The Child Welfare Parent Advocacy Movement
Throughout this toolkit, you’ll find interviews with parent advocates and allies using a variety of approaches to parent advocacy, including community organizing, legislative advocacy and individual parent advocacy. At times these approaches reflect different long-term goals, from advocacy that aims to create a less punitive, more just and supportive system that centers families’ own solutions, to advocacy that aims to abolish or vastly diminish the role of the child welfare system and fundamentally change a country’s approach to child safety and family and community wellbeing.
In this section, advocates and allies provide insights into why and how they do their work and the principles and beliefs that guide them.
‘We Help Parents to No Longer Be Afraid’, Canada
Mary Burton never thought she’d help to start an organization. Burton was separated from her parents and siblings when she was placed in foster care as a child, as part of the child welfare system’s 1960s scoop, which, along with other policies over more than a century, routinely separated Indigenous children in Canada from their families. After she successfully fought the child welfare system for custody of her own children and grandchildren, she spent the next 20 years helping friends and families from her living room do the same.
Roughly 90% of children in the child welfare system in Winnipeg, Canada are Indigenous. In 2014, Burton joined forces with other grandmothers and a local activist to form FearlessR2W to give members of her community power to fight for their families.
Interview with Mary Burton, Parent and Grandparent Advocate, Winnepeg, Canada
Uplifting Every Voice, United States
"I urge parents affected by the system to get involved in the parent advocacy movement. To speak up and speak out and to work alongside all other advocates to create the change they want to see. There is no better voice than that of a parent who has experienced it firsthand."
Uplifting Every Voice: Together we can change the perception of parents created by the child welfare system by Dinah Ortiz-Adames, Parent Advocate, New York, USA
Human Rights Violations and the Creation of a Parent Advocacy Network, Norway
Between 2003 and 2016 the number of children in foster care in Norway gradually and steadily increased, from 5,693 to 9,080. In 2005, the physical abuse and death of an 8-year-old boy named Christoffer at the hands of his stepfather shocked the country, and became a national symbol of a child welfare system not capable of protecting children. But as the number of children placed in foster care continued to grow, child protection also faced mounting criticism from families, advocates and in the media for providing minimal support to system-involved parents and for inadequately protecting the parent-child bonds of families with children placed in foster care.
In 2011, in the midst of these tensions, child welfare-affected parents and their allies came together to create a parent advocacy organization aimed at ensuring that parents had greater support and greater protection within Norway’s child welfare system. Increased removals also led to appeals to the European Court of Human Rights and to the Norwegian High Court, and ultimately, to the start of reforms within Norway’s child welfare system. Since 2015, the number of children in foster care in Norway has been gradually declining.
Read about the controversy, the creation of a parent advocacy network and other reforms in Norway’s child welfare system.