Family Engagement Required for Children’s Success; Bold Leadership Needed

U.S. Departments of Education and Health Human Services Issue Family Engagement Policy Statement

“Implementing effective family engagement practices to promote positive child outcomes will require bold leadership and dedication from all institutions where children learn,” write the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services In a joint letter sharing their new family engagement policy statement.

Released in May 2016, the policy statement outlines family engagement recommendations for birth-through-eight early childhood systems and programs. It emphasizes that family engagement is not optional for children’s healthy intellectual, physical, and social-emotional development and academic success. It describes family engagement in early learning programs and elementary schools and its value as “support[ing] families as they teach, nurture, and advocate for their children. In turn, family engagement supports and improves the early learning programs in which children are cared for and taught.”

The Departments identify ten common principles of effective family engagement and include examples of what each looks like in practice.

PrinciplePractice Highlights
Create continuity and consistency for children and families.Promote a vision for family engagement that is consistent across systems and programs.
Value respectful and trusting relationships between families and professional.

Value families’ experiences and strengths and provide opportunities for shared learning.


Encourage two-way communication by welcoming information from families on all aspects of the child’s life and development, including their culture, traditions, and home language.

Develop goal-oriented relationships with families that are linked to children’s development and learningWork with families to identify specific strategies that support children’s development and learning at home and in the classroom and community.
Engage families around children’s health, mental health, and social and emotional well-being.Ensure programs and families know about child development related to health, mental health, and social and emotional well-being and have access to the tools they need to promote child well-being at home and in the classroom.
Ensure that all family engagement opportunities are culturally and linguistically responsive.Ensure that the environment, curricula and all family engagement opportunities respect, reflect, and embrace families’ cultures, are devoid of bias, and are linguistically accessible.
Build staff capacity to implement family engagement practice principles.Prioritize professional development that support staff to view parents as capable, competent partners.
Support families’ connections and capabilities.Provide opportunities for families to build upon their knowledge and skills; advocate; share experiences and expertise; and take on leadership and advocacy roles.
Systemically embed effective family engagement strategies within early childhood systems and programs.Align, integrate and coordinate family engagement strategies in all aspects of programming.
Develop strong relationships with community partners that support families.Establish formal partnerships with community partners, such as after-school programs, social service agencies, adult education programs, one stop career centers, medical homes, public housing authorities, and libraries, to promote family wellness and adult learning, and enhance children’s learning and family stability.
Continuously learn and improve.Measure effectiveness.


To implement family engagement practices across birth-through-eight systems, the statement recommends actions at the state and local levels. Highlights of steps states can take include:

  • Plan for and prioritize family engagement, including developing statewide early childhood and early elementary school policies on family engagement.
  • Communicate consistent messages that support strong family engagement, including modeling cultural responsiveness in all state outreach to families.
  • Invest and allocate, including establishing or enhancing statewide technical assistance on family engagement in early childhood systems and programs; and establishing community parenting and family engagement hubs that bring educators and families together to access information and engage in shared learning.
  • Establish policies, procedures, and practices that support family engagement, beginning with reviewing and prioritizing policies that are most effective in supporting family engagement. The statement offers several examples of policies to consider, including using federal funds from the Every Student Succeeds Act to support the implementation of more robust, research-based parent and family engagement practices in school districts.

At the local-level, recommendations cover the following topics:

  • Providing Access to Families and Invite Them to Participate in Learning Activities
  • Creating Family Friendly Environment
  • Supporting Family Connections
  • Developing Family and Professional Relationships Linked to Learning, Development, and Wellness
  • Providing Two-Way Communication
  • Supporting Families as Decision Makers
  • Establishing Supportive Transitions to New Learning Settings
  • Providing Family Supports
  • Providing Voluntary Home Visits
  • Establishing Formal Relationships with Community Partners
  • Making Data about Children’s Progress Accessible and Understandable to Parents
  • Establishing workforce capacity building that supports family engagement

Click here to read the Policy Statement on Family Engagement from the Early Years to the Early Grades.