Peer support: parent partner programs
It is critical that child welfare systems learn from parents and other constituents who have lived experience with child welfare, and then leverage that lived expertise in meaningful ways. This engagement can take many forms, including advisory councils at the systems level, and parent partner programs at the individual level. Based on a peer support model, parent partner programs provide parents impacted by child welfare with a mentor who is a parent with a closed child welfare case. While parent partner programs are relatively new in child welfare, peer support long has been recognized as an effective intervention to support improved outcomes in other disciplines, such as mental health and substance use treatment. Peer mentor programs have been studied extensively in those contexts and there is strong evidence that they work. The evidence base for child welfare parent partners is growing as well. In particular, qualitative evidence is resounding, with parents often sharing that having a parent partner as a role model, coach, and advocate is invaluable.
Parent partner programs can operate through community providers, courts, or child protection agencies, and can be called by different names, such as peer partner or parent mentor. The responsibilities of the parent partner vary by program but the common element is the lived experience that each parent partner brings to the role. Ensuring that this expertise is available to every parent impacted by child welfare is one way for child welfare agencies and their partners to engage parents and support families on the path to permanency and well-being.