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8 Steps to Overcoming Barriers to Effective Family Engagement

Strong, sustained family engagement is not without its challenges. First of all, parents are busy, and asking them to do another thing on top of everything else has to be manageable and worth the investment. 

When VIVA supported our client, Help Me Grow Inland Empire, to host a Virtual Summit, we got to learn what parents want to see from community engagement. We were determined to design a strategy for effective family engagement that was backed by data, part of a greater early childhood development strategy, and communicated effectively.

Read more about the barriers to building and sustaining parent and family partnerships that we discovered by downloading the HMGIE Family Landscape Analysis for yourself.

Despite the barriers, there are always opportunities to create the conditions for strong parent and family partnerships. Here’s how we did it:

  1. Being sensitive to family culture. At the level of language, and culture, but also individual family values and home culture. 

    Parenting is deeply personal and reflects generations of practices, rituals, and context. Bring awareness and respect to your relationships with parents to make them feel comfortable and ensure that the recommendations and services that your organization offers are relevant. Culturally responsive care will have staying power. Know your audience.

  2. Partnering with Like-Minded Groups.
    Meet parents where you know they already are, and join forces with the folks who have similar goals to yours, such as Head Start and Early Head Start. If you are trying to support young children and find time in parents’ busy schedules, you should go to them! 
  3. Creating partnerships with others who have a larger percentage of marginalized and under-resourced families might be a good access point to engage families, such as WIC and Early Start Family Resource Center, parent advocacy, and home visiting programs. 
    Engage parents who have been historically the most voiceless. This is your opportunity to lift voices that are often ignored. These folks have some of the most valuable experience to inform the work you are doing. Partner with the other leaders in this space to find out how to best support these parents.
  4. Place the parents as leaders in the effort! They are the voice that matters to lead the work.

    Rather than thinking about how to get parents to follow your leadership, ask them for the opportunity to follow theirs. It becomes exponentially more worth parents’ time when they have an opportunity to lead. Let them create the resources they know they need.

  5. Engage the families who qualify and would benefit from more extensive support and services. 

    Become truly accessible. Create services and resources for everyone and you will become a go-to partner for parents. The more people you are able to genuinely help, the more you will secure your reputation as a reliable, impactful partner to parents. Earn that reputation, then sustain it. 

  6. Joining forces with family resource centers to reach families. Use donations to create activity kits that supply families with materials to follow along with our developmental playgroups and remain engaged. 

    Make it easy for parents. Give them what they need. Give children what they need. Parents will continue to trust you and tell you what they need. 

  7. Create opportunities for families to tell their stories to frame the work at every level. 

    Your organization and your team should be a safe space for parents to contribute. Center family leadership and experience when and where parents cannot specifically lead. You are doing this for them– make sure that they know this and can feel it. Live into this value.

  8. Use existing resources and frameworks to guide your work with set strategies, like project leadership:

    You are not starting from square one! You have already done so much incredible work to support parents. Bring the materials and processes you already have to the table to break down barriers.

Overcoming barriers to effective family engagement is about more than just getting through the tricky parts, it is about something that can last. The Help Me Grow Inland Empire Family Landscape Analysis shares findings about the ways and means we can put parents into the driver's seats, and keep them there. 

VIVA Social Impact Partners helps our clients create the conditions for change that reverberate for a long time to come. Our consulting approach creates integrated solutions to turn possibility into action, develop and mobilize champions, and demonstrate and sustain your results—for change that is transformational.