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FINE Newsletter, Volume III, Issue 4
Issue Topic: Expanded Learning and Family Engagement

We are delighted to share this excerpt from the new monograph, Promising Practices for Family Engagement in Out-of-School Time, with our FINE members.  The monograph, edited by Holly Kreider and Helen Westmoreland, highlights promising practices, benefits, and concerns related to family involvement in out-of-school Time (OST). The excerpt below is taken from a chapter written by former HFRP researchers Suzanne M. Bouffard, Kelley O'Carroll, Helen Westmoreland, and Priscilla M. Little.

The following text is reprinted with permission from Information Age Publishing, Inc. (IAP). IAP retains all rights to the material, and no use is permitted by anyone or any institution without the written permission of IAP.

Engaging Families in Out-of-School-Time Programs

Out-of-school time encompasses a broad array of opportunities that support children and youth, including before- and afterschool programs and summer learning programs. One constant across these multiple settings where children learn is families. They are essential partners in successful out-of-school time (OST) programs and play many important roles: consumers, advocates, allies, and volunteers. Parents from many backgrounds place a high value on OST experiences (Afterschool Alliance, 2004a; Duffett, Johnson, Kung, & Ott, 2004) and they are among the key constituents helping to shape demand for these experiences. Voters, many of whom are parents, tend to support increased funding for afterschool programs even if it means a tax increase (Afterschool Alliance, 2004b), and national polls have highlighted parents’ voices in reporting unmet demand for programming, especially among low-income and ethnic minority families (Duffett et al, 2004). In addition to shaping the demand for OST programs, families can and do play active roles in their children’s OST experiences, and many federal, state, and local initiatives and policies now recognize the importance of family engagement in OST. Programs today often include family involvement components as part of their program model. For example, the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program includes provisions that allow OST programs to spend funds on family literacy and other engagement activities. As schools and school districts consider ways to align and coordinate their services, fostering family engagement in OST programs emerges as a key strategy that can then lead to better engagement at home and at school.

This growing interest in engaging families in OST is supported by decades of research documenting that family involvement matters at school and at home (Fan & Chen, 2001; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hill & Tyson, 2009; Jeynes, 2005), as well as emerging evidence showing that the ways families and OST programs engage with one another can lead to a range of positive outcomes (discussed in more detail below). Through improving OST participation, increasing family engagement in other settings, and leading to better student outcomes, family engagement has benefits for OST programs, families, and students. It is no surprise, then, that family engagement has become a common component of quality standards for OST programs (Westmoreland & Little, 2006), and practitioners and policymakers are asking for strategies to build and sustain it.

This chapter draws from the latest research and evaluation on family engagement in OST to promote and improve family engagement practices in OST programs. Specifically, it is organized by, and addresses, three main questions:

1. What is family engagement in OST?
2. What are the benefits of family engagement in OST?
3. How can OST programs build and sustain family engagement in OST?


Though there are many definitions and frameworks that describe family engagement, we based the strategies in this chapter on a broad conceptualization of how families support their child’s learning that includes:

  • Family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.
  • Family engagement is continuous across a child’s life and entails enduring commitment but changing parent roles as children mature into young adulthood.
  • Effective family engagement cuts across and reinforces learning in the multiple settings where children learn—at home, in prekindergarten programs, in school, in afterschool and summer programs, in faith-based institutions, and in the community (Harvard Family Research Project, 2010).

Just as families play many roles in children’s and youth’s lives, they play many roles in OST. Family engagement in OST includes activities that happen in the schools and sites where programs are located—for example, through parent volunteer work and participation on committees. However, family engagement also includes all of the family beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that influence children’s development and learning within OST settings. This can include supportive parenting that aligns with program expectations for behavior, encouraging a child’s OST participation, helping a child or adolescent make informed choices about programming, discussing a child’s progress in the OST program with staff, reinforcing skills from the program at home, and being an advocate for and/or leader in the program. In OST, as in schools and other settings, such a broad definition of family engagement holds the potential to reach, engage, and support a larger community of families, children, and youth.


Research demonstrates that when families are involved, their children are not the only ones who benefit; the benefits extend to other youth in the program, family members, programs, communities, and even schools. Specifically, family engagement can: (1) support increased youth participation in OST programs; (2) benefit youth OST participants; (3) support program quality; and (4) impact family engagement at home and at school.



