8 Principles for Engaging and Centering Parent Voices

Brendan Creamer | August 3, 2021 | Ascend Network

The following text is adapted from “The State of the Field: Two-Generation Approaches to Family Well-Being.” The full report is linked here.

Two-generation approaches (2Gen) meaningfully engage and listen to families as equal partners in setting and achieving family goals. Family expertise and advice drive the design of two-generation policies, programs, and services. The voices and perspectives of people affected by policies and programs are essential elements of making them work. The words of parents and caregivers animate and reinforce what we learn from the data and the facts on the ground about these policies.

Ascend’s work is guided by eight principles for engaging parents in two-generation work. These principles were informed by parents through both feedback the Ascend team has gathered during our years of partnering with families, as well as parent leadership roles at Ascend convenings and webinars. The principles focus on how organizations can continuously improve partnerships with parents and how policymakers, practitioners, and researchers can be more deliberate in their own parent engagement efforts.

  1. Engage parents as experts. Parents know better than anyone how and why family-supportive programs and policies fall short and what changes can be made to improve program and policy outcomes.
  2. Ensure equity. Structural barriers such as labor market discrimination and lack of access to educational and economic opportunities disproportionately affect communities of color. As a result, while families of a wide range of geographies, education levels, and racial and ethnic backgrounds have faced economic insecurity, communities of color have been most affected.
  3. Partner with parents. Partnerships develop when parents are not just asked to provide their opinions, but also given leadership opportunities and decision-making power.
  4. Foster parent safety, authenticity, and autonomy. Support parents as they think about how to tell their story, but do not censor Ensure the demographics of those in the room are reflective of the community you serve.
  5. Prioritize social capital. Social capital manifests itself as increased peer support and connections to family, friends, neighbors, organizations, and colleagues. Such support appears to be a powerful success factor in programs that help families in moving toward economic
  6. Compensate parents appropriately. Like an expert on economics or public health, parents should be compensated for their expertise. Stipend amounts should also compensate parents for any out-of-pocket costs and be determined through analysis of local market costs for child care and the local living wage rate.
  7. Cultivate learning and evaluation. To engage and center parents, organizations need solid capacity to conduct outreach, identify parent participants and leaders, adjust organizational culture to center parents, and evaluate these efforts. Organizations can document their efforts to create a team knowledge base.
  8. Thank and recognize parents. Express gratitude and appreciation to parents for their work and recognize their contributions publicly. This recognition demonstrates the equitable inclusion of parents as experts and establishes a public track record of their leadership, which they can use for future professional opportunities.

For more information and resources about centering parent expertise and elevating parent voices, please visit Ascend’s Parent Voices microsite linked here. It includes stories and perspectives told by parents, resources to center parents in your work, the 1 in 5 Podcast featuring student-parent stories, and polling capturing broader perspectives regarding parent needs and supports.

Parent Voices Microsite



Power Shifting: Parents Leading the Way

Authentic engagement and radical listening: this is how 2Gen innovations begin. In this discussion, from the Aspen Forum on Children and Families 2021, hear from parents who have elevated their voices and in turn shaped programs and policies for other families. As an Ascend Parent Voices 2020 focus group mother told us, “we can be unstoppable.”

Speakers include: 

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