How to prepare for meetings

As the parent or caregiver of a child with a disability or a serious medical condition, you will attend a lot of meetings – with specialists, therapists, educators and a mind-blowing array of service providers. Meetings are intended to be positive and helpful, however  they can often be stressful and frustrating.

Here are a few general tips to allow you to be well prepared for any meeting:

Before the meeting

  • Ensure you know when and where the meeting is to be held. Unless it is an emergency situation, you are entitled to adequate notice of the meeting
  • Understand the purpose of the meeting and find out who will be present
  • If this is a follow up meeting, re-read previous minutes/notes beforehand
  • If possible, arrange to take a support person or advocate with you. Having someone there to support you will give you confidence and you will be able to clarify what was said after the meeting
  • Have realistic expectations about possible outcomes. Any decisions should be made collaboratively and be mindful of your child’s best interests
  • Make notes beforehand so that you remember everything you want to say or questions you want to ask – our memory often does not function well in stressful situations!
  • Approach the meeting with an open mind and be willing to negotiate to get the best outcome for your child. The best results come from a spirit of partnership and teamwork

During the meeting

  • It goes without saying, but be respectful in your communication at all times. This should be mutual and you should feel valued and heard
  • Although sometimes very difficult, try to control your emotions. Your points will be heard more clearly if you can “stick to the facts” rather than becoming overly emotional. Meetings about your child can generate strong feelings and this can lead to unhelpful interactions from both sides
  • If you feel yourself becoming emotional, ask for a short break, have a glass of water or take a deep breath to calm yourself
  • Ask your support person to take notes, particularly around agreed outcomes, timeframes and who is responsible
  • If you are unsure about something, ask for clarification
  • Meetings are generally more productive if solutions are offered as well as stating issues and problems
  • If issues are raised which are not on the agenda and you do not feel well prepared to discuss them, you are entitled to ask for another meeting to be scheduled to discuss those points
  • Meetings at school can often seem to be negative if they are addressing learning or behavioural issues. Acknowledge what steps have been taken to address issues so far and thank the people concerned. This makes people more receptive to continuing to support your child
  • Set a time and date for the next meeting before the meeting ends and ask for a copy of the official minutes to be sent to you

After the meeting

  • Debrief with your support person
  • Write up your meeting notes and keep them in a safe place
  • Check the official minutes are accurate when you receive your copy. If you don’t agree that they are a true record of the meeting, you can ask for them to be amended
  • If the meeting failed to have a positive outcome, or no decision was reached, decide what your next step will be, for example formal complaint or professional advocacy

Finally, remember that the primary purpose of any meeting is to benefit your child. Hold this awareness during meetings and your thoughts, speech and actions  will reflect this purpose, making  a positive outcome more likely.

Carolyn Jury (BAppSocSci, Counselling)
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