11.1 Developing and Maintaining Relationships with Parents

What Is It?

For you and parents to work constructively together, you need to establish a relationship that is committed to the partnership. The parents need to know that you will respect their culture and language; that you will hear their concerns, interests, and joys; and that the home visits will be worth their time. Together, you will create a safe environment that will enhance the work you do. Every contact with a family provides you with opportunities to share the strategies you use to help you understand their child, relate to and honor their contributions, and discover ways you can collaborate to make mutually agreeable changes in their child’s life and in their own. In beginning a relationship, the first meetings need to communicate to the family your genuine interest in getting to know them and learning how to support their well-being. You will be exploring the family’s culture and learning about their goals and expectations for their child’s learning. You will learn about their strengths, interests, and experiences as you begin to mutually build a plan for your work together.

Relationships take time and nurturance. Your relationship with the family will center on the rapid changes in development of their child. However, being able to share this experience of supporting a child’s development requires a mutual, working partnership. There is a personal relationship between the home visitor and the family members. Home visitors develop a genuine concern—and, sometimes, affection—for the families with whom they work. Families may come to see the home visitor as a constant and important part of their lives.

One home visitor recounted the story of first meeting a single mother with two foster children, sisters one year and two years old. On the first visit, they sat in an enclosed porch in the front of the house. It was barely big enough to hold the four of them. As the weeks went by, they moved into the living room, and then the kitchen, while the foster mother revealed painful struggles in her childhood that were clearly interfering with her otherwise excellent skills to parent these two little girls. Although it was painful to hear the foster mother’s story, the home visitor listened intensely as the mother related truly brutal events in her childhood. The home visitor provided compassion and respect as she listened. As the home visitor was able to hear the mother’s story with empathy and insight, the mother became more accepting and loving toward the girls. After a year of working together, the mother invited the home visitor into her bedroom. This woman, who had had a tortuous childhood and struggled with many aspects of her life, now wanted to show the home visitor an antique, glass-encased display cabinet filled with her collection of porcelain dolls. Over time, as the trust and mutual respect between the two women deepened, the foster mother was able to open herself to the home visitor and use the model of that relationship to let herself be closer and more supportive of the children she would later adopt.

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, how Head Start (HS)/Early Head Start (EHS) can help them help their children learn and be healthy, and what participation is expected of them; you will also need to provide a description of a typical home visit. Talk with them about the opportunities HS/EHS may provide for their families as well.

  • explaining what information from your visits will be shared with your program staff. Be clear about your legal responsibility to report abuse or neglect.

  • describing what you see the baby doing. “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 an open-ended question 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. “You were working on your car when I was here last week. Did you fix it?” “Did things go OK 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. “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. “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. The home visitor is building the connection between the home visits and the group socializations, as well.


  1. What do you see happening in this video clip?

    • 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 when they all clap for the song.

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

    • 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 where the family has attended.

    • It shows that the home visitor has paid attention to the mother and child during group socializations.

  3. What techniques have you used that build the relationship between you and the parent(s)?


    Individual reflection

Voices from the Field: Brenda Jones Harden, Professor & Kadija Johnston, Consultant/Director

Brenda Jones Harden, Associate Professor, Institute for Child Study, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, and Kadija Johnston, Director, U.C.S.F. Infant-Parent Program/Daycare Consultants. (University of California, San Francisco), have a conversation about working with families and the joys and challenges of the home visitor and the families in doing so. 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.

View the entire webcast: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/ehsnrc/poi/home-based/ParentChildRela.htm

Voices from the Field: Joanny Ruiz, home visitor

In this video, Joanny Ruiz, a home visitor, talks about her experience 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.