This paper from Casey Foundation gives a briefing on Parent Partners (also known as parent advocacy) and answers the question posed in its title. It has a useful summary of research and provides descriptions of a range of programs.
Parents who have come to the attention of child protective services or have recently lost custody of their children are dealing with incredible stressors. They often experience a range of emotions, including fear, anger, and hopelessness. They may believe they are powerless and alone. And based on many prior life experiences, they may feel hostility toward the very people involved in providing services and making important decisions about their children.
Many child welfare agencies have taken steps to prioritize meaningful engagement with families. In doing so, they have come to recognize the inherent power differential between parents and caseworkers, and the importance of connecting families newly involved with the system to parents who have already experienced the child welfare system, who can mentor, encourage, and instill hope for the journey ahead. One innovative approach that has emerged over the past decade is the use of peer mentors, or “parent partners,” who serve to bridge the gap between birth parents and a complex, often challenging, and overwhelming system.
“We must see parents’ strengths. When child welfare becomes involved, parents are operating from a place of fear and emotional displacement. As a parent mentor I get to be a liaison between parents. I get to support them in understanding their case plan requirements. Having been there before I can relate in a way others cannot. I also get to help shift away from deficit crippling approaches to building protective factors.”