Supported parent engagement and leadership
In Discovery, parent action at every level matters -- within the home as well as in the programs and institutions that touch the lives of young children. Parents are the best advocates for their children. They know what they need, they are passionate and energized, and committed to getting their children what they need to thrive. Community and statewide policy efforts on behalf of young children are built upon and sustained by this dedication and passion.
Discovery sees parent engagement as a collective responsibility. Getting parents involved takes explicit effort over time. Communities and groups are never "done" listening to parents or developing parent leaders. The process is ongoing.
Parent Engagement at the Community Level
- Even prior to Discovery, communities participated in the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) and other parent civic leadership models. Parent graduates have gone on to create local and state-level programs, become child advocates, start foundations, and hold elected offices, among other achievements.
- The Parent Voice in Action Guide was produced in 2006 to help communities assess how they are doing in providing opportunities for parent voices to be heard. The guide is based on research and lessons learned by Discovery communities in their parent engagement efforts. The "honeycomb," prepared as part of this guide (pictured below), shows an array of opportunities for engagement and leadership.
This graphic emphasizes that parent engagement is not a linear path. Serving as members of a community collaborative group is neither the only nor the most important role for parents. There are many ways parents can promote the success of their children and of children in their community and state.
The goal is to create a climate in which parent opinions and experiences are heard and taken into consideration in decision-making.
Parent Engagement and Leadership at the State Level
- In 2001, the Connecticut Parent Trust Fund was established through the advocacy of grantee communities and the Connecticut Commission on Children. This fund provided a vehicle to funnel a mix of public and private funds to communities for quality parent leadership training.
- The statewide parent mobilization and advocacy organization, Connecticut Parent Power, also grew out of the Children First Initiative (CFI) and the Parent Leadership Training Institute, with funding and consultant support from the Memorial Fund.
- In 2007, to stimulate new state investment in parent leadership, the Memorial Fund, with support from other private funders, challenged the state by offering to match any new state investments in parent leadership. Advocates, parents, legislators and business leaders showed their support, calling for the state to allocate the matching funds. The result was an increase in annual funds for the Parent Trust Fund of $200,000 initially and $500,000 in 2010-2011.
Parent engagement and leadership development strategies need long-term support to become pervasive enough to see widespread impact. This is particularly true when parents of young children are the focus, since parenting responsibilities are very demanding during this period. Even very engaged parents become less focused on early childhood as their children move ahead in school, creating a need for ongoing recruitment to engage new parents. The "professional" culture, including meeting times, locations, and professional jargon can be a barrier to parent engagement. Successful parent engagement strategies identify parent needs and interests and demonstrate how their involvement can make a difference.
These challenges notwithstanding, the Memorial Fund has seen the rise of parent leaders, 25 of whom were recognized for their leadership on behalf of children at the 2010 Stone Soup Conference. These parents are leading collaboratives groups, chairing committees, planning and running school-based and community events, establishing nonprofits, and producing websites, television programs, and newlsetters to increase awareness of early childhood issues and reach out to and engage other parents to do the same.