Building a Parent Advocacy Organization

Whether parent advocacy initiatives grow from grassroots activism or are created within child welfare systems, at some point they need to address a range of organizational questions. In many ways, they are the same practical, human resource questions all organizations have to answer. But because parent advocates and activists have typically experienced various forms of oppression, including involvement with the child welfare system, those questions also relate deeply to questions of values, justice and social power.

Additionally, when so many families urgently need immediate support, it can seem like a waste to spend precious time aligning short-term strategies to a faraway vision that may feel impossible to achieve. But at some point, many organizations discover that to survive and grow, it’s important to determine what vision they are ultimately aiming to reach, just as the child welfare advocacy movement continues to work to define its core beliefs and how different visions for safe and thriving families fit within its umbrella.

In this section, you will find materials that illustrate ways parent advocacy efforts addressed organizational issues, including devleoping an organizational vision and recruiting, hiring, and paying advocates. You’ll also find resources that can assist parent advocacy efforts in ensuring that impacted parents have leadership power.


Establishing an Organization’s Vision, The United States


What would the world look like if we were successful?: In this interview, Nora McCarthy, parent ally and founder and executive director of Rise, describes the experience of building an organization. She discusses the process of thinking through the vision, theory of change, organizational theory, and values.

In this September 2020 webinar, Rise presented its vision and calls to action.


Recruiting, Hiring, and Paying Advocates, The United States

Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP)

The Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) was established in the mid-1990s and operated in New York City until 2020. CWOP provided child welfare-affected parents a place to gain strength from each other and organize to change a system they had felt demonized by. Some of the parent leaders who were eventually selected to be part of CWOP’s 6-month parent advocacy training curriculum had little to no employment history. They brought a wealth of advocacy skills and knowledge from their own system involvement.

In creating its program, CWOP needed to consider issues related to values and social power in deciding how parent leaders would be recruited and selected as well as what to pay parent leaders.

The report on the CWOP curriculum describes the evolution of CWOP’s recruitment and hiring process and how CWOP paid parent leaders in its training program.

Volunteers Made This Movement — It’s Time to Compensate Us for Our Work, The United States

Re-Unify Family Solutions, LLC

In many places around the world where parent advocacy exists, it does so only because parent advocates are driven by their own deep commitment to supporting other families to volunteer their time. They guide individual parents, run support groups, organize their communities and lobby for legislative change–all for free.

But parent advocates also bring hard-won knowledge, skills and precious time to improving outcomes for families that deserve compensation. Payment sends a message that the work of parent advocates is essential, and it recognizes that parent advocates, like other professionals, need to be able to support their families. Here, parent advocate Heather Cantamessa describes her own long journey to be valued for her work, and to be compensated accordingly.


Beyond Tokenism: Creating an Organizational Culture that Values Family Partners, Australia

The Family Inclusion Network of Western Australia (FIN WA)

For just under two years, The Family Inclusion Network of Western Australia (FIN WA) has been working with family partners to provide emotional support to parents going through a child welfare case. These parents with lived experience work alongside social workers who are trained to advocate for parents at official child welfare meetings. In an interview with IPAN, Jaquie Mayne and Debbie Henderson, Community Development Officer and Executive Officer of FIN WA, explained how  important it is to clearly define the role parent partners play in the structure of the organization and how they work with other members of the team so that they don’t become marginalized.


What True Parent Participation and Leadership Looks Like, Australia

The Self Advocacy Resource Group (SARU)

Organizations frequently hire parent advocates to work on the frontlines but never find ways to promote them, or involve them in policy and program decisions. Other times, organizations will bring a single parent onto a board of directors but don’t have enough parents at the table to have a real impact on decision-making or don’t provide the parents with the tools and support needed to participate fully.

The Self Advocacy Resource Group (SARU) of Victoria, Australia, works to ensure that people with cognitive disabilities are included in the design and implementation of policies and programs that impact their lives, including within child welfare systems, where parents with cognitive disabilities face intense discrimination.

The Levels of Participation thermometer from SARU’s Voice at the Table Consumer Participation Kit can help organizations to increase the impact of parent voice and parent advocacy and reflect on what they’ve accomplished and what more they could do


Additional Resources


The Management Center:

The Management Center helps social justice leaders learn how to build and run more effective organizations so they can get better results. Their website offers resources and tools, including worksheets and samples.

Center for the Study of Social Policy:

While parents working to change child welfare have to overcome unusually high levels of stigma, barriers to true parent leadership still exist in related fields. In these reports, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) describes efforts to overcome barriers and create strong parent-professional partnerships in early childhood systems.

National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health:

“When organisations anticipate or explicitly acknowledge the realities of working with families with complex needs, frontline staff are more likely to feel supported, confident and able to respond to multiple complex needs.” This Emerging Minds resource includes a checklist that managers can use to more effectively support staff (including parent advocates): Supporting staff to work with children and families with complex needs: A checklist for organisations

DIY Toolkit:

Video and worksheet on Theory of Change

Fundraising for Social Change, Seventh Edition:

Used by nonprofits nationally and internationally, this book by Kim Klein provides a prescription for building, maintaining and expanding an individual donor program. This edition includes information on the impact of generational change, using social media effectively, multi-channel fundraising and more.

IPAN Program Profiles:

Program profiles of parent advocacy groups and organizations around the world that provide overviews that outline their mission, target population, staff and board composition, budget and how they are funded, compensation and training for parent advocates, and the type of work they do.

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