Ideas that Work, office of special programs U.S. Department of Education

The contents of this website were developed in part under a grant from the US Department of Education, #H328M150052. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government or Project Officer, David Emenheiser.

A Parent Mentor is the parent of a child with a disability employed by local education agencies and Educational Service Centers to help families and school districts by providing support, information and training services.
A Parent Mentor guides families through the Special Education process by: 
  • Helping families understand their rights and responsibilities,
  • Attending the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) Meetings and other meetings at the request of families or staff. 
  • Listening to and supporting both family and educators on an individual basis, 
  • Providing information and resources to families and schools, 
  • Hosting information sessions, support/networking groups or training programs for families and educators, 
  • Engaging community service agencies and other resources to support families and schools,
  • Connecting families, schools and community partners to benefit students with special needs. 
  • and so much more!
A Parent Mentor is a guide and mentor to help the parent navigate the special education process and to develop their skills as an advocate, the best advocate for their child.
Working as a technical assistant to educator partners, the Parent Mentor supports the work of special education by conveying the parent perspective to the districts and helps the parents to understand their district’s responsibilities and perspectives. 
A Parent Mentor is a partner to community agencies that support children with exceptionalities. They help connect families to local resources and to build networks of support for the child, school and, community.  
A Parent Mentor works to educate the parents in the necessary supports so that the family will feel empowered as a member of the student's educational team.  With education and empowerment, the parent will be engaged in their child's educational present and future outcomes. 
Because a Parent Mentor is a parent of a child with disabilities, they already know first hand the joys and the struggles of raising, educating and loving an exceptional child.
 -Jacqueline Howley, Parent Mentor for the Madison-Champaign ESC
About the Parent Mentor Projects 
On January 12, 1991, in Columbus, Ohio, the idea for Parent Mentor Projects was born. About 160 parents from across the state gathered to decide how to implement Goal #7 of the Ohio Department of Education’s Special Education Action Plan. Goal #7 was the Parent Involvement in Education part of this innovative plan to restructure education for children with disabilities. As a Parent Training and Information Center for the state, The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities convened this meeting of the Statewide Parent Task Force to ask parent leaders what they believed would help to involve more parents in their child’s educational program. The OCECD had been given the task of shaping the activities which would implement Ohio’s Action Plan around Goal #7. These goals had been developed by the State Superintendents Special Education Advisory Council, as required by P.L. 94-142 (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975). Additionally, over 400 parents met in regional focus groups to review parents’ needs and to shape the future of parent mentors in Ohio’s schools. Through the diligent efforts of the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Exceptional Children staff and the OCECD director and co-director, by December 1, 1991, ten (10) projects had been chosen to be funded by ODE. OCECD staff were reviewers for the 37 proposals, representing 70 districts. Funds for these pilots came from federal IDEA dollars.

During the state budget development for fiscal years 1994-95, the Coalition successfully persuaded Governor Voinovich to add $500,000. to the state budget for additional parent mentor projects. Again the ODE, OEC staff and OCECD directors selected 20 new projects which began in January 1994. ODE and the Coalition has continued to support additional funding each year in a similar fashion. Presently, 74 projects are funded through state and federal funds.

Ohio Department of Education, Office for Exceptional Children continues to provide support and technical assistance for the Parent Mentors.       

Are you a school district or Educational Service Center interested in having a parent mentor position? If you fund a person, they will be eligible to participate in training and conferences through the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities. When there is additional money in the state budget to fund more Parent Mentor Projects at $25,000 each, a Request for Proposal is sent out to all the Superintendents in all the school districts in Ohio.  

If you are interested in being a Parent Mentor we recommend you contact the Director of Special Education at the school where you live. You may want to ask the Director of Special Education if they have a parent mentor already or if they have thought about putting one in place. If they are already a district funded through the state parent mentor projects you will have to determine when the district has a parent mentor job opening to apply. If not, and the district would like to fund a position through district funds you can communicate with the Office for Exceptional Children, at Lyndsay Havey [email protected]

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