Theodore Roosevelt is often quoted as saying “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care?” (Dickenson State University, 2015) Do you think this idea relates to how program families connect with you as a home visitor? You bet! It really rings true for all of us, but we can never forget the importance of this in our work with families.
Today we’ll explore the power of creative engagement to increase family retention but most importantly we’ll be looking at some techniques you can use to send the message, “I care about you!” These are the kinds of things that bring a smile to a parent’s face and make your visits more stimulating and fun for everyone. Ultimately this is what will keep a family opening their door to you week after week.
Researchers tell us that parent engagement really comes down to how family members feel about the services they receive from you. This includes the strength of the relationship between family and the home visitor (Korfmacher, et al., 2008). Establishing and maintaining strong relationships with families requires creative thinking and consistent engagement techniques that are individualized for each family.
The Growing Great Families Module 1.A: Our Time Together: Making the Most of It…..provides conversation guides to set the stage for home visits to be interactive from a strength-based partnership perspective. It also orients parents on the benefits of participating in your services. This module provides an opportunity to support families understanding that the focus of your visits will be on fostering and growing healthy, strong, sensitive and responsive parent-child relationships.
In addition to parents having an understanding of what to expect from you and your services, they will also need to trust you and feel that you care about them. Often, families have genuine reasons not to trust, based on their past history with others or adverse experiences during childhood. When home visitors understand the family circumstances, they have a greater appreciation and empathy for the parent’s inability to engage right away.
Engagement and retention of families is a struggle for many home visiting programs. Research on home visiting engagement estimates that families typically receive about 50% of the expected home visits and about half of the families leave the program before completing one year of program participation (Technical Assistance Coordinating Center (MIECHV TACC), 2015). These findings are connected to a variety of factors including things like lengthy referral processes and cultural barriers. So what strategies could you consider using to engage families?
Here are some engagement techniques that might help parents to understand that you care about them:
- Phone calls give parents time to learn to trust you before they invite you into their home. They also send the message that you are thinking of them and what is important to their family.
- Sending personalized hand written notes or greeting cards on family’s special occasions i.e. birthdays, welcoming the baby, missed seeing you last week, or “thinking of you”
- Texting or emailing a nurturing note or child development Information
- Inviting parents to parent support groups where they will experience fun activities and interact with other parents
- Involving parents in figuring out ways of making your visits stimulating and fun
- Using GGK toys and child development activities to foster the growth of positive parent-child relationships
- Offering to do your visits when all parenting partners are available and/or when it is most convenient for the entire family
- Exploring GGK and GGF modules that parents would like to do. You can do this by reviewing the GGK and GGF Table of Contents with parents/other family members
- Forming a partnership with the family and exploring what they want from the program
- Following through with what you have promised!
As you know, the GGK Character Builder Daily Do is a parenting skill set designed to support the growth of social and emotional development. Parents are encouraged to practice this Daily Do by interacting with their children throughout normal routines and care. The Character Builders Daily Do focuses on three stages of social and emotional development: trust, discovery, and identity/independence. This is based on the concept of the healthy progression of emotional development which starts with developing a secure base (experiencing feelings of safety and trust), before moving into the discovery stage (feeling capable of discovering and problem solving). These two stages will lead to the third stage, identity/independence (feeling confident in doing things independently and creatively).
Well… guess what? Your relationship with the family members should also follow the Character Builders stages of development. To hear what you have to say and to feel motivated to grow their parenting and life skills, parents, first and foremost, need to trust their home visitor. This trust will lead to them being able to commit to visits and to exploring new ways of thinking and doing.
When families consistently experience positive interactions with you, they begin to truly see the value in the services you provide. This will inspire them to commit to the hard work involved in supporting their child’s optimum development. When this occurs, there is a greater chance that families will stay engaged and receive the benefits of the full program. Family retention is not only an important program goal but also an essential goal for each home visitor. Remember you are not alone! GGK provides you with multiple conversation guides and tools to get you grounded in strong family engagement techniques.
Dickenson State University. (2015, January). TR Quotes. Retrieved from Theodore Roosevelt Center: http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/en/Learn-About-TR/TR-Quotes.aspx
Korfmacher, J., Green, B., Staerkel, F., Peterson, C., Cook, G., Roggman, L., & Schiffman, R. (2008). Parent involvement in early childhood home visiting. Child & Youth Care Forum, 171-196. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10566-008-9057-3
Technical Assistance Coordinating Center (MIECHV TACC). (2015, July). MIECHV Issue Brief on Family Enrollment and Engagement. Retrieved from mchb.hrsa.gov: http://www.mchb.hrsa.gov/programs/homevisiting/ta/resources/enrollmentandengagement.pdf