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What Is Family Engagement?
By Chelsea Guillen
Family engagement is an essential component of early intervention services and is driven by the use of family-centered practices. When your team uses family-centered practices, you can expect to be treated in particular ways, be involved in informed decision-making, and be an active participant in identifying outcomes and developing strategies for your child and family.
These practices also can help you advocate for your child, understand your choices, and grow your leadership skills. They support the development of critical family-professional partnerships, too. Ultimately, the practices help professionals tailor their approaches to each unique family.
Out of all the members on your child’s EI team, you have the most knowledge about your child, your family, and what you want to happen as your child learns and grows. Team members will look to you to share information during your child’s evaluations and for ideas about what you’d like to work on.
It is important to share information about your child’s likes and interests with your team. Only you know what is best for your family and the things you already do to help your child. Your knowledge and experience are unique.
Your conversations with team members help them learn about your family. As they understand more about your concerns and priorities, they become better prepared to offer helpful information. To aid understanding, they need to provide opportunities to really listen to you. You should feel comfortable asking questions about anything you don’t understand and should expect the information they share to be complete and unbiased.
Information about your family’s concerns and priorities should be included in your child’s Individualized Family Service Plan. Team members will use this plan to guide their interactions with your family. Intervention visits provide opportunities for expanding what your team knows.
Interacting with your team members during visits provides opportunities for trying out strategies, sharing ideas about what to address next, and providing feedback on what is or is not working.
Because family engagement is so critical to successful early intervention services, the Division for Early Childhood (DEC), an organization for families who have children with delays and disabilities and the professionals who support them, has developed a subset of its recommended practices that focuses on families.
Although these recommended practices were developed to guide practitioners’ behavior, understanding the practices can help you know what to expect from your team and how to work together successfully. You can see the full set of DEC Recommended Practices on the DEC website.
The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center has developed several family practice guides to help families understand the practices and know when they are working. They can be found on the ECTA website. Four particular guides of interest include:
- Professional Roles in Early Childhood Intervention helps you tell whether your team members are using family-centered practices.
- Making Good Family Choices helps you identify behaviors team members may use to ensure the strategies they recommend apply to your particular situation.
- Participating on Your Child’s Team has ideas for how you can partner with your team members.
- Sharing What You Know with Professionals provides suggestions for sharing information with other team members.