Family Engagement Toolkit

Why Is Family Engagement Important?

  • When families are involved in their children’s schooling, children do better.
  • Afterschool programs are a gateway to school involvement for many parents who do not and would not otherwise feel connected to their children’s school. Parents who feel connected to their afterschool program are more likely to have contact with teachers and day school staff.
  • Family engagement can also benefit programs by providing programs with valuable volunteer and advisor support from families.

Family Engagement guide thumbnail

ACT Now’s Family Engagement Toolkit

This Family Engagement Toolkit was developed by the Afterschool for Children and Teens (ACT Now) Coalition to aid afterschool and summer program administrators and staff as they navigate the family engagement process, regardless of their starting point. We seek to ensure that programs are inclusive, accessible, and welcoming for all families. To help achieve this goal, ACT Now used the principles developed by the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) Family Engagement Framework while developing this toolkit.

ACT Now unveiled our newest resource, the Family Engagement Toolkit, during a live walkthrough of the tool on August 16, 2021. Access the RECORDING HERE!

Passcode: 4GSgvCC*

Where Should Programs Start?

  • Programs should gauge the needs and interests of their community and the parents and youth in their background. Understanding a family’s practical needs and cultural background will help to effectively shape family engagement initiatives.
  • Make sure your staff understands the cultural diversity of your families and are conscious of keeping a positive tone. When staff is sensitive to the needs of your students and parents and are positive, it promotes the buy-in of families. 

Strategies for Pursuing Family Engagement

  • Welcome Parents: Make sure to welcome parents from the very first day and communicate that they are important and their involvement is critical to the program. Make sure materials are printed in appropriate languages. 
  • Open Hour: Host a regular telephone hour or office hour where parents can call or stop by to ask questions or offer suggestions.
  • Parents as Advocates: Train parents to educate policymakers, legislators, the media, and community members about the importance of afterschool programs. You can train parents to write advocacy letters (see Parent Letter to Legislators Handout), make phone calls to legislators, or make legislative visits.  You can also hold trainings to communicate information about substantive policy issues.
  • Parent Handbook: Draft a Parent Handbook that covers everything parents would want to about your program.
  • Parents as Employees: The next time you have a job opening or hear about a job opening in your community consider notifying parents.
  • Parents as Volunteers: Parents can be a valuable asset as volunteers. However, not all parents can volunteer during program hours.  If parents are unable to volunteer during the day, consider asking them to perform tasks that can be done off-site such as stuffing envelopes, contacting businesses for donations and support, or typing a newsletter.  Create a volunteer bank list of parents early on in the year to ease access to volunteers when they are needed.  Use the sample Parent Volunteer Recruitment Letter handout to assess the capacity of your parent volunteers.
  • Parent Focused Programming: Use a survey, like the Parent Interest Survey handout, to assess what parents want to see out of the program. Consider offering programing to benefit the parents like a sewing, baking class, or adult education classes.
  • Parents as Advisors: Ask parents and other caregivers to act as advisors to your program.
  • Frequent Communication: Develop mechanisms for ongoing and frequent communication, such as using a newsletter, a website, phone tree, parent buddies, text messages, and Facebook. Take into consideration literacy and cultural barriers when developing communication tools. 
  • Service Referrals: Develop lists of local agencies that provide services, establish a Parent Resource Center, and compile a Resource Book to help parents locate information and services they need. Your afterschool program can represent a safe place for parents and family members to learn about services and programs in which they are interested. This will also invest parents more in your program. 
  • Parents as Teachers: Find out what skills parents and families have to offer and find ways to leverage these skills in your programming.

Click here to download the PDF version.

*Some Content adapted from The After-School Corporation,

Other Resources

PTA Facilitating Listening Sessions Toolkit: The National PTA has developed a toolkit for educators and afterschool providers to utilize when engaging families in community. The Facilitating Listening Sessions Toolkit outlines the strategies for hosting a listening session in your community, hosts invitation scripts, and even an agenda for the facilitator of the conversation. The Facilitating Listening Sessions Toolkit is also available in six other languages.