Empower and Support Families by Earning Their Trust

There is a growing body of research indicating that — when families are actively engaged in their child’s learning — children experience positive, lifelong outcomes.
Support Families

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

Impactful support requires intentional and authentic family engagement practices.

By Dr. Carla Whiteside-Hicks, Director of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Early Childhood Programs, Kansas Department for Children and Families. Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Kansas Child Magazine.

I recently stopped at a highway service center, where I noticed the couple parked next to me studying a spiral-bound road atlas. My first thought was of childhood summer road trips, when my parents used paper road maps to guide our journeys across the country. I remember highlighted routes on these maps that included stops along the way to make the most of this family time.

My second thought was: “Who uses paper maps in 2022?” With available navigation technology, a spiral-bound road atlas seems archaic and unnecessary. I had no idea why this couple was traveling, where they began their journey, where they were heading or what resources they had to assist them in reaching their destination. Yet I interpreted their actions through the lens of my experience with road maps, and I marginalized their navigation choice.

How often and to what extent do we marginalize the choices of the families we “support” because we view them through the lens of norms defined by our system of beliefs?

Starting with the Family

A child’s first experience with learning occurs within the family. There is a growing body of research indicating that — when families are actively engaged in their child’s learning — children experience positive, lifelong outcomes. While research results are needed to guide policy decisions, we must ensure that families are the real focus of family engagement practices. Our personal agendas and the importance we’ve placed on quantitative data cannot become more important than the families we serve.

Supporting families begins with respecting their inherent dignity and right to chart their own course toward what they define as success.

It requires more than developing and implementing a transactional, multistep plan. Impactful support must involve intentional and authentic family engagement practices rooted in a systemic whole-family approach. Offering families a seat at the decision-making table is not enough. Inviting families to simply review engagement plans that our leadership teams have developed is not enough.

Authoritarianism has no place in family support practices. We cannot support families until we prove to them, through our actions, that we can be trusted.

Supporting families is relational work. Families must believe that they are equal partners. We give families reason to believe this when we embrace a whole-family approach to empowerment as fundamentally necessary, not supplemental.

How to Take a Whole-Family Approach

The positive long-term outcomes experienced by children who participate in high-quality child care are well-documented. These outcomes include higher reading levels, higher high school graduation rates, decreased likelihood of substance use disorders, higher employment rates, higher wages, and positive second-generational effects on health, education, and employment.

Considering the far-reaching, multigenerational impacts of participation in high quality-child care, family engagement is critical. Efforts to support and engage families should, at minimum, include the following:

  • Surveying families to determine their needs before you make recommendations for family engagement
  • Involving families in decision-making conversations regarding family support programs, and respecting their input
  • Engaging in ongoing staff development so that everyone understands the core principles of a whole-family approach
  • Identifying barriers to family engagement
  • Providing multiple avenues for family participation
  • Communicating in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner
  • Staying in your lane, which involves educating and empowering families
  • Creating a feedback loop for families to share their lived experiences

The needs of families are neither linear nor siloed; they are unique and multifaceted. We best support families when we partner with them and empower them to determine the supports that can address their specific needs. One benefit of this kind of supportive relationship is families’ increased capacity to make informed choices regarding high-quality care and to access complimentary services that will benefit their children’s development.

Child Care Subsidies Support Families

The state-federal Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) program — the primary source of public funding for child care — is a key part of the whole-family approach to helping families meet their child care needs.

The purpose of the Kansas Child Care Subsidy Program is to promote children’s healthy development and school success while supporting parents who are working, training, or pursuing education. Child care subsidies reduce families’ out-of-pocket costs while increasing their access to high-quality child care. The specific purposes of CCDF are:

  • To allow each state maximum flexibility in developing child care programs and policies that best suit the needs of children and parents within that state
  • To promote parental choice to empower working parents to make their own decisions regarding the child care services that best suit their family’s needs
  • To encourage states to provide consumer education information to help parents make informed choices about child care services, and to promote involvement by parents and family members in the development of their children in child care settings
  • To assist states in delivering high-quality, coordinated early childhood care and education services to maximize parents’ options and support parents trying to achieve independence from public assistance
  • To assist states in improving the overall quality of child care services and programs by implementing health, safety, licensing, training, and oversight standards
  • To improve child care and the development of participating children
  • To increase the number and percentage of low-income children in high-quality child care settings

Families deserve more than our rhetoric. Regardless of how families fund their child care needs, all children have a right to high-quality child care through programs that support the whole family. Our investment in families today will yield positive results for generations to come.

Visit ksqualitynetwork.org or childcareinkansas.com for more information about quality child care in Kansas. Learn more about what the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) is doing, along with its partners, to make high-quality child care readily available for all. Each child. Every family. All Kansans.

  • Carla Whiteside-Hicks
    Director of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Early Childhood Programs, Kansas Department for Children and Families

    Carla is also the Child Care and Development Fund Administrator for Kansas. She earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration.