Partnering with Families

Mother and child along with home visitor, sitting on the floor talking.As a supervisor, you emphasize the importance of family partnerships during joint home visits, supervision, training, and other staff development efforts. Home visitors should be well informed about the family partnership process, family support services, and family engagement. See Relationships with Parents in the Home Visitor’s Online Handbook).

The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) (45 CFR §1302.52(a)) state that programs must implement a family partnership process that includes a family partnership agreement and activities to:

  • Support family well-being, including family safety, health, and economic stability
  • Support child learning and development 
  • Provide services and supports for children with disabilities, if applicable
  • Foster parental confidence and skills that promote early learning

Although the HSPPS do not require a specific written agreement, you can document this partnership in a way that reflects the needs of your families and program. You support this process during supervision and through staff training to help home visitors:

  • Build relationships with families
  • Assess family strengths and needs
  • Incorporate family goals
  • Link family needs with services and services with desired outcomes
  • Establish partnerships with community service providers
  • Increase their knowledge of family support services and strategies

Support home visitors in developing meaningful family partnerships during home visits by helping them take the following actions.

Build Relationships with Families

The overarching goal of developing family partnerships is for home visitors to build relationships with families in which they work closely together toward children’s optimal learning and development. As a supervisor, you may:

  • Use reflective supervision to help staff empathize with families and provide an experience of unconditional caring
  • Make (or change, if necessary) staff assignments based on home visitors’ ability to engage families in positive relationships

Assess Family Strengths and Needs

At times, home visitors may be so overwhelmed by families’ needs that they have difficulty identifying the resources families already have.

  • Provide opportunities for home visitors to identify family strengths, and discuss how family members can use these strengths to accomplish goals.
  • Emphasize the message that home visitors support families in assessing their own strengths and needs.

Incorporate Family Goals

Home visitors help parents identify goals for themselves and their children.

  • During reflective supervision and training, highlight listening to the “family’s voice” and reflecting their identified goals in the family partnership agreement.
  • Work with home visitors to incorporate families’ developmental goals for their children into curriculum experiences.

Link Family Needs to Services with Desired Outcomes

The family partnership agreement should connect family needs with specific services that address those needs and lead to positive outcomes.

  • Help home visitors think explicitly about the type and intensity of services that would enable families to reach their goals.
  • Review assessments of family progress with home visitors to determine whether services best meet families’ needs and goals and what, if any, changes are needed.

Establish Partnerships with Community Service Providers

Your program provides comprehensive services to families through strong community collaboration.

  • Give home visitors an up-to-date list of community service providers. 
  • Establish respectful, professional relationships with service providers and, when appropriate, facilitate the development of formal, collaborative agreements.
  • Encourage home visitors to develop respectful, professional relationships with the service providers with whom they regularly interact. Accompany home visitors when they visit service providers, as needed. 
  • Encourage community service providers to join your health services advisory committee; attend meetings when possible and invite home visitors to attend when appropriate. 

Increase Home Visitors' Knowledge of Family Support Services 

These services should be linked to the family partnership agreement and to family and program outcomes.

  • Provide home visitors with information about family entitlements (e.g., income assistance, child care, medical assistance) and what families must do to receive such assistance (e.g., obtain work mandates). 
  • Encourage home visitors to recognize that parents/families are their child’s health champion. Provide information that helps home visitors promote family health literacy by encouraging families to ask questions and ask medical providers for health information they can understand.
  • Provide information about family support strategies. Help home visitors develop and strengthen skills such as:
    • Basic communication (e.g., active listening)
    • The ability to empathize with adults
    • Problem-solving
    • Supporting families experiencing crises
    • Recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties
    • Family engagement
    • Using community resources

Strengthen Family Engagement in Your Program

Home visitors work as collaborative partners with parents/families to increase their involvement and engagement in the program.

  • Work with home visitors to build strengths-based attitudes and relationship-based practices that contribute to positive, goal-oriented relationships with families.
  • Provide information about parents’ pivotal role in program governance and decision-making and the vehicles for governance (e.g., policy council, policy committee, parent committee) so that home visitors can share this information with families and encourage them to participate.
  • Help home visitors look for opportunities to connect parents/families to the larger program; for example, inviting parents to participate in planning and leading program activities, including those that come from parents’ suggestions.
  • Work with home visitors to engage fathers or father figures in children’s lives during home visits.

Family engagement refers to ongoing, goal-directed relationships between staff and families that are mutual and culturally responsive and that support what is best for children and families both individually and collectively. Staff and families share responsibility for children’s learning and development, children’s and families’ progress toward outcomes, and parent involvement in the program. Encouraging parent involvement — providing opportunities for parent participation in a variety of program activities that support child and adult development, including policy and program decision making — is a part of this larger construct of family engagement (National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement 2018).[11]

Experience It

Listen as Brenda Jones Harden, associate professor at the Institute for Child Study, University of Maryland at College Park, and Kadija Johnston, director of the Infant-Parent Program/Daycare Consultants at the University of California, San Francisco, discuss working with families. They talk about the joys and challenges of the home visitor and families in this important work. They explain how the home visitor engages parents with their child and keeps them committed to participating in home visits.

In this short video, Luis Moll describes the concept of “funds of knowledge,” the essential cultural practices and knowledge that are embedded in family routines. Although the video focuses on teachers, the information about approaching families as learners and seeking to understand families’ experiences — including work experiences, social practices, and social history — is relevant for home visitors. 

Reflect on the following questions after viewing the video: 

  1. What do you do to help staff become aware of the personal "funds of knowledge" they bring to work? 
  2. How do your staff learn about the "funds of knowledge" that the children and families with whom they work bring to the equation? 

Learn More

Building Partnerships with Families Series 

Explore this series of guides to learn more about the role that positive, goal-oriented relationships play in effective parent, family, and community engagement and school readiness. It offers definitions, tools, and guides for reflective practice and supervision.

Engaging Fathers 

This webpage features a variety of resources on supporting fathers/father figures in engaging with their children and with the program.

Family Engagement as Parent Involvement 2.0: Understanding the Difference in Terms & Concepts 

Head Start and Early Head Start programs have practiced parent involvement and parent engagement for years, prioritizing activities related to both performance standards and program innovation. This paper helps clarify the Office of Head Start (OHS) change in terms and concepts from parent involvement to family engagement.

Measuring What Matters: Using Data to Support Family Progress  

Wondering how you can use data to strengthen your work with families? Explore this series to learn relationship-based ways to partner with families and support progress on parent, family, and community engagement outcomes.

Partnerships for Change: Listening to the Voices of Families  

Watch this video to see how one program effectively partners with families and local organizations to build a strong community. See how family well-being and children’s healthy development are rooted in a respect for culture, values, and home language.

Understanding Family Engagement Outcomes: Research to Practice Series

The Research to Practice Series addresses each of the Family Engagement Outcomes of the OHS Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework. Aligned with the HSPPS, each resource presents a summary of selected research, proven interventions and promising practices, and program strategies that programs can use to foster strong relationships and support positive outcomes for children, families, and staff.


11 National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement, Parent Involvement as Family Engagement 2.0: Understanding the Difference in Terms and Concepts (Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Office of Head Start),