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

Fearless R2W

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

Overview presentation of Fearless R2W Child Welfare Education and Advocacy


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

Organisasjon for Barnevernsforeldre (OBF)

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.

Read articles about child protection from the BBC News and The Culture Trip.


Additional Resources

IPAN Program Profiles:

Browse through program profiles developed by IPAN to explore a wide range of approaches to child welfare parent advocacy in different parent advocacy settings and around the world.

Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP):

The Child Welfare Organizing Project, which operated from an office in East Harlem, New York City, from 1994 to 2019, was the first child welfare parent advocacy organization. CWOP worked for change through organizing and agitation as well as working collaboratively to create ways for parents affected by child welfare to work within the system.

From Pariahs to Partners:

How Parents and their Allies Changed New York City’s Child Welfare System: Parents organizing a grassroots movement to reform child welfare, pages 278-288, in Routledge Handbook of Critical Social Work, edited by Stephen A. Webb. London: Routledge, 2019. The chapter is based on Tobis’s book, From Pariahs to Partners: How Parents and their Allies Changed New York City’s Child Welfare System.

Movement for Black Lives:

The M4BL Policy Platform: End the War on Black Women specifically addresses foster care and child welfare.


Better Care Network:

The Better Care Network (BCN) asked David Tobis and Andy Bilson to prepare the first-ever international survey of parent advocacy in child welfare. The report, International Review of Parent Advocacy in Child Welfare documents the origin in New York City of the child welfare parent advocacy movement, describes and profiles the range of parent advocacy programs in child welfare, reviews the literature on the efficacy and challenges of parent advocacy, and presents the findings of the global survey which identified at least 100 parent advocacy programs in child welfare in high income countries.

The International Review of Parent Advocacy in Child Welfare practice brief addresses outcomes of program advocacy, effective strategies for implementation of program advocacy and ideas for developing a strategy to promote parent advocacy.

As part of their work to prepare this report, David Tobis and Andy Bilson developed a Parent Advocacy Literature Review.

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