Parent advocacy in child protection is where parents with child welfare experience work with other parents to provide advocacy in three areas – case, program and policy:
- Case advocacy: increasing parent participation in decisions regarding their own case/involvement with child protection systems. This includes having a parent advocate or ally present when a decision is considered about whether to remove a child from a parent’s custody; playing a role in the development of the case/family support plan; and making ongoing decisions on a child’s care (such as health care).
- Program advocacy: This includes parents working as trained parent advocates in social service agencies (such as prevention, family support, out-of-home placement and legal assistance) to assist parent who are struggling to raise their children safely or to be reunited with them.
- Policy advocacy: This involves parents: a) participating in governmental and NGO advisory boards, speaking on panels at conferences, teaching in classes of social work and law, writing about their experience and recommendations; b) working at the grassroots and community levels to advocate for reform; and c) acting politically to change policy, legislation and resources for family support.
Parent advocacy started in the USA where a neo-liberal and litigious approach to child welfare is firmly established and where the UNCRC has not been ratified. However, a range of different approaches have developed and there is a growing evidence base on how these have been successful in helping parents to assert their rights to care for their children.
What Parent advocates do
Lalayants (2017) summarises a range of research saying that parent advocates within child welfare agencies play a:
… critical role of a mediator between CPS and birth parents; an advocate for parental rights; an educator to birth parents about their rights, systems, services and resources as well as to CPS workers about parents’ needs and feelings; and a supporter of birth parents as they navigate the system and take steps towards reunification (pp. 40-41).
In program advocacy they are regularly involved in the following activities:
… help birth parents understand child welfare and legal system policies and procedures, support and navigate the process, and focus on goals they need to achieve on their path to reunification with their children (p.40).
… educate birth parents about their rights and responsibilities, refer them to appropriate social services, and model attitudes and sets of behaviours that may lead to empowerment, healthy families and reunification. (p.40)
Benefits of advocacy
Research shows that well-designed parent advocacy programs can: reduce maltreatment; help parents to engage effectively with the judicial and child protection processes; reduce entry to care; increase the speed of reunification; help parents to overcome alcohol and substance use problems; and be instrumental in changing the culture and approach of the child protection system itself. See this Casey Foundation paper for descriptions of and research into parent advocacy in the United States.