Family Engagement Newsletter Archive | Archivo de boletines de compromiso familiar

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September 2021 | Setiembre 2021

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Working With Families to Support Young Dual Language Learners

Did you know that in 2016 California repealed Prop 227 which required education only in English? We at QSLA understand that many people reading this post grew up with this educational policy, but recent education policies have changed to reflect a better understanding of the value of the cultural, social-emotional, and educational benefits of bi/multi-lingualism. In fact, in 2018 the California State Superintendent announced the Global CA 2030 initiative, a call to action, urging families, educators, and legislators to support a multilingual California, where students are proficient in more than one language! 

As many of you know, QSLA is leading the Dual Language Learner Initiative, with a focus on sharing research highlights and tangible strategies that can help families support their young dual language learners develop their home language and English. Most importantly, we share the belief that a child’s family, their home language, and their culture are strengths they bring to our early learning programs.

This month, our Family Engagement tip focuses on how our early learning programs can support dual language learners (DLL) and their families. We will specifically cover the importance of dual language development, how we can partner with families to support their child’s language development, and key steps our programs and staff can take to support this process.

The Importance of Dual Language Development and Families’ Cultural Identities

While there are many benefits to dual language development, we will focus on a few with a particular emphasis on culture, cognitive development, and long-term success. Before reading on, check out the call out box on the right for key terms to support everyone’s learning. 

Cultural Implications

An integral part of a family’s identity is their culture, tied inextricably with their home language. For families, passing on their home language to their child strengthens their child’s connections to their culture, family, and overall identity. As Lourdes C. Rovira, an advocate for educational and linguistic rights of immigrant students, shared in her research in 2008, “Losing one’s language includes losing one’s roots.” When children lose or never learn their home language, they lose the ability to speak and connect directly with grandparents, aunts, cousins, and ultimately lose unbelievably valuable family connection.

What’s more, if a child develops a positive sense of self in relation to their culture and where they come from, they feel a sense of belonging and connection that grounds them in their family and provides a positive sense of identity. This is particularly important for a child managing two or more cultural backgrounds – their family’s roots and the U.S. culture they are growing up in.

Myths and Facts About Bilingualism

Myth: Bilingualism is not valued.

Fact: Bilingualism is valued in schools.

As we alluded to in the beginning of this post, our education system in California now sees bilingualism as a strength! This is seen in various educational policies and programs that have come forward, including these:

  • CA Master Plan for Early Learning and Care set a goal to provide specialized training for teachers to address DLL development, update material that is culturally and linguistically responsive to DLL and their families and develop identification and assessment for DLLs.
  • English Learner (EL) Road Map provides guidance to local educational agencies (LEAs) on welcoming, understanding, and educating the diverse population of students who are English learners attending California public schools.
  • Dual Immersion (DI) programs in California have doubled from 2010 to 2016 from 229 to 407 programs. Dual Immersion programs provide education in more than one language.

Fact: Bilingualism is valued professionally!

 Bilingualism is seen as an asset in the workforce.

  • Worldwide, bilingualism is seen as a strength!  As more research comes out on the benefits of bilingualism, its’ value and the number of bilingual individuals is increasing in the United States.
  • Did you know that in California, the demand for bilingual speakers has doubled from 2010 to 2015? Especially for Spanish and Chinese speakers!
  • Bilingualism is increasingly valued in the workforce, particularly in healthcare, finance, customer service sectors, and legal services.
  • Bilingual speakers can obtain a California Bilingual Differential Pay, wherein they earn about $5,400 more annually. 

When we support a child’s dual language development, we give them the opportunity to obtain a career with a higher income and more professional opportunities.  

Myth: Mixing languages is a deficit.

This perspective is often due to societal views of switching from one language to another and believing that individuals do these when they do not know a language well.

Fact: Mixing languages is a strength.

As it turns out, mixing languages is a strength! Switching from one language to another (also known as code-switching) is common and is both grammatically and communicatively appropriate for our young learners. These young learners are using all the language skills and knowledge they must try and express themselves. When individuals code-switch:  

  • They show a strength in their ability to emphasize thoughts or capture attention.
  • They show the ability to empathize with others as they choose the ideal terms and language to communicate best with their audience

Explore the video below for an example of code-switching twins! In this video, we hear a set of parents speaking to their twin children, with the mother speaking in English and the father speaking in Spanish.

As for a child’s cognitive development, the bilingual brain is constantly working as it chooses what language to communicate in best. These skills are transferred into other areas. Take a look at the infographic below to explore 6 of the many brain-building benefits of bilingualism.

With time, children will gradually fine tune the differences between languages. What is most important is that young dual language learners receive constant exposure and the opportunity to speak the two+ languages.

Key Steps to Prepare Our Programs & Staff

As we move to create more inclusive environments for dual language learners and their families, our program and staff may need support and further learning to identify and implement best practices for dual language development and cultural inclusion. What can our program and staff do to prepare? 

  1. Learn more about dual language learners and their language development process. Ensure your program staff participate in trainings, identify the cultures and languages in your program, and explore resources around cultural inclusion and DLL practices. Consider those provided on our DLL Initiative Professional Development page or our DLL Resources page!
  2. Create a shared vision within your program regarding DLL practices in each classroom and as a whole program. As mentioned previously, consistency is the name of the game when it comes to language exposure and learning. Whether your early learning program is a center-based program serving over 100 children in several groups or a family child care program serving a dozen children, this work is best done when your team is on the same page! Consider these factors:
    • Who needs to have a voice in how your program supports DLLs? Families? Administrators? Educators?
    • Who needs more information to make informed decisions as part of these conversations? What resources or trainings can these individuals receive to have a broader understanding?
    • What roles and responsibilities need to be assigned to ensure consistent effort and follow through for young dual language learners and their families?
  3. Explore what practices and changes your program can implement to better welcome and collaborate with dual language learners and their families, such as these categories below:
    • Environmental Design & Family Visibility:
      • Create a Family Welcome Board where families can share pictures of their families and/or traditions, with invitations to share more over the course of the year
      • Select a wide variety of books and stories that reflect the languages and cultures of families served.  
  • Intentional Activity Design:
    • Offer read-aloud activities in languages of the families served
    • Host family events incorporating different languages and cultural backgrounds.  
    • Design dramatic play activities exploring a specific tradition or cultural experience of families in your program.  
  • Staff Language Skills:
    • Hire and assign staff that also speaks one of the home languages of the families in your early learning program, when possible
    • Prepare and support staff to use more vocabulary from DLL’s home languages, whether or not they are native speakers. (include these terms on labels around the classroom, in songs, in greetings, etc.)

For more information regarding these key strategies, check out our page on Professional Development as part of the Dual Language Learner Initiative for trainings and resources.

How Can We Partner with Families to Support Their Dual Language Learner?

Now that we have covered several of the primary benefits to bilingualism, we can dig into how we can work with families in support of their child’s dual language development.

  • Get to know the families in your early learning program!  Learn about their home language usage and what is important to them regarding language and culture. Look at the Personalized Oral Language Learning (POLL) Resource, “Family Languages and Interests,” interview tool, a quick 2-page form to support your connection with families.
  • Demystify myths & share facts about bilingualism with families. Your program can share the facts and educational policies created above as well as this document from the Foundation for Child Development on “PreK-3rd Grade: Challenging Common Myths About Dual Language Learners.”
  • Share ideas and encourage families to maintain their home language! Need more information? Check out our Dual Language Learner Resource page!
  • Empower families by sharing research and strategies on language development. Being informed about what options and resources are available to them is a powerful step towards families feeling empowered to make their own family and language goals. More information can be found at:
  • Invite families to partner with staff to welcome and value children’s culture and identity! Explore what intentional strategies or activities work for your program and the families you work with, such as those shared in this photo slideshow below. For more ideas, check out the Resources for Early Educators tab of our DLL Initiative Resource page!
    • Label parts of the classroom,
    • Translate songs,
    • Teach songs in their language,
    • Share books,
    • Bring cultural items for play areas,
    • Bring cultural foods in for snack and meal times

As we continue embarking on this journey of supporting dual language learners and their families in our programs, let’s remember two key points underlying these efforts of ours:

Families matter and their voices are important!

Their home language and cultural identities are valuable and strengthen everyone’s experience.

When we base our interactions in these ideas, our family engagement work shines through in a way that honors the best in them and the best in ourselves.

