Overcoming the “catch-22” of parental involvement with underserved audiences
Parental involvement is an important factor in youth programming success. When reaching out to underserved communities, it is important to find innovative ways to involve parents and guardians.
When building programs in communities where youth are typically underserved, parental involvement is often a concern and even motivation for programming intervention. As a starting point, it is important to keep in mind that parental involvement in the young people’s lives varies across cultural and socio-economic differences and low parental involvement is often not due to lack of effort or desire but restriction by other day-to-day strains. Still, when looking at best-practices of youth development programs like mentoring, involving parents or guardians at various stages is emphasized and was even been noted as critical to success in “Engaging Parents in a Community Youth Development Initiative.”
As a result, when building youth development programs we often see two competing forces at play: an effort to see positive outcomes from underserved youth and the need to have otherwise stressed parents involved in some way in order to obtain those positive outcomes. Like many other aspects of positive youth development programming, our ability to work creatively as practitioners and volunteers comes into play to solve this problem.
At the core of family programs, youth development and community engagement is meeting people where they are. With that key principle in mind, building an understanding of the communities you serve is critical. Finding that sweet spot between program requirements or best practices and community responsiveness is ideal in having a sustainable program. Part of building that understanding involves knowing cultural influences of families served by your program so that your approaches to family engagement are successful.
Michigan State University Extension workshops like “Opening Doors” explore how to build those genuine connections (offered through MSU Extension’s Diversity and Multiculturalism Office). As with any discussion around cultural competency and inclusion, it is also important to be aware of your own bias. Taking a step back and deliberately thinking, “that isn’t how I would do that but that does not make it wrong” will go a long way in building understanding. Leveraging your existing relationships can also help. Most programs have a community partner that can help get them started. Whether your contact is a principal, counselor or community member, find ways they are able to help you design family engagement, get forms to families or spread the word about upcoming events.
Engaging the entire family in youth programs will lead to stronger outcomes. MSU Extension encourages family involvement in children and youth programs including 4-H initiatives. With the foundation of building an understanding of the community and seeking help from community partners, part two of this series will explore some practical examples of parental and family engagement success!