where, why, and how of special education advocacy. Intellectual and developmental disabilities, 58(2), 158-169. 

Farley, J., Huscroft-D’Angelo, J., Trout, A. L., & Duppong Hurley, K. (2020). A Review of Web-Based Special Education Resources Provided to Parents by State Departments of Education. The Journal of Special Education, 54(3), 180-190. 

Rossetti, Z., Burke, M. M., Rios, K., Tovar, J.A., Schraml-Block, K., Rivera, J. I.,  Cruz, J. & Lee, J.D. (2021) From individual to systemic advocacy: Parents as change agents, Exceptionality, 29:3, 232-247, DOI: 10.1080/09362835.2020.1850456 

The UCSF | UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia & Cognitive Diversity Center does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of external resources. Sharing available information is not endorsement of viewpoints expressed from external sources, nor is it a substitute for advice from medical professionals.