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This issue's Promising Practices section highlights how a range of school-, district-, and state-level efforts incorporate the three components of HFRP's family involvement frameworks: Family involvement a) matters across ages but changes over time, b) occurs in many different settings, and c) should be coconstructed by families and professionals. 

Jonathan Zaff and Danielle Butler from America’s Promise Alliance look at how winners of the 100 Best Communities for Young People employ family involvement strategies.

In 2005, America’s Promise Alliance launched the 100 Best Communities for Young People competition, with the goal of highlighting communities that have implemented innovative context-crossing strategies to address the holistic needs of children. We call these holistic needs the Five Promises: Caring Adults, Safe Places and Constructive Use of Time, Healthy Start, Effective Education, and Opportunities to Make a Difference. So far, three rounds of the competition have resulted in 190 unique winners, 25 of which emphasized family involvement.

From among the existing winners, we identified programs employing family involvement programs and strategies. We conducted in-depth interviews with representatives from a range of towns, cities, and counties.1  Six family involvement implications emerged:

Family involvement strategies often arise organically but depend on a knowledgeable leader for implementation. The communities interviewed did not find inspiration for their family involvement programs in manuals; rather, their decision to include family involvement components in their programs came about intuitively and organically. Leaders from Tempe, Arizona, Madison County, Idaho, and Chesterfield County, Virginia, all told us that they recognized intuitively that their community initiatives would be ineffective if they did not empower parents to support their children. Leaders built on their experience-derived intuition by consciously planning ways to include parents in programs.

Looking to parents and children provides insights on how to best serve them. The leaders we interviewed realized the value of tapping their communities to attain the knowledge needed to implement effective programs. Chesterfield County held community forums, facilitated by a Youth Services Citizens Board comprised of parents and youth, to solicit feedback on the needs of the community and possible solutions. Similarly, in Redwood, Washington, feedback from parents and children resulted in the creation of the Neighborhood School House, a program that offers necessary community resources to children and families within the school.

Integrating programs enables communities to address the multiple needs of families. The community leaders we interviewed recognized the holistic, multilayered needs of children and their families. Some of these communities looked at the family as part of a larger system and therefore provided supports to meet families’ multiple needs. For example, communities that focused on families’ economic stresses facilitated enrollment into Food Stamps and TANF in order to increase financial stability in the home and enable parents to provide basic resources for children.

Other programs focused on the ways that parents’ education and mental and physical health affect the well-being of children, offering GED classes, workforce development programs, and substance abuse programs, which empowered parents to become productive employees, role models, and providers. Based on research that shows educating parents on effective parenting practices and strengthening parent–child relationships affects children’s academic success and socio-emotional health, communities offered parent training and conducted community events and after school programs, bringing parents and children together.

Data provide an effective tool for guiding program development and revision. Though difficult to obtain on the community level, data about children and families prove valuable in informing program development and revision. The communities we interviewed drew on a variety of strategies for collecting and using data. Chesterfield County’s Quality Office, for instance, aggregates data across agencies to derive community-level indicators, such as citizen participation. Community leaders, in turn, disaggregated this data to more fully understand the story behind the numbers.

Community leaders should encourage, not resist, systematic performance measurement. The funding tail often wags the data dog, with funding agencies mandating systematic evaluations. Communities can make the most of these mandated evaluations by using the data gained from them to facilitate program development and revision. By partnering with the United Way of Southeast Connecticut, for example, the city of Norwich’s Madonna Place program has become more outcome focused—the result of the United Way’s emphasis on measuring impacts.

Community infrastructure is key to developing needed programs. Meeting families’ needs depends on infrastructural and financial support and leadership from organizations in the community. In Crawford County, Wisconsin, Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital provides the necessary infrastructure, serving as a key financial and human resource partner in parent-level programs intended to prevent child abuse and improve the services and developmental resources that children receive.

Our interviews demonstrate that communities possess the will to implement family involvement programs and use a variety of strategies to acquire the resources and infrastructure to implement them and make them succeed. Going forward, we at America’s Promise hope to further study past and future winners of the 100 Best Communities Initiative to uncover tactics that other communities can use to create the necessary momentum to integrate family involvement programs into their communities.

1 We thank the following people for taking the time out of their busy schedules to speak with us about their communities: Jan Radley (Redwood, WA); Nancy Gentes (Norwich, CT); Janet Goodliffe (Madison County/Rexburg, ID); Jan Cox, (Greenville, SC); JoAnn Miller (Benton, OR); Rick Peterson, Jane Schaaf and Tanya Mallard (Crawford County, WI), Lynette Stonefeld (Tempe, AZ); and Don Kappel and Jana Carter (Chesterfield County, VA).

Jonathan F. Zaff, Ph.D.
Vice President
Research & Policy Development

Danielle Butler
Senior Director
Alliance Partnerships

America’s Promise Alliance, 909 N. Washington St., Suite 400, Alexandria VA 22314. Tel: 703-684-4500. Website:

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© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project