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Child and Family Services

Family members are the most significant people in young children’s lives, and school-age children and youth develop and learn within all types of families. When you view families as complex systems and you acknowledge their impact in childhood, you are better able to develop partnerships with families and help create environments that meet the needs of each school-age child in your care. Strong partnerships with families help make the management of your school-age 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 school-age program.
  • Learn how to be respectful and welcoming for school-age children and their families in your program.
  • Recognize the diversity of families.



Welcoming Each School-Age Child and Family

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

Spend a few seconds thinking about the two questions above. Then consider all the things you do in your daily work to make school-age children and their families feel welcome in your program. How do you greet children and families when they arrive and when it is time to go home? How do you ensure that school-age children and youth feel welcome, learn, and develop while having fun? How do you interact with them when they seem upset? How do you ensure that families feel welcome and supported?

Successful school-age staff members create positive, welcoming environments for the children and families they work with and strive for excellence in their interactions with others. The most important aspects of your work are the relationships you create and nurture with children, families, and colleagues. 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 staff member, your success and effectiveness hugely depend on how well you work with others. Whether you are engaging with school-age children, families, colleagues, or supervisors, nurturing these relationships early on is critical to your success.

School-age children and youth are constantly learning and changing. When families and staff members work together, communicate, and share what is observed and experienced, opportunities are created for better understanding and supporting this rapid developmental growth. Asking questions, communicating, and listening with families helps support continuity of care between home and the school-age program.

Understanding children and child development is absolutely essential in your role as a school-age staff member. 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 on how to promote optimum growth. You should refer to these courses for comprehensive information about school-age children’s development. Along with school-age children’s development, knowledge about topics such as safe environments, learning environments, healthy environments, positive guidance, child abuse, 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 school-age children’s families and home cultures at the forefront of your work.

When engaging with families of school-age children with special learning needs, you should work with your T&CSs and Program Managers to ensure that you have the resources and supports you need. You should work collaboratively with T&CSs, Program Managers, and family members to be sure that a school-age child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) outcomes are addressed (if appropriate) in your program. Successful inclusion of children with disabilities requires careful planning and ongoing communication among all team members. Building collaborative relationships takes time and attention but has meaningful outcomes on your practice.

You will work with your T&CS and Program Manager to ensure that families are welcomed and supported at all times in your program. Just as you care about how school-age children and youth are welcomed, you have to pay attention to how families are included in your daily work, not only at drop-off and pick-up time, but throughout their child’s time with you. 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 school-age child in your care and their families and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, backgrounds, values, and beliefs.
  • Share information with families about the work you do with school-age 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.
  • When families volunteer in your program, they need to have clear directions and a purpose and to know what the expectations are for them.
  • Family members want to have meaningful conversations about their child. Make sure you keep them updated about their child's growth regularly. Acknowledge all the great things school-age children do on a daily basis and share those with their families often! 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, 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, school-age 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 school-age child. 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 are viewing school-age children and youth as part of a larger system; you are viewing family members as a whole. You become aware of and sensitive to the interactions and relationships taking 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. You can also consider the characteristics and stressors that may affect a family’s involvement. 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.

Family-centered practice is 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 school-age children and their families can create opportunities for you to better support the children in your care.

Family-Centered Practices

Watch family members share how their children's programs are welcoming and supportive.

Honoring Diversity in Families

Some very important learning in the school-age years relates to culture. School-age children learn new concepts, ways of interacting with others, how to communicate, and how to play cooperatively — 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 ways families raise their children and how you, as a school-age staff member, plan activities and experiences for school-age children. Examine your own cultural experiences and consider how these experiences affect your practice with children and families. Each school-age staff member brings specific values, beliefs, and assumptions about child rearing and development to her or his work. In almost every type of routine or transition you perform, your values about it were shaped by your childhood and training. As you work with school-age children and 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 school-age child to complete all their homework independently, while you might expect to offer support, guidance, and assistance.

Sometimes, you might feel unsure about how to interact with a school-age child or how to engage families who have very different experiences and cultures, including those who speak an unfamiliar language or who may 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 school-age children in your program. For example, you can learn how and when families would like you to assist their children with their homework, which may be influenced by culture. When differences are viewed through the lens of culture, respectful conversations can lead to agreement in how these practices will be supported in a school-age program.

School-age programs provide an environment in which adults and children can learn about and honor differences in values, beliefs and perceptions. Learning one’s culture occurs primarily within the family; however, in school-age programs, children also learn about culture and 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 school-age staff member means that you demonstrate sensitivity and consideration for the multiple backgrounds, experiences, values, and contexts in which children and families live.

Being a responsive school-age staff member also means that you are always professional and ethical when working with families. In doing that, you should practice the following:

  • Keep information about children and their families confidential. This refers to reviewing child and family records, having conversations with other staff members in your program or in the 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.
  • If individuals ask you for confidential information about school-age children or families in your program, refer them to your T&CS or Program Manager.


Embracing Diversity

Watch this video to learn about embracing diversity in classrooms and programs.

Working with Families of Children with Special Needs

In this video you will learn about working with families of children with special needs.


There is a lot you can do to show that you value the families of school-age 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 school-age staff members and service systems 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). You may do this by:
    • Asking families about their home language, sharing key phrases they use at home.
    • Demonstrating genuine interest about each child and family you work with and making an effort to get to know them.
    • Having family information and children's books in the languages of each family.
    • Inviting families to visit your program and sing songs, tell stories, and show books or pictures that demonstrate their culture, and, for school-age children, introduce culturally specific foods.
    • Observing how a family interacts with their school-age child.
    • Asking families to create a family or neighborhood storybook.
    • Meeting regularly with families to learn about their hopes, dreams and goals for their child.


In the Working with Families activity, read the scenario and brainstorm ways to demonstrate family-centered practices. Share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach or administrator.


Review the resources in the Family Engagement: Resources and Strategies activity to learn more about why family engagement is so valuable, as well as some strategies for planning and engaging with families. After reviewing the resources plan some different strategies for engaging with families in your program. Share your thoughts with your trainer, coach or administrator


A set of shared values, attitudes, or practices that characterize certain groups of individuals
Family-centered practice:
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


Which of the following is not a belief or action of family-centered practice?
Your colleague, Rita, asks you for suggestions of how to include families in her daily work. What do you say?
Which of the following is not an example of demonstrating honor and respect for family diversity in your role as a school-age staff member?
References & Resources

CONNECT Modules. Retrieved from

Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education 2014. Retrieved from

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

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

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. New York: 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.

Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning Ways: Partnering with families. St. Paul, MN: 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, United Kingdom: 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.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.