Amplifying Community Partnerships for Family Engagement

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The African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” rings loud and clear in the world of early childhood education. Families depend on us, we depend on them, but may not always remember a crucial third partner – community organizations. As our programs and the families we work with are often busy keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities, it may seem like an extra task to reach out to community partners. However, we should ask ourselves, “What do we miss out on when we don’t reach out and make connections with community organizations?” 

In the past, we have discussed the importance of families asking for help, particularly as it relates to concrete supports in times of need. This month, we take a look at how our own programs can reach out to community organizations and form partnerships to help meet the needs of our program and the families we serve.

How Can Your Program and Families
Benefit from Community Partnerships?

When starting this process, you may wonder what your early learning program and families will gain from these connections. Consider the following benefits of partnering with community organizations:

  • You benefit a lot more than the effort you put into seeking a partnership (typically). Ultimately, these types of collaborations can save you/your program a large amount of work as they already have resources and services to provide that you don’t have to create or offer yourself! Also, these partners now are aware of your program and can make referrals to your program when asked by their clients/customers.
  • Think of it as acting on behalf of your early learning program and the families you work with! Just as you attend trainings, prepare activities, & create a physical environment for your early learning program, investing time in developing these partnerships is another way you show that you support the children and families you serve and offer a high-quality program.
  • Consider how supported families will feel, in addition to adding a boost to your program’s reputation. Depending on how a collaboration goes, your program and the families you work with can reap great benefits – including information and resources that they never knew of previously. Your early learning program can also be recognized for listening to families’ needs and becoming an integral community partner!
  • Connecting families with community resources helps build their resilience and protect their well-being during challenging times. Setting up relationships between families and community organizations supports two key Strengthening Families Protective Factors: Concrete Support in Times of Need and Parental Resilience. Simply put, you are helping build stronger families!

As you can see, there are a wealth of benefits. Read on to learn about how to navigate any start-up obstacles to steer your program to great community partnership success!

Overcoming Challenges to Create Community Partnerships

Once we consider the benefits, we are often left contemplating how to deal with some anticipated barriers our program may have in setting up community partnerships. Read on for a brief list of the most common challenges we may face in establishing community partnerships and how to manage or resolve them.

Challenge: We have limited time or staff capacity.

→ Possible Solution: Start small! Consider what you can do with your current workload and any support staff you may have. What basic resources or information can you gather for families? Who in your support system can help?

→ Possible Solution: Ask families to help collect resources! Here are 3 ways they can support.

  • Families can gather pamphlets and handouts when they go to community organizations, then bring them back to the program.
  • Families can call to learn more about resources. We can provide them with sample phone messaging, so the request is clear and consistent.
  • Does your program have family members that work at any of these local organizations? Can they act as a bridge to build partnerships

→ Solutions From the Field: Ask your fellow providers how they have collaborated with community organizations. Let’s not forget to tap into our network and their know-how – reach out to your colleagues, other providers, other programs, and coaches! Ask about the organizations or resources they have worked with or know of, what their outreach approach looked like, and how their experiences have worked out.

Challenge: Our program and/or the community organization has complicated/long processes or limiting policies that make it challenging to work with external partners. 

→ Possible Solution: Consider what aspects of the processes or policies you can speed up, bypass, or receive support in. If you are informed ahead of time, that can help you request the necessary forms or documentations from the community partner from the beginning. On your program’s side, convey your needs or challenges to the administrators in charge – how can they support this process so it moves along faster or more smoothly?

→ Possible Solution: It’s also important to give yourself enough time. Try and schedule outreach weeks/months ahead of time to leave room for these processes and delays. You may also need to be flexible, have patience and adapt your timelines accordingly!

→ Possible Solution: Consider if there is another organization that does similar work? Would it be easier to look into a partnership with them instead? Don’t limit yourself to just the organizations you’re already familiar with. See who else might be available and a better partner for your program.

Now, where should you start? Check the next section below for a full breakdown of suggested tips that will support your community outreach.

Preparing Our Community Outreach

Reaching out to organizations we are not familiar with can create a sense of discomfort or fear – how do we maneuver these interactions? What will be requested of me and/or my program?

Rest assured, setting up a community partnership is not as intimidating or difficult as it may seem! What is the worst that can happen? The community organizations says no! Even then, you know you put your best foot forward and won’t be left wondering what could have been. This can also be a sign to continue searching for support from more suitable community organizations!

