By Amanda Klessig, CWLA Practice Excellence Intern
Upon first hearing the term “parent leader” I was puzzled regarding its actual meaning. Who is a parent leader, and what are the qualifications to become one? What do these individuals do? Are they parents who lead and inspire other parents? Are they humans who exceed the conventional standards of “good” parenting? Or are they community members who teach exceptional parenting techniques? Through a webinar hosted by the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) and the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MAEC), I discovered the answer is incredibly simple. Although the term can have different meanings in different contexts, parent leaders are parents who desire change for their children and take steps to pilot that change. Across the country, groups of parent leaders advocate on behalf of their children to improve systems and break down systematic barriers. They collaborate and support one another to benefit their communities by addressing key issues such as inequities in education, racial and economic justice, LGBTQ+ rights, access to resources, and more. Parent leaders are important to child welfare for a variety of reasons. First, they have a unique perspective on welfare issues. They know the needs of their children better than anyone and directly experience what barriers their children face daily. Parents can use that knowledge to offer key solutions. For example, those in positions of power who want to promote change may have great ideas, but having the perspective of a parent leader allows others to address the issues appropriately. Indirectly, parent leaders also have a major impact on future generations. Through modeling, children have a parent leader to teach them that they too can advocate for themselves and their needs. Children start to recognize that their voice matters and have the courage to speak up on issues that affect them. Lastly, children tend to thrive in communities where they receive ample support, not just from their own parents, but from a collective group. Once I understood what being a parent leader entailed and the impact they have on families, I found myself asking how these parents operate. Do parent leader organizations exist? Are they only based in local schools? Interestingly, the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools conducted a study on parent leadership and organization groups to learn more about their landscape (Geller et al., 2023). Over the course of two years, they received survey responses from 180 organizations that identified themselves as “family and community engagement, advocacy, leadership development, and community organizing groups” (Geller et al., 2023). However, this does not mean that a parent leader must be part of an organized group. Any parent who advocates for educational, social, economic, or racial justice for their children can be a parent leader. In fact, the study found that 104 of the organizations were originally founded by parents. Throughout their study, they discovered some interesting findings that highlight the work parent leaders are doing for children. Out of all the issues parent leaders could address, the leading three were K-12 education, early childhood education, and racial equity. More specifically, examples included removing police officers from school campuses, expanding bilingual policies in school districts, and strengthening the availability of mental health services in schools (Geller et al., 2023). While some organizations focused on directly tackling the issues at hand, others focused on teaching parents the skills needed to organize as a collective unit and promote leadership.