RECOGNIZING PARENT CONTRIBUTIONS
Recognize parents’ contributions to the program and their support of their children. Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Parents are more likely to stay motivated and excited about their involvement if they feel appreciated.
Here are some suggestions:
- Thank parents by name in the Program newsletter.
- Hold a Parent Appreciation Night and present parents with awards made by the Dreamers.
- Send personal notes or cards from the PD and Sponsor.
- Make gifts for parents on Mother’s and Father’s Day. Some New York Dreamers decorated ties for Father’s Day.
- Say “thank-you” to parents and explain how much their support means to the program and the Dreamers.
Offering programs for Dreamer parents is another way to promote their involvement in IHDF. Programs can be designed for all IHDF parents, for a subset of IHDF parents (such as single parents or fathers), or for parents and Dreamers together. As suggested previously, use parent questionnaires to solicit parents’ input about the types of programs that interest them most and the best times for programs to be held.
Planning parent-focused programming in addition to all the work that Dreamer programming requires may seem overwhelming; but the payoffs in terms of parental involvement make planning even just occasional parent programs worthwhile. Having a Parental Involvement Coordinator or a Parent Council is extremely helpful for organizing parent programs.
- Familiarizes parents with the Program and Program staff in a positive, non threatening manner
- Provides a means of “giving back” to the parents for their contributions to the Program
- Provides an opportunity for parents to set a good example for the Dreamers by attending IHDF events and supporting IHDF activities
- Provides a forum for helping parents learn tools to improve Dreamers’ lives, such as proper nutrition requirements, efficient studying habits, effective discipline techniques, and good communication skills
In general, the following structures are implemented at each site:
- Parent committee (consists of all parents in a Dreamer Class) – monthly meetings
- Executive Council (parents elected by parent committee to meet between committee meetings, and with the PD as needed, to provide support and feedback.
- Parent contributions to CSAs and to parent organized or sponsored activities.
- Parent volunteers at Dreamer programming, sports teams, etc.
- Parent education (topics determined by parents, and sometimes suggested by PD)
- Parent leadership in community (support for parent voice in school, or other)
GENERAL PARENT SUPPORT STRATEGIES
- Provide parent meetings and workshops
- Home visits
- Parent Council
- Support parents at parent-teacher meetings
- Encourage parent events (potlucks, etc.)
- Explain and model importance of two-way communication channels between PD and parents
- Model high expectations of high school graduation and college attendance for parents
- Integrate workshops and information sessions into portions of parent meetings
ASSESSMENTS OF PARENT SUPPORT
- Teacher evaluations
- Program director evaluations
- Parent and Dreamer surveys
One of the best ways to involve parents in the Program is for them to take on the authority to make decisions. When the parents know that they have a voice in the organization and direction of the Program, they are more likely to commit time and energy to the day-to-day implementation of programming.
Developing a core group of active parents will help lessen the work the PD needs to do as well as increase the success of the parent involvement program. This core group can do its own planning and decision making and the PDs can offer support, input, and training.
A Parent Council is the typical vehicle Programs use to incorporate parent decision making and program planning into the Program’s governance. Ideally, the Parent Council is run entirely by the parents from the planning and announcement to the execution of meetings and the implementation of the programs and events it undertakes. At first it may be difficult to find enough parents prepared to take on this responsibility. A few motivated parents, along with the PD, should take the lead role in facilitating meetings until the parents’ group is ready to function on its own.
At least one parent should serve on the Affiliate’s Board of Directors to ensure parental input in Program decision making.
Common Programs that parent councils undertake include:
- Preparing a parent newsletter
- Surveying parents’ interests and recruiting parent volunteers
- Planning family fun days
- Organizing parent workshops and discussion groups
Workshops and Support Groups for Parents
We have found that parents prefer workshops over general meetings. For example, we held a series of workshops to provide parents with information and strategies for discussing sex with their teenaged Dreamers. The parents were given hands-on activities and also did a lot of sharing with each other. Parents with older children had advice and ideas for parents who had not gone through this stage of parenting. We could tell the parents enjoyed these meetings because they kept coming back.
Designing workshops for parents is a great way to get parents involved in the Program. Common workshop topics include parenting skills such as effective discipline techniques and conflict resolution, HIV awareness, financial workshops on credit and debt management, continuing education opportunities for parents, and job-search and resume-writing skills.
Always take into consideration the parents’ needs and interests when planning a workshop. Don’t hold one just because you think you have to. Give the parents suggestions and listen to their ideas. Then, gather the information or get an outside speaker to facilitate a workshop on a topic that interests the parents.
Frequently, a local professional will volunteer his or her time to lead a workshop. Look to the Program’s board members, business contacts, and Dreamer parents as sources for recruiting workshop leaders.
Programs increasingly report that parent support groups are especially popular among parents. Parents of Dreamers at one Program meet weekly in a parent’s apartment or at the CBO. A volunteer counselor facilitates the group, but discussions are really driven by the parents’ concerns. Important aspects of the support group are that it is parent-focused and confidential. Parents socialize and talk about their own lives, relationships, and worries. This may or may not include talking about their children or the IHDF Program. At the same time that the parent support group is meeting, Dreamers meet with their counselors or Dreamers and siblings can play games, do homework, or read. One IHDF Program found parent support groups facilitated by a trained psychologist to be one of the most popular parent activities. The Program can also offer fun activities that the parents are unlikely to take the time or spend the money to enjoy otherwise. For example, at one IHDF program, a Mary Kay beauty consultant volunteered to give free consultations and makeovers to Dreamers and their mothers. Sometimes Programs receive donated tickets for a movie or play that is not appropriate for the Dreamers so they organize a group of parents to go. Because the activities are fun and undemanding, they may help put parents at ease and lower their inhibitions about becoming more involved in IHDF.
Because PHDPs are based where the Dreamers and their families live, IHDF becomes a daily part of parents’ and Dreamers’ lives. Local housing authorities often donate space for the Program’s offices so the PD is in the development on a daily basis and becomes a familiar face in the community. The proximity of the Program to the Dreamers’ homes and families is conducive to forming relationships between the parents and the Program staff. Attending meetings and activities in the housing development is convenient for the parents and personal ties form through the countless informal meetings and conversations that occur as parents and staff members see each other every day. The PHDP approach also promotes parental involvement by mobilizing resources for parents through the community partners that are elements of the PHDP approach. For example, the PHDP approach includes the College Partner, a local college or university that collaborates with IHDF, and the housing authority to deliver educational, cultural, and recreational support to the Dreamers. College Partners may offer parents services such as adult education courses, college admissions and financial aid counseling, or job search training while also providing a rich source of volunteers and resources for the Program.
Parent support groups have also become part of PHDP programming. Parents meet in each other’s homes or the Program’s offices to discuss their personal challenges and lives. The key to these groups is that they exist for the parents. They are not another forum for IHDF to talk with parents about their children. Parents direct the content and provide each other with support. This creates stronger relationships among parents that allow them to encourage and support each other’s involvement in IHDF and their children’s education.
All IHDF Programs can apply these lessons in their own parental involvement efforts. Like PHDPs, school-based Programs should recruit local colleges and universities to become formal partners with the Program and encourage them to provide services for parents. PDs, even if their offices are not physically located in the Dreamers’ neighborhood, should know the community well. Starting parent groups and other forums for parents to form supportive relationships with each other can open pathways of communication and information flow.