Practice Strategies - Family Engagement Inventory

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Family Engagement Practice Level Strategies

The practice level domain includes methods, plans of action, processes, and/or policies designed to be used by frontline staff of each discipline in order to enhance or achieve family engagement.

Child Welfare

Effective caseworker and agency behaviors for family engagement include the following:

  • Meeting the family where they are
  • Planning with the family, not for the family
  • Focusing on client skills and strengths
  • Setting mutually acceptable goals
  • Providing services that families view as relevant and beneficial
  • Spending sufficient time with families to provide essential resources

The following are key elements of family engagement:

  • Demonstrating respect, genuineness, and empathy for all family members, as defined by the family
  • Being aware of one's own biases and prejudices about families
  • Providing early outreach to parents
  • Establishing the purpose of involvement with each family
  • Being consistent, reliable, and honest with families
  • Disclosing all information to the families
  • Listening actively to each family member
  • Developing an understanding of families' past experiences, current situations, concerns, strengths, and potential
  • Responding quickly to families' concrete needs
  • Validating the significant role of families in planning and making decisions for their children
  • Thinking broadly about culture and not using it interchangeably with race or ethnicity
  • Honoring the cultural, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious or spiritual backgrounds of children, youth, and families and respecting differences in sexual orientation
  • Engaging and involving fathers and paternal family members
  • Supporting older youth in developing decision-making skills and achieving goals, as well as celebrating successes with them
  • Engaging kinship families

The following are key practices in family engagement:

  • Strengths-based assessment that engages children, youth, and families through the lens of family strengths, capacities, cultural heritage, and extended family resources (e.g., eco-mapping, genogram, family connections chart)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Solution-focused interventions
  • Development of mutually agreed upon plans along with the delivery of concrete services that families view as helpful
  • Family-centered case planning and management

Use a trauma-informed approach when working with birth parents:

  • Understand that parents' anger, fear, or avoidance may be a reaction to past traumatic experiences, and approaching them in a punitive or judgmental manner will likely worsen the situation rather than motivate the parent
  • Explore the parent's history and assess how past trauma is impacting the parents' current level of functioning and their parenting abilities
  • Help parents understand the impact of past trauma, while holding them accountable for their involvement in the child welfare system. Understanding that there is a connection between their past experiences and their present reactions and behavior, empowers and motivates many parents.
  • Build on parents' desires to be effective in keeping their children safe and reducing their children's challenging behaviors
  • Help parents anticipate their possible reactions to stress and trauma triggers, and help them develop different ways to respond
  • Become knowledgeable about evidence-supported trauma interventions to include in service planning, and refer parents to trauma-informed services that address their unique needs

The following are key when working with incarcerated parents and children and families of the incarcerated:

  • Engage incarcerated parents, when appropriate, early and regularly throughout a child welfare case—from arrest to release—to help improve permanency outcomes
  • Contact the incarcerated parent to explain the reason for child welfare involvement and how the child welfare system works, including information about permanency planning, the judicial process, and the permanency timeline established by the Adoption and Safe Families Act
  • Request information about relatives and/or fictive kin who may be a placement or visiting resource for the child
  • Provide incarcerated parents the contact information for the caseworker, the court, and the child's placement, if appropriate
  • Have simple but honest conversations with the children, at an age-appropriate level, so they know that the incarceration is not their fault and that their feelings of anger or sadness are natural
  • Ensure that children are able to communicate with and visit their parents, advocate for contact visitation, and if contact visitation is not an option, advocate for frequent visitation through telephone or video conferencing
  • Encourage letter writing between children and their parent(s)
  • Involve parents in health, education, and other decisions involving their children
  • Provide frequent updates to parents on their children's well-being and placement
  • Provide parents the opportunity to participate in case planning and case reviews for their children
  • Advocate for parents' attendance at judicial proceedings relevant to their children
  • Utilize technology for parental participation in case planning, case review meetings, and judicial proceedings, if the parent is unable to attend in person
  • Explore with parents and correction facility personnel the available services for the parents in their current settings that will enhance their parenting and life skills
  • Provide avenues, as deemed appropriate, for caregivers, including foster parents, therapist/counselors, teachers, and others, to keep incarcerated parents informed about the children, including their activities, progress, and grades
  • Enlist the support of a mental health professional to help children cope with issues of loss and separation
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Juvenile Justice

