Health and Family Services Cabinet
Parent Advocacy Program helps families stay together; Mothers, fathers benefit from mentors who have navigated child welfare system
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 15, 2007) – Children who spent time in foster care had fewer placements and a better chance at family reunification when their parents got help from others who had experienced similar situations.
That’s one key finding in a recent report about a Parent Advocacy Program in Jefferson County sponsored by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). The program enlists mothers and fathers who were once involved with the state’s child welfare system to serve as guides and mentors for families facing similar circumstances.
Training of parent advocates – also called family mentors – began in 2005, with help from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report examines results since then and is intended to spur improvements in Jefferson County and in similar programs in other Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) regions.
Compared with children whose families haven’t been enrolled in the program, children of parents who have family mentors experienced fewer placement moves in their current episode of out-of-home care. They also spent less overall time in care than children without parent advocates, although the number of episodes of out-of-home care differed little between the two groups.
Children with advocates also had higher percentages of reunification with their parents, similar instances of permanent placement with a relative and fewer instances of adoption.
The report is evidence that the program is effective in keeping families together, DCBS Commissioner Mark A. Washington said.
”Through the Parent Advocacy Program, our staff can identify families that would benefit from this experience and give them another advantage,” he said. “This program is about second chances. Family mentors have a chance to help others get their lives on the right track. And with the extra support, the families involved with the program have a better chance at staying together.”
The Parent Advocacy Program is one of the strategies comprising DCBS’ Partners in Prevention initiative, a comprehensive strategy to care for and improve outcomes for vulnerable families and children by providing more preventive services.
Between September 2005 and January 2007, about 136 families were accepted into the Parent Advocacy Program, though not all received services. Targeted families include those with children under age 5, those with first involvement with child protective services or those who live in an area with a high child removal rate.
Mentors said their most common contribution to parents was providing information about DCBS and its services. They reported improved communication skills and increased self-sufficiency in most families they served.
Washington said that as part of its continued expansion of preventive services, DCBS will seek additional budget and legislative support for this program to be implemented statewide.
Family mentors must meet several criteria. Their child protective services case within DCBS must have been successfully closed for at least a year. They must have a stable family situation with no current child protection issues. They must attend 12 hours of training before working with parents and DCBS staff.
Most mentors are volunteers who earn only stipends as reimbursement for their expenses.
The report mentions several opportunities for improvement, including making DCBS staff more familiar with the program, discussing the proper role of family mentors with family court judges, and reviewing the policy for accepting and retaining parent advocates.
Several parent advocates were interviewed for the study and gave their views on how they influenced the DCBS clients with whom they are partnered.
“I’m able to relive that pain (of separation) with them,” family mentor Rolanda Daugherty said. “And that’s a pain that I don’t want to bring back to my own heart. So in the process of helping somebody else, it helps me … to continue to do the right things that I need to do to make sure that my family stays together.”
The full report is available online at http://chfs.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/F17AF937-836E-4514-AA47-59FE1B3ECB9B/0/ParentAdvocateProgramEvaluation_Retouch_July1107.pdf.
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