Parent and Family Advocacy

Parent & Family Advocacy in International Jurisdic…
01 Aug 2021


In 2020, Oranga Tamariki received specific recommendations from the Ombudsman, the Children’s Commissioner and Whānau Ora to improve access to advocacy support for parents and whānau involved in the Oranga Tamariki system (Appendix 1). In December 2020, the Minister agreed that work be undertaken on potential approaches to advocacy within Oranga Tamariki (REP-OT/20/12/290).

This Evidence Brief forms part of a wider research and information gathering phase, which includes a series of key stakeholder interviews, as well as case studies considering national approaches to advocacy in other parts of the New Zealand public sector (e.g., ACC). The evidence outlined in this international brief will be considered and discussed alongside these local evidence streams with partners, particularly tangata whenua, and triangulated to ensure that the options developed are robust.

This brief seeks to answer the question: ‘how effective is advocacy in supporting parents and families involved in care and protection and youth justice systems?’. Effectiveness in this context is understood as successfully supporting parents and families to:

  • navigate care and protection and youth justice systems
  • participate in ongoing decision-making processes
  • access relevant services such as legal aid, mental health, parenting programmes
  • maintain an ongoing relationship with children in care.

The brief seeks to identify critical success factors and elements that may be usefully incorporated into advocacy models and options developed for New Zealand/Aotearoa.


This is a time-limited rapid evidence review. As such, the review is likely to have missed some relevant ‘on the ground’ advocacy models. We conducted the search mainly through Google and Google Scholar. Our findings from the search complement two key literature reviews into advocacy models, namely:

  1. International Review of Parent Advocacy in Child Welfare: Strengthening Children’s Care and Protection Through Parent Participation. (Better Care Network and IPAN, 2020).
  2. Response to EAP request 128 – Literature Review on Advocacy. Ministry of Social Development, Unpublished memo (Insights MSD, 2016).

The former review summarises evidence from parent advocacy services in highincome countries (England, Scotland, the US, Canada, Australia, Finland, Norway), with the main part of the evidence coming from US models. Low-and-middle income countries are also considered; however, these are not generally focused on the topic of parents and the child welfare system and take a broader remit including, for example, advocacy around access to education.

The latter review was conducted in 2016, at the time when findings from the Expert Advisory Panel Report (Modernising Child, Youth and Family Panel, 2016) were feeding into the development of advocacy services to give children a voice in their own care arrangements. As such, the conceptual model for this review is childcentric, rather than taking a broader remit in terms of examining how parents and whānau can also have voice. Nonetheless, the advocacy models examined for children have useful elements to consider for the development of adult-focused services.

Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, the US and Ireland were identified as jurisdictions of interest for this review. In regard to the UK, the original scope included England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, no literature from Northern Ireland was identified (and a targeted search of Northern Ireland literature was not conducted).

The original scope of this work also included advocacy for parents/families in contact with the care and protection system as well as the youth justice system. However, due to time constraints this review is largely focused on care and protection systems. In addition to jurisdiction-specific sections, a special focus was also placed on looking for examples of parent advocacy for indigenous peoples and for parents with a disability.

Key Results

Advocacy seeks to empower people to influence and understand decisions that affect them

  • While there is no common definition of what parent advocacy should entail, there are common understandings of the problems it seeks to address and the principles that should guide the work of parent advocates.
  • Parent advocacy services seek to safeguard, empower, enable and speak up for those discriminated against or unable to do so for themselves.

Emerging evidence highlights a range of positive outcomes from parent advocacy

  • While many services had not been evaluated this review identified an emerging body of evidence that demonstrated promising outcomes from parent advocacy. These included:
    • Speedier reunification rates for families
    • Reductions in entry to care, particularly when parent advocacy occurred early, at initial child safety conferences
    • Where children did enter into care they were more likely to enter kinship care when parent advocates were involved
    • Parents felt less socially isolated and helpless.

There are a number of critical success factors for parent advocates

  • Many advocacy services rely on parents who have lived experience of interacting with social services about their children, but these parents need to have the time, commitment and stability to help others in order to be effective advocates.
  • Parent advocates also need to be supported with professional supervision, clear role boundaries and fair remuneration that recognises their expertise.
  • Agencies also need the mindset, willingness, and capacity to work with parent advocates at individual, programme, and organisational levels.

A flexible and diverse range of advocacy approaches is needed

  • The research showed particularly positive results for advocacy that combined the expertise of lawyers, social workers and parent advocates.
  • Providing families with a range of advocacy options seems to lead to improved outcomes
  • A flexible approach to advocacy models, that encompasses both individual and systemic approaches is likely to be required for parents.

There is a paucity of evidence on parental advocacy for indigenous peoples

  • While the ability to conduct extensive searches was curtailed by the rapid time frame for the brief, there was a particular paucity of evidence on parent advocacy services specifically for Indigenous peoples.
  • At this point we can only make a general conclusion that specialist advocacy is recommended for parents from culturally diverse backgrounds.
Page last modified: 11 Oct 2023