Parent Advocates – a necessary bridge between the parent and the professional

I am grateful for this guest post from @DVHurts who discussed the notion of ‘parent advocates’ explored at the recent conference on 29th October 2018 organised by the Family Rights Group. This is something I have long thought would be a very useful addition to the system; such thoughts were cemented by discussions on November 3rd at a workshop organised by journalist Louise Tickle about opening up the family court – again what is repeated by parents is that they need help to understand the process and to get the best out of their lawyers. 


My position was clear and inflexible.  I didn’t want counsellors working out the personal problems on my payroll.  I wanted at least five years of sobriety, regardless of how much education they had.  They had to have been no breach of sobriety to grasp the spiritual nature of recovery and to ensure that the focus would stay on the client and not shift to themselves                                                                                                                                            

For a little light reading over the last week I have been browsing through Slaying the Dragon, The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, by William L .White. By grace, I do not have addiction problems myself , but I am interested in the treatment of addiction. The above quote originated from one of the addiction counsellors in the treatment centre, he was himself an alcoholic in good recovery. He was employed by the facility , alongside others in recovery and paid the same as other staff members in similar grades of work. The care team is described as inter-disciplinary not multi disciplinary.

 Also this week I attended this week Your Family Your Voice Alliance conference: Tackling the care crisis-Families Driving Reform run by the Family Rights Group  I came away with hope in my heart, that change is not only possible but will happen. the conference outlined one of the catalysts for change should be the training and  employment of parent advocates. Just as a recovered alcoholic has been shown by research to be the most effective person to lead another into sobriety, a parent who has been through the system, will as an expert through experience, be able to come alongside a parent and guide them through.

The conference was opened by the Your Family Your Voice Co- Chair and a Family Rights Group trustee Angela Frazer -Wicks, who like me is a  birth parent.  She has campaigned and worked with local authorities and is an excellent example of how a  dedicated parent can work within the system.

There  were a number of topics covered in the conference, but in this post I am just want to concentrate on parent advocacy. I am birth parent and this therefore is a personal view. A large part of my journey and recovery into wellness has been due to peer support and so I am an enthusiast. One of the primary factors was not realising that I was not the only person in the universe ploughing through the muck.The other has been my situation is not hopeless, there are tools to use , that others have done so in the past and I wanted what they had and I could get it when I had put the work in. They were willing to get down into the hole I found myself and show me the way out. During this process of change I also had help  on a 1:1 basis and having the ability to call on someone who understood the situation from their own experience has been key. By putting in the work, which includes looking into how your family ended up in the situation in the first place , which absolutely must not be a shaming exercise,  (shame is negative as I explored here) but a realistic evaluation, combined with solutions.

 What is an advocate? 

The dictionary definition relates more to a lawyer, one who puts your case in a court of law. So normally a well educated professional. Yet peer advocates who are now widely used within mental health services do not fulfil this role. They are more a bridge between the service user and the professional, when the service user does not have the capacity to understand , whether through mental health problems or simply fear.                               

There is another word paraclete, which originates from late Greek, which also means advocate and mediator. I understand lawyers can be both, however I think I am trying to look at a different role, with boundaries that are there but less rigid than between a lawyer and a client. It actually is more helpful as a definition, as it explains that a paraclete is one who is a comforter as well as speaking on you behalf. In Christianity the Holy Spirit is referred as the paraclete, the one who speaks to God on your behalf when you don’t know what to say and signposts you in the right direction.  He is always there to call on and if you listen, you will  be looked after. It is a personalised “service”.I  understand, that some won’t  like the religious illustration, but it is most effective way, I can personally explain what I see the role of the advocate to be.

Parent advocates, alongside other measures instigated by parents in New York City have reduced children in out of home placements by 82% since 1992. There are still approximately 100 parent advocates in New York today.  David Tobias, Ph.D. who as Executive director of the Child Welfare Fund, was at the coalface of the change to parents being seen as partners in the child protection system.In his address to conference , he stressed that not every parent could become an advocate and there was extensive training before they were accredited as advocates. This goes back to the quote at the top of this post. Parent advocates , would have to be selected from those that have the necessary maturity and qualities that can act as that bridge. They would not be a disruptive force, sure they would have their own bias, as we all do but would have worked through that , in order to put the family they are supporting first. They would need regular supervision, just as counsellors do.

When questioned, David said we need to get a curriculum together to train advocates. That sounds easy enough as it could draw from mental health advocacy training. So what else is stopping us? Money basically and to a lesser extent geography, as of course we are talking about a country not a city.

The other problem that arose in addiction centres is the professionals accepting the recovered addicts as equals in a team, the hierarchy being flattened was not universally popular, though these problems ironed over time.

We have been discussing this a number of years now, it needs to become a reality, the evidence is there, that parent advocacy works and the system is sinking from all perspectives, care figures rocketing ,parents broken, courts over stretched, social workers stressed and leaving the profession.