When working with the families of youth served by the juvenile justice system

  • Respect family bonds and focus on family strengths
  • Define family broadly to include youths' support networks
  • Create channels for two-way communication with youths' families
  • Provide families access to information about the juvenile justice system
  • Allow families and youth to participate in decision-making
  • Individualize services to meet youth's and families' needs
  • Involve families in treatment services
  • Facilitate family visitation, as well as youth involvement in family life events (if youth are incarcerated)
  • Include parents in conferences with teachers and other educational meetings when youth are placed in the home and if youth are incarcerated

Families and juvenile justice staff work together to respond to trauma:

  • Share information about traumas that have affected the youth and the family
  • Provide background on the youth's strengths and needs
  • Assist families in understanding trauma and its effects, especially on behavior

Juvenile probation and parole officers or staff can use the following tools to identify family relationships and potential community support:

  • Family case management flowcharts
  • Strength-based genograms
  • Family and institutional ecomaps
  • Family risk and needs assessments
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Behavioral Health

Engage families in behavioral health interventions

  • Ensure engagement begins at the initial contact with the family
  • Recognize and respond to the perceptions of parents and families regarding their barriers to treatment
  • Enlist parents and guardians in developing service-delivery strategies
  • Utilize evidence-based programs when developing interventions
  • Include education, assistance, and support to help families understand behavioral health diagnosis, treatment (including medication), and intervention options
  • Help families understand the benefits of treatment

Align agency policies and practices to support family engagement

  • Offer services at flexible times, provide meals, and arrange for or provide childcare to support participation in family-focused interventions
  • Train behavioral health providers on engagement strategies
  • Ensure that behavioral health professionals are culturally competent
  • Embed behavioral health professionals within other trusted community-service structures (e.g., early care settings, schools, medical homes, social service agencies)

Parent Engagement Model

  • Direct the initial conversation with caregivers to what they perceive as their children's needs
  • Acknowledge both the strength it has taken for caregivers to start this process and that they have been doing their best to meet their children's needs
  • Ask caregivers about any previous experience with behavioral health care and ask direct questions about common concerns, such as issues of privacy, whether mental illness can be "cured", etc.
  • Address specific barriers they may have to attending the first session and discuss ways to overcome those barriers
  • Use "we" language and allow families to tell their own stories in order to facilitate collaboration
  • Direct resources to solutions to practical concerns, as identified by the family, that will have immediate impact
  • Review with families the services offered and the expectations so they better understand the helping process
  • Allocate time each session to address potential barriers to continued help seeking

Family engagement of youth in residential care

  • Involve parents or guardians in the planning and delivery of care for their children
  • Utilize systems of care principles, particularly the wraparound approach, and family-driven strategies
  • Conduct assessments that focus on family strengths
  • Provide at-home, and practical skills training and support to families and youth during the residential intervention
  • Introduce families to peer youth advocates and parent mentors who previously had children in residential care.
  • Enhance the frequency and quality of family contact
  • Start making after-placement plans at intake and help facilitate family and community connections that will support youth following discharge
  • Acknowledge families' losses as real when placements are necessary and work with them and their children to preserve as much normalcy as possible
  • Involve parents in the daily lives of their children as parents rather than as "visitors"
  • Ensure regular two-way communication and collaboration between parents and providers
  • Ensure that providers listen to and show respect for parents and their children
  • Invest in highly skilled staff who use best practices to accomplish the shared goal of helping children successfully return home as soon as possible
  • Provide access to peer parent-support partners
  • Foster hope and resilience

