Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

Meaningful Parental Leadership and Why It Matters

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already the beginning of February. And that means it’s officially Parent Leadership Month. It’s a time designed to highlight the opportunities and engage in partnerships that support strong and lasting roles for parents as leaders. One of those opportunities, Circle of Parents, is a great way for parents to take on leadership roles in Colorado. But what exactly are parent leaders? And how do they fit into the Circle of Parents model?

A parent leader is someone who represents the needs and perspectives of many parents without speaking or acting in a staff role for an organization or institution. Parents become leaders when they actively participate in the development and successful implementation of services to help them in their parenting roles and as leaders of their own families. And using their experiences as participants, coupled with a desire to “give back,” parent leaders build upon the knowledge and skills they gained to take on meaningful leadership roles within programs.

Within the Circle of Parents model, when a parent practices their leadership skills, not only does it help strengthen the group, but it also supports the parent leader in building their own self-esteem and their sense of self. This increases their capacity to relate more positively to others, it assists them in setting and accomplishing goals, generates a sense of hope, and strengthens their relationship with their own children, spouse or partner and family.

A Parent Leader:

  • may be a parent, grandparent, kinship care provider, foster parent, or anyone else in a parenting role.
  • has personal experience in using resources and/or services to strengthen their family.
  • is speaking and acting from their perspective as a parent.
  • is not speaking and acting in a staff role for an organization or institution.

Parent Leaders can be most effective when the following supports provide a strong foundation for their work:

  • a defined meaningful role as a Parent Leader
  • access to training
  • clear opportunities to contribute to program development, implementation, oversight and evaluation, policymaking, training and technical assistance, public awareness and outreach
  • tangible supports such as assistance with child care and transportation and compensation

Parent Leader Roles within Circle of Parents

The role of a parent leader is constantly evolving and there can be several parent leaders within one Circle of Parents group. Some specific roles a parent leader may assume are listed below.

Within Circle of Parents, parent leaders can:

  • take calls from prospective participants, introduce new participants during group meetings and events, and provide new participants with information about the program and resources.
  • take responsibility for the physical setting of the meeting or event, including securing the space, setting up the room, making sure resource materials are available for participants, and breaking the room down afterwards.
  • make participants feel welcome by greeting each parent who comes to an event.
  • start a group activity with icebreakers or other “get acquainted” activities.
  • end a group activity by summarizing what happened or setting dates or times for next steps.
  • make sure everyone has transportation to and from the meeting or special event.
  • take attendance and keep notes during meetings.
  • share responsibility for a children’s program or child care.

Illuminate Colorado is home to the Colorado state chapter of Circle of Parents. Visit the Circle of Parents webpage to learn more about the program and to find a group that’s right for you.

Hero’s Health Grant from CHC: Creating Healthier Communities Supports Fathers of Freedom in Colorado Springs

Hero’s Health Grant from CHC: Creating Healthier Communities Supports Fathers of Freedom in Colorado Springs

Today Creating Healthier Communities (CHC) announced Illuminate Colorado as one of four awardees of its Hero’s Health grant. The $10,000 grants, awarded to CHC nonprofit partners committed to serving active and retired military communities through program and service delivery that is focused on mental health or housing insecurity, will be used to create meaningful impact for America’s heroes and their families. The funding that Illuminate has been awarded will support Fathers of Freedom, one of 44 Circle of Parents groups meeting throughout Colorado. 

“CHC is pleased to support Illuminate Colorado’s efforts to improve the quality of life for our nation’s active military and veterans,” said Stacie Dennis, director of nonprofit engagement at CHC: Creating Healthier Communities. “Illuminate goes above and beyond for our armed forces population in this country and the Hero’s Health grant is just one way that CHC is investing in vital programs and services that make life better for our communities.”

Built around the foundations of mutual self-help, parent leadership, family support and increasing all five Protective Factors in families, Circle of Parents® groups strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. Groups are parent-led and parent-driven and thus there is no curriculum – just a safe place for parents to share with each other and seek support and advice. Circles provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts.  It’s a place where anyone in a parenting role can openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children.  It’s a place where they can find and share support.

Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. All parents need people they can call on once in a while when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or support. To help parents find that support in their lives, Illuminate Colorado is focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado. 

