Family Engagement

Addressing Barriers that Limit Attendance

Toddler with a huge smile.Group socializations offer many benefits for young children and their families. For children, the group setting provides new learning opportunities and experiences they may not otherwise have: novel sights and sounds, textures and sensory experiences, peer and social interactions, play equipment, and play experiences. Parents and families also benefit. For some, simply getting out of the house and decreasing isolation is valuable. Many parents and families appreciate the opportunity to develop friendships with other parents and broaden their social support systems. Still others enjoy learning about parenting from other parents, home-based staff, and community partners.

However, many home visitors and home-based supervisors face low family attendance at group socializations. This may be something you have experienced in your program. There are many possible reasons for low attendance:

  • There may be a language or cultural barrier between the parents and home visitor.
  • Parents may not feel comfortable in a group.
  • Parents may not fully understand the purpose and benefits ofsocializations.
  • Parents may think that what happens during socializations does not connect to what happens during home visits.
  • Parents may feel they have no voice in what happens during socializations
  • Parents may feel that the topics and experiences do not reflect their interests or needs.
  • Parents may feel they get limited attention if the group size is too large.
  • Parents may feel lost if translation is not provided or if their home visitor is not there.
  • Parents may feel disconnected from the program in general

Scheduling and logistics may also be factors. Times for socializations may not work for some families, transportation to and from the socialization facility or space may be challenging, and even the physical space itself may be off-putting if it feels crowded or sterile. There may also be cultural beliefs or practices that isolate families or limit participation.

Partner with home visitors and parents and families to find out what may be causing low attendance. Look for solutions, but plan proactively to minimize issues that may cause low attendance. As a supervisor, you know that food and door prizes alone do not make group socializations effective (although those are useful incentives!). Effective socializations need strong relationships among families, home visitors, and other program staff. Relationships make group socializations meaningful for families.

Home-based programs have used the following strategies to create effective group socializations:

  • Ensure that parents and families understand the purpose of group socializations and how they connect to home visits and support child and family well-being. Tell families:
    • "Socializations focus on both you and your child. There's something for everyone!"
    • "Socializations allow you to meet and learn from other parents who are experiencing the same things with their children that you are."
    • "Socializations give us more time to focus on goals you've said are important for your child."
    • "Socializations offer discussion on topics you've said you want to learn more about."
    • "Socializations give you an opportunity to learn more about your child — how your child interacts with their environment and with other children."
  • Encourage home visitors to talk about socializations during home visits. They might say:
    • "Jose really enjoyed playing next to the other children in the last group."
    • "Margaret asked about you after the group where you two were talking."
    • "Wasn't that fun watching Omar stack the blocks and getting so excited about it at the group socialization?"
  • Home visitors and parents can also explore questions such as:
    • "What new experiences would you like for your child? How might we put them into action? What supplies or materials do we need?"
    • "What did you learn about your child during the last socialization?"
    • "How is your child relating to you or other children during the group experience?"
    • "What information can I offer you?”
    • "Can you get to the socialization? If not, let's figure out some travel options."
  • Send out notices about upcoming socializations using parents' preferred means (e.g., verbal reminders during home visits, phone calls, emails, texts, tweets). Follow your program's protocol for using technology to communicate with families.
  • Choose a name that conveys your program’s philosophy about the purpose of group socializations. For example, programs have chosen names such as “play groups,” “buddy groups,” “family day,” and “family time.”
  • Offer group socializations in Spanish or other languages that families speak. Make sure interpretation is provided in mixed-language groups.
  • Limit the size of the socialization group. Smaller groups provide the intimacy and intensity of interaction that facilitates trust, predictability, and responsive caregiving. Smaller groups allow children, families, and staff greater opportunities for individual attention and meaningful interaction.
  • In addition to inviting parents to be part of the planning process, get their feedback after every socialization. One program created a short form that asked parents to describe their experience — what they liked, what they thought worked well, what they would change  —and for ideas for future socialization topics and culturally specific information, materials, and resources they could share. Ask families to contribute suggestions for future menus. Then make sure that parent feedback and suggestions are incorporated into future planning!
  • Focus group experiences on topics that coincide with what occurs during home visits.
  • Use socializations to create a sense of belonging. Warmly welcome each child and family member and provide name tags for children and adults. Set up the physical space to support closeness and conversation. Display photos of participating children and family members. Provide comfortable adult- and child-sized seating.
  • Invite parents to partner with home visitors to plan and organize activities, assemble materials, and prepare snacks. When possible and appropriate, invite parents to help lead songs, storytelling, or group discussions or to lead them when they are ready.
  • Engage parents in actively observing their child. Invite them to journal, video, and photograph their child as the child interacts and learns. One program uses the photographs to create a scrapbook that illustrates the child’s and parents’ growth over time. It is also a way to get observation information for ongoing child assessment.
  • Consider parents’ languages and literacy levels when providing print materials such as song lyrics or informational handouts. Make sure that print materials are clear and understandable.
  • Consider offering socializations based on children’s ages, for example, young infants, mobile infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. This has the added benefit of grouping parents with similar life experiences. However, mixed-age socializations are also beneficial, especially for families with multiple children under 5 years old.
  • Parents usually feel more comfortable when their home visitor attends the socializations; whenever possible, ensure that home visitors’ schedules allow them to be there.
  • Survey parents to find the best times and days for socializations. Check in periodically to see if the days and times still work or if changes need to be made.
  • Assure parents that other family members who are actively involved in the child’s care (e.g., grandparents) can attend socializations. However, make sure to balance that with the need to keep group socializations small, intimate, and focused on parent-child interactions.
  • Consider holding socializations at different locations when that fits your program’s goals for socializations, school readiness, and family outcomes, as well as parents’ interests and needs based on their family partnership agreements.
  • Consider collating socialization experiences at the end of each program year via video or image compilation. This visual depiction of a child’ growth and development can encourage future participation and can reinforce the usefulness of these meetings to program staff.