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Mel Gravely

Relationship-Based Competencies: Family Access to Community Resources

family access to community resourcesThe sixth relationship based competency is family access to community resources.

Know what Resources are Available

For a program to be successful in connecting families to local resources, they first have to know what resources their community offers. Head Start and Early Head Start (HS/EHS) staff need to have extensive knowledge of social services programs, as well as community resources that offer information and support when it comes to health, mental health, nutrition, financial literacy, and education. While Head Start programs should be providing families with this information already, connecting families with community agencies that can expound on the information that we are introducing to them is crucial.

Listen and Understand Their Needs

HS/EHS staff must have a strong understanding of how to match families with community and program resources, based on families’ needs and interests. These connections can be made when working with the family one on one, as well as in group settings. For example, there may be times a family needs help or guidance in a specific area, but they are not ready to accept that guidance from an outside agency. It is our responsibility to prepare, educate, and support them with what needs to take place. When dealing with mental health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, or even child abuse issues, we cannot just direct families to where they need to go to get help. We have to be a part of that process with them by assisting the agencies that are helping them. This process allows everyone involved to have a clear view of what needs to happen to make positive, lasting change in the life of the family. HS/EHS staff also need to know when a problem is too big for them to deal with as an individual. Make sure that staff can easily request supervisory assistance when needed.

Be a Liaison between the Family and Outside Service Organizations

Being a liaison to programs and community services when appropriate is a great way to make families feel more comfortable with having to work with another agency. It takes time for our families to build up enough trust to share personal information with us. This also goes with sharing their information with a different agency where they don’t know the person they will be working with. Conducting joint visits with professionals in health, mental health, child development, and child welfare, give the family a level of security and support that is needed, to take the next step to better their current situation.

Encourage Families to be Leaders and Advocates

Supporting families to be leaders and advocates in their program is imperative to their growth. They are the ones that will continue to supply their families with resources once they have completed their time with head start. We are providing them with all of the skills they will need to be successful once they have completed our program. They will have the skills to know that if they don’t have the information that they need, they will know how to locate it and utilize it. That is self sufficiency working at its best.

Partner with Local Schools

Partnering with local schools and service providers in a programs community is a great way to provide families with needed resources. For example families that may have children that need additional services like speech, physical therapy, or occupational therapy. If your program has already made strong connections with the local school district, then it will be easier to make sure that the family gets offered the appropriate services. It also assists with opening up the lines of communication with the parents, school district and Head Start program. Everyone involved can come up with a clear action plan that works best for everyone.

Followup, Followup, Followup

I cannot stress how important it is to follow up on referrals made to community resources. There are so many times that the referral is made, but that is as far as it goes. The family never gets the assistance that they need, the problem is never resolved, and the family never gets the opportunity to move forward. As HS/EHS staff, the guidance and support that we give is imperative to the success that families have while attending our programs. Follow up takes a great deal of time, but in the end it is so worth it!

Provide Ongoing Information and Support

Lastly, make sure that you’re providing ongoing information and support throughout the year. Sometimes, a family might not even know what they need until they hear about a particular resource. So be sure to educate them about what’s available at every opportunity. These resources are helping them achieve their family and personal goals, which ultimately promotes the well-being of their children.


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