BGCA’s Lesa Sexton is back with tips on getting families and caregivers engaged in your program, and be sure to grab the details for an upcoming webinar at the end of this post!
There are a lot of pithy sayings that just ring true. Don’t judge a book by its cover. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A watched pot never boils (especially when you’re hungry).
One saying that feels particularly relevant these days? It takes a village to raise a child. While the origins of the saying are unknown (go here to geek out on the proverb’s background), it resonates during this year of virtual learning, social isolation, health scares, and food and economic insecurity. This is an “all hands on deck” kind of year. Now more than ever, there must be collaboration and coordination among families, schools, and Clubs to ensure that youth are receiving the targeted supports they need to continue to thrive and succeed despite these challenging circumstances.
The National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement defines family engagement as the shared responsibility of families, schools, and community agencies and organizations to support a child’s learning and development. Many of us intrinsically believe caregiver engagement to be important, but it’s worth taking a moment to lay out the facts. Caregiver engagement leads to:
- Improved academic performance
- Better attendance
- Enhanced social skills
- Decreased disciplinary issues
- Higher rates of graduation and postsecondary education attainment
- Decreased engagement in risky behaviors
- Improved relationships between parents and children
- Improved participation and better outcomes in afterschool programs
Are you convinced yet?
For a Boys & Girls Club or Youth Center to be effective in engaging caregivers, there are a few important principles to keep in mind:
It’s all about relationships, specifically trusting relationships based on respect in which caregivers feel welcomed, valued, and comfortable communicating openly and honestly.
Engagement must be culturally relevant and responsive with staff respectful of diversity, attuned to families’ unique needs and interests, and able to effectively engage caregivers in ways that acknowledge and respect their cultural differences.
Communication should be two-way with families equally encouraged to share their insights and feedback in an open exchange of information that allows them a voice in decisions that are made.
Engagement should be intentional, not a last-minute add-on disconnected from overarching Club goals.
So now that we’ve set that foundation, you’re raring to go.
Here are 5 actions you can take immediately to support caregiver engagement at your Club:
1. Take time to get to know families and caregivers. Every family has their own values, beliefs, traditions, and culture. Learn about what makes each of them unique. What’s important to them? What are their expectations for their child? What skills and talents do they have? No need to make this rocket science. Below is a super simple activity from Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains in which they asked families to decorate a puzzle piece with things that represent them and then compiled them all to show that every family is an important part of the puzzle.
2. Conduct a needs assessment. Ask caregivers about their needs, but also ask them about their interests. What would they like to learn? What would they like to do? How might they like to get involved? Find out what motivates them and plan opportunities for engagement based on their responses. Check out the Virtual Club Planner for a sample assessment you can edit.
3. Reach out with positive feedback. Unfortunately, many caregivers are only used to hearing from educators and youth development professionals when their child is having issues or exhibiting challenging behavior. So instead, call to share something good their child did. Did they clean up their space without being asked? Did they offer to help another member who was struggling to learn something? Did they show creativity while working on a project? Call or send a note home so their caregiver knows!
4. Get creative with communication. We all know communication can be a … challenge (to put it lightly!). Phone numbers change, people move, and email inboxes go unchecked. Utilize different methods of communication to find out what works best to reach as many caregivers as possible. In this age of spam and robocalls, many families prefer and are more responsive to texts or messages through social media like Facebook. Many Clubs have also found success with texting services like Remind (free!), Live Safe (BGCA’s recommended provider), ClassDojo, and BAND.
5. Show some recognition. Caregivers are going through a lot these days, and who doesn’t love a little bit of recognition?! Find a way to show caregivers appreciation for all that they do to support the Club. Feature a caregiver of the month in your Club’s newsletter or social media feeds, distribute coupons or gift cards for a local restaurant, or set out coffee or wrapped baked treats for them to enjoy when they drop off or pick up their child. The possibilities are endless!
Want to learn more? We recently hosted a webinar on Family & Caregiver Engagement. In the recording, learn why it’s important, what it looks like in Clubs and Youth Centers, and how you can better engage with caregivers to support youth. We were joined by staff from BGC Dumplin Valley, BGC Portland, and BGC Truckee Meadows who shared their experiences and promising practices. It was great! You can view the recording here.