Meaningful and effective family engagement does not just happen. It is an intentional process where a collaborative, trusting relationship is developed over time.
We cannot assume what individuals need to be an effective team member. We must ask them. Support could look like training or background information, or it could be scheduling meetings at a time that makes it possible for them to attend in person.
Rather than making assumptions about how families want to be engaged or what their needs and priorities are, we must ask them.
Families and professionals discuss approaches and options for supporting the children they care about, look at the pros and cons of each opportunity, share preferences and values, and eventually arrive at a joint decision.
Although engagement efforts might begin with a single event or series of events, the endeavor becomes meaningful when it is consistent and continuous. Meaningful family engagement is never-ending. It becomes ingrained in our culture and everything we do.
Two-way communication is a back and forth exchange between the sender and receiver. When we provide opportunities for this style of communication, engagement becomes more meaningful. Families understand that their voices are welcome and valued and that it is safe to reach out to professionals. A few examples of two-way communication are phone calls, texting, and in-person meetings.
Alternatively, one-way communication does not require a response from the receiver. Its purpose is to inform, persuade, or command and is often authoritative. A few examples of one-way communication are newsletters, presentations, and announcements.
The focus here is on how all family members genuinely feel about engaging. Do they feel comfortable sharing openly with professionals? Do they feel that only some family voices are valued, and others are not? Do professionals at all levels of the organization make it clear that every family member, regardless of income, education, etc. brings value to the community and that we all benefit by learning from one another?
There are multiple ways for families to share their experiences, needs, values, and priorities. But it doesn’t end there. We must value and validate what is shared with us by letting families know how it will inform our work going forward.
Also known as co-creation, this is a process where families are involved in choosing, implementing, and evaluating programs and services. Partnering in this way helps identify unmet needs, builds trusting relationships, and ensures that programs and services are responsive, relevant, and accessible.