- Materials for Family Action Learning Team meetings. [Sample Family ALT invitation (PDF), detailed agenda, etc.]
PEOPLE & ORGANIZATIONS REPRESENTED: Community volunteers, parents, Thriving at Three
COMMUNITY PROBLEM: Families are not always engaged in local decision-making when it comes to policies, programs and practices that could help their children prepare for kindergarten.
CHALLENGE GOAL: Launch a Family Action Learning Team (ALT) made up of families with children age eight and under who will serve as consultants, partners and change agents (PDF) within the Ready for School, Ready for Life initiative. They will be part of the Action Learning Network, along with organization leaders and direct service providers.
READY/READY FRAMEWORK ELEMENT ADDRESSED: SUPPORTIVE FAMILIES > Empowered and Engaged Families > Parents are effective advocates for children, family and community.
PERSPECTIVES ENGAGED: Parents with children ages 8 and under, direct service providers in early childhood and Ready for School, Ready for Life staff.
ACTIONS TAKEN & ASSOCIATED BEST PRACTICES
- Defined the local problem: Reviewed family data from Family Photovoice Project and family meetings about need/desire to be involved in local decision making.
- Assessed fit and capacity of local efforts: Identified key reasons families are not always engaged in decision-making about services, i.e. lack of time, not sure how to authentically engage families, fear of over-promising.
- Improved responsiveness: Reviewed best practices in parent engagement and parent coalition building (PDF); interviewed other communities/organizations in North Carolina and Michigan that have implemented family coalitions to learn what works and what doesn’t work; engaged families in designing Family ALT meetings to meet their needs, i.e. choose topics and guest speakers.
- Identified quick wins, identify where to pilot, anticipate barriers: Launched Family ALT open to all parents with children under age 8; offered free childcare/meal/transportation and held session at a time when many parents could attend (Monday, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.); families have chosen to rotate locations around Guilford County.
- Tracked success: Most families returned for the second Family ALT meeting; feedback from families improved 100-Day Challenge Team projects (Parenting Education, Developmental Screenings) and the Guilford Free Play Project, a pilot program promoting unstructured play.
WHAT WE LEARNED
- Families provide valuable insights/guidance about the system and valuable advice about how to support school readiness that can’t be uncovered through traditional methods of collecting data, i.e., surveys
- Families have many assets to share with each other and the community, and quickly became a support system for one another.
- Families are highly motivated to help their children and other children succeed in school and are committed to improving the community.
- Families can effectively play all three roles, but we need to make it clear which role they are playing at different points within the meeting. Roles are: (1) consultants who offer perspectives and feedback to consider in decision making; 2) partners who are directly engaged in design and decision-making to strengthen your efforts; 3) change agents who do the things that matter to families.
- Launched Family ALT as part of the Ready for School, Ready for Life Action Learning Network.
- Engaged interpreter to encourage participation of Spanish-speaking families.
- Families co-led logistics for second meeting.
- Families co-facilitated second meeting.
- Continue Family ALT and expand it to new membership. Recruit families so ALT membership reflects the diversity of Guilford County.
- Provide the right level of supports. Families need child care, interpretation services, transportation assistance, variety of food choices, etc. to make sure that all families feel welcome and can participate fully.
- Engage families in the development phase of programs, policies, practices and changes in order to get better outcomes.
- After action is taken, tell families about the difference their input made. Families report that they rarely hear back about the results of feedback, which discourages engagement.
- Identify and engage families who are trusted partners in their neighborhoods/among their peers. This can help promote inclusiveness, make it easier to spread the word about kindergarten readiness, and build leadership capacity and engagement across Guilford County.
- Work with the Family ALT to design and distribute resources in family-friendly language and formats about developmental milestones, kindergarten readiness, early literacy and more.