Overwhelming research proves that when parents are involved in youth’s lives children see higher achievement rates. However, getting families involved can often be one of the greatest challenges faced by those in the field.

Potential Barriers to Parent Involvement
  1. Family Members are Working Many Hours
  2. Cultural and Language Barriers: Parents and Family members may not speak English or are not confident in their English-speaking skills. Culturally, parent and caregivers could   feel like they don’t connect to the school or staff members.
  3. Lack of Transportation
  4. Negative feelings towards Educational Institutions: Some parents and family members may have had negative experiences with their own education such as lack of education themselves, not feeling empowered to be involved or they view their child’s education as the school or community center’s job.
  5. Fear of Institutional Authority: Interacting with school or community centers can be intimidating for some parents and caregivers. Past negative experiences or preconceived notions may lead them to feel as though they are being judged. They could worry about staff turning them into authorities various reasons.
  6. Physical Health, Mental Health or Substance Abuse Issues: Unfortunately, there are cases of poor physical health, mental health and substance abuse issues. Parents may be challenged in meeting their own basic needs.
Parent Communication

Knowing the issues that face our families, how then as Out-of-School Time providers, do we bridge the gap to get our families involved? The first building block is communication.

Consider your Audience: You may need to word things in plain English to make it easily understood or printed on brightly colored paper that draws attention. Important information may need to be bolded or made into a larger font. Are materials available in all languages spoken by your families?  Regardless of your audience, materials that are shorter with visuals are typically easier to read. Family Handbooks that can be referenced later or serve to establish a baseline with families are also an important component.

Spread the Word Different Ways:  One method of communication may be better for one family than another. For example, not all parents have access to technology or are computer literate, so an e-mail or social media message may go unnoticed making regular mail the preferred method. Other parents may only use social media and never see letters in their mailbox or child’s backpack. Multiple messages increase your chances of having your message heard.

Informal Communication and Relationship Building: Informal communication and positive relationship building with parents lays the groundworks for trust and partnership. As much as possible, make yourself available to parents for friendly chats through things like office hours in the evening or spending time in parent pick-up and drop off areas. In some situations, parents may feel as though they only hear from staff is when something has gone wrong. Staff can contact parents to inform them of a positive story about their child.

Messaging & Tone

Knowing that some parents may have one or more barriers to engaging in their children’s out-of-school time program, it’s important to be aware of the tone of your messages. Consider the following:

  • Parent-Program Partnership: Communicate to your parents that you view their child’s success as a partnership between the family and the out-of-school program.
  • Parents are encouraged to be involved: Parents are solicited for feedback on the program. They are actively encouraged to volunteer or attend programing, not just generally, but also with specific invitations. Hold parent advisory boards or parent leadership opportunities.
  • Family Centered Events and Programs: Opportunities made specifically for families and parents to engage are critical to building a trusting relationship and supporting student success.
    • Parent Orientation/Program Kick-Off Events: Held in the beginning of your program, these events invite parents to learn how their child’s out-of-school time program works, what programs and activities are planned and provide opportunity to meet staff.
    • Meet and Greets: Meet and greets with no agenda other than getting to know staff and the program are a warm and accessible way for families to get comfortable. Events with food such as family dinners or a parent coffees are popular.
    • Fun Family Nights: Fun family activities, such as an International Night, Carnival or Sports Day encourage parents and families to get involved.
    • Family and Parent Programing: Lastly, you could offer family or parental programing such as GED, English language classes, parenting classes and family nutrition. Workshops on subjects such as helping students with homework or understanding social media are also popular options. Find out from your families, which type of activities they would like to see offered not just for their children, but for themselves and the whole family.
  • Diverse staff with cultural competency: The staff in the program are reflective of the population served and are culturally competent and sensitive. Staff are able to communicate with parents in non-English languages, if needed. Are you and your staff familiar with the whole community, such as the different neighborhoods your families are coming from? If necessary, make partnerships with community groups to bridge any gaps you may have in this area.


Examples of written and formal communications:

  1. Letters and postcards
  2. Flyers
  3. Brochures
  4. Calendars and Schedules
  5. Website or Blog announcements
  6. Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat)
  7. Phone calls and call outs
  8. School or PTA Newsletters
  9. Parent Handbooks



  • Afterschool Alliance Issue Brief, March 2008: This issue brief from Afterschool Alliance discusses parent and afterschool staff challenges with parental involvement and suggests techniques, along with descriptions of programs with parental involvement successes.
  • After-School Programs Parent Involvement Plan: A publication from The Department of Agricultural and Extension Education and The Pennsylvania State University outlining recommendations to involve students in afterschool programs.
  • Bringing it All Together: Family and Community Engagement Policies in Action: An archived webinar developed in joint collaboration with The U.S. Department of Education and its partners United Way Worldwide, National PTA, SEDL, and Harvard Family Research Project. This webinar focuses on how family, school, and community engagement can bring value to education reform initiatives.They examine the different roles of federal, state, and local entities in promoting policy, highlighting innovative examples of systemic, integrated, and sustained practices and different opportunities for providers.
  • Engaging Families in Out-of-School Time Programs Toolkit: From the Build the Out-of-School Time Network, this toolkit was developed as a result of a four-year Family Engagement Initiative. It takes Out-of-School Time providers through assessment, planning, and communication as it pertains to Family Engagement in programs.
  • Increasing Family and Parental Engagement in Afterschool Programs: The Afterschool Corporation examines how sites can successfully engage parents in afterschool programs. This guide explains why engaging parents is important, provides tips and outreach materials on effective ways to involve parents and illustrates examples of programs that have successfully engaged parents.
  • Improving Student Achievement and Outcomes through Parent and Family Involvement: This publication was developed in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Education and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Family Involvement, after surveying parents and school staff across Virginia. The booklet provides tips and strategies for parental involvement in schools. The information is easily applicable to afterschool and community settings.