Serving Families in a Remote Environment: Tips for Family Services Staff
In the digital age there are many tools we are able to use to stay connected while working remotely and provide digital education. It is paramount that we use these tools to stay connected with parents and support them while at home with their kids. If children aren’t in classrooms, family services staff are even more important as the critical bridge between families and Head Start. It’s important that agencies do not wane in those responsibilities. Here are some tips from the Office of Head Start to make sure we’re serving families the best we can in a remote environment.
Be approachable in your communication with parents by being empathetic and reminding them of their accomplishments and capabilities. Lend your ear and get to know them by asking about their lives as parents and as just people with interests, goals, skills, and aspirations. Mothers, fathers and caregivers feel significantly more at ease and supported when they get the opportunity to express their thoughts and emotions. Discuss the strategies they’re using to cope with stress and remind them of the resources and services you can help connect them with. All of these things will signal that you care, that you’re on their team, and will greatly improve the connection between Head Start staff and families.
Continue to reach out to families as many times as it takes to build a trustworthy connection, and consider using families who are experienced in the program to help provide comfort for new families. Staying connected is important to help each other through tough times, whether that be financial, health and safety concerns, or other major challenges that families face. Each family will have their own preference on the best way to stay in touch with them, discuss what this is and assure them that their needs and concerns will be heard and kept confidential. Meet with your team to discuss each family’s situation and to coordinate ways to support and address those needs.
Remember the importance of connecting with fathers and use all of the tips mentioned above to reach out to them and provide support. Explore ways to continue fatherhood programs and parenting groups in a virtual format. Get to know fathers individually and ask them to tell you about the relationship they have with their child. Again, connect fathers that are new to the program with experienced fathers in order to enhance their support network throughout the Head Start program. Check in frequently to discuss and provide resources for their basic needs, health, and financial requirements.
Don’t forget about yourselves and your staff’s needs for support and a continuance of healthy work habits. Having regular team meetings to discuss the importance, and the different ways of taking care of yourselves first will translate into effective staff interaction with families. Hold team meetings and other group discussions to create a sense of team among program staff, mentors, and supervisors. Remember that for everyone interacting in a totally virtual environment is unfamiliar and can be uncomfortable. Creating a feeling of community will strengthen the connection between staff and families online as it did in the past when meeting in person.
And last but not least, utilize the power of social media for support and reinforcement of positive affirmations to encourage parents. Consider translating the tips in this blog into strong messages that let parents know you are thinking about and supporting them. Reminding them of their strengths, providing encouraging words surrounding specific day to day activities, and tips to stay healthy mentally and physically will go a long way in furthering the strength of community between staff and parents.