Family engagement is defined as “a reciprocal partnership between parents and programs that reflects a shared responsibility to foster young children’s development and learning.”1 Family and community engagement comprises parents (broadly defined to refer to a child’s or youth’s primary caregiver) and youth-service providers, school staff, and community members working together to actively support and improve the academic achievement, social and behavioral development, and health of children, adolescents, and young adults. This relationship continues from birth to young adulthood and reinforces the health and academic success of youth across a myriad of settings, such as home, school, and afterschool programs and within the community.2 In other words, family and community engagement is an essential component of improving outcomes for children and youth.3 Engagement extends beyond simple involvement by "motivating and empowering families to recognize their own needs, strengths, and resources and to take an active role in working toward change."4
Although the benefits of family and community engagement are clear, the role of youth-service providers, school staff, and community members in promoting this engagement is not as clear. Parents who want the best for their children may not receive adequate information and support to understand the importance of the many roles they play (e.g. as first teachers, advocates and nurturers) in their children’s development and how best to satisfy those roles. This lack of communication with and support for parents is associated with lower levels of family engagement.5 As we work to create a culture of shared responsibility for improving outcomes for all children , family and community engagement becomes an essential component of any collective impact strategy. In that respect engaging the families in our communities requires a shared effort, with youth-service providers, school staff, and community members committing to reach out to parents in purposeful ways to help them support their children’s development.6
The family and community engagement process develops over time and involves several key determining factors:
- Parents must believe that they play a vital and active role in their children’s development and education and have a positive sense of self-efficacy for helping their children succeed;
- Parents believe that youth-serving personnel value, expect, and invite them to be engaged; and
- Parents’ socioeconomic situation, knowledge, skills, and time support engagement.7
The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics reports:
- In 2013, 17 percent of young adults, 18-24 years old, had not completed high school, and 83 percent had at least a high school diploma or equivalency certification.8
- In 2012, the average literacy proficiency level among youth, 16-19 years old, in the United States who had completed high school was the lowest among all of the countries participating in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Survey of Adult Skills (270 points for U.S. youth, compared to 285 points for youth in other countries; a difference of 5.26 percent).9
- In 2013, the percentage of young adults, 20-24 years old, who were not enrolled in school or working was highest among those who had not completed high school (45 percent).10
Center for Promise
America’s Promise Alliance supports the Center for Promise in collaboration with Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences. The Center conducts evidence-based exploration of issues surrounding the dropout crisis and develops tools for communities to use to effectively support young people, including family engagement resources.
Family Engagement Inventory
The Family Engagement Inventory (FEI) is a free, interactive website designed to familiarize professionals in child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health, early childhood education, and education with family engagement, as defined and implemented across these fields of practice. The site aggregates knowledge in a way that helps professionals in multidisciplinary exploration of family engagement. FEI helps practitioners, managers, and system leaders understand the commonalities and differences in family engagement across the disciplines to support collaboration among the multiple systems that often work with the same families. FEI is a product of the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is a service from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
GradNation: Family Engagement
America’s Promise Alliance supports the GradNation website, which provides information about key topics related to increasing high school graduation rates and opportunities for participation in local efforts. The website is an online community for stakeholders implementing dropout prevention efforts and serves as a space to share stories through text and multimedia. The Family Engagement section of the website contains tools, reports, research, and best practices for family engagement for educational support and dropout prevention.
Harvard Family Research Project: Family Involvement
The Harvard Family Research Project conducts research and evaluation projects and synthesizes the work of others to provide practical information to stimulate innovation and improvement in policy, practice, and evaluation around the well-being of children, youth, families, and their communities. The Family Engagement section of the website provides background, policy guidance, a network of family members involved in education, projects, publications, and resources on effective ways to support family involvement in children’s learning and development.
National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI)
NRCOI offers free, onsite training, technical assistance, research, and evaluation to help state and tribal child welfare agencies with strategic planning, improving quality, evaluating outcomes, facilitating stakeholder involvement, and improving training and workforce development. NRCOI is funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE)
NAFSCE focuses on advancing high-impact policies and practices for families, school, and community engagement to promote child development and improve student achievement.
National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
The National PTA offers information and support to parents to help them stay involved in the lives of their children. The website provides resources for families, school personnel, and community organizations regarding educational success and parent involvement in schools. Resources focus on such topics as literacy, school climate, special populations, physical activity, military alliances, health and safety, male engagement, special education, and urban family engagement.
National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections (NRCPFC)
NRCPFC emphasizes family-centered principles and practices and provides training, technical assistance, and information services to help state, local, tribal, and other publicly administered or supported child welfare agencies. The Center is a service of the Children’s Bureau, Office of the Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a member of the Training and Technical Assistance Network.
Parent Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)
Six regional PTACs are funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. PTACs serve as a resource and technical assistance provider to OSEP’s funded network of Parent Centers. Parent Centers encourage families of children and young adults from birth to age 22 with all disabilities — physical, cognitive, emotional, and learning — to participate effectively in education at home.
Understanding the Roles of Parents and Caregivers in Community-Wide Bullying Prevention Efforts (PDF, 6 pages)
This resource is tailored for parents and caregivers as a guide to the StopBullying.gov training module.
You for Youth: Engaging Families and Communities Toolkit
This toolkit from the U.S. Department of Education provides lesson-planning templates, sample lessons, and resources that afterschool programs can use to build family and community engagement. The key goal is to increase student achievement, aptitude, and interest in science by involving families in the learning process and making the most of community resources.
1 Forry, Moodie, Rothenberg, & Simkin, 2011
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014
3] Bryk, 2010
4 Steib, 2004<
5 Hoover-Dempsey, et al., 2005
6 Westmoreland, Rosenberg, Lopez, & Weiss, 2009
7 Hoover-Dempsey, et al., 2005
8 Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2014
9 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2013
10 Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2014