  • Agirdag, O. (2015). The literal cost of language assimilation. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA, 2015), Chicago. also cited by
  • Anderson, J. A., Hawrylewicz, K., & Grundy, J. G. (2020). Does bilingualism protect against dementia? A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 27, 952-965.
  • Ball, J. (2011). UNESCO. Mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years:
  • Dewaele, J. M., & Wei, L. (2012). Multilingualism, empathy and multicompetence. International Journal of Multilingualism, 9(4), 352-366. Switch their focus of attention, reason about others’ mental states, and reflect on the structure of language itself.
  • Fan, S. P., Liberman, Z., Keysar, B., & Kinzler, K. D. (2015). The exposure advantage: Early exposure to a multilingual environment promotes effective communication. Psychological science, 26(7), 1090-1097.
  • Gándara, P. (2018). The economic value of bilingualism in the United States. Bilingual Research Journal, 41(4), 334-343.
  • Gumperz, J.J. & Cook-Gumperz, J. (2005). Making space for bilingual communicative practice. Intercultural Pragmatics, 2(1), 1–23.
  • Heller, M. (2020). Code-switching and the politics of language. In The bilingualism reader (pp. 163-176). Routledge.
  • Lee, J. S., and D. Suarez. (2009). A Synthesis of the Roles of Heritage Languages in the Lives of Immigrant Children. In The Education of Language Minority Immigrants in the United States, edited by T. G. Wiley, J. S. Lee, and R. W. Rumberger, 136–171. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters
  • Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive psychology, 41(1), 49-100.
  • Porras, D., Ee, J., & Gándara, P. (2014). Employer preferences: Do bilingual applicants and employees experience an advantage? In R. Callahan & P. Gándara (Eds.), The bilingual advantage language, literacy and the US labor market (pp. 234-257). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Rovira, L. C. (2008). The relationship between language and identity. The use of the home language as a human right of the immigrant. REMHU-Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana, 16(31), 63-81. – pg. 66
  • Salmona Madriñan, M. (2014). The Use of First Language in the Second-Language Classroom: A Support for Second Language Acquisition. Gist Education and learning research journal, 9, 50-66.
  • Shin, S. J. (2017). Bilingualism in schools and society: Language, identity, and policy. Routledge
  • Tseng, V., and Fuligni, A.J. (2000). Parent-adolescent language use and relationships among immigrant families with East Asian, Filipino, and Latin American backgrounds. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(2), 465-476.
  • Wong-Fillmore, L. (2000). Loss of family languages: Should educators be concerned? Theory into Practice, 39(4), 203-210.

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.

Diverse and Inclusive Family Engagement During the Holidays

In our October Family Engagement webinar focused on cultural diversity, Martha Tapia, a QSLA provider, shared “Knowing each other from the point of view of our cultures is very important in knowing each other individually.” We have previously discussed the concepts of diversity and inclusion as integral to building strong relationships with families in our early learning programs. A diverse and inclusive approach to family engagement demonstrates:   

  • The unique perspectives and experiences of families are valued by program staff
  • How to embrace and value one another’s differences, rather than ignore or fear them
  • How to treat one another with fairness, dignity and respect

This month, we will continue to explore diversity and inclusion through the lens of holiday celebrations. As December is a popular month for a wide array of celebrations among the families in your program, this is the perfect time to reflect on the ways our programs can take inclusive approaches to embracing the diversity of families’ holiday celebrations.

When done within the context of learning and family partnerships, the celebration of different holidays can serve as a bridge between home and school and help to foster stronger relationships between families.

Strategies to Encourage Diverse and Inclusive Celebrations

Consider these three strategies to support diverse and inclusive celebratory practices to enhance family engagement in your program.   

1. Take time for reflection: Before planning festivities for families around a particular holiday, take the time to self-reflect and recognize any biases that you may have related to the holiday, how it should or shouldn’t be celebrated, who should celebrate what holidays, etc. These assumptions and biases are normal and come from our personal childhood and adult experiences and impact the way we approach this particular topic in the classroom.  As you reflect, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I believe to be true about different holidays throughout the year?  
  • Do my beliefs about holidays match the beliefs that all of my families have?  Do I know the beliefs of my families
  • How comfortable do I feel in celebrating the holidays that the families in my program celebrate that are different from my own or in ways different from my own? Why do I have these feelings?

By thinking about these questions, you can identify strategies for stepping out of your comfort zone to make holiday celebrations an enriching and inclusive opportunity for the families in your program.   

2. Learn about your families: Take the time to ask the families in your classroom or program what and how they celebrate before making any plans. If possible, connect with families individually about these questions to support relationship building and positive communication.  As it may be hard to reach each family in-person, particularly with current health and safety guidelines, send home a quick paper or an on-line survey that asks each family:

  • What are your favorite family traditions?
  • What are your family’s favorite holidays, if any? How do you celebrate these holidays with your family (i.e. specific songs, stories, foods, etc.)?
  • Would you be interested in sharing these activities with the class or with other families?

This will go a long way towards making sure that each family feels engaged and represented in the planning and execution of classroom and program-wide celebrations.  If you have families that don’t celebrate holidays at all, make sure to work with them to identify ways to ensure that their beliefs are respected and represented throughout the different activities planned in the year. 

3. Go beyond the surface: As you begin planning, identify the learning opportunities that allow you to go beyond the surface of the celebration to dive into more content-rich experiences. Your planning should provide an opportunity for you, the families and the children to learn more about each other and share their own experiences.

Consider the following as you plan:   

  • Invite families to share a story, teach a song, or do a cooking lesson specifically related to their holiday traditions. Encourage the family to share about origins of this celebration through storytelling or the sharing of pictures or other artifacts (a special blanket, ornament, candle holder, toy, etc.). Families can learn the origin story of certain artifacts and then follow along with directions & materials for a craft activity! Similarly, if a holiday tradition is originally from another country, families can take the chance to teach children key words or songs in that language.
    • Virtual Idea: Welcome families to share these traditions with your class through a video call on Zoom or the platform of your choice. Make sure to include options that will set a festive mood like traditional and/or celebratory music, pictures, etc.
  • Have a family night where families share a traditional holiday craft activity or food with other families at the program. Ask families to share their favorite holiday song, in any language, to make a holiday playlist to listen to during the event. Make sure families with diverse backgrounds are part of the planning of this event.
    • Virtual Idea: Invite families to send pictures or videos of themselves showcasing these traditions. These can be shared in a group chat, Facebook group, digital newsletter, or even compiled into a special video to share with the program as a whole for a multicultural holiday celebration!
  • Share a list of books with families that focus on different cultures, celebrations, and holiday traditions that are reflective of those in your program. This will extend their learning and encourage conversations about diversity at home. Check out our themed holiday booklist here!

As always, consider the capacity of your program staff and what health and safety policies your program has in place and adapt these ideas accordingly!

Looking for more guidance in how to celebrate the holidays in your early learning program? Check out this 3-minute video from Child Care Resources!

Check out this Read-Aloud video of Kate DePalma’s book Let’s Celebrate! Special Days Around the World. It’s a great read for your early learning program.  

There are many ways to celebrate the holidays with families; what is important is that your celebrations reflect and involve the diverse families in your program. These celebrations are just one of many ways that you inclusively engage families throughout the year to create an environment where all children and families feel welcome. 

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.

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.

Welcoming Diverse Family Structures

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Our public view of nuclear family structures has changed in the past decades – from a “typical” family, mom and dad married with children – to more diverse family structures. Today, many families are made up of LGBTQ+ parents, single parents, separated/divorced parents, stepfamily members, multiethnic family members, foster/adoptive family members, multigenerational families, biological guardians, etc. What hasn’t changed is the importance of families. Yet, how can we ensure that our early learning programs are valuing and including families with an array of diverse structures?  

In our last Family Engagement tip, Family Partnerships III: Building Programs that Reflect Cultural Diversity, we touched on race, ethnicity, and culture as it pertains to welcoming families in our programs. This month, we continue the conversation on diversity by focusing on diverse family structures and how we can work alongside families to reflect on, prepare for, and create a welcoming environment for all families.

Where Are We Now? Reflecting With Families

As we highlighted throughout the Family Partnerships series, tapping into families’ insight helps us not only improve our early learning programs but also better serve and support families. Their perspectives can enhance our awareness of each family’s unique strengths and needs.

Let’s consider the following areas and related questions as we reflect upon our program’s inclusion and representation of diverse family structures, as inspired by Aimee Gelnaw at

Once our early learning programs have gathered this information and feedback from families, we can reflect and prepare to better support and include families.

Looking for help starting these conversations? Check out this 1-page survey that allows families to share about their family structure and preferences. This can be a great starting point for programs in this process while also learning about the families you serve!

