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October 2010Vol. 11, No. 8Innovative Approaches to Engaging Parents

American Humane recently released a report that highlights two parent engagement programs designed to meet the immediate needs of families and to meaningfully involve parents in decision-making. The Parent Mentoring Program and the Parent Partner Program were developed and implemented by the Washington State Division of Child and Family Services. 

The Parent Mentoring Program uses specially trained foster parents (mentors) to support parents by helping them develop an action plan that addresses immediate needs (e.g., housing, employment) as well as barriers to reunification. The program involves a training curriculum, selection criteria for both mentors and participating families, and a process that enables social workers to guide mentors in their work with parents. The program is considered innovative because it provides more individualized and intensive support than is typically available to parents in the child welfare system. A quasi-experimental evaluation of the program found that parents in the Parent Mentoring Program were more likely to reunify with their children than parents who were not in the program.

The Parent Partners Program draws on the learning experiences of parents who were able to successfully reunify with their children with the help of the Parent Mentoring Program. These parent partners are matched with parents who are currently trying to reunify with their children so that they can provide education and support and help parents advocate for themselves. Participants also attend courses designed to help them understand the child welfare system (including timelines, roles of professionals, and ways to access services).

"Engaging Parents: Innovative Approaches in Child Welfare," by Maureen Marcenko, Ross Brown, Peggy DeVoy, and Debbie Conway, is available at: (167 KB)