#3 Pre-conference event: Families as agents of system change: family activism and the importance of lived experiences in social policy making


Families as agents of system change: family activism and the importance of lived experiences in social policy making 

Offered by Tanya’s Dream Fund and Trust for Social Achievement 


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Hosts: Tanya’s Dream Fund and Trust for Social Achievement 

Date: October 22, 2024  

Time: 15:00 - 18:00 

Location: Millenium Sofia Grand Hotel



Many child protection systems across Europe, remain focused on surveillance of families and crisis interventions, resulting in unnecessary and avoidable child-family separation. In countries such as the United Kingdom, a risk averse environment has led to over-reporting and exaggeration of risks, with long term negative consequences on outcomes for children and families. At the eastern edge of Europe, Bulgaria experiences an over-representation of Roma children in the formal care system because of systemic under-recognition of the impact of marginalization and poverty on families, which inevitably leads to forceful removals in a crisis mode. Such reactive systems, despite being developed to safeguard children, lack clarity of purpose and accountability to support children to grow up in their families and fail to engage and work with parents to maximize the positive impact of their services. One major reason for this is that they are not putting the evidence behind child and family wellbeing at the center of the design of their policies.  

Parents with lived experiences of the child protection systems are a powerful voice for change, as they hold the knowledge of practical solutions to meet the needs of children and families. Parent activists across Europe are making their views and recommendation heard through exciting new approaches.  

What to expect 

During this interactive two-part event we will bring together researchers from the United Kingdom and Bulgaria, as well as inspirational parent activists,  to discuss the realities of child-family separation in Europe, and to learn from successful examples of parents becoming advocates in different system contexts. 

Together, we will reimagine a social system that keeps children in families and supports family wellbeing. Through small and large group discussion, we will synthesize a call-to-action for parent activists and those who can support them. 

What you will learn 

This event aims to motivate and inspire towards action both potential parent activists and supporters of such, to inform participants of some innovative recent applications of parent activism within different childcare systems contexts across Europe, and to build together new understanding as to how best to promote parent activism, including within the Roma community. 


  • Prof. Andy Bilson is Emeritus Professor at the University of Central Lancashire where he is associate director of The Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation. He continues to work as a researcher and consultant promoting children’s rights, parent advocacy and reform of child protection systems. He is committed to developing systems that support families and reduce institutionalization and unnecessary removal of children from their families.  
  • Taliah Drayak is a care experienced parent advocate and mother of eight, a member of the Parents, Families and Allies Network and of ATD Fourth World, founder of Scots Mums Guide to Safeguarding and Child Protection and director of the International Parent Advocacy Network. Andy and Taliah will discuss the importance of parent advocacy to keeping children in families, as well as the different kinds of parent advocacy and ways in which parents can be supported. They will share examples from their joint advocacy work through the Parents, Families and Allies Network. 
  • Dr. Galina Markova is the Director of the Know-How Center for Alternative Care for Children and professor of social work at the New Bulgarian University. She has actively participated in and studied the effects of deinstitutionalization in Bulgaria. Galina will present a recently completed mapping of parent activism in Bulgaria that outlines challenges and makes recommendations on how to support parent activists. 
  • Iliyana Nikolova is the Executive Director the Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation (WCIF), which encourages different communities to take responsibility and work actively for social development, making full use of local resources. Iliyana will share ideas and lessons from the ongoing effort of developing processes for engaging parents in collective action and participatory grantmaking.  
  • Parent activists from “Expert-Friends” will inspire the audience with its innovative approaches to supporting parents, such as podcasts and ARTivism (community social art initiatives).  
  • Sanela Bešić, Executive Director of Kali Sara – Roma Information Center Sarajevo, coordinator of Romani Early Years Network (REYN) Bosnia and Herzegovina, and winner of the 2019 EU prize for Roma integration for the Western Balkans and Turkey, will share challenges for Romani parent activists and offer suggestions on some of the ways in which they can be supported to attempting to overcome those challenges.  
  • REYN International coordinator Aljosa Rudas will share from his personal experiences, serving as an early educator and supporting Romani children, their parents, and communities, as well as from his current position of supporting the work of REYN organizations in 11 countries across Europe.  
  • Daniela Mihaylova from the Equal Opportunities Association and David Bisset from the Equilibrium Association will share their learning in building Roma parent activists in Bulgaria. 

Who is this for? 

This interactive event welcomes parents and representatives parent activist organizations, civil society organizations, groups and networks of professionals (early childhood, social protection, child rights) whose work influences the wellbeing of children in families, as well as the policy makers who are responsible for the development and implementation of policies impacting children’s lives. It could also be interesting to academics and funders.

If you are interested in exploring new ways and means for increasing the relevance of lived experiences to social policy and practice, register here to reserve your spot ! 

News on the Keynote Speakers will follow soon!