Home Visitor's Online Handbook

Developing and Maintaining Relationships with Parents

Every early interaction the family has with the home visitor and other program staff contributes to their impression of whether they will be welcomed, whether your program may be helpful to them, and whether they will be safe with you. Developing and maintaining relationships with families is an ongoing process. To be successful, the home visitor needs to bring a strengths-based approach, understanding that every family has its own strengths, goals, and aspirations. Every family wants their children to be healthy and have a good life. Your role as a home visitor is to engage in a process of relationship-building with that family. You use that relationship as the foundation from which the family may begin to make changes. One of the ways your relationship with the family can bring about change is through what is called the parallel process. That means when you bring respect, kindness, and thoughtfulness to your relationship with the family, they in turn will be able to bring these to their child.

You begin to engage families by having open and honest communication, noticing and appreciating the family's strengths, learning about and respecting their culture, and being sensitive to their emotions. Clearly explain what the program has to offer and the ways in which you hope to partner. Establish clear boundaries and make certain that families understand that they ensure everyone is protected. Describe what information will be kept confidential, how you keep records, and what information is shared with your program staff. You also explain that the law requires that you report child abuse or neglect immediately.

As you establish a relationship, you and the family begin to know each other as people. You are warm and interested in them but always thinking about the balance of honoring your relationship with the adults. You are focused on the structured, child-focused home visiting that promotes parents' ability to support the child's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. You use every opportunity to strengthen the parent-child relationship. You use your skills to balance the needs of the family members and the child.

How To

You can begin to develop a relationship with families by:

  • Making sure that families understand the purpose of your visit
    • Is this a first meeting? You will need to explain:
      • The program, including a description of a typical home visit
      • How Head Start and Early Head Start can help them support their children's learning and health
      • What participation is expected of them
      • The opportunities Head Start and Early Head Start may provide for their families
  • Explaining what information from your visits will be shared with your program staff
  • Being clear about your legal responsibility to report abuse or neglect
  • Describing what you see the baby doing; for example:
    • "Look at how she watches you when you talk. She loves looking at you."
    • "He's smiling every time you look at him."
    • "She's really studying that toy. Look at how she turns it and sucks it and throws it. She's learning a lot about what that toy is like. So curious."
    • "I see what you mean; he is determined to walk along your sofa no matter how many times he falls. I can see he works hard when he's interested."
  • Asking open-ended questions relevant to your being there, such as:
    • "How has your life changed since being a new mom and dad?"
    • "Tell me about a normal day with your baby."
    • "Do you have questions about taking care of your child that we might talk about when I am visiting you?"
  • Reviewing the answer if an open-ended question evokes a wide variety of issues
    • You may say: "You've told me about being tired and a little confused sometimes, feeling unsure of what Toni wants when she cries, missing your mother now, loving to hold Toni, how Toni makes you and your husband laugh, your worries about breastfeeding ... There's a lot going on. We'll get to all of these over time, but is there something you'd like to talk about first?"
  • Showing interest in the parents' interests and accomplishments (e.g., "You were working on your car when I was here last week. Did you fix it?" or "Did things go okay at work when you tried your idea?")
  • Following up on earlier events and conversations, demonstrating that you think about the parent and child when you are apart (e.g., "I thought about you this week and how you are trying to get Oscar to eat more vegetables. This may sound silly, but I found a recipe for vegetable and yogurt popsicles. If you're interested, we could try making them next week.")
  • Asking the parents if they would like advice or an idea from you before stating it (e.g., "May I offer an idea? It might be helpful to let Mark hold a second spoon in his hand while you're feeding him.")

Experience It

In the following video, the home visitor asks the mother to sing a song in her native language. While this home visitor has known this family for a few months, they are still building trust and rapport. She is building the connection between the home visits and the group socializations, as well.


What do you see happening in this video clip?

Answers may include:

  • The home visitor asks the mother to sing a song in her native language that she has heard her sing in group socializations.
  • The mother sings and does motions to the song, which the home visitor imitates.
  • The child smiles at her mother at the end of the song when they all clap.

How does asking the mother to sing build rapport between the home visitor and both the mother and the child?

Answers may include:

  • It shows respect for the family's culture.
  • It shows the mother that the home visitor values her contribution to the home visit.
  • It reminds the family of the importance of her interactions with the child.
  • It builds connection between the home visit and group socializations the family has attended.
  • It shows that the home visitor has paid attention to the mother and child during group socializations.

What techniques have you used that build the relationship between you and the parents?

Answers may include:

  • Individual reflection

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, have a conversation about working with families. They discuss the joys and challenges of the home visitor and families in this important work. They point out what the home visitor does with parents to engage them with their child and to keep them committed to participating in home visits.

In this video, Joanny Ruiz, a home visitor, talks about her involvement with families choosing to remain in the home-based option. She shares her experience with extended families in the home, where all can benefit from the home visitor engaging them jointly to communicate consistent child-rearing messages.