(B)(5) Engaging and supporting families

The extent to which the State provides, or has a High-Quality Plan to provide, information and support to families of High-Need Children to promote school readiness for their children, by--

  1. Establishing a progression of standards for family engagement across the levels of its Program Standards including activities that enhance the capacity of families to support their children's education and development;
  2. Meeting ambitious yet achievable annual targets to increase the number and percentage of Early Childhood Educators trained on the family engagement strategies included in the Program Standards; and
  3. Leveraging existing resources to promote family support and engagement statewide, including through home visiting programs and other family-serving agencies.

Comments

PACER supports and commends the Administration’s focus on engaging and supporting families as a selection criterion. More than thirty years of research show that parent engagement with children’s learning and development is a key indicator of children’s success. Standards for family engagement (B)(5)(a), training for teachers (B)(5)(b), and collaboration (B)(5)(c) are good strategies for engaging and supporting families.

Further, and perhaps as critical in early years, is the role parents have in choosing programs for their children. Parents need understandable information and support so that they are better able to make decisions about their child’s education. States must engage families as partners in the development and communication of a rating system for early learning, so that the information will be useful and understandable in the community. PACER recommends that states fully describe in their plan HOW a ratings system will be developed with and communicated to parents.

Heather Kilgore
Public Policy Director
PACER Center
(952) 838-9000

As we stated in our comments under the Priorities section, we support considering State applications based on their efforts or plans to provide information and support to families of High-Need Children to promote school readiness, as described in the section (B)(5) of the Selection Criteria. We assert that the significant role of parents merits a strong emphasis on, and placement of, Family Leadership and Support Standards as an essential component to a high quality early care and education system equal to Early Childhood Development and Learning Standards, Professional Standards, and Program Standards.

State applications should be required to include a plan to develop and implement Family Leadership and Support Standards that clearly identify what professionals should know and be able to do, what programs should do, and what policies and system functions are necessary to ensure that the entire early care and education system supports parents in their role as their children’s first teachers.

Based on our knowledge of State efforts and concrete examples from exemplary early care and education programs, we offer the Strengthening Families approach and Protective Factors framework as a platform for informing Family Leadership and Support Standards.

Five Protective Factors are the foundation of the Strengthening Families Approach:

• Parental resilience
• Social connections
• Concrete support in times of need
• Knowledge of parenting and child development
• Social and emotional competence of children

Research supports the common-sense notion that these Protective Factors reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect and promote optimal child development. State Family Leadership and Support Standards should define program practice, professional competencies, and accountability measures that ultimately support parents as decision makers and leaders and ensure that the Protective Factors are robust in families’ lives and communities. They should also be linguistically and culturally appropriate to all families

CSSP conducted field research to identify exemplary programs and study the practices they employ to build Protective Factors in families. Our analysis identified a wide range of small but significant changes in everyday practice that make a difference for families, many at little or no additional cost to programs. We found that exemplary programs engaged in strategies to:

1. Facilitate friendships and mutual support
2. Strengthen parenting
3. Respond to family crises
4. Link families to services and opportunities
5. Facilitate children’s social and emotional
development
6. Observe and respond to early warning signs
of child abuse or neglect
7. Value and support parents

Several States have found the Strengthening Families approach and Protective Factors framework useful to establishing a progression of standards for family leadership and support across the levels of its Program Standards and Quality Ratings, providing professional training on strategies based on the Protective Factors framework, leveraging existing resources (such as Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) funding), and building relationships with existing organizations and support infrastructure (such as Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, institutions of higher education, etc.) to promote these efforts Statewide.

At the program level, many States are encouraging the use of the Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment, a valid and reliable tool developed by CSSP to measure the extent to which a program is employing the seven strategies mentioned above. The on-line version of the Self-Assessment enables compilation of responses from staff, parents and administrators at the program level, allows for comparison of responses over time, and informs develop an action plan for continuous improvement. Data can be aggregated across programs and at the State level to provide snapshot information, monitor trends, and inform policy.

Signed,
Frank Farrow, Director, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Judy Langford, Senior Fellow and Director, Strengthening Families Initiative, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Teresa Rafael, Executive Director
National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is appreciative of the hard work reflected in the development of the criteria for this competitive grant process. CDF is supportive of the engaging and supporting families section, but recommends clarification to strengthen certain components and to help meet the RTT-ELC’s goal of increasing the percentage of children reading and computing math on grade level by the end of third grade. Specifically, CDF suggests the following additions:

a. Establishing a progression of standards for family engagement across the levels of its Program Standards including activities that enhance the capacity of high-need families to support their children's education and development

b. Meeting ambitious yet achievable annual targets to increase the number and percentage of Early Childhood Educators, social service and health staff involved in high-need family cases and/or service delivery trained on the family engagement strategies included in the Program Standards; and

c. Leveraging existing resources to promote family support and engagement statewide, including through home visiting programs and other family-serving agencies. Additional points will be awarded to applicants that document success in delivery of family support and engagement programs in communities representing the target population.

