What does it mean to have meaningful family involvement and leadership? How do we accomplish this?

There are many people who are doing good work to ensure that families are part of planning and decision-making around inclusion in their communities and states. Are you one of them? What are you doing?

This wiki is for collecting a list of strategies and tips that move us from the theory of family involvement and leadership to actually practicing what we preach.

Contribute your ideas, edit the ideas of others, organize the suggestions by clumping like ideas and giving them a heading by clicking on the edit this page button at the top of the page. Or comment on postings by clicking on the discussion tab at the top of the page. We'll collect our ideas, organize them, and then make them available to everyone.

Don't worry about grammar or spelling, at this point we just want to gather as many examples as we can. Thank you!

For more information on what a "wiki" is view this 3-minute video: Wikis in Plain English.

Benefits of Engaging Families As Leaders:

  • Families who are listened to and valued for their expereince and input become advocates for their children - in partnership with professionals - to make a difference for their own children - and for other families.
  • Professionals who listen to the family perspective change how they do their work.
  • Families help professionals to consider the future of the children served in early intervntion/preschool and the importance of being forward thinking so that bridges can be built to support the children and families as they move into the public school system and beyond.
  • Engaging families builds a sense of unity among all stakeholders, which translates into more effort to design creative ways to address the needs of all children.

Strategies for Engaging Families As Leaders:

Identify family members who have leadership skills or potential as leaders.
  • Use tools such as MAPS - a planning activity designed to help individuals reflect on their past and future experiences as a leader. You can find more information about this process at http://www.uvm.edu/~pcl/modules.php
  • Recruit parents to serve as co-trainers
  • Invite parents to "share their stories" at provider meetings to put a "face" to parent issues

Make sure that family members are prepared with information before meetings. This is benificial for a number of reasons:
  • Family members know what the purpose of each meeting is
  • Family members have background information so that they aren't trying to play catch up during meetings
  • Family members can provide insights that are relevant to the discussion
  • Family members feel more confident about their participation
  • Family members can understand and speak the "professional" language

Provide a variety of options for participation
  • giving input, editing, co-presenting
  • draw upon unique, individual skills, interests, and abilities that family members possess
  • Create opportunities for participation via phone for anyone who cannot attend meetings
  • Conduct focus groups so that a broad range of family perspectives are represented on a particular topic
  • Clearly explain the responsibility for participation (i.e., offering ideas, taking notes, etc...) and invite families to participate with vigor and excitement

Provide formal and informal supports
  • Provide mentors/coaches (e.g. SpecialQuest Ambassadors)
  • Provide supports before, during and after meeting
  • Provide families with reimbursement for attending meetings, traveling, assuring quality care for their children, unless provided by the program/agency.
  • Ensure family members know that they are going to be asked to participate in a meeting.
  • Provide family members with relevent information.
  • Support growth and continuous learn of family members by having them participate at all levels of planning of their own child's services and that of other families who don't have the time to actively participate.
  • Provide options for formal and informal supports and then ask families what they need

Provide skill building opportunities for families.
  • As needed, provide opportunities for family members to increase their listening skulls and their ability to ask clarifying questions. A great resource is http://www.uvm.edu/~pcl/modules.php
  • Build ladders of like skills (e.g., advocating for own child and family, then advocating for other children and families in programs, communities, the state, and nation)
  • Develop a family training model where famlies assist other families with buiilding capacity to know how and where to seek answers to questions not even imagined.

Create an environment of trust, and give and take
  • Demonstrate respect for families by inviting them to be a part of the agenda and speak about their experience with the issue at hand
  • Ask for in put and really listen to it
  • Process and recall past discussions
  • Follow-up with families by checking-in between scheduled meetings
  • Ask about progress
  • Be prepared to a guide for the next steps, following the lead of the family
  • Share your own experiences with speaking to large groups and some strategies for "psyching yourself up" for public speaking
  • Assure family members that leadership skills, such as public speaking, develops over time as one gain's experience and confidence
  • Liken leadership to geese flying in formation. There always needs to be a leader at the top of the V but that leader will drop back into formation and another leader will take on the leading role - shared leadership!!
  • Listen to families when concerns come up, trust their "gut instincts".
  • Support families' our dreams for inclusion of their children in the community.
  • Be patient as families learn to navigate all the systems, laws, regulations, and standards of all professional agencies and personal.
  • Be sensitive to our naiveness
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences in values, beliefs, and family dynamics.
  • Be respectful of "non-traditional" family configurations by using inclusive language on forms and in policies and procedures in order to encourage trust and open communication.
  • Communicate with, engage, and build positive relationships with family members.
  • Work as a "team" with family members.
  • Demonstrate genuine care and concern for family members.
  • Be aware of cultural differences and their importance to each family - unique believes, traditions and values need to be respected and valued
  • Get to know each family member as an individual.
  • Call parents by their name not "mom" or "dad".