Reaching out to community organizations is more effective when we are clear regarding what our focus and capacity is, what we’re looking for and what are the needs of our families. Check out these next guidelines as you prepare to connect with community organizations:

What should I/my program prepare?

  • Unsure on where to start? Tap into families’ perspectives! Have a dialogue with the families you work with to better understand their desires and needs. For more ideas regarding how to approach this, check out our Family Engagement tip “Identifying Strengths and Needs to Better Support Families.”
    • Consider the most requested resources and most common needs that families are asking for. What does your program know about your families? Start there. You do not have to do everything at once – instead, build your community partnerships over time, piece by piece.
  • Be prepared to answer the 5 W’s and How
    • WHAT is it you need or are looking for? A specific type of resource or service? A collaboration where a community organization partners with your program to offer their services? Or informational resources (i.e. flyers, handouts, etc.) to share with the families from your program?
    • WHO is the target audience? Letting organizations know that we work with families and children from birth to 5 can give a clear perspective and make sure their services align with your needs.
    • WHO are you? Why is your program valuable as a partner?
    • WHERE & WHEN – Is this a virtual effort? In person? What works best for both sides? When do you need the information? If you’re planning an event/workshop together (virtual or in-person), when is that going to occur and do you have enough time to prepare?
    • WHY is this community partnership necessary? Strive to have a clear purpose in these collaborations, particularly when working “outside of the box” from the organization’s typical way of providing support or services.
    • HOW do you envision the collaboration working? Consider that some community groups already have an existing way of working with people and/or groups. This may require that your program adapt to their requirements and expectations, if possible
      • Be persistent, these organizations are busy, too. If you send an e-mail and they don’t respond, follow up with a phone call stating your name, contact information, reason for reaching out and let them know you are available to talk.
      • *Click on the image below for a sample e-mail/letter template to use when reaching out to community organizations.

Where can I search for community organizations to partner with?

  • QSLA – Check out our Concrete Supports infographics here and here! The agencies listed are local, largely public and full of services and resources our families can benefit from.  
  • Online searches & applications – Take advantage of Google, Facebook (both your friends and available support groups), Nextdoor, Craigslist, etc.
  • Resource hubs211LA, First 5 LA Resource List, LA Food Bank
  • Reach out to your network – other early educators, your staff, families you serve, your own family & friends, etc.)
  • Family leaders, family members, or staff that work in the community may have local information that falls in-line with what your program is searching for. Check-in with them to see what their funds of knowledge are.
  • Explore local community organizations – Don’t forget to include local community learning spaces like libraries, museums, religious institutions, or other organizations. These partners can help further engage families who are disproportionately underserved by bringing educational and other opportunities to your early learning program
  • Check out local businesses – Local businesses often make donations to local programs or offer special benefits or discounts for certain situations. Reach out and see what may be available. It never hurts to ask!

It is our hope that these tips provide you with ideas and guidance as you prepare to venture out into community partnerships. The reality is, you will never know what is possible until you knock on those doors and ask. Your early learning programs and the families you work with are worth the effort!

Sharing Resources with Families

Once you have collaborated with community organizations and gathered helpful resources, it’s important to let families know you have resources if they’re looking for them. You and your early learning program are a source of support in times of need. Here are various ways you can highlight these community resources to the families you work with, most of which can be adapted virtually:  

For more ideas on how to share resources with families, check out our Family Engagement tip on “Supporting Families with Concrete Support in Challenging Times.  

Community Partners: Who Would You Like to Learn About?

In January 2022, QSLA will be hosting a guest panel with community organizations to share their resources and services with you, our providers! Is there a specific organization and/or type of service/resource that you would like to see present at this panel? Please fill out this 2-question survey to make your voice heard and help us bring those organizations that you most want to hear from!

Community partnerships are essential for helping our children and families be resilient, supported, and connected. What’s more, these types of collaborations convey that our early learning programs listen to families and invite them to be active partners in their child’s early learning experience. Family engagement is everyone’s business – from communities to educational programs – and we all play a key role. After all, we are all part of this village and supporting healthy children & families!

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 6 years, including having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer as a youth development promoter in Costa Rica. In conjunction with Quality Start Los Angeles, Cristina is passionate about supporting families to feel empowered in the changing landscape of their surroundings with their children’s wellbeing at the forefront.  She is a champion of strengths-based systems and services that build resilient families and youth.