We believe that equitable transformation and alignment of community systems requires intentionally shifting those most impacted by inequity from margin to center.
What is Community Engagement?
Equity requires us to consider not just the who and what — the children and families facing the disproportionate burden of poor health and education outcomes — but also the why and how. Which structures perpetuate these outcomes? Who pays, and who decides?
Authentic, inclusive community engagement is an ongoing, long-term process that ensures meaningful leadership and co-design roles for community stakeholders and members at every stage of the process — from visioning, assessment, and planning, to decision making, leadership, and advocacy, to implementation and monitoring.
Why Community Engagement?
Sustainable solutions emerge when driven by the wisdom, voices, and experiences of those who are directly affected by a community issue. Community engagement strategies can ensure that the framework, planning, implementation, and evaluation of a community effort are responsive to the needs, preferences, strengths, assets, and experiences of those directly impacted by the systems issues we seek to transform, including fragmented and uncoordinated services, siloed funding and policies, inaccessible or unwelcoming environments for parents, and limited seats for parents and families at key decision-making tables.
Buy in, support, and trust from diverse stakeholders and community members is a critical factor in shaping the longevity and long-term success of an effort. This approach can also prevent the well-meaning but harmful misalignment that occurs when activities are not created in partnership with community stakeholders, leading to unintended consequences that exacerbate inequity.
BRIGHT SPOT STORY:
Since 2006, New Haven, Connecticut–based New Haven Mental Health Outreach for Mothers (MOMS) Partnership has worked to develop a community-wide and accessible system that supports maternal mental health, assists mothers and caregivers to meet basic needs, and helps mothers develop secure, reliable relationships and engage in their environment.
Their community and neighborhood-based work is focused on supporting mothers, who are central to their families’ optimal health and development, not only as clients but also as active participants and staff. For example, MOMS hires Community Mental Health Ambassadors who are from the community to conduct outreach to other mothers in need, engage them in the program, and refer them to resources.
Featured Tools and Resources
Highlighted below are some useful resources and tools to ensure your planning efforts engage and empower a diverse group of stakeholders (including parents, families, children, and others who directly experience inequity) to take on meaningful roles in your group or coalition.
National Parent Leadership Institute: The National Parent Leadership Institute (NPLI) exists to coordinate and increase the civic skills and impact of diverse parents to improve child and community outcomes as they build caring communities. Through its Parent Leadership Training Institutes, NPLI works with organizations and communities to increase the civic skills of parents, so they can make improvements in their communities for their children, and also engages with leaders to build their capacity to work with parents.
Abriendo Puertas: Abriendo Puertas / Opening Doors is the nation’s first evidence-based comprehensive training program developed by and for Latino parents with children ages 0–5 to be advocates and leaders for themselves and their young children.
Community Organizing and Family Issues: Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) aims to strengthen the power and voice of low-income and working families at all levels of civic life — from local institutions and communities to local, state, and federal policy arenas. It is a center and a resource for family-focused organizing, leadership development, and community building focused on the wellbeing of children, youth, and families.
MomsRising: MomsRising is a network of people united by the goal of building a more family-friendly America. The organization works to advocate for changes on issues that matter to women, mothers, and families by educating the public and mobilizing massive grassroots action.
Building Diverse Community Based Coalitions (The Praxis Project): This brief tool provides an overview of how to build diverse community-based coalitions, including mapping potential allies, developing plans and strategies, and preparing for implementation.
A Community Builders' Toolkit (Institute for Democratic Renewal, The Project Change Anti-Racism Initiative): This toolkit was developed to support individuals engaged in community building work who have not yet brought issues of racism to the forefront, and for those engaged in anti-racism or diversity work who have not yet applied their skills to improve specific community outcomes. It highlights 15 specific tools for creating healthy, productive, interracial/multicultural communities.
Trauma-Informed Community Building and Engagement (Urban Institute): This report offers a guide for those seeking innovative, effective, and responsible approaches to support residents of low-income housing communities through community-building and engagement efforts that address community-level trauma.
Family and Community Engagement Network (Institute for Educational Leadership): A large network that connects families and pools resources and knowledge surrounding child wellbeing and education.
Head Start Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework (Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center): This framework provides programs with a research-based organizational guide to implementing Head Start performance standards for parent, family, and community engagement.
Principles of Community Engagement (Center for Disease Control and Prevention): This document is a helpful guide to the practical implementation of community engagement strategies, including guidance on the ethics of community-engaged research.
Understanding Family Engagement Outcomes: Research to Practice Series — Families as Advocates & Leaders (Boston Children’s Hospital): This report, intended for early childhood programs, describes the importance of parents and families acting as advocates and leaders to represent the needs of children. The report explains what programs can do to boost family advocacy and leadership.