Family engagement is a set of practices grounded in respect, equity and partnership in order for every child to feel, all the adults around “me love me, keep me safe, and help me grow”.
The Birth to Eight Family Engagement Committee is working to build an ecosystem of early education and care providers in Boston that provide the same high quality family experience across sectors in multiple systems and places. Together we aim to increase culturally relevant family engagement strategies that: 1) build strong relationships; 2) empower parents/caregivers; and 3) incorporate family voice to improve program quality and child outcomes. To evaluate the collective impact of family engagement work by organizations across Boston, the Birth to Eight network has adopted four principles we feel are essential to measure and we are piloting two evidence-based tools to help inform and provide baseline data for the field.
Families feel satisfied with the communication and relationship they have with the service provider (teacher, home-visitor, etc.) working with their child(ren)
Measure: Family and Provider/Teacher Relationship Quality (FPTRQ) (short form)
The FPTRQ assesses the working relationship of families and their child’s lead childcare provider or teacher. It measures parents’ perceptions of their working relationship across three broad domains: knowledge, attitudes, and practices. The tool was developed to be completed by parents/caregivers of children five years of age or younger spending time in a childcare setting. We adapted it by including “service providers” as a broad group of individuals serving families in our organizations. The pilot will help us understand whether using the tool in our broad community (not only childcare and schools) will generate valuable information to understand and improve relationships between families and providers.
Families report using resources, strategies, or relationships to strengthen their families and community
Measure: Strengths-Based Practices Inventory (SBPI)
The Strengths-Based Practices Inventory uses parent/caregiver survey to measure the degree to which family service providers use a strengths-based model of practice with families in programs that serve infants and children up to age 3 (though developers suggest it may also be used with children over age 3).
Families report taking intentional steps to promote their child’s healthy development (e.g. anything that promotes physical, social, emotional, language, and cognitive competencies of children)
Families report opportunities to give meaningful feedback that influences programs and practices within the organization
Organizations that intentionally include diverse families, representative of the children served, in all levels of program design and implementation as well as governance are able to bridge the equity gap and provide equitable high-quality opportunities to all. Families are the experts of their children and when this becomes a critical element that is valued by an organization the relationship between home and the provider strengthens thus improving childhood outcomes and building the necessary trust essential for long term impact.
Across the country there are efforts, strategies, and tools for family engagement that complement each other. The following approaches to strengthening Family Engagement practices were developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy. These documents serve as a guide that will allow organizations to reflect and identify evidence-based approaches and measurement tools that can strengthen their everyday family engagement practices and efforts.
Guide to Addressing Systemic Racism and Bias
To serve families effectively, an organization must understand families generational experience with systemic racism and bias. The Center for the Study of Social Policy worked with parents to publish a Manifesto for Race Equity & Parent Leadership in Early Childhood Systems. The Manifesto guides organizations in addressing inequities and racism by including families as agents and leaders at all levels of change.
The Manifesto is accompanied by a Parent Engagement and Leadership Assessment Guide and Toolkit that supports organizations in assessing their current engagement practices and adopting a strategic improvement plan that cultivates families as leaders.
The family engagement committee of the Birth to Eight Collaborative has worked over the past eighteen months to provide a set of recommended measures that will allow Boston to have a better understanding of the scope of the family engagement practices provided. The measures are also designed to learn from the many organizations who transform the way they meaningfully engage with families to establish a partnership assuring that children meet their full potential.
As a committee, we have learned that to engage families effectively we must have a clear understanding about why we want to engage with families. This is what we call our organizational mindset. In a survey that included responses of 20 organizations serving families in Greater Boston, we learned that several of them did not have an organizational philosophy defining Family Engagement.
Based on this information the Family Engagement committee engaged a group of organizations in an exercise that brainstormed our values and beliefs grounded in the reasons we engaged with the families we served by identifying the sets of beliefs that were our organizational guiding principles while co-developing a group philosophy:
Family engagement is a set of practices grounded in respect, equity and partnership in order for every child to feel, all the adults around me love me, keep me safe, and help me grow.
Establishing an organizational philosophy that governs and influences the decisions that impact children and their families is a proactive way to manage the biases from professionals towards families and from families towards professionals. It is essential to honor and respect decades of mistrust among all groups, yet it is important that we move to a solution space where organizations and families establish a shared understanding of their collaborative partnership.
In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge the challenges we have experienced engaging families as experts to inform and assess program outcomes. It is just as critical to adopt new strategies that include families in decision-making roles and intentionally provide opportunities to collaborate and co-create. It is time that we bring Family Engagement Theories and evidence-based approaches from theory to action. Families across the country have expressed interest and have collaborated towards collectively impacting health and life outcomes of our youngest and most precious citizens, our children.