Skip to main content

Search NYU Steinhardt

Seeking to create greater opportunities for their children and families, many parents and family members join initiatives that continue to build their capacity to be leaders, organizers, and advocates. Through leadership and organizing, parents fight for justice on key issues their families face—lack of access to quality early childhood education, substandard schools, toxic environments, poor health services, crowded and dilapidated housing, and limited opportunities for personal and economic development (Cossyleon & Geller 2022).1 A robust literature documents the many ways these groups bolster the confidence, mental health, civic engagement and social capital of parent leaders and build sustainable power for systemic change. (Alameda-Lawson & Lawson, 2019; Bolivar & Chrispeels, 2011; Cossyleon, 2018; Cossyleon & Geller, 2022; Dynress, 2009; Geller et al., 2019; Hong, 2011; Warren & Mapp, 2011).

This Parent Power and Leadership Survey findings report focuses on parent leadership initiatives that develop leadership skills and knowledge to work collectively toward racial, social, or economic justice. These initiatives are non- profit, faith-based, district-based, or state-based. Some of these initiatives engage children directly in parallel leadership development, while others include children in celebrations or accommodate children through childcare while parents meet.

 We have been closely engaged with such parent leadership and organizing groups for nearly a decade — as researchers, evaluators, listeners, facilitators, volunteers, and co-conspirators. Members of our team have worked on or led the development of:

  • the “Ripple Effect” theory of change (Henderson & Gill Kressley, 2016);
  • the parent leadership indicators framework (Geller et al., 2017);
  • the parent leadership evaluation concept paper; (McAlister & Geller, 2017),
  • the Parent Leadership Evaluation Network, a participatory evaluation project with seven parent leadership organizations (Geller et al., 2019);
  • the Parent Leadership Racial Equity Peer Learning and Inquiry Community (Perez, Geller, & Henderson, 2022);
  • and an in-depth ethnographic study and economic justice participatory action research with a parent leadership and organizing nonprofit, Community Organizing and Family Issues (Cossyleon and Spitz 2021; Cossyleon, 2018).

From the extensive research and evaluation we have done over the years, we find that parent leadership organizations can initiate a “ripple effect” that transforms parents, families, and communities, and builds power for systemic change (Henderson & Gill Kressley, 2016). Knowing that parent leadership organizations have so much potential to initiate such widespread change, we began to wonder: How many parent leadership organizations are there? Where are they? How do they support parents? Who are parent leaders? What issues do they work on? And, what makes parent leadership organizations different from other leadership development or community organizing groups?

Parent leaders have shared countless powerful stories about how their children have benefited from their leadership and community organizing. We have heard how children gain the confidence, knowledge, and skills to also fight for social, economic, and racial justice; how children thrive when they are surrounded by a community of powerful and loving adult supporters and mentors; and how parent organizers often feel greater pride in their racial identity, their immigration history, and their languages — and share this pride with their children. Yet, there has been little systematic research on parent leadership and organizing groups nationwide, particularly how they engage the children of parent leaders.

Therefore, this report seeks to answer two main questions:

  • What is the landscape (i.e. geographic scope, spread, aim, and content) of parent leadership and organizing groups throughout the United States?                       
  • In what ways and to what extent do these initiatives engage the children of parent leaders?

We share findings from the first ever landscape analysis of parent leadership organizations across the U.S., including a survey and focus groups with parent leaders, staff, and members of the philanthropic community. Over 180 organizations responded to the survey in 2021 and 2022.

What is a landscape analysis? A landscape analysis is an assessment process useful for understanding the broader context, evaluating strengths and challenges, and identifying field trends to inform actionable next steps (Garcia et al, 2020).

Landscape analysis can:

  • connect organizations within region or by issue area to “facilitate networking and alliance building and strengthen the movement”,
  • “support share-learning, collaboration, and maximize the use of existing resources to support collaborative efforts”, and 
  • “track trends and identify best practices for effective organizing and advocacy strategies across the field” (Garcia et al., 2020, p.4).

We designed the Parent Power and Leadership Survey in collaboration with parent leaders, staff from parent leadership and organizing groups, and funders who support these groups across the country. Dozens of contributors helped us to craft the language and content of the Parent Power and Leadership Survey with the goal that findings would be useful for the field of parent leadership and organizing.

We first define parent leadership and parent organizing in the context of this work. We then detail our methods, share quantitative and qualitative findings related to each research question, and finally discuss implications for policy, practice, philanthropy, and future research.

Check out our Parent Power Map and Directory to search for parent leadership organizing groups by issue area, state, and demographics.

Read Defining Parent Leadership and Organizing Section