NYC launches pilot to expand use of parent advocates in foster care

Rising Ground staff and CEO and its office in Brooklyn, standing apart in masks.

Rising Ground staff and CEO and its office in Brooklyn, standing apart in masks. Patrick Lattin

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services is launching a pilot program to expand the use of parent advocates who have experience dealing with the foster care system and can support mentor parents whose children are currently in foster care.

The “Parents Supporting Parents” initiative will be launched at two nonprofits, Graham Windham and Rising Ground, which will each include parent advocates in their foster care case planning teams. Parent advocates will be able to help parents understand how family court works, to provide emotional support and other practical support throughout the process. Rise, an advocacy organization which focuses on supporting parents involved with the child welfare system, will provide training and coaching to advocates as well. 

“Parent advocates have walked in the shoes of those currently navigating the child welfare system, and their lived experiences can help empower parents with children in foster care,” ACS Commissioner David Hansell said in a statement. “Elevating the voices of parents is a critical strategy to reunify families more quickly.”

ACS has already included parent advocates at the stage in which the agency decides whether to place a child in foster care or return them home. Its implementation has led to reduced foster care placements and allowed children to return home more often, according to a study commissioned by the agency and conducted by the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. 

The implementation of similar programs in other parts of the country has proven successful, said Felicia Kellum, a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is supporting the initiative. “We’ve seen that it has served as a very key strategy for preserving families and building protective factors.”

The initiative is also an effort to address racial disparities in the foster care system, which disproportionately affects Black New Yorkers. Parent advocates often come from the same racial or cultural background as the parents they are helping, Kellum said, and the goal of increased family reunifications will decrease that disparity. 

Rising Ground CEO Alan Mucatel said his organization will soon start the process of hiring four parent advocates to be embedded in each of its teams at its Brooklyn office. 

“They’re also helping to change the culture and mindset of all foster care,” he said.

The city’s goal is for the initiative to be expanded across the city so parent advocates are available as a resource to anyone dealing with the foster care system.