I've had an amazing time in California. The first place I visited was the Parents Anonymous (TM) organisation in Los Angeles. More info about PA is at www.parentsanonymous.org. This agency is perhaps the original parent led organisation in child welfare - founded by a parent with child welfare involvement more than 50 years ago. PA runs groups with parents (all parents and caregivers are welcome) with four fundamental principles: mutual support, parent leadership, shared leadership and personal growth and change. I was lucky enough to attend a parents anonymous group and can attest that the groups have a fundamental basis in connecting parents to one another, to reciprocity and to expanding social support. The groups are open and ongoing and have gained some traction in the child welfare system with some parents mandated to attend them by care and protection courts.
Then on to Northern California to Berkeley University and the areas just north of San Francisco - Contra Costa County. I have been reading about the parent partner program in this county for some time. This team has been operating for over 13 years and has become embedded in the practice of the child welfare statutory system in the County. All parents who have children removed OR are subject to orders in the dependence court system (like Australia's care and protection court) are offered a parent partner and they have about an 80% take up rate. Parents can and do self refer The program is highly valued by parents and social work teams alike. It has succeeded for a range of reasons including careful implementation, flexibility, steadfast leadership and of course the professionalism, leadership and commitment of parent partners themselves. It was really inspiring to meet with this team and their clients and hear direct evidence of the trust and relationships that have been built between families and child welfare teams as a result of peer work.
I also had the opportunity to meet with social workers from Contra Costa County who shared their experiences of working alongside parent partners. These social workers found the parent partner role invaluable at all stages of their work with famileis including initial investigations. They described improved relationships AND better assessments and case plans - all linked to better outcomes in child welfare.
Next stop is Portland, Oregon where I'll be looking at a similar family engagement initiative with parent mentors, this time delivered in partnership with Portland State University and a family inclusive approach to open adoption that diverts children from the child welfare system.