Participatory practice is acknowledged as increasingly important in empowering families in the decision-making process. Parental participation represents a shift from viewing people as passive beneficiaries to an emphasis on the capacity of service users to be creative, reflective and active agents in shaping their lives (Slettebo, 2015). Despite this, parental participation remains a complex and multi-dimensional concept, provided in a variety of ways across a continuum.
Practice differs from consultation to partnership building, to active participation where parents have the power to influence and control decision-making (Arnstein, 1969). Successful participation is also dependent on a range of individual factors including willingness to engage, understanding of needs, and willingness to effect changes in order to meet those needs, as well as system factors including power dynamics and resource constraints (Darlington et al., 2010).
This paper draws on existing research to explore what parents want across the continuum of participation and how this might be embedded in services, drawing on emerging structures for parental participation within Irelands new Child and Family Agency, Tusla. The paper illustrates the importance of engaging with parents and how this contributes to improved outcomes for children and families.