Promising Practices: Advancing Family Partnerships

April 26, 2019

shutterstock_15766120 (1)

In 2017, Early Learning Indiana (ELI), with the support of the Lilly Endowment, launched the Family Engagement Prize Competition. Recently completing their second year, this statewide prize competition highlights family engagement innovation and excellence in early care and education (ECE) programs. The Prize Competition celebrates the exemplary actions of ECE professionals to empower families’ in their role as their children’s first teachers! Over the past two years programs have been recognized for practices like, offering parenting classes, job placement, housing, and food and fuel assistance, as well as parent-child engagement materials to use at home.

The Prize Competition provides Early Learning Indiana with a unique opportunity to learn about the strengths and barriers to family engagement as experienced by ECE programs across their state. ELI soon realized providers could benefit from additional support, beyond the prize money, so they created the Advancing Family Partnerships (AFP) program. AFP relies on provider cohorts to help professionals strengthen family engagement and remove the barriers that get in their way.

Program Design

The Advancing Family Partnerships (AFP) program is designed to improve family engagement within child care and early education programs across the state. To achieve this goal, interested providers are assigned to regional cohorts. Within the cohorts, peers support one another in setting individualized family engagement goals and working to reduce self-identified barriers. ELI supports programs within the cohorts through training, technical assistance, and additional funding.

How It Works

Regional cohorts, facilitated by ELI staff, meet quarterly and discuss a section of the Indiana Early Childhood Family Engagement Toolkit Assessment. This toolkit is designed to help providers:

  • Understand what quality family engagement looks like in actual practice;
  • Identify quality family engagement work they are already doing; and
  • Provide helpful suggestions for continuous improvement.

Additionally, participating programs receive funding and professional development. Each provider in the cohort defines their own goals for advancing family engagement and rely on support from the cohort to help remove the barriers they have identified. Before the regional meetings begin, providers and teachers complete pre-surveys and the Family Engagement Toolkit Assessment to establish a baseline for their family engagement knowledge and practices. After the completion of a series of the cohort meetings, providers and staff take a post-survey and invite families to help them complete the Family Engagement Toolkit Assessment again. This practice allows programs to explore what advancements have occurred since joining the cohort.

Program Results

Comprising three regional cohorts, fifty providers across the state participated during the first year of the AFP program. Provider surveys indicate:

  • The toolkit offers providers an opportunity to increase their knowledge of the families in their program, increase family engagement, and improve child attendance;
  • The development and implementation of the resulting action plans can improve provider attitudes towards families and promote effective two-way communication between parents and staff; and
  • By attending quarterly meetings, providers receive tools that help cultivate a program environment conducive to quality family engagement
what do participants say

Next Steps

ELI is looking forward to offering future opportunities for providers to participate in new AFP cohorts as funding permits. In the meantime, they have continue to offer the Prize Competition.  For more information about what made their Family Engagement Prize Competition a success, check out this tip sheet. 


Early Learning Indiana
Kailah Lee
Manager of Family Engagement Initiatives 

The Promising Practices Spotlights illuminate some of the successful ways early childhood programs around the nation are connecting with families and communities through high-quality engagement initiatives.


Topics: Business Operations for CCR&Rs, Family & Community Engagement, Best Practices

April Dodge-Ostendorf

Written by April Dodge-Ostendorf

April Dodge-Ostendorf, MSW, is the Chief of Staff at Child Care Aware® of America. She has 20 years of professional experience advancing social service systems for children and families at local, state and national levels. April’s current work includes building cross-organizational knowledge and capacity for effective partnership engagement, fund development, and strategic alignment.