Trusting relationships are at the heart of meaningful and effective family engagement

Because we have been working directly with families across the state for over 40 years, we are often asked by organizations and communities how to get the families they serve further engaged in their work. The truth is, there isn’t a single process or formula. Each community has different strengths, challenges, priorities, and perspectives. However, one thing all successful family engagement efforts have in common is that building trusting relationships is at the heart of this work. Meaningful, trusting relationships are what truly drive progress and improve outcomes.

what is family engagement

Four decades spent working with families and professionals to build collaborative, productive partnerships has allowed us to identify the conditions necessary for successful and sustainable family engagement.

 Family engagement is a partnership between families and professionals working together to achieve shared outcomes. It is a process through which families and professionals build trusting relationships and requires commitment from all individuals.

family engagement

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.

Meaningful family engagement efforts improve family and childhood outcomes while also improving outcomes for professionals.  When we invest in learning from and with the people we serve, it informs our professional practice and makes our programs more relevant and accessible.

When families feel their voices are respected, heard, and validated, their investment in the work grows, communication improves, and everyone's capacity to address challenges increases. We can not achieve high-quality programming, services, or outcomes without them!

Read about family engagement projects in NH here

Bringing Families on Board: A Roadmap

families on board

Bring families on board

Why this work is necessary and beneficial in so many ways for both families and professionals.

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Build mindset & culture

Mindset makes the difference when it comes to moving from check-the-box family engagement to meaningful and impactful family engagement.

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Establish vision & goals

Having a clear sense of purpose and specific goals aligned with that purpose will keep everyone on track and leave room for the unexpected.

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Clearly define roles & expectations

Manage expectations, leverage each person’s strengths, and maximize the capacity of the team.

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diverse team

Select diverse team members

Multiple perspectives will build broader solutions, provide access to more networks, and increase the collective thinking of the entire group.

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Provide necessary supports

Supports to consider providing to ensure families and professionals have what they need to collaborate effectively.

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Additional Family Engagement Resources

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We have been working with families and professionals for over 40 years to make their family engagement journeys meaningful and achievable. Let’s talk about yours!