Parent Leadership Development

Parent leadership development opportunities must provide pathways for parent advocates to grow as leaders, take on increasing responsibility and expand their power and influence in working toward their vision. Intentional approaches to leadership development are important to growing the role of parent advocates on the individual, organizational and systemic levels, and in the broader parent advocacy movement.

Parent advocates working within child welfare and legal agencies need much of the same training as other professionals working in those settings. They also benefit from connecting with other advocates (within or outside of their agency) to support one another, process the work and strategize around the unique challenges of the role.

In the broader movement, parent advocates and allies are providing training and support to other child-welfare impacted parents who are passionate about advocacy and change. Parent advocates are strengthening their leadership skills by learning about the child welfare system, advocacy, organizing and community-led solutions, as well as how to strategically share their personal stories through writing and public speaking. They are also growing their capacity by accessing resources and research and building community with aligned activists, organizations and movements.


Parent Advocates from around New York City gather at a parent advocacy convening

Developing a Parent Leadership Curriculum, The United States

Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP)

The Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) operated in New York City from the mid-1990s to 2020, and during that time, developed a parent leadership curriculum to develop “the potential of parents as advocates, organizers, and a positive force for child welfare reform.”

CWOP brought together parents impacted by the child welfare system, parents staffing seminal Parent Advocate programs, and agency executives “for a series of structured dialogues over the course of about six months. Parents told the agency executives that they wanted to be more active in service planning for their families, and in the decision-making and governance of the agencies that existed to serve them, but that they often felt excluded from these roles. The playing field was not level. Professional agency staff had knowledge, resources, and connections that were not as readily available to local parents. Relationships between parents and professionals were characterized by power imbalances that made open communication difficult and even risky. Many parents felt stereotyped and categorized. A history of ACS involvement led to a host of mostly negative assumptions that pervaded and depreciated the quality of their relationships with professionals. It was through these dialogues that the idea of a Parent Leadership Curriculum emerged.”

“This curriculum is envisioned as an effort towards building the kind of professional / client partnership needed to create a more fair, honest, and effective child welfare system.”


Rise & Shine 2020

Parents Leading a Parent Leadership Program, The United States


Through the Rise & Shine Parent Leadership Program, parents impacted by the child welfare system in New York City:

  • Build a strong foundation to become an advocate and a leader in their community;
  • Develop writing and public speaking skills;
  • Shadow parent advocates and participate in interactive field learning;
  • Reflect on their experiences and build a peer-to-peer support network; and
  • Engage with expert speakers on child welfare history and law, parent advocacy, domestic violence, trauma, toxic stress and self-care.

In 2020, the theme of Rise & Shine was Building Parents’ Power to Create Safe and Strong Communities. Through writing and public speaking workshops, participants wrote a publication-quality personal story and a presentation-quality speech. Parents in the program also participated in guest presentations to build their knowledge of the child welfare system and advocacy and engaged in field learning.

The program opened with a land acknowledgment, and during the first few weeks, focused on community building, communication skills and leadership, centering relationship-building and restorative justice practices. The program built a shared foundation by reflecting upon and discussing values and developing a community agreement rooted in those values.

Most Rise staff who coordinated and facilitated the program are impacted parents. The Rise & Shine staff used a template developed by Community Connections for Youth to plan program sessions. Each session began with a check-in and icebreaker activity and closed with a check out question or activity.


Ethics and Boundaries, The United States

Children’s Home Society of Washington, Parents for Parents Program

This presentation on Ethics & Boundaries in Peer Work by Ambrosia Eberhardt, Washington State, provides definitions of ethics and boundaries, includes a video on how to create healthy boundaries to improve relationships, and offers scenarios to help with thinking about personal and professional boundaries and ethical dilemmas.


Communication Skills, Cultural Awareness and Reframing the Parenting Conversation, Australia

The Family Inclusion Network of Western Australia

Jaquie Mayne and Debbie Henderson, Community Development Officer and Executive Officer of The Family Inclusion Network of Western Australia, describe the various forms of professional development offered to family partners.

Communication Skills, Cultural Awareness and Reframing the Parenting Conversation: Professional Development for Family Partners in Western Australia


Additional Resources

Shriver Center on Poverty Law:

A central part of developing leadership is deepening parent advocates’ understanding of the history of the child welfare system, its intersection with other systems, its impact on communities, and the connections that the child welfare parent advocacy movement has with other social justice movements. This resource list created by The Shriver Center on Poverty Law can be used to foster dialogue and provide advocates and allies a shared understanding of the system.

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law is an advocacy organization working to fight for economic and racial justice by litigating, shaping policy, and training and connecting people in the advocacy community.

Family Inclusion Network in the Hunter (FISH):


In September 2020, Rise held a three-day retreat for staff learn together about the child welfare system, abolition and restorative and transformative justice approaches to addressing harm. Rise put together a list of abolition resources they are using in their learning journey.

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