Organizational Leadership

Technology Considerations in Home Visiting

Home visitor using a cell phone to video a child and mother play interaction.For decades, home-based programs have established policies for a growing variety of technology. Now, the use of technology is extremely widespread and can aid planning and implementation of home-based services. (See Technology Considerations in the Home Visitor’s Online Handbook.)

In many ways, technology such as email, texting, and social media has been useful for home visitors. For example, you are accessing this information through your computer or mobile device. However, the home visitor's use of technology can also disrupt ongoing interactions.

Home visitors often struggle to engage parents and children if the television is on or a parent is texting on her phone. However, families may also struggle when the home visitor introduces cameras, tablets, or laptops into the home visiting experience. It is important to discuss the purpose of technology and how comfortable the family is with it.

With the ability to carry personal and family information from one home visit to another, programs must ensure they have procedures to protect the confidentiality of any personally identifiable information (PII). PII refers to any information that could identify a specific individual, including but not limited to the name of a child or family member, a child’s street addressor  Social Security number, or other information that is linked or linkable to the child. For example, home visitors should have passwords to access a laptop, tablet, or phone, as well as the ability to download and erase videos and photos from tablets and cameras securely between home visits.

Here are some things to think about when using technology in home visiting.

Laptops and Tablets

Many home visiting curricula have online assessments, planning forms, and suggestions for experiences and interactions. One benefit is that home visitors and the parents can look at the screen together, write reflections on the home visit, and plan for the next one on a form that can be filled out and saved directly in the program's system. Another benefit is the ability to take photos and videos. If the home visitor has a portable printer, he or she can share the photos or the planning sheet immediately.

However, looking at a screen together is not the same experience as looking into each other's eyes and at facial expressions and gestures. Screen time should be used judiciously and should never be allowed to drive the conversation. The screen must never create a barrier between the home visitor and the parents.

Cameras

Digital still and video cameras and smartphones with those capacities can help with documentation and portfolio assessment. Some programs keep photos and videos of a child on a flash drive and give it to the parents when they leave the program. Programs may also be able to share photos immediately with families through messaging applications. Home visitors can look at photos or videos with the parents and discuss their impressions of what the child is doing and learning.

Home visitors need to be sure they do not participate in the visit from behind a camera. Even if it would be wonderful to document everything that happens, home visitors don't want to let the camera get between them, the parents, and the children. They must also be sure that parents understand how the pictures will be used and have them sign a consent form to photograph them and their child.

Portable Printers

These printers may be too costly for most programs, but they are a wonderful way to print forms and photos in the moment.

Cell Phones or Smartphones

Home visitors may use a mobile phone to take photos or video and use text messages to communicate with parents, but a phone can be very distracting when a parent is texting his or her way through the home visit. Home visitors might want to discuss the use of phones early in their relationship, so each person agrees to put them away and just be with the child. It may help if the home visitor explains he or she is there to support the parent’s relationship with their child. Additionally, they can tell parents how important it is that, in this moment, their child has all of their attention.

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Using Social Media to Engage Families

Social media is a great way for Head Start and Early Head Start programs to partner with families. Use it to engage parents in supporting their children's learning and healthy development and so much more. Understanding how families use social media may also be helpful as you create or enhance your social media plan.

Use this guide to:

  • Develop and manage a social media plan
  • Identify your audience and connect your social media efforts to your program's mission
  • Choose the best sites and times to post based on your audience and objectives
  • Take into consideration such issues as technical requirements, promotion, and quality assurance
  • Create posts that are strengths-based, easy for readers to understand, and culturally and linguistically responsive
  • Respond thoughtfully to comments and questions from families.