Last but not least the system is failing children. It could be started,  it could be evaluated,what  financial cost would there be of a number of parent advocates per area in relation to the millions spent on proceedings and looked after care at the moment?

There has been a discussion on Twitter and I think this is an excellent suggestion:


14 thoughts on “Parent Advocates – a necessary bridge between the parent and the professional

  1. Pingback: Why its time to open up the Family Courts | Child Protection Resource

  2. Diana Nixon

    Advocating for parents; is something that I feel extremely passionate about after many years working with parents in crisis on many levels and the demise of the children’s centres stripping away a level of support that buffetted families between Social care and the legal system identifying where the families needed help or if they had the compacity to carry on parenting their child/children and what their views were whether they needed further support and how this would look but keeping the families views at the core of this work.

    Parents and young people take time to trust and only after considerable time will they open up to their true feelings by having an advocate surely will reduce the time in court including legal fee’s which could then be used to fill this gap in an ever-widening chasm with parents and children being cast adrift due to lack of understanding of their true feelings.

  3. Angelo Granda

    Thank you for the interesting post ; i am sure you know it already but i would like to remind readers that under the terms of the Working Together frameworks of the Children Act, the Local Authority officials have an obligation to inform families of the right to have an advocate to advise them and mediate with professionals. Under the guidelines, as a matter of procedure, the LA staff are clearly expected to give the contact details of all these advocates to the family .
    Sadly, as with many other procedures, this one is usually overlooked and the consequences are that the power imbalance is magnified to the detriment of the children. The misunderstandings and wrong appraisals come about inevitably whenever the Act’s guidelines and safeguards are ignored.
    Furthermore, the LA’s appear to deliberately negate any effort at mediation which a parent might attempt. If they take an advocate or a friend with them to a meeting with the authority,e.g. a child-protection conference , they will not allow the mediator to talk.

    The advice from high up is that when cases are not conducted correctly in any way,that the only remedy is by appeal to a higher court but ,sadly again, the system is broken and an appeal is seldom possible.

    So, i can only repeat my chant , radical changes to the judicial system including complete openness is necessary before we can even think about giving parents the benefit of parent/advocates.Then if procedures and safeguards are flouted , the public will know about it and articles 6 and 8 can be enforced.

    However, regarding the practicalities of the advocacy you have written about, i am glad you have referred to the thread about ‘SHAME’. Readers will see that i have suggested massive changes to the child-protection system and doing away with the CS altogether as it is now. I have raised the idea of Family Support Workers and that these should be chosen from applicants who live in the community and are ever present and available to advise all within it. There is no reason why they cannot have available to them a parent who has had similar problems.

    In an ideal system, this may sound naive but really it should be the SOCIAL WORKERS themselves ( even when renamed support workers) that give parents all the advocacy and active intervention they need . That should be their true task. They are supposed to do everything they possibly can to mediate for them with the other cp professionals and particularly to protect them from the political preferences of the LA’s and managers.

    I think it was McFarlane himself ( although i might be mistaken) who once said that the simple duty of a social worker in Court is to report on what he finds and particularly to include everything contra-indicative of the case to remove children from home.They are supposed to concentrate on home support plans. We all know why they don’t; it is because they are controlled by the LA’s and thus subject to the applicant’s political policy directives and budgetary preferences.They are not independent professionals as ,let us say, an accountant is. Can you imagine how much pressure accountants and bookkeepers come under to cook their employer’s figures?

    This is why i maintain that the CS should be completely independent of the LA.

    The idea of parent advocates is a good one and one of the tasks should be to intervene actively when procedures are flouted AND to be permitted access to the Court to report official transgressions and/or report them to the Police when they are criminal ones .None of it is possible at the moment,is it?

  4. Angelo Granda

    DV Hurts,

    I think it would be wise if the parent/advocate were also to attend their clients meetings with their own solicitors in order to mediate and intervene if necessary.

    Do you agree? If so, why?

  5. Sam

    I imagine that is one of the ways that parent advocates would be used, because if advocates are a bridge they can be helpful with meetings with all professionals. Parents cannot neccessarily communicate what is most helpful to solicitors and certainly a number cannot understand what is happening through the mist of trauma.

  6. Angelo Granda

    I think parent advocates should take careful note of everything and then ,if court proceedings come around,they should make a professional statement in which they are very clear to the Court that the Mum is looking through a ‘mist of trauma’ and WHY she is traumatised . Also why children are traumatised.
    In my honest opinion , most of the trauma ,emotional harm.physical symptoms of depression etc. are more likely to be due to the often illicit actions, removal etc. done to the family by the Local Authority than by the dv by spouse even when it has been long-term. The gas-lighting,false allegations ,rigged evidence,lack of impartiality ,coercion and blackmail plus the harm to children taken from home dwarfs it by comparison.When saying this ,i do not underestimate the effects of domestic violence particularly the bashing not at all.It has to be dealt with by Police not pushed on the CS.
    The advocate should note a clients condition at first then stress the fact if it gets worse when the LA become involved rather than better and explain why.

