The Importance of Family Engagement in Infant and Toddler Programs

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Family engagement strategies in child care and early education include families as partners and support families in parenting their children to help them reach their full potential. Research shows the value of building strong relationships among the adults in a young child’s life and the positive impact those relationships can have on the family as a whole.

Strong family engagement practices are particularly important for families who face multiple challenges, like poverty and language barriers.  For example, more than three-quarters of Head Start families receive at least one family engagement service from the program; the most commonly accessed are parenting education (52 percent), health education (48 percent), and emergency or crisis intervention (21 percent). Despite its importance, knowing how to effectively engage parents from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds in child care and early education has historically been a challenge for the field. However, effective models like the Strengthening Families and Head Start Parent, Family, and Community Engagement frameworks have offered approaches that can help policy makers and practitioners improve family engagement practices.

To shine light on what research tells us about the importance of family engagement in child care and early education programs serving infants and toddlers, CLASP has released a new resource. Promote Family Engagement is part of CLASP’s “Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care” project, an ongoing effort by CLASP to link research to policy ideas to help states make the best decisions for infants and toddlers in child care. This latest resource provides research documenting the importance of strengthening family engagement, policy recommendations states can consider to improve their family engagement strategies for infants and toddlers, and additional online resources.

Using information provided in Promote Family Engagement, States can put policies in place that support and strengthen families with infants and toddlers and increase child care and early education providers’ ability to serve those children well. By incorporating expectations around family engagement practices into quality, subsidy and licensing policies, states can build on the success of existing models and practices, creating both the incentive and the supports that programs require to meet the needs of vulnerable families.