Cathy Grace
Children’s Defense Fund
Director, Early Childhood Development

Program standards for family engagement have not been developed by most states—incorporate this objective in the development of state plans.

Comments submitted on behalf of the Early Intervention Family Alliance:

The Early Intervention Family Alliance (EIFA) is a national group of family leaders dedicated to improving outcomes for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. The EIFA represents family leaders involved in Part C programs in states and other jurisdictions implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

The EIFA is excited by the prospect of the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge Grants and provide the following comments on the proposed Grant Competition. We appreciate the requirement that any grant recipient continue to provide services under Part C of IDEA. We would however encourage the Administration to require that States continue to provide services under the most recent State Application and not reduce eligibility during the term of the grant. As parent leaders we know that programs like Part C can not only support children but also their parents. We are all parent leaders as a direct result of our Part C programs and we are committed to assisting other parents to become parent leaders and forge parent-professional partnerships. To that end we offer the following comments:

Engaging Families
We agree with the administration that engaging families is important. It is important to think about individual families and their information needs—e.g., how will families be informed about screening, assessment and service provisions? Families need opportunities to learn about typical childhood development and how to identify areas that might be of concern for their own child’s health, development and learning. Families need opportunities to learn about the development of their own children and children in their community. Additionally, we would add that it is important to create opportunities for family-professional partnerships. As parent leaders we are aware of many families who wish to partner with professionals, however find barriers to this involvement. Programs need models of parent leadership and reassurance that parent leadership can result in positive outcomes. It is important to provide families with access to information and trainings and to create additional opportunities for meaningful family leadership. It is important to create these opportunities at the program level, local level and finally at the State level. It is further important to ask states to describe how parents will be included in managing grants, whether this involvement will be consistent with the requirements of existing federally funded programs (e.g., Part C of IDEA, Title V, Head Start) and will there be a workforce lattice for parents? We would suggest that the final document include a definition of family engagement, and further that it refer to the aforementioned federally-funded programs and indicate how the definition complements those existing family involvement definitions and requirements.

High-Need Children
We would encourage the Administration to use the people first language, and change this to Children with High-Needs. Further, we would request that this phrase be used whenever referring to the targeted population for this grant. We note that in the cover letter the phrase low-income children appears before the term High-Needs Children, however that term is never defined in the grant application and we believe that use of that term may result in the failure by some to address the significant needs of a variety of children who while their incomes may not be low, have barriers to access to programs and supports for early learning and development and fit the definition of Children with High-Needs.

The families’ capacities should be understood and respected in the context of their cultural and linguistic history and current values. Relationships are the foundation for language development, and over time language becomes a key to maintaining relationships. Parents should be given the tools to support their children’s language development and fluency for numerous personal, social and educational benefits. Regardless of families’ initial literacy levels, all family members should be able to find support in their children’s educational program for enhancing family language and communication activities.

Thank you,
Dr. Mimi A. Graham, Director
Florida State University
Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy
Tallahassee, FL

States can also facilitate family and community engagement by publishing accessible information for parents and taxpayers that measures the health, safety, and education of children and families.

In the past decade, schools have begun to publish information for the public about how their schools are doing, most of it based on how students perform on standardized state tests. That information is insufficient, particularly for parents of pre-K children.

Instead, states need to measure progress on supporting the development of the whole child, annually publishing data on the health, safety, and education of children and families that provides a comprehensive look at the circumstances (e.g., hunger, poverty, crime, literacy, and health) of children in the state.

Reach Out and Read provides an excellent program for encouraging low-income families to promote literacy development for their children. It is simple and inexpensive and the results, published in professional journals, are impressive. They reach a significant percentage of children in poverty in the US.

(B)(5) Engaging and supporting families. While it is important for families to be provided appropriate supports, it is unclear as to what the family's role will be in giving feedback to the overall process. Families must play an active role in the decisiomaking rather than having decisions made on their behalf.

(B)(5) a.b.c.
A fundamental requirement to reach the level of family engagment that is effective, productive and most importantly, progressive, is validation of the role parents play in their children's life. Any type of family engagement must contain activities that stimulates parents to believe that the path for the success of their children is through Education. This is the most critical component in seeking high quality education leading to student success. In addition, to promote and support family engagement requires the transparency, willingness, opennes and most importantly, good faith, on the part of the Educational system to truly engage parents.
States must be required to closely monitor this particular component not just in paper but followed by regular monitoring geared toward identifying its weakness and strenghts. In addition, concrete progress indicators should be in place to determine the level of family engagement and its effectiveness on a regulalr basis. It is unfortunate that in our city, the family engagement is simply utilized to rubber stamp the approval of funding coming into the District.