    Sarah, on the subject of advocacy, you have in the past recognised problems and a possible conflict of interest due to SW’s having to wear two hats in a case . I agree with you and you will also know that often children’s legal panels solicitors have been accused by me and other parents of having a conflict of interests too. This is because the firms of solicitors often represent contemporaneously parents and Local Authorities.
    I am not quite sure if you accept this or take it seriously at all but you should do.
    One large firm of solicitors which represents LA’s refused to take on a parents case explaining there would be a conflict of interest. Likewise a firm which regularly has CAFFCAS as its client. Yet many solicitors firms have no qualms about the conflict; it is ethically okay for them.
    We know that firms of solicitors have a parasitical relationship with society as a whole and that they are not charities, they are in it to make a profit. This is where they differ from your own profession,Sarah.
    We know already that the bar council has written to the secretary of state in the past to express concerns.
    I have told of how, when i made an application to Court on legal aid, i was landed with trainees and had a terrible service. Having telephoned several times at about 9.30a.m, I know for a fact that the fee-earners and the boss hold meetings first thing in the morning before court in which all of the solicitors discuss cases and strategies together,advise one another and help one another. I don’t think it is beyond anyone’s imagination that here is where conflicts will show themselves. For example, it is highly likely that the boss will assign his most talented fee-earners to a Local Authorities case and ensure it wins to encourage future commissions and to speed up payment. By assigning legal-aid work to the less-talented non fee-earners , he can also increase his profits and help bring about LA victories in Court.
    I think all of this goes against article 6 rights to fairness .
    Please note also that whilst there is no evidence from what i can see that SW’s are paid bonuses for successful care-order applications, i do know it is general practice for fee-earners to get paid incentive bonuses for performance and i guess they will have to win cases to be paid the money not lose cases.
    This could be another reason why their early morning strategy meetings are so important for the firm and why less able non fee-earners are allocated to parents.

    I look forward to your comments and any from other readers. I have noticed any solicitors commenting on this resource but if one stepped forward to edificatificate us , it would be helpful from whichever camp they come.The ones with qualms or those without!

  7. Angelo Granda

    When,as I say above and considering the CPR itself counts an independent advocate so important, do lawyers not appeal to the Court when LA’s ignore the Working Together Frameworks of the Children Act and fail to advise parents of their rights to one? Not only that ,as I also said,if parents get one of their own bat,why aren’t they allowed to talk and mediate?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree there needs to be a shift in attitudes but i also suspect resources and the lack of them will have a huge impact. I am not aware of what there actually is for parents who don’t have learning difficulties.

  8. Angelo Granda

    I agree lawyers should definitely change their attitudes.
    They should not concern themselves with the budgetary difficulties and/or financial imprudence of LA’s,they should concentrate on their own responsibilities which are to uphold the Law and the Working Together frameworks.
    We have to face reality.Tell me,why would the authorities bother paying for advocacy services or even cooperating with mediation when the Court does not enforce it?
    Even when a progressive judge orders it to happen during the course of proceedings,the solicitors ignore the order themselves in my experience let alone pre-proceedings.
    If LA’s can afford to pay towards FRG services in London then they can reasonably be expected to do so nationwide.
    The reality is that they don’t want mediators to get involved,they want the parents to be vulnerable and especially they don’t want a parents advocate attesting that respondents fully understand concerns and acknowledge the need to change if there is one.
    They prefer to testify the opposite because it is their preference for reasons we are all aware of.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Budgetary constraints ARE reality. I don’t know why you continually cannot get your head around this. The FRG have just secured some more funding but things were VERY precarious for a while and I don’t know that their future is assured.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Your view of reality holds no water when it comes to LA budgetary constraints,in my humble opinion ,as I have explained several times.
        Readers,we have had many periods of boom
        and of recession but it makes n difference to the LA’s. They plead poverty whatever the reality.
        Whenever the authorities seek to deny citizens citing a need to reduce expenditure,economic pressures etc.then the lawyers charged with upholding those rights and enforcing justice should allow the various excuses and pressures to roll off their backs.
        They should follow faithfully these two,firm economic rules:-
        1. Expenditure should be determined by needs (generously interpreted) rather than by resources.
        2. When the gap between income and expenditure becomes too wide,the solution lies in increasing income not reducing expenditure.In other words,to do our moral duty and respond to needs,we must work on productivity and yield more or increase taxes.
        It stands to reason if we use our heads.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          If you won’t listen to someone who has tried to grapple with this for 20 years then you presumably won’t listen to anyone. There is nothing more I can say. Perhaps you should simply stop trying to engage me in ‘discussion’ which is in truth no discussion at all – just you insisting over and over and over again that you are right.

          1. Angelo Granda

            Very good,i won’t ask you any more questions and just make general comments.
            Thanks again for your honesty.

  9. Angelo Granda

    Plus if the LA is wrong e.g.using false background and making false statements they don’t want an independent mediation service correcting them and they surely don’t want the facts attested to on oath in court.
    They prefer a power imbalance and hearsay evidence to hold sway.

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