One of many entrenched social problems of the child welfare system (CWS) in the U.S. has been a lack of parental voices and involvement in the case decision-making processes. This is due to various factors enrooted within CWS including stigmatization and blame of parents by caseworkers (Scholte et al., 1999), power dynamics that favor child welfare caseworkers (Frame et al., 2010), and lack of understanding of parental rights by child welfare involved families (Cohen & Canan, 2006; Dumbrill, 2006). To address this problem, there has been a growing use of parent advocates (PA), who are parents with a lived CWS experience and who work with parents currently involved in the system, to support and elevate parents’ voices. By doing so, PAs not only empower parents and bring change but also contribute to the process of building new solutions to complex problems within CWS.
Several recent studies have reported positive effects of PA programs on family outcomes in child welfare (Chambers et al., 2019; Lalayants et al., 2021). However, the knowledge about the motivations of parents to become a parent advocate and devote time to helping families is limited, which is particularly important for the development of a robust workforce, recruitment, and retention.
This presentation will (1) identify gaps in the current literature and apply theoretical knowledge to understand the motivations of PAs, (2) share the firsthand knowledge about the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of PAs, and (3) discuss implications for building a parent advocacy workforce based on the understating of the motivational factors.
Through an exploratory qualitative study, PAs (n=35) working with families in CWS were recruited by phone/email from their agency of employment. In in-person interviews, participants were asked in-depth questions about their experiences, motivations, and environments that enhance work motivation. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic framework.
The findings revealed that for many PAs the main drive to engage in advocacy were intrinsic rather than extrinsic which included a sense of relatedness and belonging, empowerment, gratification from helping others, giving back, being mission-oriented, and self-help. Participants also identified extrinsic motivations such as employment and learning opportunities, although these motives were mentioned much infrequently requiring further in-depth investigation of the possible association between extrinsic motivations and parent advocacy engagement.
Conclusion and Implications
Understanding motivations of PAs engaged in advocacy work in child welfare is crucial for various reasons. The retention and recruitment of potential parent advocates is salient for enhancing the engagement of families in the decision-making processes and elevating their voices. Also, understanding main drives of PAs will help agencies to assess and support their motivations, provide mix of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives by creating meaningful job descriptions and supportive work environments. This will allow for the retention of PAs that are engaged in the field and for the recruitment of new ones. PAs’ motivations could impact the quality of their service to families and ultimately affect family case outcomes.