Although OST professionals often realize that family engagement is important and can have the benefits described above, many report that involving families is challenging. Specific challenges include lack of time and competing demands (for both families and providers), cultural and/or language differences, inadequate transportation and child care among families, insufficient program funds to support family engagement activities, lack of staff training on family engagement, and staff perceptions that parents are uninterested—which is often untrue (Deschenes et al., 2002; Weiss & Brigham, 2003). Despite these challenges, and in part to overcome them, recent research and practice have identified a set of effective family engagement strategies that can help OST programs leverage family engagement in meaningful and strategic ways that go beyond getting families to “show up” for program-sponsored events. Research and field experience suggest six core strategies to foster effective family engagement in OST programs (adapted from Kakli, Kreider, Little, Buck, & Coffrey, 2006):

  • Support families and their basic needs
  • Communicate and build trusting relationships with families
  • Be intentional about staffing and hiring practices
  • Build linkages across individuals and organizations
  • Use a variety of family engagement practices
  • Make family engagement a key component of program quality



In the current context of increasing momentum for education reform initiatives that support a more holistic approach to learning by including nonschool supports, family engagement in OST has emerged as a fundamental strategy to support reform. This is supported by research that indicates that fostering connections among families and OST programs, as well as expanding these partnerships to also include schools, is critical to the well-being of children, communities, schools, and families alike.

OST programs share responsibility with parents for promoting family engagement and, as described above, they can encourage meaningful and effective family engagement by implementing key strategies. Successfully implementing these strategies begins with programs’ developing a clear vision for family engagement, including a broad but specific definition that is shared among staff and families, as well as a set of specific practices that are derived from this vision. Families and youth must be essential partners in developing this vision and carrying it out. In addition, policymakers and funders also have important roles to play by setting the expectations and conditions for family engagement, and then enabling resources such as funding, capacity-building, and evaluation support. With strong commitments from all of these stakeholders, family engagement can and should become an integral component of the daily operations of OST programs, where family engagement is seen not as a bonus but as a must.


Promising Practices for Family Engagement in Out-of-School Time (2011, Information Age Publishing)
by Holly Kreider and Helen Westmoreland (Eds.)

This concise monograph addresses the expanding field of family involvement in OST. Chapter authors share promising practices from a range of backgrounds, including nonprofit organizations, faith-based, health, and governmental agencies as well as university-school connections. Contents describe the benefits and concerns of parent engagement in OST, such as student outcomes of parent engagement in OST, how parents select appropriate programs, ways to connect with parents to assure regular attendance of youth, methods to solicit families to participate in OST activities, and evaluation measures.

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Afterschool Alliance. (2004a). America after 3 PM: A household survey on afterschool in America. Working families and afterschool. A special report from America after 3 PM. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Afterschool Alliance. (2004b). Across demographic and party lines: Americans clamor for safe, enriching afterschool programs. Afterschool Alert Poll Report. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Deschenes, S. N., Arbreton, A., Little, P. L., Herrera, C., Grossman, J. B., Weiss, H. B., et al. (2010) Engaging older youth: Program and city-level strategies to support sustained participation in out-of-school time. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from

Duffett, A., Johnson, J., Farkas, S., Kung, S., & Ott, A. (2004). All work and no play? Listening to what kids and parents really want from out-of-school time. New York, NY: Public Agenda.

Fan, X., & Chen, M. (2001). Parental involvement and students’ academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 13, 1–22.

Harvard Family Research Project. (2010). Family Engagement as a Systemic, Sustained, and Integrated Strategy to Promote Student Achievement. Cambridge, MA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.rog/FE-NewDefinition

Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A New wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: SEDL.

Hill, N. & Tyson, D. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology, 45, 730–763.

Kakli, Z., Kreider, H., Little. P., Buck, T., & Coffrey, M. (2006). Focus on families! How to build and support family-centered practices in after school. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project and Build the Out-of-School Time Network. Retrieved from

Weiss, A. R., & Brigham, R. A. (2003). The family participation in after-school study. Boston, MA: Institute for Responsive Education.

Westmoreland, H., & Little, P. M. D. (2006). Exploring Quality Standards for Middle School After School Programs: What we know and what we need to know. A Summit Report. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from


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Published by Harvard Family Research Project