The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have issued a policy statement on the implementation of effective family engagement practices from the early years to the early grades. The policy statement reflects the ED’s position that strong family engagement is central in promoting children’s healthy development and wellness, including social-emotional and behavioral development, preparing children for school, transitioning them to kindergarten, and supporting academic achievement in elementary school and beyond. According to the policy statement, when families and educational institutions work together, children are more likely to succeed in school, stay in school longer, and have better attendance.
Both the ED and the HHS have developed research-based family engagement frameworks to guide the development of effective family engagement policies and practices, with the goal being that early childhood systems recognize and support families as essential partners in providing services and improve learning, development, and wellness.
What is family engagement? The policy statement defines it as “the systematic inclusion of families in activities and programs that promote children’s development, learning, and wellness, including in the planning, development, and evaluation of such activities, programs, and systems.” To make this happen, schools must engage families as essential partners when providing services that promote children’s learning and development, nurture positive relationships between families and staff, and support families. Early childhood systems include child care, Head Start and Early Head Start, early intervention programs, preschool programs, and elementary school from kindergarten through third grade. Providers include teachers and paraprofessionals in schools, preschools, early intervention service providers, related service personnel, and others that work directly with children in early childhood systems.[s2If !current_user_can(access_s2member_ccap_springsped)]Read the rest of this article.[/s2If] [s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_ccap_springsped)]
Research shows that families have a strong effect on learning, development, and wellness and family well-being is a strong predictor of children’s school readiness. Further, strong, positive relationships between families and providers reinforce learning at home and in the community.
To establish a culture that values family engagement, the ED and HHS recommend that providers adopt the following practice principles:
- Create continuity and consistency for children and families.
- Value respectful and trusting relationships between families and professionals.
- Develop goal-oriented relationships with families that are linked to children’s development and learning.
- Engage families around children’s health, mental health and social and emotional well-being.
- Ensure that all family engagement opportunities are culturally and linguistically responsive.
- Build staff capacity to implement family engagement practice principles.
- Support families’ connections and capabilities.
- Systemically embed effective family engagement strategies within early childhood systems and programs.
- Develop strong relationships with community partners that support families.
- Continuously learn and improve.
Surely no one would disagree that strong and positive collaboration between schools and families is key to the success of early childhood programs. The ED and HHS policy statement provides a host of resources to promote and implement effective family engagement designed to improve children’s learning, development, and wellness.[/s2If]