Preparing for Change: Socioemotional Factors to Consider

Our early learning programs are often one of a child’s earliest experiences with diversity, as Dawn Kurtz shares in this piece by Rachael Stoffel for Child 360. This presents us with an incredible opportunity and responsibility, which can feel inspiring and daunting at different times. Here are key socioemotional factors to consider when reflecting on our beliefs and practices around diverse families: 

  • Recognizing differences helps foster confidence & respect in children: “You’re teaching children about respect for others. Celebrating the beauty in our differences helps to build a stronger community, diminishes prejudice or fear and enriches our society by creating global citizens in our children,” Kurtz shares.
  • Recognize our assumptions carry weight: We, as early educators, play an integral role in helping shape how a child views themselves, their family unit and the world. For instance, if we speak about families in exclusively “mom and dad” terms, kids notice. When we are aware, we can intentionally loop in examples and encourage children to realize that every family looks different.
  • Be open to curiosity and conversation about differences: “Remember, children are merely making observations of differences—what makes a boy or a girl, differences in skin color—they are not making assumptions that fall into what we, as adults, know as racism or prejudice,” Kurtz says. “Every conversation and interaction is a valuable opportunity to begin supporting inclusive ideas and identity development early in life.”
  • Emphasize the importance of family: Honoring diverse families boils down to the idea that every family is valuable and important. Making every family important in the classroom space is an excellent way to encourage your students to understand and respect the value of all families and not just the ones that look similar to their own families.

We have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to shape how children learn to view themselves and the world. What’s more, their views and experiences create a ripple effect that reaches their families – an effect that can be profound, healing, and supportive.

Making it Happen in Your Program

Now that your program and families have done the work – reflected, discussed, and prepared – let’s get to it! It’s time for action. Here are various ways to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for ALL families:

  • Recognize and respect families not attending activities or dropping off their child when they celebrate non-Christian holidays & traditions.
  • Incorporate a broader definition of family. This can include more spaces for family members on applications & more roles and titles to choose from on said forms.
  • Communicate with families well in advance of upcoming events and invite their participation either in planning or leading activities.
  • Ensure committees include a broad representation of family structures to have all voices heard and included.
  • Train staff on creating inclusive environments for all families, including practices like using preferred gender terms, using “family member” as an identifier instead of “mom” or “dad”, and checking in with families before assuming family member relationships.
  • Create spaces to include pictures of families like a “Families Gallery” that includes every family (including staff) in your program. Ensure that these photos are at eye-level to children and part of ongoing day-to-day conversation.
  • Invite family members and children to share their preferred pronouns, if they are comfortable doing so.
  • Adjust lyrics to common children’s songs to be more inclusive.
  • During Reading or Storytime:
    • Engage children in making their own books, especially “My Family” books. These can be displayed with other literature in the library, though make sure they are sturdy enough to be handled regularly by children.
    • Provide different books & stories representing family structures of those served. Ensure that these books are accessible and uniformly valued by program staff.
    • Survey families to ask what types of stories they want their children to learn about, specifically related to families and non-traditional topics like gender, adoption, divorce, grandparents, biological guardians, etc.
  • During Playtime
    • Add characters to dramatic play environments, like multiple sets of “family” figures so that children can select the grouping that most looks like their own families.
    • Invite family members to play time, offering story lines, roles, and games that utilize their perspective.
  • Make a conscious effort to include families around the holidays.
    • Ex. Moms from a same-gender couple for Mother’s Day,
    • Ex. Alternate options for children and families to feel included on days that don’t include them, such as those who don’t have biological parents or have foster parents.
  • Offer intentional events geared towards male engagement and non-traditional biological guardians like grandparents and aunts/uncles.
  • Use photos and prompts that encourage children to write, tell, or draw stories about all kinds of people and families.
  • Select and/or create songs that allow children identify with the people and experiences that they sing about. Use this as a launching pad to create a comfortable opportunity for children to discover and discuss differences.
  • Provide materials and opportunities for children and families to express their ideas about themselves, their families, and experiences.

Resources for Your Early Learning Program

Whether our program is just beginning the process of becoming a more inclusive classroom or has already taken great strides to do so, we can continue raising our expectations and learning from families. Cheers to the work you do in recognizing and appreciating all 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.

Family Partnerships III: Building Programs that Reflect Families’ Cultural Diversity

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Our culture can shape how we view ourselves, our surroundings, and our place in the world.  We are often most comfortable in the cultures where we grow up and feel most accepted by those whose cultures are most similar to our own. Let’s consider our own family gatherings and how easy it might be to reflect on the questions below:

  • How do greetings work amongst family members?
  • What customs does your family have around food? Who cooks?
  • What games or activities do the children do?
  • What type of music is played? Does anyone dance?
  • What traditions or rituals are involved?

Cultural customs that may feel comfortable and familiar for someone could, in fact, cause discomfort and a feeling of being out of place for another person. Onto a bigger question – how do we feel in an environment where our culture isn’t reflected? Do our early learning programs reflect the races, cultures, languages, and ethnicities of the children and families that we serve?

In previous Family Partnerships tips, we discussed ways to gather information about families to support our programs. Some of that information helps us learn more about the languages, cultures, and customs of the families we serve. This month we will focus on how learning about families’ race, ethnicity, & culture, can strengthen our partnerships with families and improve implementation of culturally inclusive practices in our early learning programs.

Honoring Racial, Ethnic, & Cultural Identities

Thinking back to our family gathering scenario, how would we feel at someone else’s family gatherings when they have unfamiliar customs? We may enjoy exploring new customs or could feel uncomfortable or excluded as we don’t know our place in these environments. Similarly, how do we navigate cultural diversity with the young children and families we serve?

Why is it important to recognize families’ racial, ethnic, and cultural identities?

Let’s review what some of the research shows:

  • Cultural competency affects how children view themselves: Children bring their own cultural expectations, skills, abilities, and values into our programs. They also start to develop their self-concept from how others see them. To form positive self-concepts, children must honor and respect their own families and cultures and have others honor and respect these key facets of their identities too.
  • Children are aware of race and are acting on their own accord: A child’s ideas about their own race and others’ races are forming in early childhood, regardless of whether the topic of race is directly addressed, completely ignored, or actively suppressed in their classrooms1. Children as young as 3 months are aware of racial differences, and by the time they are preschoolers, they make choices, based on race, about with whom to play and how2
  • Early learning spaces lean towards highlighting white experiences, resulting in harmful consequences: Early learning environments and materials often reflect the values and beliefs prevalent in traditional white customs. When this isn’t noticed or counterbalanced with images or stories with lead characters from other cultures and races, the importance is placed on white early childhood experiences, and we miss opportunities to teach children that all races should be valued. As a result, white children may subconsciously learn that their race holds a privileged status compared to others, and non-white children may learn that their race does not3.
  • Children excel socially and intellectually when engaging with cultural education: Research shows that engaging children in culturally responsive educational experiences helps them:
    • 1) build their self-confidence and skills,
    • 2) increase their awareness, appreciation, and inclusion of diverse beliefs & cultures, and
    • 3) maximizes their academic achievement and educational success4.

Ultimately, young children are watching us and learning from us about how we handle issues of race and diversity; they pick up on what our values are and who we esteem. We need to lead by example in promoting awareness, understanding, and acceptance of races, ethnicities, and cultures similar and different from ours.

Reflecting on Our Culturally Inclusive Practices

Bringing our awareness of the importance and value of racially, ethnically, and culturally responsive practices to program can feel like challenge. We can start by observing our program’s representation and evidence of the races, ethnicities, and cultures of the families we serve.

There are several areas in which we can approach race, ethnicity, and culture with families in our early learning programs. Here are some questions to start the conversation:

  • Representation
    • Do families see themselves/their race & ethnicity represented in the visuals or pictures around the early learning program? 
    • What is our current practice for talking about appearance and bodily features? Do we create an environment where different facial features and skin tones are recognized, valued, and respected?
  • Languages
    • Are our early learning documents available for families in their preferred languages? How do we support & include families who speak other languages?
    • What supports or plan do we have in place to support multilingual children’s early literacy development? How do we work with families to support their home language learning at home? Check out our Family Engagement tip on Early Literacy for more ideas.
  • Routines & Customs – including food, clothing, music, & personal care
    • Food: Does our program explore foods from different cultures? Are families invited/involved in this food exploration? (Ex. Diverse ethnic cuisines, Kosher food, vegetarians, etc.)
    • Clothing: Does our program talk about different types of clothing and their significance, particularly as it relates to the culture and ethnicity of the families we serve? (Ex. Hijabs, burqas, yarmulkes, turbans, bindis, beards, etc.)
    • Music: Does our program listen to music in different languages? Or listen to songs that explore different holidays, traditions, countries, etc.?
    • Personal Care: Do we create awareness, understanding and respect among children for each child & family’s personal care? (Ex. natural hair, hair styles, etc.)
  • Celebrations & Holidays
    • What is our current practice for talking about holidays? What celebrations and holidays do we pay attention to & incorporate in our programs? Do they represent the families we serve? How do we include families? (Ex. Hanukkah, Passover, Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, Holi, Diwali, Lunar New Year)
    • Do we ask families what holidays they celebrate and how they celebrate? Would they be willing to share their holiday traditions with our early learning program? Do they share now? 
    • What is our current practice for talking about religious & ethnic clothing and appearance? Would families be willing to share about their cultural clothing & accessories? 

