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Child and Family Services

Children develop and learn within all types of families, and family members are the most significant people in young children’s lives. When you view families as complex systems and acknowledge their impact in early childhood, you are better able to develop partnerships with families and help create environments that meet the needs of each child in your care. Strong partnerships with families help make the management of your family child care program smooth and energized. This lesson shares perspectives for understanding families and provides an introduction to family-centered practice.

  • Recognize family-centered practice as a key component of managing your family child care program.
  • Learn how to be respectful and welcoming to children and their families in your program.
  • Recognize the diversity of families.



Welcoming Each Child and Family

Where do you feel welcomed? What happens in a place that makes you feel welcome?

Spend a few seconds thinking about these two questions. Then consider all the things you do in your daily work to make all children and their families feel welcome in your program. How do you greet children and families in the morning and when it is time to go home? How do you ensure that children feel welcome, learn, and develop while having fun? How do you comfort them when they are upset or miss their loved ones? How do you ensure that families feel welcome and supported?

Successful family child care providers create positive, welcoming environments for the children and families they work with, and they strive for excellence in their interactions with others. Along with safety, some of the most important aspects of your work are the relationships you create and nurture with children and families. As highlighted in several courses throughout the Virtual Lab School, relationships form over time and require ongoing effort and commitment. Collaborating with others is a big part of your work, and whether you are a brand-new or a seasoned family child care provider, your success and effectiveness hugely depend on how well you work with others. Whether you engage with children, families, fellow child care providers, or family child care administrators, nurturing these relationships early on is critical to your success.

Young children’s development happens so quickly. When families and providers work together, communicate, and share what is observed and experienced, opportunities are created for better understanding to support this rapid developmental growth. Asking questions, communicating, and listening to families helps support continuity of care between home and the care setting.

Understanding children and child development is absolutely essential in your role as a family child care provider. The individual courses within the Virtual Lab School provide extensive information on each of the developmental domains (e.g., Cognitive Development, Physical Development, Social & Emotional Development) as well as strategies and practical ideas for how to promote optimum growth. Refer to these courses for comprehensive information about the development of the children in your family child care program. Along with child development, knowledge about topics such as Safe Environments, Learning Environments, Healthy Environments, Positive Guidance, Child Abuse Prevention, and Family Engagement will strengthen your competence and enable you to positively impact the lives of children and families. Optimum development is achieved when children in your care are healthy, emotionally secure, and socially connected. This development, however, cannot be achieved unless you put children’s families and home cultures at the forefront of your work.

When engaging with families of children with special learning needs, you should work with your family child care administrators or licensing specialists to ensure that you have the resources and supports you need. Work collaboratively with your trainer, coach, family child care administrator, and family members to be sure that a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) outcomes are addressed in your program. Successful inclusion of children with disabilities requires careful planning, intentional teaching, and ongoing communication among all professionals that support that child. As highlighted in Lesson Two, building collaborative relationships takes time and attention, but will have meaningful outcomes for your program.

You should work with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator to ensure that families are welcomed and supported at all times in your program. Just as you care about how the children in your program are welcomed, you have to pay attention to how families are included in your daily work, not only at drop-off and pickup time, but throughout their child’s day. In doing so, consider the following:

  • Ask family members how they want to be involved and remind them that they are important to you.
  • Respect each child (and their family) in your care, and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, background, values, and beliefs.
  • Share information with families about the work you do with children in your care and, if needed, explain why you do things a certain way.
  • Families can choose to be involved in various ways. For military families, it is critical to have flexibility in how they can participate in your program.
  • When families volunteer, they need to have clear directions, a purpose, and know what your expectations are for them.
  • Family members want to have meaningful conversations about their child. Keep them updated regularly about their child’s growth in your program. Acknowledge all the great things children do on a daily basis and share often with their families. Ongoing communication and collaboration benefits everyone.
  • All families have strengths and all families have challenges. Focus on each family’s strengths and build on those.

Introducing Family-Centered Practice

Because families are central to their child’s development, particularly when it comes to the early-childhood years, they are partners, active participants, and decision-makers in their children’s education process. As a result, family-centered practice is considered one of the indicators of quality in early childhood education, programs, and services. At the heart of family-centered practice is the belief that families are the most important decision-makers in a child’s life.

Family-centered practice also means that you understand the important effect all family members have on each other and on the children in your care. Each family member affects the other and the ways that the family functions. All family members are interconnected. From our families, we learn skills that enable us to engage in school and the workplace.

When considering family-centered practice, you view children as part of a larger system, and their family as a whole. You become aware of and sensitive to the interactions and relationships that take place within the family, as well as outside interactions and supports that affect them. In an effort to maintain relationships and to work effectively together, you learn, respect, and understand characteristics of each family and its support system. Try to also consider the characteristics and stressors that may affect a family’s involvement in your program. What affects one family member can affect all family members. A family is a complex system in which no one member can be viewed in isolation.

Throughout the Virtual Lab School, we consider family-centered practice as an umbrella term that encompasses the beliefs and actions of people in your program. Consider this table:

Family-Centered Practice

Family-centered practice is a set of beliefs and actions that influence how we engage families.



Families are the most important decision-makers in a child’s life.

  • We learn about families’ ideas and preferences.
  • We provide choices in programming.
  • We involve families in program leadership.
  • We involve families in decision-making.

Families are unique and their differences enrich our programs.​

  • We honor and respect diversity.
  • We involve all the important people in a child’s life.
  • We engage and involve families.
  • We develop responsive and reciprocal relationships.
  • We represent families in our programs.

Families are resilient.

  • We learn about families' strengths, needs, and circumstances.
  • We connect families with resources.
  • We build families' strengths.

Families are central to development and learning.

  • We share information with families.
  • We listen to families.
  • We view families as their child’s first teacher.
  • We respect families’ expertise about their child.

Families are our partners.

  • We use respectful, responsive, and two-way communication.
  • We reach out to families.
  • We involve families in all aspects of our program.

Making an effort to understand the children you care for and their families can create opportunities for you to better support the young children in your care.

Family-Centered Practices

Family members share how their children’s programs are welcoming and supportive.

Honoring Diversity in Families

Some very important learning in the early years relates to culture. Young children learn new words, ways of interacting with others, how to communicate, and how to play—all things influenced by culture. Culture refers to the shared experiences and history of different groups of people. Cultural differences may include differences in views of family and community, expectations of children, roles of parents, and value placed on education.

Culture is a significant factor in the way families raise their children and how you, as a family child care provider, care for young children. Examine your own cultural experiences and consider how these experiences affect your practice with children and families. Each provider brings specific values, beliefs, and assumptions about child rearing and development to her or his work. In almost every type of family child care routine you perform, your values about it were shaped by your childhood and training. As you work with children and their families, it is important to recognize your values and beliefs and the ways in which they are communicated. For example, a parent might expect a preschooler to never have a toileting accident, while you accept that toileting accidents do happen occasionally.

Sometimes, you might feel unsure about how to care for a child or how to engage families who have very different experiences and cultures, such as families who speak an unfamiliar language or who have unfamiliar religious customs. You can acknowledge differences and demonstrate an interest in the family in an effort to build relationships and learn ways to provide support to children in your care. For example, you can learn how families view sleep habits, which may be influenced by culture and affect development. When differences are viewed through the lens of culture, respectful conversations can lead to agreement in how these practices will be supported in a group early care and learning environment.

Early care and learning settings provide an environment where adults and children learn about and honor differences in values, beliefs, and perceptions. Learning one’s culture occurs primarily within the family; however, in early care and learning environments, children also learn about others' culture and they experience relationships that influence their sense of who they are and who they will become.

To help children develop this sense of who they are and who they will become, you must honor and celebrate the diversity of families. Diversity exists in a variety of dimensions, including:

  • Composition (who is a member of the family)
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Language
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ability or disability
  • Educational background
  • Values and traditions
  • Child-rearing practices

Being a responsive provider means that you demonstrate sensitivity and consideration for the multiple backgrounds, experiences, values, and contexts in which children and families live.

