One public child welfare agency in a large Western state developed a “Parent Partner” program to link birth parents who had previous experience successfully reuniting with their children in child welfare, with parents whose children were recently removed from their care.
This study examined the following research questions.
1. What are parent and key informant experiences with the Parent Partner program?
2. What are Parent Partners' perspectives on their work with birth parents?
3. How do rates of reunification compare for families utilizing Parent Partner services compared to families not served?
Methods: A mixed-methods design was used. For question 1, focus groups (n=30), and a written client satisfaction survey (n=88) were used with birth parents who utilized a Parent Partner; telephone interviews were conducted with individuals from allied agencies and from units within child welfare (n=20). For question 2, in-person interviews were conducted with all Parent Partner staff (n=5). For question 3, a matched comparison group was drawn to examine rates of reunification within an 18 month time frame. 68 treatment families are compared to 68 comparison families matched by ethnicity, case intervention reason, gender, child age, and substance use of the parent.
Results: Responses from birth parents and allied professionals are very positive, attesting to the promise of Parent Partners for inspiring change, for reducing anxiety about, and increasing understanding of the child welfare system. Parent Partners suggest the value and challenges of the work. Results from the outcome study indicate that reunification is more likely for parents served by Parent Partners. Specifically, approximately 62% of women with a Parent Partner reunified, compared to 37% of women not served (X2 = 8.502, df=1, p=.004). Logistic regression analyses will be conducted to examine other factors predicting reunification.
Conclusions and Implications: Birth parents involved with the child welfare system are often isolated in their solitary experience. Friends and family may not be available to provide support and parents are often unaware of others who may be experiencing a similar plight. Programs that encourage birth parents to share their common experiences may facilitate the process of change and inspire hope. Although additional research is clearly warranted, preliminary findings suggest that Parent Partners may be an important resource for child welfare agencies in their efforts to engage families and promote reunification.