Looking for a handy way to begin observing your sites practices? Here is a Family Engagement Observation Form for center-based programs and another observation form for family child care programs; these can help you reflect on your welcoming environment.

Family Perspectives: We can partner with families in this process by inviting them to also observe our programs, specifically paying attention to these points listed above. How do they view the racial, ethnic, and cultural awareness, understanding & inclusion of our programs?

This approach can look like:

  1. Inviting individual family representatives to join a committee focusing on Culture & Diversity, which could handle this observation process.
  2. Preparing & discussing the importance and approach at hand with these family representatives, highlighting the values that our program has at the forefront of this process.
  3. Adapting & providing observation forms and/or checklists for family representatives to use while evaluating our program.
  4. Debriefing afterwards, both family representatives and early educators sharing their observations and impressions of how our early learning program is approaching the races, ethnicities, and cultures of the families we serve.
  5. Discussing what these findings mean for our program; specifically, what changes are needed and wanted? How can we use our programs resources and family strengths to address them? How can we work together to implement these changes?

For more ideas on identifying what family’s needs & strengths are around diversity, check out our Family Engagement Tip – Family Partnerships II: Identifying Family Strengths and Needs to Better Support Families.

What Approaches Can We Take to Teach About Race & Ethnicity?

As early educators, we are familiar with the importance of building relationships with families of diverse backgrounds and may take different approaches in doing so. Though this tip focuses on how we engage with families, let’s dig into the ways we teach children about race. Check out the box below for teaching approaches to reflect on, as shared by NAEYC.

“Color-blind” approach: We don’t directly talk about race, ethnicity, or related identities.

  • May send harmful message about not recognizing or feeling comfortable acknowledging part of identity
  • Adults here: Leave children to develop their own understandings about race, ethnicity, culture

“Color-aware” approach: We intentionally teach children about race & culture.

  • Tells children that we see and value their race & culture because it is an important part of who they are.
  • Adults here: Bring up race, ethnicity & culture in direct and positive ways, take advantage of teachable moments

Social justice approach: We empower children to play a role in acting against discrimination.

  • Help children learn how to actively recognize and act on related injustices
  • Adults here: Seek out teachable moments that specifically have to do with unfairness or discrimination

No matter the approach, children and families become aware of what and how we choose to approach race and other aspects of culture in our programs. Ultimately, we can explore and choose opportunities to infuse aspects of children’s learning & family engagement with color awareness and social justice connections. Even better? We can work alongside families to do this intentionally and with their voices in mind.

Making Changes: Implementing Cultural Practices Alongside Families

Now we have explored what culturally inclusive changes families want to see from our programs. What ideas can you start with to provide more welcoming environments for all families?

  • Can you get signs & documents translated?
  • Can you find pictures of different cultures or families to put on the walls? Are you able to purchase new books or check them out from the library that represent the children/families? 
  • Can families help provide books, pictures, share music, songs, foods, etc. with classes?
  • Can families provide clothes specific to their culture for dramatic play?
  • Can families provide empty food containers of traditional ethnic or cultural foods for the play kitchen?

For more ideas on how to collaborate with families directly, check out our related Family Engagement Tip – Family Partnerships I: Gathering Family Feedback for Stronger Programs.

Taking Action in Our Programs

Here are actionable tips and ideas for including families and their cultures in our programming:

  • Invite families to share stories in class! This can also include learning new words in their home language.
  • Be intentional with story time by including stories representing families of different races, skin tones, & languages.
  • Check out the next section on reading below for more tips!
  • Incorporate religious holidays into program calendars based on families’ religious backgrounds.
  • Make sure to include images related to family’s holidays and traditions throughout program settings.
  • Incorporate images with people of different skin tones, cultural clothing, appearances.
  • Ensure that program documents, website, and messaging aimed towards families are available in their preferred languages. 
  • Encourage families to share copies of their family pictures to include in the program’s family bulletin boards and group learning environments!
  • Invite families to bring in traditional toys.
  • Offer toys reflecting different facial features, skin tones, & hair textures.
  • Invite families to bring cultural clothing for dramatic play, possibly even setting up a “show-and-tell” activity for them to share about the tradition and significance of clothing items. 
  • Offer a family potluck activity for families to share their favorite traditional foods!
  • Showcase foods from different families each week or each month!
  • Share stories about different foods, encouraging children to share about the most common or favorite foods they eat at home. 
  • Allow kids to notice & talk about differences in appearance, skin tone, languages, etc.
  • Create teachable moments focusing on observing, understanding, including, and appreciating differences.
  • Share these conversations with families via letters home, family nights, one-on-one conversations, making sure to highlight the importance of these discussions in creating a positive self-identity. 

Reading Our Way to a Culturally Responsive Classroom

As NAEYC shares in this piece, reading is a powerful tool we can use to address race, ethnicity, and culture in our early learning programs. Here is a brief list of tips for selecting diverse children’s literature

  • Base your selection on quality. Books should not just teach a lesson but should have a good story, high-quality text, and engaging illustrations.
  • Choose books that help children see themselves. Include books that mirror different aspects of identity (e.g., race, setting, beliefs) of children in the class, so that they can imagine themselves in the story.
  • Choose books that help children expand their understanding of others in this multicultural world. Include books that introduce children to new people, places, and concepts that they may not yet have encountered.
  • Look widely for texts. Be alert to new titles related to diversity. In addition, the library can be a great source for out of print titles that appeal to children and relate to urban issues and diversity.
  • Use text sets. Expose children to different perspectives. These book collections may be organized by theme or may feature the work of a highly accomplished author or illustrator of color.

The following YouTube video shares Sayantani Gupta, a doctor who practices narrative medicine, speaking about the importance of diversity in children’s literature – for children’s sake and for a better future. 

As we choose diverse children’s books for our programs, we also have a chance to include families in the conversation. Can they join us for read-alouds? Share their own stories? Act along with us as puppets in a story? Join us for a related cultural activity after story time? Having family members present for these occasions can emphasize how valuable diversity is all around us.

Reading Resources: Check out the following diversity-themed reading resources, including booklists, short stories, and articles from Quality Start Los Angeles and other great websites! 

When we celebrate the beauty and variety in our differences within our early learning programs, we promote understanding and respect with the children and families we serve. Showing families that we see and value all aspects of them—including attributes related to race, ethnicity, and culture—is a critical step in helping them feel welcome and connected to our program staff and other families.

QSLA icon - lightbulb

Looking Ahead: If you found this Family Engagement tip to be helpful and informative, keep an eye out for next month’s tip on celebrating diverse family structures! 

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 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.

Resources from the Field

QSLA has gathered activities and early learning practices that you and/or your fellow early educators have shared into the following resource documents. Click on the images below for the full PDF documents which include links and activities to support your work with children and families. Check back soon for more Resources from the Field!

QSLA ha recopilado actividades y prácticas de aprendizaje temprano que usted y/o sus compañeros/as educadores/as tempranos/as han compartido en los siguientes documentos de recursos. Haga clic en las imágenes a continuación para ver los documentos PDF completos que incluyen enlaces y actividades para apoyar su trabajo con niños/as y familias. ¡Vuelva pronto para obtener más recursos del campo!

Enhancing Early Literacy Through Family Engagement |
Mejorando alfabetización por medio de compromiso familiar
April 2021 | Abril 2021

Encouraging Early Math Habits At Home |
Animando habilidades de matemáticas tempranas en el hogar
May 2021 | Mayo 2021

Welcoming Families with a Trauma-Informed Approach |
Dando una bienvenida a familias de manera informada sobre trauma
June 2021 | Junio 2021

Incorporating Family Voice & Sharing Supports with Families | Compartiendo Apoyos con las Familias
August & September 2021 | Agosto y Septiembre 2021

Building Programs that Reflect Families' Cultural Diversity | Desarrollando programas que reflejan la diversidad cultural de familias
October 2021 | Octubre 2021

Looking for more great resources?//¿Busca más recursos geniales?

Browse Quality Start LA’s Resources for Early Educators page for great information & resources on topics like Health, Diversity & Equity, Family Engagement, Special Needs & Inclusion, and more! Need something to share with families? Check out Quality Start LA’s Resources for Families page as well!

Explore la página Recursos para educadores/as tempranos/as de Quality Start LA para obtener información y recursos excelentes sobre temas como salud, diversidad y equidad, compromiso familiar, necesidades especiales e inclusión, ¡y más! ¿Necesita algo para compartir con familias? ¡Consulte también la página Recursos para familias de Quality Start LA!

Family Partnerships II: Identifying Strengths and Needs to Better Support Families

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As we transition into summer, many of us are reflecting on the past year and how we supported our families. What strategies did we use and how effective were they? How did we collaborate with families for mutual support? What did we learn from our family engagement practices? As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Last month we tuned into a key aspect of family partnerships, specifically gathering feedback from families to build stronger programs.

