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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 2001 Issue #78 

EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANTS
(And why some parents donít use them)
By: Lon Woodbury 

An Independent Educational Consultant makes his or her living helping parents find the right school or program for their child. Originally, Educational Consultants were oriented toward private boarding schools in their search to help parents find the best fit for their childís academic strengths and weaknesses. More recently, many Educational Consultants have turned their attention to at-risk children. Like myself, they devote all or most of their practice to working with the specialized Emotional Growth and Therapeutic schools and programs that have been founded to work with the special needs within this population. In this essay, Iím talking about this specialized group of about 85 consultants who are listed on my web site and in the back of my Directory. 

There is an old saying, if you want to understand professional relationships, ďfollow the money.Ē Independent Educational Consultants are one of the few groups of childcare professionals who have a clear priority of putting the interests of the family and child first, because they are hired to do so by the parents. Most other groups of childcare professionals will have other pressing loyalties, depending on who is paying them. For example, school and program admissions and intake people, both private and public, have enrolling children as their first priority. Public school administrators will often tend to be most interested in saving money, and the expensive costs for a special needs child too often becomes their second priority. 

Why is it, with a group of Educational Consultants readily available to provide personal and individualized help to parents, do so many parents purposefully avoid this resourse? There seem to be several reasons, many of which have been thoroughly discussed by parents in my Discussion Board on http://www.strugglingteens.com. They can be summarized as follows: 

TOO EXPENSIVE: This is often a false economy, but the desire to minimize cost is understandable given that a middle class parentís finances will be stretched to the limit to afford a quality school or program for their child. It doesnít help when they hear some parents complain (or so they brag?) about how their consultant charged a very high fee, even demanding payment before the parent had met or even spoken with the consultant. Often complaints about poor quality service with high fees are like the famous whisper game, being exaggerated with each telling until it gets to hair-raising proportions. Unfortunately, sometimes they havenít been exaggerated. 

GENERALIZED DISTRUST OF CHILD CARE PROFESSIONALS: After a while a parentís experiences can convince them that the school officials, law enforcement or Health and Welfare officials they had appealed to for help, canít or wonít help them. At this point it seems to take a real leap of faith to think an educational consultant is any different. 

DO IT YOURSELF ATTITUDE: Many parents seem to have bought into the idea that they should provide everything for their child, even though modern parents receive less day-to-day support than previous generations. Our current generation of parents pays higher taxes, needs two incomes to make ends meet, and has less help available from extended families. Also, especially with an at-risk child, parents are afraid of criticism if they reach out to anyone for help. This creates a sense of isolation and desperation among these parents, causing them to have trouble trusting a professionalís help. 

SOME PARENTS HAVE BEEN BURNED: Parents talk with each other. It only takes a few inexperienced consultants giving bad advice, overcharging for services rendered, or rumors of special and quiet financial arrangements between a professional and a specific schools or program, to fuel horrific stories that discourage parents from trusting anybody who calls themselves an Educational Consultant. 

MISUNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF AN EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT: It seems many parents are under the mistaken assumption that an Educational Consultant just gives a list of programs, charges a high fee, and then leaves the parents to fend for themselves. If this were true, almost any fee would be excessive. In reality, a good Educational Consultant becomes a team player with the parents. Ideally, the consultant works with the parents to help them better understand the causes of their childís problem, helps parents formulate a way to intervene, suggests schools with strengths that match their childís needs, and answers questions about why a specific school or program may or may not be a good match. This can be a lengthy process, and all through the process, the consultant contributes his or her personal experience with children and these schools and programs to the conversation.

These myths or misunderstandings on the part of parents need to be addressed and answered by responsible Educational Consultants. The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Certified Educational Planners (CEP) are taking steps to establish ethical standards and define the responsibilities and functions of the profession, which are a good start. These organizations should continue to expand their efforts, making the tough decisions necessary to ensure that anyone calling themselves an Educational Consultant will uphold the professionís ethical and professional standards. Individual Educational Consultants should not only bend over backward to be sensitive to the difficulties of their clients, they should also make certain that the needs of the families are a first priority. Consultants should express their concern through proper channels, including those established by the IECA, if they become aware of someone with the title of Educational Consultant whoís actions are contrary to the standards of this profession. 

Parents also have a role in supporting the quality of professionalism among Educational Consultants: they can spend at least as much time selecting an Educational Consultant as they do shopping for a car or a household appliance. They can help by avoiding the factory model concept that has been popular throughout the 20th century that assumes that all parts are interchangeable, thus, one professional is as good and as expensive as another. The Educational Consultant profession is about as close to a free market as any that exists in this country; a discerning and knowledgeable consumer is the key to rewarding good quality and punishing poor quality. 

This article copyright © 1999-2001, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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