Being a responsive provider also means that you are always professional and ethical when working with families. When it comes to sensitive information, you should practice the following:

  • Keep information about children and their families confidential. This refers to any time that confidential family information might come up like reviewing child and family records, having conversations with other providers in your community, or engaging in conversations with other people you know in the community.
  • When you know confidential information about a child or family, use that information to help them and not judge them.


In the video below you will hear family child care providers describe the importance of embracing diversity in their programs.

Embracing Diversity

Watch this video to learn about embracing diversity in programs.

Watch this video to hear family child care providers and administrators describe their role in ensuring children with disabilities receive appropriate care and how to support families through the journey of caring for these exceptional children.

Working with Families of Children with Disabilities

In this video you will learn about working with children who have disabilities and supporting their families.


There is a lot you can do to show that you value the families of the children in your program. Consider the following guidelines that reflect family-centered practice, and then think about how you can use these guidelines in your work with children and families:

  • Recognize the family as the constant in the child’s life and that providers, teachers, coaches, and programs may come and go.
  • Acknowledge that families know their children best and learn to view them as partners and collaborators in your work. Reach out to them and invite their input.
  • Facilitate collaboration between families and professionals.
  • Encourage family-to-family support and networking.
  • Honor and respect family diversity in all dimensions (cultural, racial, ethnic, linguistic, spiritual, socioeconomic, or in terms of family members’ sexual orientations). To do this:
    • Ask families about their home language, sharing key phrases they use at home.
    • Demonstrate genuine interest in each child and family you work with and make an effort to get to know them.
    • Have family information and children’s books in the languages of each family.
    • Invite families to visit your program and sing songs, tell stories, and show books or pictures that demonstrate their culture, and, for children, introduce culturally specific foods.
    • Observe how a family interacts with their child.
    • Ask families to create a family or neighborhood storybook.
    • Meet regularly with families to learn about their hopes, dreams, and goals for their child.


Review the activity Working with Families. Read the scenario and brainstorm how you would respond. Then, share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator. When you are finished, compare your answers to the suggested response.


Use the resources in the Partnering with Families document to learn more about working with families. Then, use the handout, Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and An Integrated Review of the Literature, to brainstorm ideas on how to engage with diverse families in a sensitive, thoughtful manner.

After reading the resources and completing the activity, meet with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator to discuss ways to implement some of these ideas in your work with diverse families and families with children with disabilities.


A set of shared values, attitudes, or practices that characterize certain groups of individuals
A philosophy or way of thinking that supports practices in which families are considered central and the most important decision-makers in a child’s life; more specifically, this philosophy recognizes that the family is the constant in a child’s life and that service systems and providers must support, respect, encourage, and enhance the strengths of the family


True or false? Diversity refers only to a family’s race and ethnicity.
Finish this sentence: Family-centered practice…
A new family child care provider, Rita, asks you for suggestions of how to include families in her daily work. What do you say?
References & Resources

Baker, A. C., & Manfredi/Petitt L. A. (2004). Relationships, the heart of quality care: Creating community among adults in early care settings. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

CONNECT Modules.

Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education.

Ernst, J. D. (2015). Supporting family engagement. Teaching Young Children, 9(2), 8-9.

Gonzalez-Mena, J. (2008). Diversity in Early care and education: Honoring differences (5th ed.). McGraw-Hill.

Hanson, M. J., & Lynch, E. W. (2013). Understanding families: Approaches to diversity, disability, and risk (2nd ed.). Paul H. Brookes.

Head Start Center for Inclusion.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). NAEYC position statement: Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford University Press.

Salloum, S. J., Goddard, R.D, & Berebitsky, D. (2018). Resources, learning, and policy: The relative effects of social and financial capital on student learning in schools. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) 23(4), 281-303. See also

Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning ways: Partnering with families. Redleaf Press.

Tomlinson, H. B. (2015). Explaining developmentally appropriate practice to families. Teaching Young Children, 9(2), 16-17.

Turnbull, A. P., Turbiville, V., & Turnbull, H. R. (2000). Evolution of family-professional partnerships: Collective empowerment as the model for the early twenty-first century. In J. P. Shonkoff & S. J. Meisels (Eds.). Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention (pp. 630-650). Cambridge University Press.

Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E. J., & Soodak, L. C. (2014). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust (7th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.