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Kansas 4-H Tip Sheet

September 14, 2018

Strategies for Engaging Parents and Families

Submitted by Shane Potter

Allow participant voices to drive the work.

Solicit and understand the needs and hopes of your target audience and involve them in the planning, delivery, and evaluation of programming. Examples include: inviting parents/youth to serve on your board; sharing and discussing evaluation results with the target audience; forming advisory boards or policy councils; engaging past participants as program ambassadors and recruiters; allowing families to identify learning needs and inform program or session agendas; and assessing what is and is not working and co-creating solutions with the involvement of participants.

Create a comfortable and welcoming environment.

Try these strategies: select a convenient delivery location in the participants’ neighborhood; set-up the space so all can be heard; share content in ways that appeal to both visual and audio learners; provide for practical constraints like transportation and childcare; present with positive, strength-based and enthusiastic attitudes; allow parents to observe and volunteer in youth programs; and forge staff relationships with other community resources so personal (not cold referrals) can be made.

Consciously strive for inclusion and equity.

Seek out and empower volunteers that are culturally, racially, and linguistically representative of the participants. Acknowledge customs and cultures (e.g., food and music choices, hanging posters or artwork that reflects the participants’ race or cultural backgrounds, posting signs in the participants’ native language, and hosting holiday celebrations). Translate program materials, deliver programs in the participants’ native language, or have interpreters available. Consider specific needs (e.g., migrant, minority, disabled, or poor). Provide training and set organizational policies that encourage staff to understand the unique challenges and strengths of the population served (e.g., poverty simulations or training to understand the needs of fathers). Keep inclusion a focus through regular communications and staff performance review discussions.

Recognize participants as the experts of their own lives.

Acknowledge competencies and understand what participants want and how they hope to benefit from the program. Assist them in identifying their own needs and ways of meeting them. Seek relational competency by presenting in a non-judgmental way and strive for teamwork. This may involve self-reflection to acknowledge biases. Promote peer-sharing by forming learning and support networks led by participants.

Utilize supportive and cooperative communications.

Make enrollment easy and accessible through various forms of technology. Ask participants about preferred methods for contacts (e.g., phone, email, text, in-person). Use text messaging to send notifications and solicit input, such as scheduling preferences. Ensure materials are prepared in no higher than an 8th grade level. Allow participants to express opinions; listen and acknowledge input and validate it in program decisions. Incorporate new digital resources to reinforce learning, like apps.

*Content prepared with the CYFAR PDTA Center