Name: Gene Braaksma
Location: Milwaukee, WI (Will travel statewide)
Giving Voice: My approach to the mediation process revolves around the concept of giving voice to the people involved. Parents of children with special needs often feel their voice is not being heard. Their hopes and concerns and fears can feel overwhelming at times. The parents’ voices can feel as if they are being drowned out by paperwork, regulations, and barriers.
School district staff can feel that the parents are not hearing their voice. Federal regulations with deadlines and procedures can be cumbersome, but important. The school sees the child in a different setting; seeing different strengths and weaknesses than the parents may see. The school is required to view each child in the context of the whole school setting. Sometimes, the schools see progress for a student so that some services are no longer needed, but the parents may see this as an unfair reduction in services.
As mediator, my role is to make certain all voices are heard. Sometimes my role is to manage the many voices so all can be heard. Sometimes my role is to translate words and emotions to make sure the voices are understood.
If participants feel they have been given voice, if voices are respectfully heard, and if the voice of the child’s needs remain the focus, the options for agreement are many.
During my career I have worked as a special education teacher for 6 years in both a mutli-categorical classroom and behavioral disabilities settings. As a psychologist I have worked with scores of children and young adults with special needs doing evaluations, advocacy and treatment. Recently my role as the Institution Treatment Director at Central Wisconsin Center, and Superintendent of our Center, provided me the experience of working with children and young adults with significant developmental, complex medical, and behavioral issues, and having responsibility for compliance with Special Education regulatory matters. My current professional role is as Behavioral Health Director at a facility providing a full range of healthcare services to Native American and other underserved populations.
I served for several years as a Special Education Hearing Officer and have been a part of the Wisconsin Special Education Mediation System since it started in 1998. Cases with both educational and complex medical factors are of particular interest in my mediation work.