Integrating Parent Engagement Everywhere

For an organization’s programs to deliver optimal outcomes for children, Parent Engagement is a must. As Aspire Toledo conducts our Café Conversations with people throughout the community, young people repeatedly tell us that if their parents aren’t taking an active role in a program, that program has limited potential for success. When this happens, parents’ involvement leads to stronger programs. In the process, some parents will become even more engaged — and some will rise into roles of parental leadership.

As important as Parent Engagement is, though, the realities of running programs day-to-day often stand in the way of encouraging parents and caregivers to be true partners in the success of the program. In a recent blog post, we offered five steps to help programs take the initial steps boost Parent Engagement, tips that foster a welcoming environment for parents and caregivers. In this post, we offer further ways to make Parent Engagement central to your organization’s programming.

Promoting Parent Engagement within Your Organization

Parent Engagement is most effective when it is fully integrated into the culture of the organization. For current staff, that may take the formal of developing training unique to your individual program. Moving forward, it’s important to add Parent Engagement into new employees’ job descriptions, and including Parent Engagement into your organization’s policies and procedures.

All of these ideas are aimed at successfully engaging and building meaningful relationships with parents and caregivers. By creating a culture that welcomes parents and values their participation as active partners in your program, your organization can develop stronger programming that delivers better outcomes for the children you serve.

Promoting Parent Engagement within the Community

As Aspire continues to communicate our mission to the public, we hope that the importance of Parent Engagement will become a part of the everyday conversation among all the Toledo-area stakeholders. As service organizations present their case to funders, it’s important to stress the importance of Parent Engagement.

With so many organizations delivering a vast array of programming in service to children, many parents can feel they must carefully choose which programs with whom they can fully engage. Remember, these are people with jobs, children and, of course, the many stresses that come from being part of the underserved population. Rather than competing for these parents’ precious time, the experts we’ve consulted with recommend creating a culture of collaboration and coordination among agencies who cater to similar audiences.

Aspire Toledo is dedicated to bringing the entire community together — parents, service organizations, funders and community leaders — to bring quality programming to children throughout the Toledo area. Our goal is to hear these stakeholders’ concerns. As we gather more insights into the characteristics of successful programming, we will be presenting them on this blog. We hope you’ll check back here for further updates.

 

Parent Engagement for Nonprofit Organizations: Better Input for Better Outcomes.

Time and again at Aspire Toledo, we hear the same refrain: If parents aren’t engaged in a program, the program simply cannot achieve its intended outcomes. Teachers, administrators and students tell us that parent engagement is integral to the success of any youth-based program. That’s why Aspire Toledo has made Parent Engagement a key secondary indicator in our Program Assessment Tool.

Parents and caregivers are always an essential part of a child’s life. Every child who comes into your program brings their home life along with them. If the messages children hear at home do not coincide with the messages you’re trying to convey, chances are your efforts will leave the children’s minds when they leave your program.

But what does effective Parent Engagement really look like? And how can Parent Engagement be integrated into your nonprofit organization’s program?

Definition of Parent Engagement

The idea of Parent Engagement seems straightforward enough; parents become active partners in the program, reinforcing the ideas being presented and encouraging their children to incorporate the program’s teachings into their daily lives. But within that overall concept, there are three distinct levels in which parents can take part.

The most basic level is Parent Involvement, in which parents feel that they are invited to participate in a program beyond simply dropping their children off and picking them up again. At the Parent Engagement level, parents are generally more heavily invested in the success of the program. They are more likely to be an active part of the program and offer more feedback throughout the process.

As Marian Brannon, Strengthening Families Coordinator for Lucas County, puts it, “The difference between Parent Engagement and Parent Involvement is sort of like a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich—the chicken is involved, but the pig is engaged.”

Ultimately, parents may actually move into more of a Parent Leadership role, in which they participate in the decision-making process and share a true stake in the success of the program. Not every parent will emerge as a leader, and those who do may only do so as a result of active encouragement on the part of the organization.

Five Steps to Encouraging Parent Engagement

The pyramid seen above only tells part of the story—true Parent Engagement happens in an environment that is designed to support it. The best way to foster that environment is to begin planning for it from Day 1. Ideally, an organization starts thinking about the roles parents can play during the initial planning of the program, while the grants are still being written and the program is still in its earliest development stages.

If you are trying to boost Parent Engagement within an existing program, the good news is that it’s never too late—but as we stated above, it’s always crucial.

Here are a few practical tips that can help boost Parent Engagement:

  1. Talk to the parents. Simply asking parents what they’re looking for in a program can go a long way. Parents are often not accustomed to having an opportunity to express their opinions. And by contacting parents to discuss every aspect of their lives—beyond just the specifics of the program—can create a sense of trust that leads to increased engagement.
  2. Create a welcoming atmosphere. The physical environment is very important, and it includes creating a space for parents to feel they belong. The relationships you build are just as important. Train your staff to engage parents with a positive outlook—and live by the mantra “Relationships over rules.”
  3. Speak the parents’ language. This is both a literal and a metaphorical tip. Does your audience speak Spanish or Arabic? Bring translators into the process at the outset—not as an afterthought. In addition, understand where parents are coming from and create materials they can immediately understand.
  4. Assume good intentions. If a parent is late for an appointment, start your interaction with the idea that she made an honest effort to get there on time. If the parent is reluctant to commit her time, assume it has more to do with her busy schedule rather than any lack of interest in her child.
  5. Look for passionate parents. Any parent who expresses an extra interest in your program—even those whose interest may seem negative—can be encouraged to take on a greater role within the program. Encourage their passions while at the same time directing them toward the places within the program where they can do the most good.

Parent Engagement: Part of the Aspire Toledo Model

Parent Engagement is an essential component of the Aspire Toledo model, in which we seek to create a cradle-to-career support structure for children and families in Lucas County that will prepare them for success in life. To learn more about Aspire Toledo’s work throughout the community, sign up for our newsletter today.

 The information provided in this post come from an Aspire Toledo Network panel discussion presented on August 30, 2017. Participants included Michelle Klinger, Executive Director of Partners in Education; Sandra Johnson, Lucas County Early Head Start Family and Community Engagement Coordinator; Marian Brannon, Strengthening Families Coordinator for Lucas County; Amy Allen, Toledo Public Schools Transformation Leader; and Kelly Kaiser, Baby University.