When families are weakened, children suffer. Today, at both the state and federal levels, families – increasingly, with declared will and purpose -- are under attack. If I am to remain a defender of children and promote what is best for them at every turn, my silence in this moment will fail those I intend to serve.
I cannot – we cannot – silently watch as immigration officers conduct inhumane raids in the early hours of the morning, by waking children and forcibly ripping one or both parents from the home … effectively splitting up the family nucleus and negatively impacting the emotional and economic well-being of the adults and the children that depend on them. Even the fear and suggestion of deportation affects family stability. We must speak up for our families – especially those who can’t – about the proposed cuts to Medicaid or CHIP. If enacted, poor families and children, especially children with disabilities, will be adversely affected. We cannot stand silent about laws being considered that will roll back civil rights. We cannot stand silent about the implementation of new, discriminatory policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) parents, parents who are raising more than two million children in the United States. A majority of states continue to allow LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. We cannot continue to turn away from the real truths about the factors that negatively impact family success, such as increased racial and religious profiling, the rise in addiction to opioids and prescription painkillers, the decreased access to resources that families need, like affordable housing, high-quality child care, healthy food and nutrition, and medical and dental care.
Every day, as educators and providers working with families, we have an opportunity
to work toward eliminating – or at least mitigating – adverse conditions we find
that negatively impact families and their children.
Last week, more than 300 educators from around the state convened at Maryland Family Engagement Coalition’s second annual family engagement summit, Engaging Families in Modern Times, to discuss ways in which we can better support children through strengthening families. Dedicated educators know what children need to be able to succeed in school. But, as Acting Superintendent Liz Kelley cautioned at the summit, “We cannot do it in isolation.” Family engagement is critical to high-quality early care and education and plays a significant role in improving children’s health, social-emotional, and academic outcomes, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background. In the 21st century, we have more digital tools than ever (E-mail, text messaging, social media, video conferencing, etc.) to connect with parents and caregivers. Educators are increasingly able to expand the learning at school directly into the home through interactive digital games, streaming video, and on-line information. In her keynote remarks, Lisa Guernsey, of New America, said some communities are developing teachers to be “media mentors” to help guide families and children to appropriate and useful media and digital tools for learning. Unfortunately, there are great inequities when it comes to accessing technology and its promise.
Guernsey reminded conference participants that …
“We have as much to learn from families as they have to learn from us.”
Families are not empty vessels just waiting for us to fill them. Parents and caregivers bring with them rich traditions, cultures, skills, and knowledge. During the summit, Parent Ambassadors kept participants grounded and focused on precisely what families need, and which strategies are most effective for immigrant families, or the parent of a child with a disability, and a gay couple raising a foster child. Other diverse families shared in the conversations and helped build a collective knowledge bank.
Each of our families has unique strengths, but also challenges that require specific support. We must prioritize building strong and meaningful relationships with families using all our tools, and fully welcome parents into our programs and schools. Start today and encourage your colleagues to do the homework of learning and acknowledging implicit biases. Renew your commitment to work toward being caring, loving and patient partners with our families. Take up the challenge and work together to improve the school readiness of young children.
It is never too early to engage families.