At this year’s Family Engagement Summit, Maryland educators and child care professionals learned about the importance of supporting families and their children’s education from a young age, especially with the increased use of technology and changing dynamics of families.

Almost 400 attendees met and watched online for the 2017 Family Engagement Summit: Engaging Families in Modern Times to hear and share about how to help families, educators, and child care providers work together to give children the foundation they need to be successful in school and life.

The Maryland Family Engagement Coalition hosted the summit for the second year. The Coalition, which is made up of early childhood educators, policymakers, service providers, and community advocates, was created in 2012 with the goal of creating deeper partnerships with families of young children.

For this year’s summit, attendees had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of speakers in the education field as well as parents who shared their personal stories of navigating the child care and early education systems.

Topics ranged from how to give families guidance in an ever-changing digital landscape, to finding child care that best fits your family, to working with the community to develop a board game to promote literacy for children.

“Families want to be involved in their child’s education and learning. That is a huge priority for them, and they are willing partners. But teachers and educators have the responsibility to make that happen,” said Steven R. Hicks, Executive Director for Ready at Five, one of the partner organizations in the Maryland Family Engagement Coalition.

A panel of parents offered a look at their families’ diverse needs and experiences engaging with providers and educators.

One parent, who had moved to the United States from Honduras as a teenager, described the challenges in getting educational guidance for her son, who has learning disabilities, because English is her second language. Another parent, who was from Ghana, discussed how he was overwhelmed when it was time to fill out applications for private school for his child.

A same-sex couple on the panel shared their initial concerns about finding the right child care provider for their young foster son, who has sickle cell anemia. They worried about his medical needs, as well as the acceptance of their family. They said one of the ways they knew they had found the right place was after Father’s Day, when their son came home with a card for them with, “Mommy,” written across the top.

“We take that to heart,” said Tammy Devlin, who spoke on the panel with her wife, Julie Lambert. “We are very lucky with our day care provider.”

Another parent shared how she struggled to find a child care provider who could meet the needs of her 4-year-old son, who was recently diagnosed with autism.

Shannon Ensor described the frustration of placing her son into five different child care centers in an effort to find a place that would work best for her family.

She emphasized the need for parents to be open and honest with providers about a child’s behavior, and to share as much information about what works and what doesn’t for your child. Also, be receptive to what providers and educators can offer for help as well, because they likely have experience and access to resources that can benefit your family.

“Hiding it and hoping for the best doesn’t end in a good place,” Ensor said.

Ensor’s advice echoed that of other parents on the panel about communication and the importance of those who care for children to understand what’s going on with families.

The sentiment exemplifies a key component of family engagement, which is to look at the relationship between the family and provider or school holistically.

“It’s really about not seeing the students in isolation and separate from their families,” Hicks said. “Families have a lot to share and a lot of expertise. We need to take that and build upon it.”

Attendees had the opportunity to hear about a wider variety of topics in afternoon breakout sessions, including:

  • How to develop and Enhance Resilience in Children and Families
  • Promoting the Wellness within LGBT Families
  • Cultural Awareness and Family Engagement
  • Tips for Bringing Early Learning and Family Engagement into the Digital Age

You can find more information on Maryland’s vision for engaging families with young children here. You can also connect with the Maryland Family Engagement community on Facebook and Twitter, @MDEngageEarly, #MDFamiliesEngage.