September 01, 2013

New in Print: From Pariahs to Partners:

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

David Tobis, PhD, traces the parents’ movement in New York City, a social movement starting in the early 1990s that helped transform the city’s child welfare system and its treatment of parents and families. He profiles four mothers who fought to regain custody of their children from the city’s child welfare system then went on to help other mothers by becoming parent advocates. 

Parent advocates—parents who have been through the child welfare system themselves—are trained to help parents navigate the child welfare system and reunite with their children. They also work to keep families together and avoid foster care placement. They have played a growing role in the movement to strengthen parent representation quality in New York City and other places throughout the country.

The book also highlights organizations that successfully pressed for change in New York City: the Child Welfare Fund, Children’s Rights, Inc., and the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. These organizations provided the funding, legal advocacy, and bureaucratic know-how to push through reforms that gave parents a greater voice in the child welfare system. A number of smaller parent-focused or parent-led organizations that influenced reforms are also highlighted.

Tobin shows how the changes in New York City are also reflected nationally and how attention to improving parent advocacy has taken hold throughout the country. Efforts to create more uniform parent advocacy practices are described, including a parent bill of rights that focuses on parent organizing, child welfare policy reform, and legal representation for parents in court.

Lessons learned and an assessment of the effectiveness of New York City’s efforts provide useful insights for child welfare practitioners involved in parent advocacy reforms.