Parent and Family Advocacy

Published: August 30, 2021

This brief is a time-limited scan of readily available literature on parent and family advocacy in international jurisdictions.


In 2020 a number of external reviews of the work of Oranga Tamariki made recommendations that the agency develop advocacy services for parents and whānau whose tamariki had come to the attention of the agency.

This Evidence Brief is the first step in a wider research and information-gathering phase intended to inform the development of policy options for how such services could be designed and rolled out.

The purpose of the brief is to look at common definitions of advocacy and models used overseas, and to review the evidence on specific elements and critical success factors that lead to better outcomes for families and children.

It is not intended to be read in isolation – all ideas in this brief garnered from overseas need to be considered and tested in a New Zealand context, respecting local knowledge and expertise, particularly that of tangata whenua.

Key findings

Advocacy seeks to empower people to influence and understand decisions that affect them

  • While there is no common definition of what parent advocacy should entail, there are common understandings of the problems it seeks to address and the principles that should guide the work of parent advocates.
  • Parent advocacy services seek to safeguard, empower, enable and speak up for those discriminated against or unable to do so for themselves.

Emerging evidence highlights a range of positive outcomes from parent advocacy

  • While many services had not been evaluated this review identified an emerging body of evidence that demonstrated promising outcomes from parent advocacy. These included:
    • Speedier reunification rates for families
    • Reductions in entry to care, particularly when parent advocacy occurred early, at initial child safety conferences
    • Where children did enter into care they were more likely to enter kinship care when parent advocates were involved
    • Parents felt less socially isolated and helpless.

There are a number of critical success factors for parent advocates

  • Many advocacy services rely on parents who have lived experience of interacting with social services about their children, but these parents need to have the time, commitment and stability to help others in order to be effective advocates.
  • Parent advocates also need to be supported with professional supervision, clear role boundaries and fair remuneration that recognises their expertise.
  • Agencies also need the mindset, willingness, and capacity to work with parent advocates at individual, programme, and organisational levels.

A flexible and diverse range of advocacy approaches is needed

  • The research showed particularly positive results for advocacy that combined the expertise of lawyers, social workers and parent advocates.
  • Providing families with a range of advocacy options seems to lead to improved outcomes
  • A flexible approach to advocacy models, that encompasses both individual and systemic approaches is likely to be required for parents.

There is a paucity of evidence on parental advocacy for indigenous peoples

  • While the ability to conduct extensive searches was curtailed by the rapid time frame for the brief, there was a particular paucity of evidence on parent advocacy services specifically for Indigenous peoples.
  • At this point we can only make a general conclusion that specialist advocacy is recommended for parents from culturally diverse backgrounds.