Father kissing child while mother is holding them

Shifting Mindsets to Value Families as Experts

In this blog, Start Early’s Consulting team shares key insights into how systems leaders can drive transformational change in the area of family leadership and provides a tool to help leaders assess their progress.

Tamilah Richardson May 13, 2024
  • Policy and Systems
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

Authentically and meaningfully engaging families in systems design and improvement work requires careful attention to how we value the expertise and lived experiences of these critical partners. Oftentimes, there is a contrast in our espoused beliefs and actual behaviors (explicitly or implicitly). How conscious are we of the disconnect? What tools and frameworks exist to help us as systems leaders on our journeys to be more genuine in our beliefs and equitable and liberatory in our practice? Here are some key insights from Start Early Consulting’s work focused on centering family and provider voice.

Systems leaders aiming to engage families more equitably and effectively in systems design and improvement efforts need to assess their progress towards meeting these goals. Start Early has developed a self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils. Framed as a continuum for developing capacities, the tool incorporates tenets of the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership framework.

Download Our New Tool

Download our new self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils.

Download Now

Centering family voice and fostering genuine co-creation spaces is complex work that will not happen overnight; it is evolutionary. And giving ourselves grace, knowing we are all in different places and that where we fall at any point in time will depend on various, ever-changing contexts (i.e., as often as we engage new families as partners in the work), is necessary. The promise of nurturing sustainable conditions for change is held within one key, foundational step — shifting mindsets to value families as experts, in words and action. A few relevant reflections from our team’s experiences providing support to advocate and public sector leaders seeking transformational change within and across their early childhood systems follow:

  1. Shifting mindsets to acknowledge and leverage the expertise families hold regarding what best meets their diverse and unique needs is critical.
    When we approach engaging families from a deficit perspective (e.g., families are unknowing of what quality is or dismissing cultural contexts that also shape these definitions; families are unaware of resources or “hard to reach”), we consequently message that families are the problem and WE hold the answers to solving these challenges.
  2. Families have valuable insight and perspective towards creating high-impact and sustainable solutions.
    Acknowledging that most systems, by design, limit access and opportunities for families to thrive, shifting our mindsets to prioritize families’ input better prepares us for the important and complex work of questioning dominant perceptions of quality and learning what the true barriers to access are. When we focus on addressing these root issues — WITH families — we get closer to achieving transformational change.
  3. Families are valued as experts and the key drivers of systems change when their voices are centered and they are empowered and supported to LEAD co-creation efforts.
    Embracing this mindset and enacting aligned practices requires positive and trusting relationships and restructuring power dynamics (e.g. shared governance). These conditions prime us for critical and generative dialogue.

Need extra support with equitably centering family voice in your systems change efforts? Contact our team to learn more.

About the Author

TR headshot 600x600

Tamilah Richardson

Director, Start Early Consulting

Dr. Tamilah Richardson is a Director on the Start Early Consulting team. In this role, she consults with systems leaders and advocates to build high-quality, equitable early childhood systems

More About Tamilah

More Like This