This month we focus on bringing a strengths-based approach to our family needs assessments. We will discuss what a strengths-based mindset looks like in family partnerships, key factors to consider, and what strategies and tools can support this process.

What is a strengths-based approach?

As we mentioned in our Family Engagement tip in December 2020, a strengths-based approach is a way of interacting with families that is grounded in understanding and developing the strengths and capabilities of the families we serve. It starts from the belief that each person has unique strengths and capabilities that determine their evolving story, instead of allowing perceived limitations to define them.  This capacity building effort is a process and a goal that evolves with time.

A strengths-based approach to family engagement holds onto two key assumptions: 1) all families have strengths, and 2) All families are doing their best, given their reality. When we connect with families, making sure to build trusting and open relationships, we get to understand what their reality looks like.

We need to build relationships with families if we want them to feel comfortable sharing their strengths and needs with us. Check out this infographic below for specific ways to build relationships with families to build trust and show our support for them.

Moving on from "Family Needs Assessment"

Typically, family needs assessments focus on what families hope to gain from their early learning program or the ways the program can support the family that will improve the child’s well-being. Here we hope to flip that mindset by rethinking this process and offering a family strengths and needs assessment. Reimagining our typical family needs assessment into a family strengths and needs assessment allows us to value families as equal partners with valuable insights and capabilities, in turn leveling up the work we do together. Our family engagement moves from being one-sided, “Early educators help families because they have these needs”, to a more symmetrical style of “Early educators and families work together to help meet family needs”. This creates the opportunity to recognize family strengths and empower the families, particularly in support of their child’s wellbeing. What’s more, when we show families that we value their strengths, they may feel more comfortable discussing their needs. 

Going back to our first assumption: all families have strengths – they have something to share! These are often known as funds of knowledge which consist of the everyday knowledge and skills that contribute to the overall success of the family, which are passed down from generation to generation. This knowledge comes from life experiences, particularly relevant information to their location, culture, local norms, social groups, etc. 

We already tap into a family’s knowledge of their child. However, each family has so much knowledge that we may not be considering. Check out this box on the right for other funds of knowledge that families have.

What are some funds of knowledge that families have?

  • Home language
  • Learning & communication styles
  • Family values and traditions
  • Location & transportation methods
  • Friends & family network
  • Community & safety systems
  • Caregiving
  • Household habits & chores
  • Family occupations
  • Educational & recreational activities
  • Media (TV, movies, books, etc.)
  • Health knowledge

Preparing for a Strengths and Needs Assessment

Taking a strengths-based approach often means our programs will consider different preparations before changing our family engagement practices. We can prepare families and staff by creating comfortable opportunities to discuss, train, and practice for this type of approach.


  1. Actively choose a strengths-based mindset: In addition to learning about a strengths-based mindset and setting up programming accordingly, we as program staff reflect and incorporate this mindset into all of our interactions with families; whether that’s direct (speaking to families and children) or indirectly (speaking about families). We are intentional and consistent in actively choosing a strengths-based mindset.
  2. Recognize what we bring to the interaction: This includes our own ideas, biases, expectations, assumptions, emotions, judgement, etc. Being aware of our thinking and perspective helps us get closer to assuming families are doing their best and have something to share.
  3. Consider the family member’s perspectives: Families can come with different experiences in tow; some may be eager to receive support and others may be skeptical or cautious in sharing and opening up. Many families can feel a mix of emotions. One of the most powerful messages we can share with a family is to clearly say “I am not here to dwell on negative aspects of your family’s life, but rather work with your family to identify goals and support your family in moving forward.
  4. Build trusting relationships: Consider how to empathetically approach families. Conversations on needs assessments or other family matters can feel intrusive and judgmental if approached without building some connection with the family. Check out our previously shared infographic for some ideas.
  5. Be careful about making assumptions about families strengths and needs: We can work with families to co-create a full panorama of their strengths and needs. This can ensure that we share requested resources or supports, not those we may think of based on the assumption that a family has a certain need or strength.


  • Choose what strategies work for your program and families to capture family strengths and needs:
    • One-on-one strategies:
      • A casual conversation with a family with where the provider takes notes on strengths/needs during or afterwards,
      • A guided conversation between a provider and family to collaboratively fill out assessment forms,
      • Provide families with assessment forms, with a provider available for on-the-spot assistance
    • Remote alternative: Provide families with assessments forms (electronically or printed) to complete on their own time – with provider contact information available for questions and/or instructions or video provided for guidance
    • Group settings: Offer large sessions for step-by-step demonstrations to support families on how to fill out assessments, where providers can direct the overall group and/or attend to each family.
  • Choose or create tools that assist with collecting family strengths and needs:
  • Train staff on the selected tool(s). Make sure to include practice scenarios to complete the tool with different types of families/family members to further help staff feel ready to adapt.
  • Decide how to capture insights from these assessments to get an overview of all families’ strengths and needs. This will be particularly helpful for planning program activities and family service plans.
    • General counts: What strengths, needs, and/or interests show up the most across all families in the program?
    • Individual family service plans: Once we have worked with a family to identify these strengths, needs, and interests, we can co-create a plan that works for everyone and counts on the family’s strengths and our programs services.

Of the ideas shared here, consider how to adapt certain suggestions and/or select the ones that are most suitable for your program’s capacity and requirements in a way that creates a comfortable environment for families to share. Family child care programs can simplify many of these ideas and tools for their purposes and family interaction styles. With a little creativity and communication, these implementation steps can also be completed in person or virtually.

Strategies for a Strengths-Based Approach

Breaking it down: A Strengths-Based Needs Assessment in Parts

Once our programs have laid the groundwork for supportive relationships with families, picked our key tools, and prepped our staff, we can start up the process of a family strengths and needs assessment. These next steps are a flexible guideline that programs can adjust for their protocol and capacities.

  1. Get to know family strengths. What is working? Starting with a family’s strengths helps start this type of interaction on an empowering note. It is important to explicitly acknowledge and support what a family is already doing and what is going well.
  2. Co-identify family needs. What may not be working or could work better? We can share previous examples of how we have supported and collaborated with other families to clearly show how a family can benefit from opening up and sharing their needs. This can include the child’s specific needs and the family’s overall needs. Here we can check-in with families to touch base on which needs they do or do not want program support in addressing.

What to do with this information: Macro and Micro Levels

          3. Share program supports and resources: Depending on how a family’s assessment was completed (on their own or in person), we need to be timely in recognizing what is shared with us. Now we can bring our program supports and services to the table, clearly explaining what we can do as a team. It is important to answer any pending questions or clarify any offerings.

         4. Co-create a plan that utilizes family strengths and program offerings to address family needs:

    • Integrate families’ strengths into programming: A family’s strengths can be used in combination with program offerings to meet their needs. Once we have reviewed the family’s strengths and needs as well as the program offerings, we can co-design a plan that take advantage of the strengths and works for both parties!
    • Suggest and facilitate collaborations across families such as two families helping each other out with drop-off and pick-up times if they are having issues with scheduling transportation, if both families are comfortable.
    • Create a provider-family representative committee after a round of assessments to work with family representatives in brainstorming creative solutions that programs & families can execute, based on the assessment data and insights found.
    • Offer group or program-wide encounters with community agencies to address many families’ needs on a larger-scale by connecting them to community supports like resource centers, job training programs, etc.  
    • Schedule program activities directly addressing families’ needs using in-house program services like parenting classes, family game nights, etc.
    • Nominate and prepare “family leaders” who have had positive and empowering experiences with the assessment and resulting collaborative support with the program. These family leaders can support new or less engaged families with these assessments by sharing their story, encouraging these families, and supporting the trust between the program and families.

*For more ideas in addition to above, check out last month’s family engagement tip on gathering family feedback for stronger programs for ways to collaborate with families on program efforts.

           5. Periodically reassess plans with family: What’s working? What needs another look or more suitable support? These conversations are a good chance to share changes, new needs, program offerings, etc. that may affect the supports/services selected for families. Consider asking for feedback from each family:

    • After Completing the family strengths and needs assessments, survey families on how comfortable the approach was, what was helpful, what can be improved, etc.
    • After Collaborating over a long period of working together (ex. 6 months, 1 program year), survey or interview a family to debrief on their experience with this approach. Gathering wisdom from older families who have experience with this approach in our program can help us better prepare and support new families. Check out more of these nuggets of wisdom from page 27 of WestEd’s Assessment of Family Strengths and Needs.

As early educators, we have all come across strong and capable families. Taking a strengths-based approach to reimage the family needs assessment is our chance to believe in and empower families! What’s more, we will find that families and providers will experience more confidence and bring out the best in each other.

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 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.

Family Partnerships I: Gathering Family Feedback for Stronger Programs

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Many of us have seen this pandemic as a time to reevaluate our lifestyles and our work. With blurred boundaries between work and home, a sense of mutual support, understanding, and empathy is key for providers in moving forward with family engagement.

