Throughout the pandemic we have been reminded how valuable connection to community is to children, families, and educators’ sense of wellbeing. In a previous post How have COVID-19 restrictions shaped your service’s community engagement? we spoke about why connection is important, and how the COVID-19 pandemic barriers to community engagement can be meaningfully addressed. It is equally as important to consider how your program and quality practices can be extended to reach children and families who are not attending your service or are having minimal contact with you, so they feel connected and supported.
When considering how to extend your program to enrolled children and their families who are not currently attending, start by reflecting on Quality Area 6 and what the unique relationships with families look like within your service. This will support you and your team in deciding which outreach ideas would be the most effective. It is also important to note that connection efforts do not need to only be directed to family members. By reaching out directly to children, you are able to enhance their feelings of belonging and their social wellbeing.
Adapting your current strategies
Your service will already have diverse support systems in place for your children, and connections with families to support them in their parenting role (NQS Element 6.1.3). Together with your team, reflect on the most suitable ways to adapt and build on your existing connection strategies.
Some areas to reflect on when brainstorming and choosing strategies to connect with families could include:
- Families are receiving increased amounts of digital correspondence and communication from schools, government organisations, workplaces, etc. How do you consider this if attempting to connect in this way?
- How does your mindset and language focus on the current needs of your families? Keeping in mind children’s and families’ wellbeing and their evolving needs for safety, security, and connection during COVID-19 can help to ensure your connection efforts are truly supportive.
- How do you ensure your connection efforts are respectful, inclusive, and based on real understanding of the diverse family structures and/or cultures across your service?
- How frequently do you and your team reflect on and review the ways you connect? Things are changing frequently due to COVID-19 – consider if it would be beneficial to review practices more regularly than usual to ensure they still work for your service, your families, and children.
- If families have opted out of using digital platforms or other means you use to connect, how do you ensure they still feel part of your community?
- As explored in the exceeding guidance for Standard 6.1, how does your approach to building supportive relationships and connections align with your service philosophy and the values of your families?
- Consider your current levels of staffing and your continuing operational requirements. Could smaller gestures to help families feel connected potentially be more appropriate during this time? How could you make these meaningful?
Family engagement and feedback
Feedback is an important part of connecting with your families and ensuring your policies, procedures, practices, and overarching program meet their diverse needs. When continuing to gather meaningful input during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be helpful to consider the following:
- Consider what strategies successfully encouraged collaboration in the past and how you found out what works best for families when asking for feedback. How could you adapt these methods or work with children and families to come up with new, creative strategies?
- How can you find out if your requests possibly require more time and energy than families can commit to right now?
- How can you ensure your families understand the language you use when asking for their input? For example, how do you empower your families with information and opportunities to build their understanding of the educational program at your service before asking for their feedback?
- Aligning with Elements 1.3.1 and 6.1.1, what parts of your program are your families passionate about and how can you ensure they have the opportunity to contribute feedback in genuine, authentic and meaningful ways on a range of policies, procedures and practices (e.g. COVID-19 routines, transitions, spaces)?
It is equally as important to consider whether families could be fatigued with requests for feedback and whether these appeals may be transactional as opposed to building relationships and supporting families at this time. Whether families are attending the service, or have limited access due to restrictions, it can be helpful to use your professional judgement and what you already know about your families in order to trial options, build on connections, and take actions.
The bigger picture
“Improving the wellbeing of families is an important contributing factor in improving children’s overall wellbeing”Guide to the NQF, p.264.
When you connect, it is important to share that you are an advocate for the health and wellbeing of your families and highlight that this may look different for each individual child/family. You and your team have wonderful opportunities to provide warmth, reassurance, and enhance the wellbeing of both those who are seeking support for their family during this time by attending your service, as well as for families who have chosen to keep their children at home.
While COVID-19 restrictions have presented challenges, they have also encouraged the exploration of opportunities to build trust and support for your families. Your tailored approaches will draw on your knowledge of each family in order to connect thoughtfully and meaningfully, whether that is in person or through other means. While you may not receive an immediate response, or any response at all, to your connection attempts this does not mean your efforts to keep in touch have not been appreciated. While it is fulfilling to have certainty that your message has touched who you intended it to, the aim of connecting with families is to provide support and enhance their wellbeing. It is important to remember there will be diversity in preferences in ways to connect and consider the possibility that a response from families may not be something they can commit to or prioritise at this time.
Reflecting with your team on the new strategies for connection that have been developed and considering how they can go beyond the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic can also support quality improvement into the future. As service leaders and educators, we view responsive, reciprocal supportive and ongoing relationships as crucial to our program. These reflections on relationships and connections can also strengthen your, and your team’s, dedicated commitment to understanding and building on meaningful, regular engagement with families to support children’s learning and wellbeing.