Engaging Families Through Relationships
Few people doubt that families and parenting adults play central roles in young people’s learning and development.
- Educators know that students learn better and are more motivated when their parents are involved and committed to supporting their learning.
- Youth workers recognize that parents and families are vital partners in helping young people achieve the stated goals of their programs, such as develop social-emotional strengths and life skills.
- Social workers understand that helping kids develop and move out of poverty requires partnering with the parenting adults in their own development.
- Mentoring programs see the family as a key partner with the mentor and the staff in helping mentored children achieve their potential.
- Faith leaders believe that faith and spirituality are best nurtured through an active partnership between the home and the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple.
- Juvenile justice and child welfare systems recognize how difficult it is to get kids and parents back on track and stable if the families are not connected to positive resources and supports in their communities.
The Challenge of Engaging Families
Yet across multiple sectors and settings, organizations struggle to engage and partner with families. They complain that too many families are too busy or overwhelmed, uninterested, or simply unavailable and unable to be resources for their kids. In reality, dozens of challenges—including those that professionals identify and experience—make family engagement difficult. Some of the most difficult challenges are ones we often overlook, as shown in this list of barriers that can keep families from engaging:
Search Institute’s Approach
Search Institute approaches family engagement, support, education, and empowerment through the twin lenses of strengths and relationships. These strategies are relevant across multiple sectors, as they start with families’ realities, not organizational agendas. We propose that:
- Tapping and nurturing families’ strengths—even in the midst of crisis and challenges—is a powerful path toward resilience, growth, and contribution. These strengths include the diverse cultures, experiences, and values that are integral to who families are and what matters to them.
- Strengthening relationships within and around families is the foundation of trust, engagement, and active participation. Relationships within families tap families’ deepest longings.
Reframing Family Engagement
The challenges and barriers to engaging families demand rethinking our approach to family engagement in schools and organizations.
Download a free checklist to reflect on your organization’s current mindsets. These seven shifts and the underlying principles of practice that guide them are brought to life through a growing number of Search Institute resources and services for schools and organizations that seek to serve, engage, support, educate, and empower families.
What Search Institute Offers
Search Institute offers a growing number of resources and services to support schools and organizations in engaging families through relationships.
Resources for Engaging Families in Your Community
Keep Connected: Strengthening Parent-Youth Relationships in Middle School Families This research-based, six-session (plus graduation) program gives parents and their middle school youth opportunities to explore how to strengthen their relationships through interactive activities and discussions. This two-generation family engagement resource is designed for groups of 6 to 12 families each time it is offered. To access this resource, participate in the two-day Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships. During the institute, you will:
- Examine the underlying research, principles, and practices of relationship-based family engagement.
- Experience and understand how to facilitate the interactive sessions for families (youth and parenting adults).
- Identify strategies for inviting families to participate in the workshop series.
- Learn how to tackle common challenges in organizing and facilitating youth and parent groups.
As a participant in the Keep Connected Institute, you’ll receive access to everything you need to organize and facilitate Keep Connected in your own school or organization, including detailed facilitator guides, reproducible handouts for parents (in English and Spanish), promotional materials, and tips and information for organizing and leading the workshops. Click here to learn more.
Current Keep Connected Subscribers
Log in here to access your online materials. Strengthening Family Relationships: A Workshop for Parenting Adults Bring a Search Institute trainer to your organization or community to offer parenting adults an engaging two-hour workshop in which they identify and celebrate their family’s strengths and identify strategies for deepening their relationships. Relationships That Matter: 5 Keys to Helping Your Child Succeed Download this free 80-minute workshop facilitator’s guide to introduce families in your school or organization to the five keys to parent-child relationships from Search Institute. (Available in English and Spanish.)
Keep Connected Parent Resources
- Check It: Brief quizzes for families to reflect on their family’s strengths and gaps.
- Talk about It: Discussion starters for parents and kids together and for groups of parents.
- Try It: Self-led family activities to explore each topic and spend meaningful time together.
- Read about It: High-quality children’s picture books and discussion guides to prompt parent-child conversations on relationships.
- Learn about It: Key background research for each topic.
Professional Development Resources for Family Engagement Leaders and Practitioners
In-Person Workshop—Engaging Families: A Relationships-Based Approach Bring together family educators and family involvement leaders to examine the critical principles and practices for engaging families through relationships and to develop fresh strategies for connecting with, supporting, and engaging families through your school, organization, or coalition.
Ready-to-View Webinars on Family Engagement
View these archived Search Institute webinars to learn more about engaging families through relationships.
- Stop “Recruiting” Parents—And What to Do Instead
- More Power to Them? Helping Families Work through Power Struggles in the Early Teen Years
- Refocusing Family Engagement: Seven Shifts for Engaging Families as Partners in Young People’s Success
Sign up to be notified of upcoming webinars.
Books, Reports, and Other Resources
- Visit our store with books, posters, activities, and more for families and organizations that work with them.
- Download Search Institute research reports and briefs on families and family engagement.
Learn about Search Institute’s current research and development initiatives focused on strengthening families and family relationships.