Parent Voices: Powerful Influences for Powerful Outcomes

When the goal is positive, growth-promoting outcomes for families, it only makes sense (in my mind, anyhow) to talk to families about their experiences, their hopes, dreams and fears. Where are things working well? How can that be capitalized? Where are things feeling stuck? What needs some WD-40 to make ’em go more smoothly?

These are critical conversations to have up front, long before programs and curriculum are designed. Long before laws, administrative codes and policies are written. And they need to continue. In a variety of formats and ways that support the widest array of voices being heard. One area that I struggled with in a former job was in getting buy-off at the leadership level to support authentic parent engagement. So, when this particular assignment came around, I decided to step up on my soapbox and start speaking my piece . . .

Background Information

Both the public and private sector funders are highly interested but inadequately invested in early learning evidence-based programs and approaches which claim high return on investments (ROI).  This all too frequently translates into programs design being driven by research strategies to prove efficacy; and worse yet, provided limited resources and funding when moving from pilot to replication phase. Scarcity models rely on a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy which leaves no room for the variety of interests, needs, strengths and challenges individual parents, families and communities bring to the table. However, research points to the value and importance of supporting parent participation in designing and implementing strong, effective programs and policies that support healthy, successful families and children.

Some research-based tidbits on the why this is important . . .  

Including Parents in Evaluation of a Child Development Program: Relevance of Parental Involvement, Hamida Amirali Jinnah & Lynda Henley Walters, University of Georgia, 2008.

“Parents have the major responsibility and control of a child’s development, and their decisions concerning success and failure should be considered important,” (Bernheimer, Gallimore, & Weisner, 1990; Guralnick, 1989).

“Understanding parent views (positive and negative) can be used to develop more responsive services and prevent program rejection,” (Upshur, 1991; Grela & Illerbrun, 1998).

“We also can learn more about the intended and unintended effects of a program from parents,” (Zigler & Balla, 1982).

“Finally, consumer satisfaction data collection from parents can be used to convince other audiences (e.g., funding agencies, administrators) of the usefulness of a program,” (Scheirer, 1978).

Some research on how parent voice informs program development and continuous quality improvement . . .  

NATURALISTIC EVALUATION OF PROGRAMS. PARENTS’ VOICE IN PARENT EDUCATION PROGRAMS (Based on the grounded theory strategy, this study explores the participants’ subjective representations, being a useful source of information for future development of similar programs. Ştefan COJOCARU, Daniela COJOCARU. Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iaşi, Romania, 2011.)

“The importance of program responsiveness to parents’ interests, concerns, preoccupations is mentioned very often in literature, alongside the concern that these programs do not disseminate the specialists’ preconceived (meaning “previously established”) opinions as to what the contents and the appropriate manner of delivery should be, but instead to illustrate the philosophy of parent participation in shaping the contents and the training process, as a guarantee of the final aim of the program . . .”

Additionally (same study): “. . . naturalistic evaluation is characterized by a high capacity of adaptation and flexibility in the entire process, from data collection to the negotiation of conclusions and recommendations. This flexibility of data collection process makes naturalistic evaluation preferable especially during formative evaluations because “the naturalistic paradigm is ideal especially in formative evaluations due to the possibility of changing its design in response to the new information necessary for the progress of evaluation and for improving the program,” (Williams, 1986, p. 87).

Target audience State agency directors, affiliated legislators, Governor’s office staff, mid-level executive management.
Anticipated setting In-person, conference room, as part of a packed agenda. Limited capacity for cutting-edge media and technology.
Presentation title Parent Voices: Powerful Influences for Powerful Outcomes
Purpose of proposal and presentation To get legislative and top executive funding and resource support for required legislative agenda of parent participation in agency rule-making (WACs), program development and program funding decisions.
Climate or current state Parent participation has been tokenized or seen as adequately addressed by legislators and agency staff as “parents themselves.” The reality is that the agency does not adequately involve “consumer” parents – and especially consumer parents in low-income situations – in developing rules, programs, and making funding decisions.
Problem you wish to solve The general problem is that state agencies don’t engage citizens in a meaningful way to develop policies, programs and make funding decisions. The specific problem is that the agency that is required to involve parents in program and policy simply does not – partly because they are inadequately funded by the legislature and partly because there is not agency leadership buy-in of this strategy. Consequently, programs and policies meet with resistance and lack of support. This would improve with parent participation in every aspect of the agency’s work through a variety of mechanisms and methods with feedback loops and implementation reflective of the wisdom and experience that parents have to share regarding their interests, needs and desires for strong, successful families and children.
Statement on the solution Families come in all shapes and sizes, with different interests, strengths and challenges. Effective and meaningful parent participation requires not only funding and resource support, but leadership that drives agency action. It’s not enough to say that parent participation is important – top level leaders must live that promise, as well.
Desired outcomes An economic, geographic, educational, occupational, political and religious diversity of parent participation in determining policies, programs and funding which ultimately more closely match the needs and interests of parents.
Background info RCW 43.215 finds that parents are their children’s first and most important teachers and decision makers and that parents and legal guardians should be involved in the development of policies, programs and budget decisions affecting their children.
Value statement – why is this important Setting the stage for a healthy, successful adult life has its start in the earliest years. Citizen-paid (both through taxes and private dollars) programs and services should be designed in a way that respects and preserves the ability of parents and legal guardians to direct the education, development, and upbringing of their children; and that recognizes and honors cultural and linguistic diversity.



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