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Strengthening parental participation to improve outcomes for children and families


20 January 2021 at 5:32 pm
Deb Tsorbaris
Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, shines a light on the approach behind the centre’s Voice of Parents project.


Deb Tsorbaris | 20 January 2021 at 5:32 pm


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Strengthening parental participation to improve outcomes for children and families
20 January 2021 at 5:32 pm

Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, shines a light on the approach behind the centre’s Voice of Parents project.

COVID-19 has placed immense pressure on families, with an unprecedented number – and diversity – of families engaging with the child and family services system last year.

In Victoria, community concern about the safety and welfare of children has also risen in recent times. Reports to statutory child protection in the last decade have almost tripled, from less than 42,000 reports in 2007-08 to more than 115,000 in 2017-18. This trajectory is predicted to continue with improved public awareness of child abuse, neglect and family violence, and the expansion of mandatory reporting.

With these trends in mind, it has become increasingly important to provide parents experiencing vulnerability with a voice and to support their participation in services and systems.

The Voice of Parents project

While there are many innovative approaches which improve participation and enhance the engagement of parents in child protection, there is limited evidence of parents being directly engaged in the design and development of new practice models.

The Voice of Parents: a Model for Inclusion project is a two-year initiative led by the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, supported by Gandel Philanthropy and Equity Trustees – The Arthur Gordon Oldham Charitable Trust. Engaging a group of parent consultants who are experts by experience, the project will develop a framework for parent voices to be heard and a practical toolkit for governments and organisations to use in including parents’ voices in their work.

As part of the centre’s commitment to promoting client voice and learning from those with lived experience, the project will develop a charter of parental participation, agreed principles that can be applied across organisations and programs in the child and family services sector, and a parent participation model.

In order to develop a sustainable, effective and practical model, the project is receiving support and input from across the child and family welfare sector, including adjacent sectors such as legal and health, through surveys, workshops and individual consultations.

Anticipated benefits of the project

Meaningful and genuine parent participation in decision-making is linked to a range of increased positive outcomes for children and their families, especially in relation to development, wellbeing, identity and sense of belonging. 

For organisations and services that work with families, hearing parents’ voices and embedding a model for their participation is critical to improving outcomes for families and enabling children to thrive. Through developing a model and resources to establish and embed parent participation in the sector, the Voice of Parents project will support organisations to consistently design and deliver services that best meet the needs of children and families who are accessing their services.

The project is also building on the limited existing knowledge of parental participation and embedding parent voices, and bringing together a broad range of sector stakeholders in the design of an effective model and encouragement of implementation.

Most importantly, parents will be provided with the opportunity for their voice to be heard and for greater awareness of their experience in the critical touch points in the child and family system. 

Recent findings

A literature review to support the initial stages of the project found that when organisations and workers partner with parents to establish and sustain positive and collaborative relationships, families are empowered to take ownership of and participate in real and sustainable change. Strategies that support this include clear communication, adopting a strengths-based approach, and having a thorough awareness of parental needs.

The review also identified a range of factors that act as barriers to engagement, including shame and stigma, professional and personal bias, and systemic restraints such as time and resourcing. To support genuine and meaningful engagement with parents, services must be equipped with a skilled and culturally competent workforce that understands the intersectionality of challenges and discrimination that specific parent populations experience.

In analysing four government participation frameworks that support organisations in their consideration and implementation of a client participation process, the project also found that systemic limitations continue to hamper the ability of organisations to embed meaningful participation. 

What’s next?

The centre is now looking to the sector for their views and experiences, having recently surveyed child and family workers on the opportunities and challenges for organisations in embedding a systematised approach to parental engagement. The findings of this survey will be shared early this year.   

Perhaps most excitingly, in 2021 the project will be engaging our parent consultants, providing an opportunity to work with birth parents who are experts by experience. 


Deb Tsorbaris  |  @ProBonoNews

Deb Tsorbaris is the CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, the peak body for child and family services in Victoria.

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