Perspectives from a Parent Advocate

Perspective from a Parent Advocate
by Heather Cantemessa

As much of an honor as it is to be the president of IPAN, the most important title I will ever have is Mother. I have six beautiful children, one of them has gifted me with two amazing grandchildren. It’s an incredible privilege for me to be able to have my family together because we have struggled to navigate the child welfare system and spent years working to reunite and then heal our broken bonds.
Without the dedication of allies and parent advocates, who educated me about the system and encouraged me to hold on to hope, I would have been immobilized. They inspired me to dedicate myself to serve parents that are experiencing the hardship of family separation in child welfare.
My parent advocacy journey started about 11 years ago by bringing together a small group of other parent advocates and allies in a grassroots effort to bridge the gap between child welfare and our local community.

When I was invited to collaborate with parents from around the world, I felt like everything that I had developed 

personally and professionally had come together for this opportunity. I met parent advocates from Scotland, England & Australia and felt instantly connected when they spoke of their own journey with their families through child welfare. Though we lived on opposite sides of the globe, our experiences were extremely similar and equally disheartening.

I am inspired by all the meaningful work they and their allies were doing with families and agencies in their countries. 
I knew that if only we could join forces, we could increase our positive impact exponentially and reach families worldwide who are experiencing what we went through. IPAN’s mission is to build a parent- led movement to transform child welfare and that is what we have set out to do, by bringing parents and allies together to build an international community dedicated to ensuring a holistic approach is taken to supporting families to raise their children in safe and sustainable homes. By building resources, such as the Parent Advocacy Toolkit, to educate and empower parents and allies in parent advocacy. And, perhaps, most importantly, by building relationships to create connections that change lives and shape our future. Too often, parents are disempowered and marginalised, from minority communities, and in a state of financial distress. We cannot continue to fail our children by refusing to engage with parents, and parent advocacy is a proven way to accomplish this.
We are excited to highlight the work being done by parent advocates across the world and we hope that you will join our efforts to empower families to become powerful advocates in influencing change.

(First published in the BCN Newsletter October 2020 – BCN Newsletter: October 2020 | Better Care Network