“Illuminate Colorado is proud to serve as a nonprofit partner with CHC and delighted to receive a Hero’s Health grant as an award in recognition of our dedicated work of creating healthier communities for America’s military population, said Jade Woodard, executive director of Illuminate. “Our military veterans often need to recuperate from both apparent and invisible wounds after sacrificing and serving our country, so after they fight for us, we work attentively to support them. We are proud to support and empower these two military fathers in making such an extraordinary difference in their community; and thankful for their leadership which ensures that any veteran father in the Colorado Springs area can get together for dinner every Thursday at 5:00 pm.” 

When asked what their hopes are for 2022 with support from this generous gift, the Fathers of Freedom Circle of Parent facilitators shared:   

Personally, what I look most forward to about 2022 within our fathers groups is the opportunity to provide engaging activities for the families we serve, watching the confidence in our fathers grow and seeing the excitement in their children ignite. It’s important for us all to have support systems and feel connected, but that sentiment is much more pronounced with combat veterans, where the name of the game tends to be “isolation. We strive to provide a safe place where veterans can come to meet other fathers and speak openly about the struggles they may be facing internally  that could be putting a strain on their family life and their parenting. We want to give them the support and resources to help heal so they can be the best role-models for their children that they can be. And sometimes, that just comes down to listening.

Adam Combs

What I hope for in 2022 is that we are able to reach more fathers in our community and continue to bring them together with their families while providing healthy family events and support! I truly believe that when our military and veteran fathers are healing, their families are healing as well. We need each other just as we did in the military!

Adrian Nunez

CHC: Creating Healthier Communities, formerly Community Health Charities, is a catalyst for good health, bringing communities, nonprofits, and businesses together around a shared commitment to better health and wellbeing. The organization represents thousands of high-impact nonprofits nationwide, working to address barriers to good health and connecting them with capital from corporate, foundation and government partners to power transformative change. By listening to partners and convening community and business leaders, CHC aims to act in the best interests of communities, directing resources and expertise where it is needed most. For more information, visit or @chcimpact.  Find more information and how to support CHC’s Hero’s Health cause here


Community Leadership Award Presentation & Fireside Chat with Adrian Nuñez and Adam Combs

Each year, Illuminate Colorado honors the contributions of exceptional individuals and organizations who have furthered our collective mission to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment.

Illuminate Colorado Executive Director Jade Woodard talks with Community Leadership Award recipients and veterans, Adrian Nuñez and Adam Combs, about the work they are doing with Circle of Fathers and Fathers of Freedom in Colorado Springs.

November 11 @ 5:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Virtual Event



Circle of Parents Is Not Just for the Parents

Circle of Parents Is Not Just for the Parents

Finding community can sometimes be difficult, especially in a rural setting. From getting answers to all your parenting questions to something as simple as finding a babysitter, it’s helpful to have a group of people you can go to for support. For one mother in Conifer, Colorado, finding that community has come through Circle of Parents.

Photo by Amy Johnson Photography

Jen Wilson was ecstatic when she first heard about Circle of Parents starting up in Conifer. Her kids had already been involved in early-childhood programming through Mountain Resource Center (MRC), so when it was announced that MRC would be hosting a Circle of Parents group for the community, she jumped at the chance to get connected to other parents in the area.

Through Circle of Parents, Wilson said she was able to find a group of like-minded parents. She also quickly realized how beneficial this group could be for her kids. “It became really important to me immediately and I saw the social emotional component of Circle and the work that those kids do in just playing with each other and being engaged. My son is on the autism spectrum…and we were really hoping to develop some of those social emotional skills, and Circle was actually a better place to do that than the school. It was worthwhile and everyone saw the value.”

Soon after joining Circle of Parents, MRC asked Wilson to be a parent lead and, when in-person meetings weren’t an option due to COVID-19, she began co-facilitating a virtual group. “Being able to go virtual has been critical,” said Wilson. “It helped to keep everyone in touch. It’s kept us feeling supported during a really weird year.” Throughout the pandemic, Wilson’s group was able to continue meeting to support each other, help each other out when needs arose, and figure out things like how to keep their kids socialized. More recently, the group has adopted a hybrid model, balancing Zoom calls with in-person meetings at local parks.

The newest expansion of Circle of Parents in Colorado, Children’s Circle, is something Wilson is thrilled about. Children’s Circle is a curriculum-based children’s program that builds the social-emotional skills of the children of caregivers and parents attending Circles, and Wilson sees this added component as the piece that’s been missing this past year for their group. The opportunity for parents and kids to have separate activities is really needed, she said. Wilson is excited about the opportunity to reach out to even more parents now and hopes that Children’s Circle will be an added draw for people in her community.

