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From Rights to Reality: A Plan for Parent Advocacy and Family-Centered Child Welfare Reform

From Rights to Reality is designed to unite parents and parent advocacy around a common set of goals. It identifies 15 rights for parents affected by the child welfare system. Most parents do not yet have these rights in child welfare proceedings. From Rights to Reality represents a commitment to working in our communities and nationwide to make these rights a reality.

From Rights to Reality is designed to respond to two needs in child welfare reform:
1) The need to change a general perception that children who enter foster care usually do not go home; that most parents whose children enter foster care are abusive, as frequently portrayed in the media; and that parents’ needs and children’s needs are usually in conflict. The public needs a more nuanced understanding of the reasons that parents come to the attention of the child welfare system, the supports and legal representation available or unavailable to parents, and the family strengthening that is possible when parents get the help they need.

2) The need to support child welfare reform organizations in developing specific agendas for pushing forward changes in how local agencies treat parents and families. From Rights to Reality consolidates many of the best practices that have helped families to have a significantly stronger voice in their own cases and a greater likelihood of succeeding in safely raising their children at home. From Rights to Reality is designed to help local advocacy and child welfare organizations develop a plan for public education and targeted advocacy.

Each right is illustrated by parents’ stories — stories that show how families can be strengthened and transformed when parents have these rights, and stories that show how families are harmed when these rights are denied.

These rights are essential to ensuring that children receive the best possible care — at home or while in foster care. In child welfare proceedings, children’s needs and parents’ rights are often portrayed as incompatible. Research and practice have demonstrated that, in most cases, this is not true. Children do better if they can remain connected to their parents and return home.

Most of the promising practices described here were advanced through tireless parent advocacy or through meaningful parent participation in child welfare reform. They developed because parents made themselves heard and child welfare practitioners listened. From Rights to Reality gives parents a clear, resounding voice in leading the process of child welfare reform in their communities. Child welfare practitioners must listen and respond. Click here to learn more about Rights to Reality. Below is each of the 15 parent rights.

Parent Rights:

  1. I have the right to not lose my child because I’m poor.
  2. I have the right to services that will support me in raising my child at home.
  3. I have the right to speak for myself and be heard at every step of the child protective service process.
  4. I have the right to be informed of my rights.
  5. I have the right to a meaningful and fair hearing before my parental rights are limited in any way.
  6. I have the right to quality legal representation.
  7. I have the right to support from someone who has been in my shoes.
  8. I have the right to have my child quickly placed with someone I trust.
  9. I have the right to frequent, meaningful contact with my child.
  10. I have the right to make decisions about my child’s life in care.
  11. I have the right to privacy.
  12. I have the right to fair treatment regardless of my race, culture, gender, or religion.
  13. I have the right to services that will support me in reunifying with my child.
  14. I have the right to offer my child a lifelong relationship.
  15. I have the right to meaningful participation in developing the child welfare policies and practices that affect my family and community.