Engaging Parents, Developing Leaders

Posted by Annie E. Casey Foundation on December 12, 2016

Engaging Parents, Developing Leaders
A Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Nonprofits and Schools

Parents have the greatest stake in their children’s well-being and are invaluable partners for organizations striving to improve the lives of kids and families. Many community nonprofits and schools seek ways to better engage families and help them foster child development. These organizations want to more effectively reach parents,1 provide services they need and want and make sure they have the tools and skills necessary to support their kids.

Organizations aim to work with parents in a number of ways. A simple but powerful framework is to consider four categories based on an organization’s focus — or the entry door through which organizations come to work with parents. Organizations often begin with different goals. Some
seek to build the skills of families, working to influence parenting and the interactions between adults and children. Others strive to deepen a family’s engagement with a program or organization, working to influence parental behaviors and interactions with programs and institutions serving their children. Organizations also aim to build the overall capacity of families, often providing the tools and resources they need to achieve financial stability and foster their children’s development. Finally, some focus on building family advocacy and leadership skills, strengthening parents’ ability to advocate and change public systems on behalf of themselves and their children.

To be sure, many organizations focused on improving the lives of families and children work in several of these areas at the same time. In fact, they may span one or more of these categories; using one category as an entry point typically leads a family to services in another category. Family engagement is a dynamic field with lessons spanning many of these areas.

Yet we know that leaders seeking to improve family engagement and parent participation in programs often face several challenges, including knowing where to start and figuring out which among the myriad possible approaches and strategies to undertake. Indeed, most organizations fall on a continuum when it comes to parent engagement, doing some things really well and needing improvements in other areas. Most leaders struggle to find time to assess what is working and determine the best next step.

This tool aims to address these challenges by enabling a variety of nonprofit leaders to assess their organization’s family engagement and capacity-building activities. It also provides suggestions on realistic next-step strategies. We have grounded all of the provided suggestions in proven or promising practices identified through extensive research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as well as insights from leading organizations and parents themselves.


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