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News & Views - August, 2001 Issue #84

Answered by Lon Woodbury

“Educational consultants are professionals who assist students and families with educational decision making,” according to the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) Directory. Educational consultants who are “independent” avoid entanglements, financial or otherwise, with schools or programs that might influence their recommendations to parents and children. Members of the IECA organization agree to follow “Principles of Good Practice,” which includes the statement: “A consultant does not accept any compensation from educational institutions for placement of a child.”

Consultants provide experience, knowledge and objectivity to help formulate a placement decision during a time that is confusing and stressful for any parent. Since educational consultants have extensive personal knowledge of a wide variety of schools and programs, they know the important criteria and common mistakes to avoid when making recommendations for placement. Consultants utilize this knowledge and experience when helping parents to carefully develop a strategy to intervene with their struggling child.

Special Purpose schools and programs are very expensive. An educational consultant who is experienced and competent can increase the odds that the first choice of a school or program will be the right choice, helping to avoid additional failures for the child. Parents who work with qualified educational consultants thus reduce the possibility of losing time and money as a result of an inappropriate placement.

Perhaps the most important consideration when selecting an educational consultant is the level of trust and comfort you feel with that person. Each year Woodbury Reports conducts a survey that includes a list of educational consultants who work with families seeking to place their child in a Special Needs school or program. One of the results of our analysis is a list of consultants who have good reputations according to special needs schools and programs and other consultants. The IECA organization also indicates which consultants are qualified to work with Special Needs schools and programs. Selecting from either or both of these lists will insure that the educational consultant you choose will have proven a basic competence in this area.

Like any profession, fees vary widely. The consultants listed in my Directory on the basis of their experience and good reputations with special needs programs and other consultants, use one of three kinds of fee structures.

Woodbury Reports is one of the consulting firms that calculate consultation fees on an hourly basis. Consultants who use this fee structure charge for the time actually spent serving the parent and child. They provide only those services the parents require for their situation, which can include: interviewing the child, interviewing the parents and relevant professionals, arranging for testing, advising which schools are most appropriate for the child, supporting the placement application to the school or program, and helping the parent if an additional emergency placement is necessary. Some consultants live in remote areas and work with the parents almost exclusively by telephone, fax and e-mail. These consultants frequently visit the children they have helped place in schools or programs, but usually don’t charge for that unless the parent has specifically asked for the visit. There usually is a minimum fee, sometimes based on a minimum number of hours, usually ranging below one thousand dollars. If the consultation time exceeds the minimum agreed upon hours, subsequent charges are based on an hourly rate.

This is the most common fee arrangement, which includes all the services that might be needed when making a placement decision. The annual contract includes: interviewing the child, interviewing the parents and appropriate professionals, arranging for testing, advising which schools are most appropriate for the child, supporting the placement application to the school or program, and helping the parent if an emergency placement is necessary. It often includes staying in regular touch with the parent throughout that year to communicate about their child’s progress and the child is visited at least once during the year that he or she is in the school or program. It is an all-inclusive annual contract, but if the time required becomes far more than normal, the consultant sometimes will negotiate an additional fee. The fees for annual contracts range above two thousand dollars.

There are a few educational consultants who will travel to the family’s home anywhere in the country. They will work with the family in the home environment to acquire the additional information needed to help them resolve the issues or problems, often then making a residential placement recommendation. To my knowledge, these consultants also use an annual contract that includes the same services other consultants provide, with the additional advantage of working with the family in their home environment. Their fees are above three thousand five hundred dollars, plus expenses.

HOW DOES THE “PLACES FOR STRUGGLING TEENS” DIRECTORY DIFFER FROM OTHER DIRECTORIES? “PLACES FOR STRUGGLING TEENS” is based on results! Most directories include entries that are selected using criteria that is often unexplained and based on assumptions that have not been proven to be meaningful. Some directories simply include every program that is open for business, or only programs that have a specific kind of childcare license. Other directories include only programs that are members of a particular organization, some giving a prominent listing to those that pay for that privilege. Although usually unintended, in many directories, skill in writing program descriptions is one of the most important factors contributing to being included.

The “PLACES FOR STRUGGLING TEENS” Directory includes only those schools and programs that have reputations for safety and effectiveness among knowledgeable independent educational consultants. Schools and programs are not allowed to pay for inclusion or for a more prominent position and no advertising is allowed in the Directory. This no-advertising policy was adopted to avoid even the slightest appearance that any school or program is favored as a result of paying for the privilege; the only criterion for their inclusion is their reputation. A new edition is published every year. Our next edition is currently in preparation and will be available in August 2001. Since we self-publish the Directory, we print copies as needed, updating any changes when received, which then appear in subsequent printings that are done throughout the year.

Every January, a list of more than 300 residential schools and programs that have come to our attention during the year is sent to the Educational Consultants listed in the back of the previous year’s Directory. These educational consultants, who have proven themselves to be knowledgeable and experienced in recommending placements in residential specialty schools are then asked to give their recommendations. They rate each school or program on the list as to whether they think the program is positive, negative, or they are not familiar with it.

When the surveys are returned, the results are collated. This spring, 56 responses were returned, which is the basis for the upcoming 2001/2002 edition of the Directory. When a majority of the responses for a particular school or program indicate a positive recommendation, with few or no negatives, then an invitation is sent to the school requesting them to complete a form that describes their school or program. These information forms are generic, designed to give a snap shot of the school or program; no school is allowed to change the categories to show their school or program in a better light. This procedure is used to help parents have a better comparison of the schools and programs since each program has had to respond to exactly the same questions. The annual edition of the Directory is usually published in August and information is updated on specific schools and programs throughout the year.

Any private practice professional survives through quality advice! Bad advice from a professional in private practice can result in a loss of clients; chronic bad advice can result in the practice closing down as the word gets around. Thus the professional in private practice must be cautious. This is especially true of the independent educational consultant since that person is working with the lives and well being of children, one of the most sensitive areas in our culture. The educational consultants who we survey to determine what schools or programs should be included in our Directory, are well educated and have years of experience working with children and their parents. They spend a significant amount of time traveling to visit the schools and programs and are constantly comparing notes with their colleagues. The only way a school or program can get a positive consensus from this group of independent minded educational consultants is to have consistent performance of safety and effectiveness.

As an indication of the effectiveness of our directory selection process, most of the schools and programs that have flared up into media controversies or have experienced a tragedy, have been schools and programs that have been either screened out of the Directory, or not considered at all.

By Directory sales! There is no thought of applying for grants of any type, since grant specifications might compromise the integrity of our selecting process which screens schools and programs exclusively based on their reputation for safety and effectiveness.

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