“It is a really great match for our community. It’s worth anybody looking into. Especially if you are in any way looking to make connections with other families, it’s a great place to start.”

– Jen Wilson

With the expansion of Circle of Parents to include Children’s Circle, the opportunity for Circle to make a holistic impact is growing, continuing to benefit both parents and children. When asked what she would say to anyone thinking about attending a Circle of Parents group, Wilson shared, “It is a really great match for our community. It’s worth anybody looking into. Especially if you are in any way looking to make connections with other families, it’s a great place to start.”

Related Blogs

When Parenthood Comes Full Circle

When Parenthood Comes Full Circle

As I kissed her goodbye and blessed her “Dios Te Bendiga” (“God Bless You”), I walked away among the swarm of frantic and emotional parents just like me on moving day at the college dorms. Exiting the dorm building, I found a quiet place on campus, my mind suddenly filled with a cloud of memories, images, conversations, along with tears and laughter that could not be contained. Thoughts of 19 years of a path of putting my daughter’s developmental needs at a social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual level in the forefront of my daily life, kept spinning. And it is in this moment that I’m convinced now, more than ever, that developing the social-emotional learning skills of our children early in their lives sets a stage for more positive outcomes down the road. 

In doing so, we help them feel confident about themselves, moving through the ups and downs of life with integrity and determination, avoiding staying down. Those are the skills that will help them navigate life, get along with others, establish positive relations, be aware of themselves (strengths and weaknesses), have empathy, make good decisions, regulate their emotions in a positive manner, resolve conflict and perform better academically – to get to moments like this.

As a parent and manager of the Circle of Parents ®program at Illuminate Colorado, I am proud that our organization is offering support to Colorado families and organizations alike to foster the social-emotional learning skills of our children. 

For the last several years as the Colorado Chapter of Circle of Parents, we’ve been focused on growing this national evidence-informed model to provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts. And while we continued to grow more Circles, with 44 Circles in 12 counties connecting parents and caregivers, too often we’ve heard how parents are forced to deprioritize their own needs because they can’t find child care. I’m excited to announce that, later this fall, we will extend to parents and caregivers a helping hand in the process of continuously developing their children at a social-emotional level through Children’s Circle®, offered alongside Circle of Parents to provide a holistic experience for families.

Beginning Children’s Circle®

Illuminate Colorado created this new curriculum-based children’s program to build the social-emotional skills of the children of caregivers and parents attending Circles. Last month, we began training Circle of Parents facilitators and Children’s Circle leaders on the new curriculum consisting of 33 different lessons that can be used in any order highlighting skills such as: 

  • Self-Regulation/Calming,
  • Managing and recognizing emotions in self and others,
  • Conflict resolution,
  • Compassion and empathy and
  • Patience.

Designed by child development experts with a trauma-informed lens as well as an equity lens, the curriculum incorporates the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors, as well as the competencies of social and emotional learning under CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). 

The goal of Children’s Circle is to provide developmentally appropriate, skill-building activities that will increase children’s confidence and self-worth while providing fun and enjoyment. This holistic approach to family support gives children a nurturing atmosphere, supportive skill building and structured play opportunities, while ensuring that parents have a safe, welcoming place to leave their children while they connect in the Circle of Parents – offered at no cost to the parents.

We will be offering another Children’s Circle training session on September 28-29 of this year. And as for me …well, the moment has arrived for my role as a mom to take more of a back seat. Continuously loving my daughters, providing support in times of need, checking in on them, enjoying life with them when they invite me or accept my invites, watching them navigate the ups and downs of life with confidence, crying with them, laughing with them…. As parents we never go away…such a beautiful and honorable role to play in life. Grateful.

Related Posts

Recognizing Outstanding Parent Leads During Parent Leadership Month

Recognizing Outstanding Parent Leads During Parent Leadership Month

Earlier this month, Illuminate kicked off Parent Leadership Month by talking about what parent leadership is, and why parent leaders are integral to strong communities. This week, we look to recognize outstanding Parent Leads from Circle of Parents groups across Colorado. Join us!

