In countries worldwide, child protection agencies often separate families based on abuse or neglect allegations with little due process to ensure that children are removed only when necessary. Over the past 20 years, one key to child welfare reform in specific cities has been parent advocacy. Parents affected by child welfare systems across the United States and other high income countries have organized to support other parents who are working to reunify with their children, partner with professionals to improve front line practice with parents, and reform child welfare through legislative and policy advocacy. These approaches have been successful in reducing the frequency and length of family separation in a number of jurisdictions. Parent advocacy works to increase the influence and power of parents in child welfare decision making.
Parent advocacy in child welfare occurs through activities in three areas: case work, program, and policy
- Case work: increased parent participation in decisions regarding their own child and promoting a shift towards more support for families and partnership with parents facing difficulties. Where the best interests of the child are being determined, ongoing decisions are being made on the care or case plan for a child (such as health care), or a decision is being considered to separate a child from their parents, the parent can have a parent advocate or ally present in addition to any right to legal representation.
- Program: 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: This involves parents taking action to change policies and influence policy-makers. This includes many forms of activism and participation, for example, 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, and working at the grassroots, community and national levels to advocate for policy reform.