As we continue exploring what family engagement can look like, we have a chance to tap into the voices and strengths of the families we work to simultaneously improve our program quality and bolster relationships with families. Each family has their own funds of knowledge; these consist of the everyday knowledge and skills that contribute to the overall success of the family, which are passed down from generation to generation. This knowledge comes from life experiences, particularly relevant information to their location, culture, local norms, and social groups. In our February 2020 family engagement tip, we touched on the funds of knowledge families have and how we can shift our perspective regarding the ways families can collaborate with and provide input to a program.

This month, we focus on how to involve families in developing, implementing, and assessing our program’s procedures and routines. We will dig deeper into what this approach can look like and how to involve families in each phase.

In order to make informed decisions for our programs, we rely on different sources of information to figure out what works, what needs aren’t being met, and what possible changes can be made. This data serves as a compass, giving our proposed changes direction and purpose. Our programs typically follow a cycle of phases when we bring about these changes. We will cover each of these phases in the next sections, paying particular attention to how family partnerships can work at each point.  

Phase 1: Getting Data – Tapping into Families’ Perspectives

A classic way we are used to working with families is gauging their opinion about and needs from our program. Whether we are conducting routine surveys for annual family needs assessments, program evaluation, or managing a more specific situation (i.e. COVID-19 procedures, logistic details for a group celebration), there are many options for how to formally or informally gather this type of feedback from families. Here are some ideas:

  • Town Hall Meetings: These communal gatherings can be used for program updates, announcements, planning, evaluations, etc. Town Halls are best used for communication and coordination, like asking for feedback on specific program aspects, gathering ideas for solutions to current challenges or opportunities our program may be facing. *In a virtual Town Hall, you might record the event so you can review and replay the comments shared to make sure you heard them all and integrate them into next steps, as applicable. These can pair with focus groups to dig deep on potential solutions.
  • Long Form Surveys: Longer surveys involve many in-depth questions and are best used for needs assessments and program evaluations. This method works well with family interviews to strengthen relationships and enhance family supports, especially in getting a baseline. Use online or paper surveys depending on what works best for your program. 
  • Focus Groups or Group Evaluations: Focus groups involve a smaller group of family representatives (6-10 people is best) to have an in-depth discussion or evaluation of a particular topic or program, led by a staff member with prepared questions. Ideally these representatives from different backgrounds and family compositions) can create opportunities for deeper, enriching conversations on the variety of family needs and strengths. This approach can work virtually and in person, with proper precautions and may create more accessible time frames for family members.
  • Shorter Inquiries: These shorter forms are best for simple questions and quick opinions. Consider an interactive method at the entrance of your early learning program!
    • Token boxes – These are great for Yes/No, multiple-choice, and scale-based questions. Ex. On a scale from 1 to 5, how much does your family use our Family Literacy Activities?
    • Short Response Survey – Consider limiting the amount and complexity of questions for a short survey! Nutrition Survey with 5 short questions gauging interest on FE activities, home practices, learning preference, meeting availability (time/day).
    • Sticky board/whiteboard – Great way to host brainstorming sessions for on-the-go family members! Help us brainstorm ideas for our Family Culture Night!

Pro Tips:

Some key details to consider when setting up these methods include –

Using data can bring a fresh perspective and open our eyes to deeper issues that we may have been unaware of or been unintentionally blind to.

When we ask families what they think about program matters and how they can be improved, we communicate a message that says “We value what you have to share and see you as a key player of this team.” Not only does this strengthen our relationship with families, but it also opens up more opportunities to collaborate – as is shared in this next section.

Phase 2: Now What? – Involving Families in Process Design

Now that we have all this feedback and data that show what program aspects are meeting and/or not meeting family needs, we can shift in dreaming and designing solutions or changes. How can we continue engaging families in the conversation as this information is processed, needs are recognized, and potential solutions are put forward?

Here are 4 strategies for engaging family partners, inspired by this article from the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality:

  1. Create varied and flexible family partner roles.

We can create roles and opportunities within the program for family members, regardless of their race/ethnicity, educational background, gender, disability or socioeconomic status, to participate, especially in ways that count on their innate capacity as parents/primary caregivers. Family members can take up diverse roles such as those shared in the “Partnering with Families” graphic below:

These are the type of roles that we want to have at each of our early learning programs to ensure strong family partnerships. Each of the roles is listed below in greater detail:

  • Collaborators: Family members participating in focus groups, program clean ups, or participating in pilot processes that come forward from families’ feedback.
  • Decision-makers & choosers: Family members can be representatives in Parent Advisory Councils, School Site Council, and/or parent leadership groups. Groups like these can serve as spaces for family partners to dissect data and feedback from families’ and from there, rank the priority of, and co-design potential solutions.
  • Advocates & Activists: Family members can lead informational or advocacy campaigns for program changes or wider policy issues, particularly in settings like Town Hall Meetings or District meetings.
  • Models: Family members can share their love of learning by volunteering for read-alouds, chaperoning trips or activities, or presenting a show-and-tell on their favorite topic!
  • Monitors: Each family member already takes on this role for their child; intentional communicating information between home and early learning programs to best support early learning so family and educator are on the same page.
  • Encouragers: Consider family members who can encourage and uplift other families to participate in different ways based on their strengths. As an example, encouragers can also volunteer to do themed read-alouds focusing on positive self-image (through topics such as heritage or emotional identity).
  • Supporters: Family members who feel engaged in a program, use their strengths and skills to support their early learning program. This ultimately supports the needs of their own child.

Note: Families may exemplify many of these roles during their time at your program. We want to encourage and provide opportunities for families to fulfill these different engagement roles to ensure everyone has a chance to engage in a way that feels comfortable and meaningful.  

  1. Make participation as approachable and convenient as possible.

Our programs can be welcoming and flexible for family partners that have signed onto these roles. Build empathy and trust from the beginning of the relationship; this can mean including ice breakers and other interactive opportunities to get to know other family partners, teachers, admin, etc.

Reach out to family members individually (in person or by phone), particularly making the effort to acknowledge their personal experiences as valuable. This personalized approach highlights the faith we have in family members as key players, especially when we invite them to discuss program and family engagement matters.

As for convenience, consider these ideas:

  • Meeting Times: Hosting in-person meetings outside of regular work hours to help with attendance barriers. We can use data from surveys to schedule meeting times and formats that are most convenient.
  • Meeting location: On a related note, programs and family partners can decide if virtual vs in-person meetings are most accessible for everyone.
  • Child Care: Providing child care during in-person meetings.
  • Alternative Participation Options: Our teams can also consider engagement opportunities that don’t require in-person attendance, such as 1) meetings that family members can call into, 2) surveys and questionnaires, and 3) helping promote events and sharing information.
  • Communication & Calendars: Whether these engagement opportunities are in-person or remote, our programs can strongly benefit from giving family members ample notice when possible; consider a shared family engagement calendar for specific projects over several months. Send plenty of reminders in multiple formats including personal invitations. Share agendas before events as well as key questions to discuss so family members can come prepared.
  • Language/Access and Inclusion: Engaging families who speak different languages or low literacy levels means our programs are better prepared when we have copies of translated documents or visuals ready to go ahead of time. Following up by checking in with family partners is a great way to ensure we are on the same page. 
  1. Leverage existing community groups and partnerships.

As mentioned before, including strengths-based questions in our needs assessment allows families to open up about their funds of knowledge. Community groups and family social networks can open up opportunities for creative collaboration between programs, families, and community groups. Families can share insight as to what community groups exist, their offerings, and background with supporting families.

  1. Empower family voices.

Family partners’ voices play an integral role in the success of family engagement. Not only can our programs offer environments where their voices are valued, but we can also offer information and background knowledge for more niche family engagement opportunities. Some of those environments include:

  • Leadership committees like: Parent Advisory Committees (PAC), Curriculum Committees, Hiring Committees, Beautification Committees, Family Event Committees, etc.
  • Parent-Educator Conferences
  • Town Hall Meetings & District Meetings

Note for FCCs: While FCCS are not centers, and may not need or have capacity for a variety of committees, there is still much value in partnering with families for decision making and program improvements. Creating a more loosely structured Parent Advisory Committee to support with decision making, best ways to meet needs of new families, etc. can work out for everyone’s best interest while meeting only once a month!

Skill-building opportunities can also help family partners develop their voice. Letting family partners build a meeting agenda and run meetings, bringing them to district meetings, and giving them opportunities to participate in program leadership programs all help empower them in their capacities as leaders.

Collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder with families not only emphasizes their strengths, but also has the added benefit of building that family’s parental resilience; this key Protective Factor is foundational for building strong families.

