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Caregiver Engagement in Youth Work

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Caregiver engagement positively impacts young people and the systems around them. Whether it’s parents or different caregivers, sometimes engagement can be tough. But you can do it! Here are some ideas to help you engage caregivers.

Remember, you have influence. Start small, help caregivers feel valued and welcomed, eliminate participation barriers. Be motivated for better outcomes and find resources to help.

Strategies for Positive Outcomes for Young People

Invitation

How do you feel when you receive an invitation? You feel valued. This is your first step to caregiver engagement.

  • Be creative when you reach out to caregivers
  • When appropriate, ask young people how to engage their caregivers
  • Use community places such as employers, churches, or local businesses to reach caregivers where they are
  • Offer food, childcare, and/or interpreters so it’s an easily accessible and positive experience

Feedback

How do you feel when you are invited to give feedback? You feel heard.

  • Let caregivers help you – they are your experts with their young person
  • Build relationships and rapport so feedback is offered
  • Don’t be shy, ask them what they need from you
  • Be creative and flexible in how you’ll accept feedback – offer a variety of ways, times, and locations they can engage with you

Leadership

How do you feel when you are encouraged in leadership activities? You feel empowered.

  • Support ideas that work within your systems or change them to accommodate when appropriate
  • Be their support system in engagement to remove barriers
  • Share their solutions and ideas with your program leadership
  • Learn from them and discover their community connections

By offering caregivers the ability to engage and be a part of your work with young people, you will have greater positive impact.

Caregiver Engagement Shapes Systems Change

Breaking down systems that perpetuate bad situations is part of your work. Many caregivers have had negative experiences in our schools, programs, and communities. As a result, they are often skilled at identifying gaps in services and can provide solutions.

It's important to keep in mind that marginalized caregivers may be resistant because of past experiences or historical trauma. Allow them time to develop trust in you and your program. Be authentic and honest in your relationship with them.

Learn the problems

  • Find out what prohibits their young person’s success
  • Understand the changes that would improve their situation
  • Discover how you can step in to make an impact

Find the solutions

  • Share what you learn with your teammates and leadership
  • Explore ways to modify your systems to improve
  • Consider funding and other resources needed to create change

Implement change

  • Engage caregivers in clearly defining what will change and how you’ll measure it
  • Overcome resistance to change and keep the goal of supporting young people front and center
  • Offer caregivers chances to provide feedback about the efficacy of the changes

Sometimes thinking outside the box regarding your interactions with young people is difficult. You get lost in the fast pace and rely on your habits. Sometimes you only see the trees but not the forest. Caregiver engagement is a great way to tap into their expertise and break down barriers to success.

YIPA has an On-Demand training to help you learn more about engagement. It’s titled, Engaging Parents as Partners in Your Programs: A Model for Parent Participation.

Caregiver engagement will have a positive impact on young people and create systemic change. As our programs evolve, we need to make sure we invite and engage all direct caregivers. Their perspectives are essential to improve youth outcomes in our communities around the world.

Joanne Rice is the member satisfaction specialist of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!