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Activity 3.2: Building Family Engagement and Leadership

Children grow and learn within the context of their family. When organizations that serve children and families authentically partner with families, both the family and organization are enriched, and services are more impactful. North Carolina is working to enhance family engagement across early childhood sectors through strong collaborations and tools. The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) and its partners are pleased to introduce the North Carolina Family Engagement and Leadership Framework to guide this work.

In 2019, the State Family Engagement and Leadership Coalition was formed as a 74-person coalition of NC early childhood providers from both state and local levels, as well as parents. This cross-sector group met consistently over six months to develop and refine the guiding principles and concepts featured in NC’s Family Engagement and Leadership Framework, developed to guide improvement practices as well as policy and systems change to support early childhood systems that are family-centered and equitable, serving children in the context of their families and communities.

The Family Engagement and Leadership Framework defines and identifies important family engagement concepts to be applied across early childhood sectors and agencies. While its focus is ages birth to five, this Framework can be applied to the birth to eight age range and beyond, allowing for increased strategic alignment with initiatives such as NC’s Early Childhood Action Plan and Pathways to Grade-Level Reading. This Framework reflects both research and collective wisdom to ensure all children succeed through the strategy that works best – family engagement. It upholds the definition of family engagement as “doing with—not for—families” and the vision that agencies and programs align strategies to intentionally engage and learn from the adults in a child’s life. A Summary of the Framework is also available in English and Spanish.

A companion document, the Family Engagement Action Guide includes practical tools and strategies to increase family engagement and leadership at the local, county and state levels. The Action Guide is a comprehensive roadmap documenting the experiences of 10 local communities and their approach to community-level planning with family representatives and local agencies.

For more information about North Carolina’s early childhood Family Engagement and Leadership work, contact the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education at [email protected] or 919-814-6300.

NC Early Childhood Family Engagement and Leadership Coalition


North Carolina's birth to five early childhood systems are family-centered and equitable, serving children in the context of their families and communities.



Agencies align strategies to engage and learn from the adults in a child's life, and support practitioners to build knowledge and skills to engage families as partners. Families are empowered to advocate for their children, themselves, and systems improvement.

What the Research Says:

“Family engagement plays a major role in children’s school readiness, influencing their social-emotional and academic competencies.” (e.g., Starkey & Klein, 2000; Powell et al., 2010; Sheridan, Knoche, Edwards, Bovaird, & Kupzyk, 2010; Sheridan, Knoche, Kupzyk, Edwards, & Marvin, 2011)


“When parents take on leadership roles…early childhood programs, schools and other programs are better able to meet the needs of the children, families and the community they serve.” (Auerbach, 2010)


What Does Family Engagement and Leadership Look Like?



Families experience responsive relationships with the people who work with them, in which family story and partnership is valued.


Families are equal partners and active participants in goals and decisions about their child’s well-being, development and learning.


Spaces are created to feel welcoming and safe for families.


Communication is a two-way street, easy to understand, and ongoing.


Families are empowered to advocate for themselves and their communities.


Families help with the planning and improvement process of programs.


Partner organizations are held accountable on how well they include families in their self-assessment and planning.

Defining Family Engagement and Family Leadership:


Family Engagement is the process of building genuine relationships with families to help children grow and thrive. Family engagement means doing with—not for—families.

  • At the program level, family engagement is an interactive process centered around providers building mutually respectful, positive, goal-oriented relationships with parents, with shared responsibility for the success of children.
  • At the systems levels, family leaders partner with agencies to provide feedback on services, help with program planning and improvement, and advance a family-centered approach within rules, regulations, and service delivery.
  • At both the program and state systems levels, providers work together with families, professionals and community partners to advance equity, inclusiveness, and cultural and linguistic responsiveness.

Adapted from: Head Start/National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement

Family Leadership occurs when parents and family members have the knowledge, skills and opportunity to represent a “parent voice” to help shape their communities, programs and policies at the local or state level. 

Family leaders help early childhood programs, schools, social services, health care providers and other entities become more responsive to and supportive of children and families. They may be parents, grandparents, kinship care providers, foster parents or anyone in a parenting role. They are speaking from their own perspective and lived experiences and are not speaking or acting in a staff role for an organization or other entity. 

Every family member has the potential to become a family leader. Example roles include: 

  • Ambassadors who share information about early intervention, early childhood education or health services through community outreach or social media;
  • Activists who champion community improvements for young children, such as practices and policies that support family well-being and equity;
  • Change makers who identify problems and help create systemic improvements in early learning, health and development.

Adapted from: Parents Anonymous

FAMILY-CENTERED Agencies prioritize engaging families as partners as a central strategy to achieving positive, equitable and sustainable outcomes for children and families. EQUITY-DRIVEN Agencies make it a priority to understand families’ experiences and break down barriers created by structural and individual racism and other types of discrimination. COLLABORATIVE Agencies make program decisions with — not for —families, by partnering with families and parent-led organizations from thestart and continually. TRANSPARENT Agencies ensure families have access to information and supports that make it possible for them to fully participate and influence agency and system-level change processes.
Guiding Principles Graphic   Conditions For Success Graphic

Resource Highlight for Agencies:

Agencies and policymakers can assess their current level of engagement by utilizing the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Parent Engagement and Leadership Assessment Guide and Tool.


Family Leadership Opportunities:

Provider Professional Development Tools:

Equitable Family Engagement

Trauma-Informed Practices with Families




2201 Mail Service Center | Raleigh, NC 27699-2200
919-814-6300 | 1-800-859-0829 (In State Only)
[email protected]


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