Phase 3: Sharing the News! – Communicating Results with Families

Let’s fast forward; once we have collaborated with family partners to implement solutions or changes, we have an incredible opportunity to bring back the news to all the families we work with! Incorporating results into our communication with families not only serves to celebrate what we have worked together to accomplish but also brings forward transparency to program efforts. Above all, these results highlight that families are valued as partners and we listened to them. In the long run, this effort to communicate results also signals to less-engaged families that they are welcome to work more closely with us! There are plenty of reasons to share results with families, why wouldn’t we! However, maintaining momentum after working hard together can be a challenge.

Here are some approachable methods to sharing results from these collaborative family engagement efforts, all of which can be done both virtually and in person:

  • Program Bulletins
  • Video or Live Announcements
  • Infographics or Flyers
  • Gallery Wall with Captions
  • Family Meetings
  • *Family Partner Spotlight – This spotlight features a family member that took an active role in the early learning program recently. It can include brief background information of a family partner, interviews that share what they learned, the support they received (ex. Knowledge-building, child care, stipend, flexible scheduling), their favorite aspects of the collaboration, and the realistic time commitment they put forward. These could be shared in newsletters, on the website, on a bulletin board, etc.

Stepping up our communication about what came forward from collaboration with families changes our family engagement landscape by saying “You spoke, we listened!”.

Phase 4: What Works? Assessments and Sustainability

Once we have partnered with family members in these family engagement initiatives, our programs are then tasked with figuring out how to sustain these efforts and this culture that welcomes, invites, and promotes family engagement and development. We may be asking many questions as part of this process, including what works? How can we keep going?

Similar to our initial efforts of gathering data before implementing changes, there are ways our programs can use data to truly see what family engagement efforts brought about the most change, were most positively received, and which ones where less popular or need a re-design. Many of the methods shared in Phase 1 can be used for this part; some additional specific suggestions include:

  • Closing Interviews – These interviews are offered at the end of a program year or as families are exiting their child from a program, to gauge how their experience and development changed while attending. This method provides important insights and can allow us to understand the background for a family’s responses. This is especially a great idea to use with families who are exiting after having been with the program for years as they have seen longer term changes.
  • Closing Surveys – Our programs should include additional questions on existing end-of-year surveys to gauge awareness and effectiveness of specific family engagement efforts taken that year, with little extra effort in preparation.

Many factors affect the sustainability of family engagement initiatives; many programs can start by having a clear understanding of their vision for family engagement and the capacity and resources they have available to make that vision reality.

Program Capacity

As programs design their family engagement efforts to partner with families, it is important for program staff to have a clear understanding of the importance in moving from “early educators serve families” to “early educators and families work together!”. From there, programs can ensure that staff:

  • Receive training on family engagement initiatives
  • Are assigned clear and reasonable roles in family engagement initiatives
  • Are encouraged and supported in engaging families (including the time and resources to do so)
  • Are involved in the design and assessment of family engagement initiatives

Note: Ultimately, consider what works for your program’s capacity and size. Each program is different!

Obstacles to Family Engagement

Engaging families takes some creative planning to reach the best outcomes. Aside from reaching out and designing a variety of family engagement roles, our programs can make engaging more appealing and manageable by trying:

  • Home visits
  • Positive phone calls
  • Text messages
  • Personal invitations
  • Seeking ideas from other parents/families
  • Relationship building through activities and conversation
  • Child Care (free during meetings or discounted offer for taking certain roles when possible)
  • Food and refreshments
  • Stipends

In the end, our program’s family engagement opportunities must work for the full spectrum of families, from least to most involved family members. We can do our best within our capacity to make this happen!

 Transitions Between Family Partnership Initiatives

Continuing a family engagement initiative while families transition out of our program brings its own challenges. Our efforts come back to capacity-building and communication as shown in the suggestions below:

  • Sharing Knowledge and Feedback – We want to ensure that experienced family partners share their knowledge and feedback regarding family engagement projects, as this shared knowledge can be an efficient and inspiring start for future groups.
    • This can be done through exit surveys or interviews, creating a guidebook, and/or writing a letter for the next round of family partners.
  • Training – When possible, having experienced family partners train newer family partners can not only be helpful but also affirms their value and expertise.
  • Tap into Networks – As family partners are ending their collaboration, we can work with them to identify, recruit, and reach out to other families who may be a good fit for these roles.

Once our family engagement initiatives come full circle in these phases, we continue the cycle! This ongoing process is designed not only to strengthen our family engagement culture and initiatives, but our programs as well. This type of collaborative design that values and incorporates both family and program perspectives lays a robust foundation for both our programs and families to meet our common goal – building strong families.

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 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.

Welcoming Families with a Trauma-Informed Approach

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As LA County continues on a path to re-opening, more families of young children will be heading back to work and the need for childcare will increase. We will see more child care programs re-opening and those who stayed open will be seeing an influx of children.  While this return to more normalcy is great news, we also need to be mindful of how this transition will impact children and families emotionally and logistically. 

Did you know?

74% of parents and caregivers in California say the Coronavirus crisis has disrupted their home and family lives; that number increases to 79% in the Greater Los Angeles area.

We are excited to co-author this month’s Family Engagement tip with our expert colleagues at the Child Care Bridge Program! The Child Care Bridge Program provides families of foster children ages birth-5 years with emergency access to affordable child care and prepares and supports providers to work with these children in ways that are trauma-informed. Through training and coaching services, early educators learn the impact of trauma on development, how to identify trauma behaviors in children, trauma-informed strategies that support the overall development of a child, as well as strategies for provider self-care.

Sharing how to best welcome and support families dealing with the effects of COVD 19 trauma inspires our Family Engagement post for this month and next. These posts are part of our family engagement series on trauma-informed family engagement practices. 

This month, we will focus on how we can welcome our families back with a trauma-informed approach while managing the effects of our own trauma.

Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma, more broadly defined, is an emotional response to a terrible event. More specifically, trauma is caused by exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual wellbeing. 

Some examples of events that can cause trauma include abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, financial), emergencies like a natural disaster or a pandemic, or a close encounter with violence or death. From a child’s point of view, a traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or physical safety. 

The information below will provide basic characteristics and behaviors commonly seen in those who have experienced trauma.  As children and families re-enter your early learning programs, it is important to recognize that behavioral changes or actions, such as those listed below might be coming from a place of trauma and thus require compassionate and a trauma informed approach. 

According to the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care

  • Trauma impairs: memory, concentration, new learning, and focus 
  • Trauma has been correlated to: heart disease, obesity, addiction, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and cancer, among others. 
  • Trauma impacts an individual’s ability to: trust, cope, form healthy relationships. 
  • Trauma disrupts: one’s ability to identify emotions; one’s ability to self-sooth or control expression of emotions; one’s ability to distinguish between what’s safe and unsafe. 
  • Trauma shapes: a person’s belief about themself and others; one’s ability to hope; one’s outlook on life. 

Some important factors to consider when it comes to trauma, ourselves, and those around us: 

  • What is traumatic for one person – whether they are adults or children – may not be traumatic for another.
  • It is important to recognize that not everyone is aware of their traumas and/or open to dealing with the roots or consequences of their trauma.   
  • A person’s trauma is nuanced and interrelated to those around them; some may have trauma that has been documented, some traumas may not be formally recognized yet, and some may be affected by peers’ traumas. 

Trauma-informed care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than those that may unintentionally re-traumatize.

Re-traumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of a past trauma that results in us re-experiencing the initial trauma event as shared by Karen Zgoda in this piece on social work. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics of the original trauma; typically, those dynamics include a loss of power, control, and/or safety.

How does trauma-informed care (TIC) help?


Since we cannot know who has experienced or is dealing with trauma, we should apply trauma informed practices broadly across the children, families, and staff in our programs.

See this diagram below for the benefits of trauma-informed spaces.

“Being trauma-informed can help us change the message from ‘what is wrong with you?’ to ‘what happened to you?’”
- Dr. Marci Gordeyko

There are many ways to care for ourselves and others who have experienced trauma in order to heal and manage what may trigger us and them. Studies have shown that the most important factor in reducing the effects of trauma in our lives is that we have loving, supportive, and encouraging adults who support us in times of need.  Child care providers can serve as those supporting individuals that our children and families need in order to mitigate the effects of trauma.

Supporting Families During and Post COVID

COVID-19 is a collective experience that has impacted everyone in one way or another, with communities of color having been especially impacted by the pandemic.  As we transition into life post-COVID, it is important to remember that every family is unique and will have experienced the pandemic differently.  Some families’ experiences of COVID-19 may have included illness, the death of a loved one, economic instability or job loss, malnutrition, homelessness and possibly family violence. Other families may have been fortunate enough not to experience these same adversities. Either way, all families experienced a loss of routine and “normalcy” and dealt with the stress of everyday life during a global pandemic, so it is important that child care providers do what they can to create trauma-informed environments for the children and families they serve. 

