Growing and Sustaining Parent Engagement

Source: Growing and Sustaining Parent Engagement, A Toolkit for Parents and Community Partners, Dec 2010

What is Parent Engagement?
Parent engagement is an overarching principle and approach for involving families in decisions about themselves, their children, services, and their communities. It includes a wide array of activities, such as:

  • Direct relationships with service providers
  • Mutual support shared among parents
  • Advocacy by parents on behalf of their families
  • Decision-making and advisory roles in agencies
  • Leadership in the community

For public, private, and grassroots organizations committed to community building efforts, parent and family engagement helps ensure buy-in for shared goals and strategies. Just as importantly, community networks of support are strongest when built by and with engaged parents and other residents.

What do we mean by sustainability?

Sustainability is defined as the capacity to keep an action or process going. These strategies are intended to support the ongoing development, existence and growth of parent engagement activities in communites, agencies and networks, both as a part of and also independent of funded initiatives.

Why is it important to maintain, build and support parent engagement?

  • Parent engagement strategies help parents to develop new capacities, skills and knowledge they can use again and again to strengthen their families and communities.
  • The most effective service systems and community initiatives are guided by what parents say they need to be stronger and better parents, and by a commitment to obtaining regular feedback from families about programs and services.
  • It is important to maintain the commitments and momentum of parents who have invested the time to organize themselves and make a positive difference. Engaged and empowered parents can work together to continue implementing strategies that strengthen families long after an initiative has ended.

What does success look like?
Parents are working with one another, agencies and community partners to continue strengthening programs, neighborhoods and families in a variety of ways they have chosen for themselves. This includes:

  • Parents helping to organize and lead family and community initiatives.
  • Agencies and community groups turning to parents for their input, expertise and guidance in program planning and policy development.
  • Parents regularly engaging in community and agency decisions about their children.

What are some strategies for growing and sustaining parent engagement?

Develop a roadmap to guide agencies and communities so that the most effective parent engagement strategies are utilized in programs, initiatives, and collaboratives.

  • Create safe spaces for families to gather.
  • Work with parents as partners and leaders by valuing the contributions they can make.
  • Use knowledge and information to help parents realize their power, and create opportunities for them to help each other.
  • Treat parents with dignity and incorporate an awareness of their culture, heritage, language, and customs.
  • Create opportunities for parents to support other parents through parent mentoring.
  • Provide a variety of parent engagement activities that allow parents to increase and deepen their participation.
  • Offer parents education programs and activities that engage parents in learning about topics they find interesting and helpful.
  • Make sure engaged parents and partners reflect the diversity of community members.

Create a checklist to help agencies and communities assess the effectiveness of parent engagement strategies.

  • Decide how you are going to determine if your group is successful.
  • Agree on a starting point as the baseline from which you will assess future progress.
  • Working from your starting point, identify target milestones that you will use to assess your immediate, short-term, and long-term progress.

Establish a parent engagement support network so that programs, initiatives, and collaboratives can help each other to achieve success. These work well when:

  • A diverse mix of stakeholders are involved.
  • Shared learning objectives have been clearly defined.
  • The goal is not to copy one group or community’s approach.
  • Participants have an opportunity to interact with others who share similar roles.
  • In person gatherings are held in comfortable settings that are accessible to parents.
  • Open, interactive discussion and balanced participation is encouraged from all.
  • Network meetings provide time for reflection and commitment to follow-up actions.