It Takes a Village: Parent Engagement in Non-School Settings

December 12, 2016

Most conversations about parent engagement focus on schools, but there’s recognition that schools can only do so much. Family involvement in non-school settings, such as early childhood programs, after school activities and within communities, increase a child’s chance at success.

Researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) have labeled this approach, complementary learning, and define it as, “ . . . the idea that a systemic approach—which intentionally integrates both school and non-school supports—can better ensure that all children have the skills they need to succeed.” The benefits of parent engagement in non-school settings have been documented in the Focus on Families! How to Build and Support Family-Centered Practices in After School report and include:

  • Increased family involvement in children’s education and school
  • Improved relationships between parents and children
  • Improved implementation and outcomes for after school programs

While each non-school setting has its own unique structure, the components of parent engagement look very similar to that of schools. For example, a white paper about family engagement in Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers recommends four “building blocks” to attract parents:

  1. Building Relationships with Families: To encourage involvement, family members should “understand their role in education, believe what they do has an impact, and feel invited to participate with schools and programs.”
  2. Communicating with Families: Communication can occur in many forms, including written notices, surveys, informal one-on-one communications, phone calls, or home visits.
  3. Creating a Welcoming Environment: A welcoming environment can be conveyed through the physical environment, program practices and policies, interactions with family members, and written materials and communication.
  4. Understanding Family Culture: The white paper recommends incorporating family culture into activities, providing materials in languages and formats that families understand, and paying close attention to staffing. “Parents and students feel more comfortable when they see program staff members who are like them and who understand the issues they face.”

The FAST® (Families & Schools Together) Program has been successfully implemented in a number of non-school settings, including juvenile detention facilities and early childhood centers, and elements of the four “building blocks” can be seen throughout the program. Parents and caregivers are invited to participate in the program by team members, in person and through home visits. To ensure an understanding of family culture, the composition of FAST Teams represents the families they will serve in terms of socioeconomics, language and gender. And the program supports parents as they advocate for their child—in school and in life.

Family engagement in non-school settings benefits everyone: the child, the family, and the community. Do you work in a non-school setting? How have you engaged families? We would like to hear about your experiences to help our global village succeed.