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Mel Gravely

Relationship-Based Competencies: Family Connections to Peers and Community

family connections to peers and communityThis is the fifth blog in our series about the nine Relationship-Based Competencies.

The connections that our families make on their journey to self-sufficiency are oftentimes the ones that they take with them for the rest of their lives. The role of Head Start and Early Head Start programs is to facilitate support networks and group activities that support families’ strengths, interests, and needs. But before any of that can be accomplished, Head Start and Early Head Start staff have to be able to understand why support networks are important to the families that they service. Especially for families that may be isolated.

Prepare Staff on the Many Different Family Backgrounds and Situations They May Encounter

Having the appropriate knowledge and skills before working with families is key to a family’s success in your program. Dealing with at risk families comes with dealing with a multitude of issues that you may never have experienced before, which is okay, but knowing what to look for, when a family comes to you, will help make it easier for you to assist them, in whatever their goals may be. When assisting families connecting with peers and community, we have to facilitate groups, share knowledge and demonstrate the skills that we need our families to learn. Many of the families that we come in contact with don’t do different things, because they have never been introduced to it.

For example a parent might not understand the importance to reading to their child at home, because they as children were never read to at home. They might not understand why it’s important to take their child to the dentist, because they didn’t start going to the dentist until they were an adult. It’s small things, like providing families with this information or by showing them informational videos, and then connecting them with different community organizations that may clarify the information that you have given out. That makes all the difference.

Assist Families in Identifying Potential Networks Based On Needs and Interests

Assisting families in identifying, developing, and utilizing their informal and formal support networks is a huge part of getting families connected to peers and community. This could include networks such as neighborhood groups, faith/spiritual communities, civic organizations, or even online groups, each of which can offer different things based on the needs of families. For example, staff could arrange to have a local non-profit that specializes in healthy eating to come in and show families how to create healthy meals using local ingredients. Hands on programs where families can actively participate in the activity are best. They are a great way to get families excited about making positive life changes.

Encourage Families to Take on Leadership Positions

Educating families on community opportunities that will promote parent leadership and advocacy is a fantastic way to get families connected with their peers and community. Head Start and Early Head Start programs have policy council, which allows parents to see what influence they have in the decision making process of Head Start. Parents become more confident and are excited to be a part of something that is larger than them. They get the opportunity to help make not just their lives better, but the lives of other families in their program. They can assist with the hiring of staff, and can also give great suggestions to the improvement of their programs. The skills that they learn by participating in these different groups, they will utilize throughout their lifetime. It will teach them how to advocate for their families, and it will give them the confidence that they need to make positive changes in their everyday lives, ultimately creating families that are self sufficient.

Create an Environment where Parents Can Share their Skills and Talents

There is something that we can learn from everyone that we come in contact with. Everyone we meet has different talents and skills, as well as information that we might not know. They should be encouraged to share their talents and skills with the group. Parents are learning through this process, as well as teaching. We are giving them the opportunity to share their skills, culture, and talents, and that opens the door to foster positive connections with everyone that they meet.

Support Parents in their Volunteer Efforts

Supporting parents as they engage in volunteering is very important. They are learning so much when they volunteer and collaborate with other community groups. Whether they are volunteering in our centers, or assisting with a fundraiser, or helping plan an event with the local rotary club. They are building connections that can help them in a number of ways. Every connection that they make will give them continuous, lifelong connections that will impact the way they are educated, and how they are able to educate and advocate for their families.


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