Family engagement for youth with incarcerated parents

  • Provide families with care and information, as well as access to services for the children".
  • Ensure that children are able to have contact with their incarcerated parent when appropriate
  • Support the creation of child-friendly visiting areas within prisons where contact visits can take place
  • Promote parenting education programs within prisons and detentions centers in order to reinforce the positive parenting practices needed for contact visits
  • Explain to children and youth that their parent's incarceration is not their fault and help explore and challenge any feelings of self-blame or shame
  • Help children and youth explore their feelings about their parents, which can include anger, confusion, self-identification with the incarcerated parent, grief, and loss
  • Identify strengths in the family and natural supports, including stable relatives and positive peer groups
  • Connect youth to support groups or mentors who specialize in helping children with incarcerated parents
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Classroom Family Engagement

  • Teachers possess the beliefs and mindsets to effectively engage families.
  • Teachers and families have trusting relationships and meaningful two-way communication.
  • Teachers engage families in constructing goals together, monitoring progress, and supporting learning.

National Parent Teacher Association's National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

  • Standard 1: Welcoming all families into the school community helps families feel welcomed, valued, and connected.
  • Standard 2: Communicating effectively helps families and staff engage in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication.
  • Standard 3: Supporting student success helps families and staff collaborate to support students' learning and healthy development.
  • Standard 4: Speaking up for every child helps empower families to be advocates for children.
  • Standard 5: Sharing power helps families and staff be equal partners in creating policies, practices, and programs.
  • Standard 6: Collaborating with the community helps families and staff collaborate with community members

Epstein's Framework of Six Types of Involvement

  • Parenting: Help families with their parenting skills by providing information on children's developmental stages
  • Communicating: Educate families about their children's progress and school services
  • Volunteering: Offer parents opportunities to visit their children's schools and find ways to recruit and train parents to work in the schools
  • Learning at home: Share ideas to promote at-home learning so parents can monitor and help with homework
  • Decision-making: Include families as partners in school organizations, advisory panels, and committees
  • Community collaboration: Involve community or business groups in education and schools to encourage family participation in the community

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Parental involvement is one of the founding principles of the Federal IDEA. Parents have the right to participate in all decisions regarding the education of their children with disabilities, including participating in the following:

  • Meetings related to the evaluation and identification of needs and the educational placement of their children
  • Meetings related to the provision of free, appropriate public education to their children
  • The team that develops, reviews, and revises the Individualized Education Programs for their children
  • Any group that makes placement decisions for their children

Culturally Responsive Engagement

Successful culturally responsive practices for family engagement must acknowledge the diversity of cultural backgrounds and language, including the engagement practices that are most effective with diverse families.

  • Traditional methods of family engagement within schools (e.g., parent-teacher associations, volunteering in classrooms, sending written communication home in backpacks) often are not successful at engaging families from nondominant cultures.
  • When traditional forms of engagement fail to reach parents from different cultural backgrounds, school personnel and teachers may mistakenly assume parents are not interested in their children's education.
  • These mistaken assumptions often lead to parents feeling unwelcome in schools.
  • Families from nondominant cultures are more likely to have a lower socioeconomic status, which can create additional barriers to engagement with the school, such as limited time to engage in their children's education and the inability to pay items or fees that schools may consider nominal.
  • In order for school personnel and teachers to recognize the different ways that culturally diverse families may already engage with their children's education, they should undertake the following:
  • Build trust and empathize with families
  • Provide adequate resources and participate in adequate training to carry out culturally aware family engagement practices
  • Recognize and acknowledge practices of "life engagement," such as maintaining knowledge of students' friends, actively teaching morals, and modeling proper behavior
  • Practices that effectively engage families from culturally diverse backgrounds include:
  • Using a cultural insider. This person goes beyond the traditional role of translator and also helps to bridge cultural gaps in communication.
  • Embracing families' individual narratives by creating opportunities for families to share their stories and experiences with various audiences within the school

