Welcome to the Parent Consultant Training Institute!
By Laura Yellick, Statewide Training Coordinator – Parent Training and Information Center (FCSN)
“How can I learn more about the special education laws and process so that I can advocate for my child?” Every day parents are asking themselves this very question. Understanding the special education laws, your child’s educational rights and the special education process can be confusing and overwhelming. Learning how to advocate for your child can be even more daunting. Over 30 years ago the Federation for Children with Special Needs recognized the need for parents to have the opportunity to learn about the special education laws that protect their children and how to advocate on behalf of their children. What started as a small lay advocacy project in the mid 1970’s has become what is known today as the Parent Consultant Training Institute. Each year the Federation trains almost 150 parents and professionals through this program, empowering participants with the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to navigate the special education system in Massachusetts.
The Parent Consultant Training Institute, also known as the “PCTI program”, is an intensive special education advocacy course offered by the Federation for Children with Special Needs. Unique to Massachusetts, the PCTI program is open to both parents of children with special needs as well as the professionals that support them. Sessions are held several times each year at various locations throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The course provides over 40 hours of classroom instruction and training. Topics covered include Basic Rights in Special Education, Federal and State Special Education Laws and Regulations, IEP Development, Writing Measureable IEP Goals, Transition Planning for Middle and High School Students, School Discipline, Neuropsychological Evaluations, 504 Plans, Medicaid Behavioral Health Entitlements (also known as the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative or “CBHI”), Supporting Students with Complex Healthcare Needs, Families and Culture, Effective Communication, Building Parent and Professional Partnerships, Special Education Advocacy, Special Education Compliance and Resolving Differences with the School. Workshops are taught by Federation staff members, attorneys, distinguished professionals and staff from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA).
After completing the 40 hours of classroom instruction, all PCTI participants are invited to participate in an optional internship. The internship is an additional opportunity for PCTI participants to practice applying the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom by helping other families along their special education journey. During the internship, PCTI participants volunteer for 25 hours in our Call Center located at the Federation office in Boston. There they offer telephone support to families and professionals who call the Federation with questions about everything from special education law and process to suggestions for summer camps. Federation staff members work closely with volunteers to ensure that callers receive the most relevant and accurate information. As part of the internship PCTI participants also agree to provide a total of 25 hours of free (also called “pro bono”) advocacy assistance to families who cannot afford to pay for a special education advocate. For many families, this free advocacy assistance can result in not only more supports and services for a child on an IEP but also increased collaboration and partnership between the school and the parents.
The goal of the PCTI program is simple: to continue creating a pool of informed and empowered individuals who can share their knowledge and skills with other parents to help protect the rights of all children with disabilities. For many PCTI participants, the PCTI program provides an opportunity to pursue a new career interest in the field of special education advocacy; for others, the PCTI program is an opportunity to learn about the laws and the process so that they can be better advocates for their own children. For all PCTI participants, the PCTI program offers a unique opportunity to connect with experts and leaders in the field of special education. For the Federation, the PCTI program enables us to partner with new volunteers who are able to help us achieve our mission of providing information, support, and assistance to all parents of children with disabilities, their professional partners, and their communities.
Applications to the PCTI program are accepted throughout the year, with preference given to parents and caretakers of children with disabilities. The current tuition for the program is $325 for parents and $425 for professionals. Limited scholarships are offered through the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) on a first come first serve basis. Fall and winter sessions are currently being scheduled. For more information on our PCTI program or the scholarships available through the MDDC you can visit our website at www.fcsn.org or contact the program administrator, Laura Yellick, at firstname.lastname@example.org.