Additional Counties Needed to Expand Peer Support Groups for Families Impacted by Substance Use

Additional Counties Needed to Expand Peer Support Groups for Families Impacted by Substance Use

In 2019, Colorado was awarded a Regional Partnership Grant by the Children’s Bureau aimed at improving the well-being, permanency and safety outcomes of children and the recovery outcomes for parents whose children are in or at risk of out-of-home placement associated with a parent or caregiver’s substance use. Since that time Colorado partners have been collaborating through this opportunity to build protective factors within families by expanding Circle of Parents® in Colorado. The intended result of this Circle of Parents Expansion project (COPE) is to move this national evidence-informed model to an evidence-based model eligible for federal reimbursement through IV-E Clearinghouse for the Family First Prevention Services Act. 

COPE partners are looking for six additional counties to pilot the COPE Project in their communities. Interested counties would be required to engage with their Best Practice Court Teams to launch the project and to begin implementing the DANSR approach and to participate in the grant-mandated evaluation. This is a grant-funded expansion, so there is no cost to participate. 

Circle of Parents groups provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers. Groups come together based on their location and shared experiences, like parenting while in recovery from a substance use disorder, to openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children, free from judgment. Illuminate Colorado, a statewide nonprofit working to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment, has been focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado for the last several years as the Colorado Chapter for this national evidence informed model. Illuminate Colorado offers training, ongoing support and promotion to the 43 Circle groups meeting mostly online right now and plans to grow to nearly 60 Circle groups throughout Colorado by the end of 2021, many of which will be involved in COPE. 

Local courts and county-level departments of human services, the Colorado State Court Administrator’s Office, the Office of the Respondent Parents’ Counsel, the CDHS Division of Child Welfare and Office of Behavioral Health and Illuminate Colorado are collaborating through COPE to encourage and support the incorporation of peer support groups into the innovative Dependency and Neglect System Reform (DANSR) approach that is already successfully utilized across various Colorado counties to better manage cases with substance use concerns. While this project is currently focused on courts and communities who implement or are interested in applying the DANSR approach, however this may change and expand to other communities in the future. 

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 1 out of every 8 children in the U.S. lives with at least one parent dependent on alcohol or in need of treatment for substance use disorder. According to 2014-2018 Trails data from the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), 13,325 children in Colorado were removed from their homes due to parental drug and/or alcohol abuse. Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. Research has shown that parents who are isolated, with few social connections, are at higher risk for child maltreatment. When parents don’t feel like they are part of a community and, in turn, feel isolated and unsupported, it should be a concern for all those looking to prevent child maltreatment and address substance use. The well-documented solution to addressing both issues lies in building social connections.

The COPE project is designed to identify and provide services for parents impacted by substance use issues by addressing systemic processes in the court system using the DANSR approach to managing cases and through the enhancement of the recovery ecosystem for parents using  Circle of Parents. The evaluation of COPE has been designed to minimize the time and resource requirements of participating counties and their staff. 2M Research and the Kempe Center serves as the evaluation team for the project to provide a true randomized control trial design.  

To learn more about DANSR and the COPE Project, contact Megan Kearsley, CIP Coordinator and COPE Project Director, State Court Administrator’s Office at 

Illuminate Colorado is Hiring a Circle of Parents Program Manager (POSITION FILLED)

Illuminate Colorado is Hiring a Circle of Parents Program Manager (POSITION FILLED)

We are excited to announce that we are hiring for the position of Circle of Parents Program Manager.

The Circle of Parents Program Manager is responsible for overseeing the promotion, development, implementation and expansion of the Circle of Parents program in Colorado. This position reports to the Director of Family Support and will work closely with all members of the Family Support Team.

Qualifications / Requirements: Bachelor’s Degree in a related field preferred. Knowledge / experience with protective factors, family strengthening, substance use, child maltreatment prevention, professional training, and group facilitation is highly desirable. Equivalent combinations of education and experience will be considered. Individuals with lived experience are encouraged to apply.

Compensation: This is a full-time position eligible for benefits. Starting salary is negotiable and commensurate with skills and experience in the range of $50,000 – $65,000.

Illuminate Colorado offers health and dental benefits as well as participation in a Simple IRA, EAP, and Life Insurance benefits. In addition, Illuminate Colorado has a generous paid time off policy and offers both flexible scheduling and remote work opportunities.

If this sounds like an exciting opportunity to you, click on the link below for more details about the position. There is no deadline to apply. Candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. This position is a full-time position eligible for benefits.

View the complete job posting here.

To Apply: Please submit cover letter, resume and three references via email with “Circle of Parents Program Manager” in the subject line to

Translate »