Meaningful Family Engagement
Family engagement is essential in promoting healthy physical, cognitive and social-emotional development, and academic achievement of children and youth from pre-K to high school. Research shows that when families are meaningfully and continuously engaged in their children’s learning and development, they can positively impact their child’s health, development, academic, and well-being outcomes into adulthood.1,2
Description of Family Engagement
Strong family engagement happens when families have a primary and meaningful role in all decision-making that impacts every young person and their families. Meaningful family engagement is about improving outcomes for all youth and families and happens at the system level and at the service level.
At the system level, family engagement is evident when families routinely engage as equal partners with state and local leaders in planning, designing, and evaluating services, programs and policies that impact the lives of children, youth and families served.
Family engagement also happens at the individual service level where agency partners and a single family collaborate in making decisions that address their child’s unique strengths and needs and considers the family’s ideas of success. Meaningful family engagement requires that state and local leaders model and champion family partnership anchored by mutual respect, shared authority, two-way communication, and a commitment to a common vision and shared goals to improve outcomes for every young person and their family.3,4
Definition of “Family” in Family Engagement
Child and youth serving systems broadly define “family” in family engagement as including parents and other adult caregivers, acknowledging today’s varied family units and their needs for extended supports. For example, early childhood education and juvenile justice programming describe family engagement as including biological, adoptive, and foster parents; grandparents; legal and informal guardians; and adult siblings.5,6
Some agencies have broadened this definition of family to include related and non-related members. As an example, transition-aged and foster youth work with their providers to identify and name their personal family system that includes peers, mentors, and service providers who they trust and can count on for support. Key service sectors that are implementing family engagement plans and strategies to increase and improve the engagement of families in their systems and services include education, child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and primary health care providers.
1 Weiss, Lopez, & Caspe, 2016
2 Henderson & Mapp, 2002
3 U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, 2016
4 Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016
5 U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, 2016
6 Development Services Group, Inc., 2018