Peer Partners

The Integrated Core Practice Model (ICPM)/California Child Welfare Core Practice Model (CPM), Safety Organized Practice (SOP), the Structured Decision Making (SDM) tools, Child and Family Teams (CFTs), the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) tool, and System of Care for Children and Youth (SOC) all place the voices of children, youth, parents, family, community, and culture at the center of engagement, assessment, planning, service delivery, and transition practices and processes, at all levels, from support of individual families to the development of policies, programs, and training curriculum. Over the past decade, as child welfare, probation, and behavioral health agencies and community service providers have worked towards authentically engaging the voices of children, youth, parents, and families, the integration of peer partners into child and family serving programs has emerged as a central value and practice of engagement.

Parent Partners

There is growing evidence that parent partner programs are an essential strategy to promote engagement and increase reunification among families and children that are involved in the child welfare system. Casey Family Programs website states that parent partners 1) instill hope, 2) promote self-advocacy, 3) connect families to services, and 4) promote an agency culture shift to one that engages authentically with families. Evidence is emerging that parent partner programs are effective in helping families to reunify more quickly and help in reducing incidents of re-entry according to the Iowa Parent Partner Project and the Partnering with Parents Promising Approaches to Improve Reunification Outcomes for Children in Foster Care report by the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare.

In the report entitled, “How family partners contribute to the phases and activities of the wraparound process”, E. J. Bruns & J. S. Walker report that parent partners also have an important role in grounding child and family serving professionals in their work with families and increasing engagement with families due to their unique perspective of having navigated the complexities of the system themselves.

Parent partners have four key functions: (1) to ensure parents are equal partners, if not leaders, in the development and implementation of their behaviorally-based service plans, case plans, and treatment plans; (2) to represent the needs and perspectives of parents to internal and external stakeholders and decision makers within the system of care; (3) to ensure that parents have access to a comprehensive array of prevention and support services that meet their individual needs and increase family engagement; and (4) to ensure that these services are family-centered; easily accessible; respectful of cultural, ethnic, and other community characteristics; and stigma free. To effectively and respectively integrate parent partners into systems and programs, agencies must consider how parent partners will be trained and supported in their role. Special consideration should be made for facilitating peer-to-peer support, supervision, compensation, and the collection and use of data to support the effectiveness of parent partner programs. For parent partners to be successful, it is essential that parent partner programs are integrated throughout the agency. It is critical to create a cultural shift throughout the organization to support full integration of parent partners. For further information how to implement a parent partner program, please review the Capacity Building Center for States’ (CBCS) website, which includes a “Parent Partner Program Manual”.

To effectively and respectively integrate parent partners into systems and programs, agencies must use a trauma informed approach in every aspect of a parent partner program and role. Bringing parents into institutional leadership positions (e.g. state or local advisory committees, school boards, community organizations’ committees, or other civic engagement positions) can be an intimidating and unnerving experience, especially for parents placed in these positions for the first time. Part of being a trauma informed organization working with parents, families, and children is reflected by how parents are engaged. Utilizing trauma informed principles to engage parents can improve the effectiveness of parent engagement and benefit both parents and organizations seeking to improve child and family well-being. Family Hui, a program of Lead4Tomorrow, created a document that provides a guide for incorporating trauma informed practices into parent partner organizations. The Office of Child Abuse Prevention (OCAP) provides funding to Family Hui to support statewide parent leadership. To learn more about Family Hui, visit: https://www.familyhui.org/. To learn more about other programs funded by the OCAP, visit: https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/ocap.

Cultural Brokers

Another promising approach to family engagement, permanency, and ICPM values integration involves the use of cultural brokers. Cultural brokers increase the overall well-being for children, youth, and families by providing culturally sensitive support that will assist families with navigation through various agencies and programs. They provide brokering, advocacy, and support to families that are involved in child and family serving programs. Cultural brokers can decrease the likelihood of cultural misunderstandings between families, case workers, and service providers, and reduce the rates of disproportionality and disparity that exist in the child and youth serving system of care. Cultural brokers are utilized to empower families regardless of race, ethnic background, or economic status so that their own strengths and capacities are supported and developed. In addition to their direct work with families, cultural brokers also advocate for broader systematic changes to reduce disproportionality and disparities that exist within child and family serving programs.

Cultural brokers receive extensive training in child welfare, probation, and/or behavioral health systems, cultural humility, and community partnerships. Ideally, cultural brokers are of the same culture as the family or have an extensive knowledge base of the family’s culture. Some cultural brokers have extensive knowledge not only of specific culture, but also potentially regarding substance abuse, domestic violence, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and/or immigrant and refugee needs and programs.

Knowledge and expertise in these specialized areas greatly enhance efforts to ensure that families from diverse backgrounds receive effective and appropriate services, support, and advocacy. Cultural brokers typically have a wide range of educational experience, but most importantly have the trust of the community they are representing. Cultural brokers support families in a variety of ways, including linking the family with local supportive resources, assisting with team meetings, encouraging the family to work with the case manager, or attending court with the family. Cultural Brokers work to increase the quality of the relationship between agencies and the families it serves, so that better outcomes are achieved for the families. Additional activities or roles that a cultural broker may engage include, but are not limited to: transportation, attending appointments, crisis intervention and home visitation.

The National Center for Cultural Competence emphasizes the importance of the following principles when implementing a cultural broker program:

  • Honor and respect cultural differences in communities
  • The community defines their own needs
  • Services are safe, confidential, and respectful
  • Services are delivered in non-traditional and flexible ways that meet the needs of the community and cultures
  • Transfer of knowledge between service providers and communities