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Advocacy for Young Children Under IDEA: What Does It Mean for Early Childhood Educators?

Brown, Sharan E. JD, EdD


Early childhood educators are familiar with their responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C to work collaboratively with the families of young children with disabilities and children at-risk for substantial developmental delays. Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach through the Individual Family Service Plan process, families and professionals identify services necessary to meet the needs of the child and his or her family. When all members of the Individual Family Service Plan team agree on the services and supports to be provided, the process goes smoothly. However, when there is disagreement among providers and/or parents, it becomes important for the child's development that the conflict be resolved quickly. In some situations, resolving the conflict requires a determination as to whether the interest of the child or parent will prevail. This article explores the responsibility of early childhood educators to advocate for the needs of young children as autonomous individuals as well as members of a family. The author reviews the legal and administrative guidance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and professional responsibilities as described in standards of conduct for early childhood educators, followed by a discussion of the professional dilemma resulting when the “best interests of the child” differs from the family's priorities or there is disagreement among providers. Finally, the author suggests that policy discussion and research are needed to investigate the consequences of not allowing for due process review of parental decisions on the development of young children with disabilities.

From the College of Education and the Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle, Wa.

The research in preparation for this manuscript was supported in part by the Washington Education Association (WEA) and the manuscript adopted from a Web-based publication by the author entitled “Professional responsibility and special educators: Advocacy for students with disabilities” (Bulletin #1, Special Education Law Quarterly, December 2000) located at

Corresponding author: Sharan E. Brown, JD, EdD, Center on Human Development and Disability, Box 357920, UW Seattle, WA 98195 (

Copyright © 2003 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved