LENS Program Development Resource Series: Parent-Family Engagement
Parent-Family Engagement: Welcome, Honor, and Connect
By: Meredith Bapir, Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Assistant, The Mentoring Partnership
Because parents are a primary gatekeeper to the child, familial support of the mentoring relationship is critical to ensure matching success and effective, sustained relationships. Here at TMP, I am often asked what the role of the parent should be in the mentoring relationship and how programs can engage parents to be supportive of a match.
I refer programs to Karen Mapp’s research on The Joining Process. In her research on how to include parents in their children’s education, Karen Mapp asked parents to identify what school staff did to foster trusting and respectful relationships with them.
Mapp found that schools that welcome, honor, and connect families with what’s happening in class were often able to cultivate a deeper relationship between school staff and parents, thus fostering the child’s success in school. She calls this The Joining Process and found that it creates an environment where “everyone feels like members of a family.”
The same application can be applied to mentoring programs. Research shows that when parents are welcomed (made to feel like their involvement in the mentoring relationship is relevant and useful), honored (their contributions in the mentee’s life are noticed and utilized), and invited (they’re made to feel welcome, invited to trainings and orientations, and their inputs are desired), matches between mentors and mentees are stronger. Research also shows that a strong relationship between mentors and mentees fosters the mentee’s ability to develop strong relationships with “natural mentors,” or other responsible adults in the mentee’s life.
Here are some suggestions on how to utilize The Joining Process to welcome, honor, and connect parents in your mentoring program:
- Involve parents in the matching process by asking on the permission form, or before the initial match: “What kind of adult would work best for your child?” and “What are your child’s interests?” This strategy changes the entire parent-program dynamic by putting power and control in the hands of the parent(s), respecting the parents’ relationship with their own child (who knows this child better than a parent?), and valuing existing relationships. The mentor is then seen as being invited into the mentee’s life by an already trusted adult.
- Provide parents with a handbook outlining the program and the purpose of mentoring.
- Hold an orientation to mentoring that discusses goals of mentoring, the role of the mentor vs. the role of the parent, program guidelines and safety concerns, and a Q&A session. If possible, provide transportation, food, and childcare to encourage more participation.
- Send out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter that highlights activities and successful match stories. If possible, include the positive impact of your program’s work in the lives of mentees (i.e. improved academics, improved pro-social skills, etc). Ask TMP for suggestions on how to evaluate your program.
- Host and invite parents to an Everyday Mentoring Training provided by TMP that teaches skills and strategies parents can use in enhancing their own relationships with their children and other young people in their lives.
- Allow parents the opportunity to opt-in for a monitoring and support phone call. Best practices suggest that the program has contact every two months with a responsible adult in each mentee’s life.
- Allow parents to be a part of the mentor recruiting process—Ask parents: “Is there already an adult in your family, community, or school that works well with your child, that might be interested in participating in this formal mentoring program?” If mentors are identified by the family or mentee, there is a greater chance they will agree to participate because it’s a compliment.
- Provide mentee recognition opportunities. After the matches have been meeting for some time, ask mentors to write a short paragraph about the mentees, highlighting positive change they’ve seen in them and positive elements of their relationship. Email or mail it to the parents. Even if there is no response from the parent, it still makes a parent feel good that another responsible adult sees potential and value in their child’s life.
- And, of course, provide parent recognition opportunities. Invite parents to the end-of-the-year celebration ceremony. Don’t, however, do this as a stand-off thing. Parents are not likely to show up if this is the first and only event they were invited to all year.
And remember: Just because parents do not physically attend events (often due to work, transportation, or other barriers, not necessarily interest), it doesn’t mean that they are uncaring toward or unwilling to be involved in the mentoring relationship. With program encouragement, parents can continue to provide verbal support to foster their child in the mentoring relationship.
If you have any questions or concerns, or are interested in learning more about parent engagement specific to your mentoring program, please contact The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-281-2535.
Mass Mentoring Partnership. Parent & Family Engagement in Mentoring Staff Training Handbook.
Mapp, K. 2003. “Having their say: Parents describe why and how they are engaged in their children’s education.” School Community Journal, Vol.13, No. 1.
Mentoring Fact Sheet #6; U.S. DOE, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Mentoring Resource Center, http://www.edmentoring.org/pubs/factsheet6.pdf