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) students

LGBTQ students typically experience high rates of harassment at school, as well as higher drop-out rates and lower academic achievement than their non-LGBTQ peers. Therefore, administrators and teachers should make concerted efforts to create a supportive school community and engage LGBTQ youth, their families, and allies, including in the following ways:

  • Including sexual identity and gender identity or expression as a protected category in district and school policies
  • Educating students and families by including LGBTQ issues and themes in school curricula

Working with children of incarcerated parents

Students with incarcerated parents face particular challenges to family engagement, but teachers can still work to provide a safe, supportive environment that engages the student, the current caregiver, and, at times, the incarcerated parent through the following strategies:

  • Share information with caregivers regarding school successes and challenges regarding academic, emotional, and behavioral concerns
  • Connect the student and family with community resources and services that address the particular needs of children with incarcerated parents
  • Advocate for children with an incarcerated parent with other school support staff
  • Collaborate with school-based mental health professionals
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Early Childhood Education

Resources offered by early childhood education programs that promote family engagement:

  • Environment that welcomes family
  • Community interaction by program staff
  • Home visits by program staff
  • Two-way communication with all families
  • Shared decision-making process with families
  • Adult education and parenting classes for parents
  • Child care and transportation services
  • Home educational resources for families

Create opportunities for engagement

  • Offer activities at times that meet families' schedules
  • Provide information in clear language
  • Provide information in a family's home language
  • Create regular opportunities to mutually share information about a child's learning and development

Engage children

  • Engage in one-to-one interactions with children
  • Meet on the child's level for face-to-face interactions
  • Make eye contact with the child
  • Use a pleasant, calm voice and simple language
  • Provide warm, responsive physical contact
  • Follow the child's lead and interest during play
  • Help children understand classroom expectations
  • Redirect children when they engage in challenging behavior
  • Listen to children and encourage them to listen to others
  • Acknowledge children for their accomplishments and effort

The Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (PFCE) Framework

  • Program environment: helps families feel welcomed, valued, and respected by staff
  • Family partnerships: assist families in working with staff to identify and achieve their goals
  • Teaching and learning: engage families as equal partners in their children's learning and development
  • Community partnerships: support families' interests and needs and encourage family engagement in children's learning

Six Principles of Family Engagement

  • Programs invite families to participate in decision-making and goal setting for their children
  • Teachers and programs engage families in two-way communication
  • Programs and teachers engage families in ways that are reciprocal
  • Programs provide learning activities for the home and in the community
  • Programs invite families to participate in program-level decisions and wider advocacy efforts
  • Programs implement a comprehensive program-level system of family engagement

Positive relationships require that providers are culturally and linguistically responsive to the families they serve:

  • Culturally and linguistically responsive family engagement refers to practices that honor the role of families' culture, language, and experience in supporting their children's learning and development.
  • When families are invited to share information about their children and their experiences, providers gain a better understanding of children's cultural and linguistic backgrounds and learning preferences, which leads to the following:
    • Early identification of family concerns about a child's progress
    • Improved strategies for supporting the child's learning at home
    • Overall program improvement in cultural and linguistic responsiveness
  • Cultural and linguistic responsiveness also requires that systems, programs, and personnel recognize their own cultures and biases and work to value differing cultures and languages.
  • The following are necessary to ensure culturally and linguistically responsive early childhood systems and programs:
    • Diverse staff
    • Staff trained to be culturally and linguistically responsive
    • Partnerships with diverse family leaders and family organizations

Strengthening Families: Quality Early Care and Education

  • Facilitates friendships and mutual support
  • Strengthens parenting
  • Responds to family crises
  • Links families to services and opportunities
  • Facilitates children's social and emotional development
  • Observes and responds to early warning signs of child abuse or neglect
  • Values and supports parents
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