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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Despite multiple invitations from a family outreach worker, a mother chooses not to attend a series of community parenting workshops. The mother fears that the outreach worker is trying to break up her marriage. What can the outreach worker do?

A family outreach worker is thrown off guard when she learns that a father has not been sending his 7-year-old son to school. What should she say to the father?1


When you think about what you would do in situations—or cases—such as these, you develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are essential for working successfully with families. A case is basically a story that invites critical thinking and problem solving. Unlike most stories, though, cases leave readers with lingering questions.

Just as reading and thinking about family engagement cases contribute to your ability to work with families, so, too, does writing your own case. That’s why, we, Harvard Family Research Project, and the Community Engagement Team in the Department of Human Services in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have developed the Create Your Own Case Toolkit. The primary purpose of the Create Your Own Case Toolkit is to lead you through steps and exercises to guide you in writing your own case.

This toolkit is divided into three parts:

image of the number 1

Six steps to follow, with related exercises
This toolkit provides six steps to help you write a case. Each step includes an introduction and exercises to help you think about how to put your own case together.

Image of the number 2

A collection of family engagement cases
This toolkit also includes a collection of eight cases that you can use for inspiration and guidance in writing your own case.

A Facilitators Guide
Developed for faculty, professional development specialists, and supervisors, the Facilitators Guide offers specific ideas in using the Create Your Own Case Toolkit in a variety of professional development settings.


Cases are powerful practitioner-driven learning tools. Through the questions they raise and the emotions they call into play, they can change viewpoints and even ways of acting. They also confirm that family engagement is not a “one size fits all” model, but rather, a process built on relationships and communication. Although the primary purpose of this toolkit is to help those who work with families use their expertise to write their own cases, the resources provided can be used separately, in undergraduate and graduate courses on family engagement topics and in a variety of different professional development settings. The toolkit can also be used with families and community members. As one example, the cases in the toolkit can be used as the basis for conversations among a small group of parents and practitioners to promote deep reflection and collaboration.

This toolkit will help you:

  • Build your knowledge and skills in working with families
    By writing a case based on your experience working with families, you are strengthening your ability to think critically, consider multiple perspectives, communicate effectively, identify family strengths, and build relationships. 
  • Teach others
    The purpose of a case is to teach something to others. By writing a case, you are sharing your experiences so that others can learn from your actions and think critically about their own work with families.
  • Reflect on your experiences with families that you have worked with
    When writing a case, you open yourself to reflective dialogue that will inspire you to consider new ideas and approaches to your family engagement work. 
  • Amplify the perspectives and strengths of families  
    In creating a case, you are able to highlight the different points of view within families and illuminate the strengths of families who might not have a platform by which they can tell their own stories.
  • Develop a framework to guide your approach to working with families in the future.
    As you review the elements of your case and develop your story, you are learning to think about and create new ways of working with families effectively.   


Please e-mail Margaret Caspe with your cases, ideas, or any other feedback you might have about this toolkit.



1 These summaries are taken from cases written by community outreach workers from the Community Engagement Team (CET) in the Department of Human Service Programs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To read the full cases, along with their resolutions, visit the Case Collection.


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