Many Program Directors use home visits as a way to build relationships with parents. Most PDs make formal home visits when the Program is launched or soon after, and then annually throughout the lifetime of the program. The purpose of these initial home visits is to develop a rapport with the Dreamers’ families and to promote and explain the IHDF Program. Through home visits, the PD will also learn about the Dreamers’ home environments and can assess more thoroughly what types of services each Dreamer needs the most.
Veteran PDs stress the importance of setting a positive and non-intimidating tone when making home visits. This is especially important when the PD visits the Dreamers’ homes for the first time:
Always have a positive approach to conducting a home visit. The PD needs to be sure that the parents understand the concept of 11 Have a Dream” and the PD’s role. They may be used to social workers coming into their homes for negative reasons. I always came in positive, saying things like “Isn’t this an exciting opportunity for your child? We are here to help him graduate from high school.” I never met a parent who wouldn’t open their door to that opportunity.
When conducting home visits, PDs need to be organized, flexible, and persistent. The following steps may help make the first visits easier to schedule and complete.
- Send a letter or text of introduction to the families, make it bilingual if necessary, in which the PD requests a home visit to talk to the parents about IHDF.
- Call the family to confirm that the letter was received. For families who don’t have telephones, include the options of stopping by the office or returning a signed notification of receipt in the introductory letter.
- Schedule an appointment to meet parents at home. PDs must be willing to schedule home visits according to the parents’ availability. This may mean that visits occur in the late evenings or on weekends.
- If the parent is not home when the PD arrives for the scheduled visit, leave a card or a form letter suggesting a time to reschedule.
- Make the PD’s office available for individual meetings with parents who do not want a home visit.
During these initial visits try to determine the parents’ concerns about their child’s education and the IHDF Program. Ask what types of support they want for their child, and offer concrete suggestions for how IHDF can facilitate the Dreamer’s participation in the program. Also discuss how the parents can be involved.
Each Program should exercise its judgment to determine who, if anyone, should accompany a PD on home visits. Conducting home visits is a professional task accomplished by the PD or trained staff members. Several PDs have also commented that having a Sponsor along on home visits is not necessarily a wise practice because both the Sponsor and the families may feel self-conscious. It may be more comfortable to have the Sponsor(s) meet the parents on more festive occasions such as family dinners and holiday parties. If there are special safety concerns, it may be preferable for an additional staff person to accompany the PD on certain home visits. The possible disadvantage of sending more than one person on the home visit is that it will compromise the privacy of the visit and the family may feel more intimidated. Each Program must determine what arrangements are best for its particular circumstances..
Once the Program is underway, PDs continue to conduct regular, formal home visits at least once a year and more frequently if they have a special concern about a particular Dreamer such as a marked decline in attendance at IHDF or school. If a parent does not want a home visit, try to meet the parent in a neutral place or at IHDF, whichever the parent prefers. While home visits are an important way to develop a deeper understanding of the Dreamers’ situations, it’s more important to meet individually with the parents. Communication channels must be kept open even if a home visit is not possible. Over time, as the program becomes more familiar, parents may become more open.
Usually the best time to make home visits with each Dreamer’s family is toward the beginning of each school year. This allows for each initial visit to be nothing more than a friendly visit to tell the parents about the upcoming school year, have them re-sign the Parent/Dreamer Agreement, review the past year’s successes and challenges, and to develop goals for the upcoming year. It’s recommended to share something positive about their Dreamer. Making a positive visit will help parents be more responsive to any future home visits that may not always be as pleasant.
Informal visits with parents can be just as important in building relationships and support for the IHDF program as the formal ones. The informal visits are the real golden opportunities–dropping the Dreamers off after an event or stopping to talk when driving through the neighborhood. Give the parents a few updates and friendly words. Gradually, parents become more accepting of you and talk more. You become less of an outsider and more of afamiliar face in the neighborhood. If you take that extra step–drop the Dreamer off at the door instead of the corner-you will get a positive response from the parents.