Engaging Families – Physical Safety in a Child Care Setting

As families return to your child care setting, it is important to create opportunities for families and children to share their concerns around returning. This demonstrates to families that their voice matters and that you want to partner with them throughout this transition process by ensuring their concerns are addressed. It is also beneficial to be proactive about sharing the changes you have made in your programs and policies to ensure the physical safety of children and staff. See the table below for tips and ideas:

Ways Families Can                                           Inform Reopening ProcessesWays Early Care Programs Can Communicate Updates in Physical Safety Practices
  • Host a family meeting (virtually or in-person with COVID-19 precautions)
  • Have families complete a survey to gauge questions, concerns, and ideas around returning safely
  • Host a focus group with family representatives to discuss safety procedures that would make families feel secure sending children back to your program
  • Take pictures of and list out health and safety changes made in program settings and share with families via hand-outs, text, email, your program website and/or social media 
  • Schedule times to give family tours (virtual or in-person) highlighting COVID 19 changes made, particularly for new families
  • Record videos of your program’s new COVID-19 safety guidelines, including demonstrating how they would work

Engaging Families – Emotional and Psychological Safety in a Child Care Setting

As a way of preparing for a child’s return to your care, you may also want to ask families, privately, if there were any experiences the family went through in the past year that will help you better understand and support their child during this transition.  This invites families to share with you if a traumatic experience did occur for the child, like the loss of a loved one, for example.  Remain respectful of a family member’s choice to share this information or not – at the very least you are communicating that you care about the well-being of the child.  

Returning to a child care setting may result in both feelings of relief and anxiety for families and children.  Some children returning to your care may experience initial feelings of:

  • Separation-anxiety after having spent over a year with their primary caregiver(s) 
  • Excitement to reunite with their child care provider and see their friends again 
  • More likely, children will experience a mix of these two emotions as they transition back

It is important to normalize whatever a child or family member might be feeling and to respond empathetically to each child’s unique cues. 

Providing Concrete Support in Times of Need 

Lastly, it is important to anticipate that some families may need various concrete supports during this time, including access to food, shelter, clothing, health and other human services. Here are some steps you can take to help families meet their needs:

  • Partner with your local Resource and Referral Agency to ensure that you have a few local resources you can share with your families if the need arises. 
  • Provide support and reassurance regarding developmental delays: Families may also be particularly concerned with potential delays in their child’s development at this time.  If this concern is shared with you, you can highlight the resilience of children that have a nurturing support system in their lives and share information about child development:
    • Resources from the Centers for Disease Control can assist families in understanding their child’s development and feel empowered to monitor their child’s growth
    • Depending on the child’s age, you can also assist families in navigating educational support services either by accessing a local Regional Center or school district. 

Read our Family Engagement tip from December to explore more ways to Support Families with Concrete Support in Challenging Times.

Respecting a Family’s Reactions and Choices

With families facing choices like whether or not to get vaccinated and when or how to start socializing during this pandemic, here are 4 ways we can respect and support families: 

  • Respecting confidentiality: Some families may be skeptical and concerned about the vaccines, others may already be vaccinated. These are case-by-case situations where we can strengthen trust with families by respecting confidentiality and reserving judgement so families can feel comfortable in speaking about these important safety topics. 
  • Using a strengths-based lens when recognizing and understanding family reactions helps by assuming each family (1) is doing their best within their reality and (2) have something valuable to share; this primes our interactions to start on a positive, encouraging note. Families may be experiencing hesitation, anxiety, stress, etc. and it’s all rooted in families who care about their child’s well-being and are striving to do their best! 
  • Validate & empower families to make their own informed decisions: Families can feel hesitation and overwhelm when making decisions related to COVID-19, particularly due to factors like institutional racism, historical inequities, negative experiences with medical establishments, and misinformation. We can support families by validating their struggles and concerns while simultaneously assuring that they have our support and providing credible information about COVID-19 safety protocols and vaccines.
    • Consider aspects like accessibility (languages, physical and digital formats), distribution (voice messages, videos, meetings, etc.), and a digestible, positive format when sharing information (colors, visuals, music, simple terms, etc.).
Happy Mixed Race Ethnic Family Walking In The Park Wearing Medical Face Mask.

Managing Second-Hand Trauma

What is second-hand trauma?

Second-hand trauma, or secondary traumatic stress, is the emotional stress that an individual can experience after hearing about another person’s traumatic experience(s).  This means that for many helping professionals, like child care providers, hearing about a child or families’ traumatic experience can negatively impact their own emotional well-being.  The stress that results from hearing about another’s trauma can ultimately lead to feelings of burn-out and anxiety, making it difficult to meet the needs of the children in our care. 

What are some signs of second-hand trauma?

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) some signs of second-hand trauma include:

  • Hypervigilance – extreme alertness or increased sensitivity to your surroundings
  • Inability to embrace complexity
  • Anger and cynicism
  • Fear
  • Physical ailments
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to listen, avoidance of children and/or families 
  • Sleeplessness
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Minimizing

It is important to note that the symptoms of second-hand trauma tend to mimic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which results from directly experiencing, or witnessing first hand, a traumatic event. If an individual is experiencing extreme symptoms (as shared in the linked NCTSN resource), they should seek professional support and consider sharing this information with a trusted supervisor. 

To prevent these symptoms and second-hand trauma, it is important for child care providers to stay mindful of their overall well-being and engage in strategies that promote self-care.  

What is self-care?

Self-care is the ability to help others without sacrificing your own well-being.  Self-care is not a one-time “treat” that we give to ourselves only after a particularly challenging day or event.  True self-care is a proactive approach to one’s own well-being that is regularly engaged in and mindfully planned in advance. Making the time to take care of yourself, allows you to better support the children in your care. Two ways you can promote self-care are (1) practicing self-compassion, and (2) holding your boundaries



There are three key components to self-compassion.  These include:

  1. Self-Kindness and Understanding: It is important to be kind to yourself, especially during times of pain and what we might consider “failures”.  Telling ourselves that experiences of personal pain are not “a big deal”, or constantly criticizing ourselves for things we “could have done better”, causes stress and is the opposite of self-care.  
  2. Viewing Suffering as Common to Humanity: Experiencing pain and suffering is a common human experience – embracing this perspective can prevent us from feeling isolated during times of loss.  When we experience suffering directly, it is important to remember that we are not alone in this experience and make sure to reach out to share our loss with a trusted friend or family member.  
  1. Allowing Ourselves to Mindfully Feel Our Feelings: It is important to acknowledge our feelings, whatever they may be, and it is equally important to allow ourselves the emotional reaction necessary to honor how we are feeling on any given day.  We often tend to create space for the emotions of the children in our care and push our own feelings aside. This dismissal of our own feelings only adds to the stress and overwhelm in our life. 

How To Start?

Ask yourself:  Do I show the same care and concern for myself that I show to the children and families in my care? If not, why not? How can I begin to have a kinder relationship with myself?

Ask yourself: When I experience a loss, do I seek support from others that have an understanding of what I am going through?



Ask yourself: Do I allow myself to recognize my own feelings?  Have I taken the time to acknowledge the ways that COVID-19 has created a loss, no matter how big or small, in my life?  Have I created the space for myself to grieve these losses?  


An important part of self-care is creating and maintaining healthy boundaries. Dr. Brené Brown defines boundaries as “our lists of what’s okay and what’s not okay”. As child care providers, it is important to define our two “lists”, so that we can confidently communicate our expectations to the families we serve. When our boundaries are respected, we are less likely to experience secondary trauma.  

Unhealthy or loosely defined boundaries can lead to feelings of overwhelm, frustration and provider burn-out. Some red flags of unhealthy boundaries in a child care setting include: thinking about a child(ren) outside of work hours, sharing personal phone numbers with family members, giving particular children special protective treatment or gifts, or feeling personally responsible for a child’s development.

Communicating our boundaries to the families we serve may not always be easy, but it is very important!  Some tips for setting boundaries include:

  1. Identify your red flag areas!  What behavior(s) are you not okay with?
  2. Write your boundaries down. This helps make them concrete and actionable.
  3. Be clear and direct when communicating a boundary.
  4. Stay firm! If you allow for an exception to a boundary or expectation, what are you communicating to the families you serve? 

The best way to manage second-hand trauma is to prevent it in the first place!  Preventing second-hand trauma requires us to prioritize our own self-care by practicing self-compassion and boundary setting as much as possible. Check out our Family Engagement tip from January for mindfulness strategies to incorporate in your self-care! 

Remember, only when we are taking care of ourselves can we adequately take care of others. Healthy boundaries ensure that we can appropriately support the child and family because all expectations have been proactively communicated in advance. 

Ultimately, when we are supporting a returning or new family into child care services, it is important to remember the uniqueness of each family and child. Incorporating a trauma-informed approach enhances these transitions in a way that prioritizes both provider and family wellbeing.

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 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.