First 5 Center Releases Report on Family Engagement Strategies

The First 5 Center for Children’s Policy is proud to release "First 5 Efforts to Engage Families and Shift Power: A Review of Current Practices" today, which provides important examples of how First 5s bring family voice into their decision-making, how they are thinking about sharing power, increasing transparency, and improving program design through engagement with family members in the communities they serve.

When parents are involved in early childhood programs and in the community as leaders, programs intended to serve families are better able to do so. Working directly with families has been part of First 5s’ DNA for years, but the emphasis on learning from family members and bringing them into decision-making has taken on new resonance and meaning for many family-serving organizations since George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. This report shares information about how First 5s have taken a new look at their efforts to work with family members in recent years, related to a First 5-wide effort to prioritize Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in all aspects of their work.

“It’s important that commissions are committed to Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and that we take the time to support them with understanding the ‘why’. We cannot expect our children to thrive and reach their unique potential unless our own staff, organizations and systems are steeped in this work.” - Francine Rodd Executive Director, First 5 Monterey

Through a series of interviews with First 5s, we found that there has been a shift in recent years towards more inclusive and intentional forms of family engagement, as defined by the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership. This framework that has helped many organizations assess and visualize the developmental steps needed to deepen community participation.

The report offers some examples of what this engagement looks like. For example, First 5 Fresno led the community input process for a cross-sector effort to build an early childhood agenda for all of Fresno County and inform its own strategic planning process. First 5 Santa Cruz convened parent leaders to recommend a set of organizational practices that could support authentic, equity-driven community engagement. These recommendations laid the foundation for long-term community engagement efforts now occurring as part of the county’s cross-sector Thrive by Five Initiative.

These are exciting examples, and there are many others to learn from, some of which are described in the report, and many others that are not. What’s clear is that these efforts are building steam and growing daily.

At the First 5 Center, we are also reflecting on shared power, transparency, and including a wider table of experts in the development of our research. There is no expert more informed about how early childhood public policy is working than caregivers from across the state who rely on the social safety net, particularly those who have experienced systemic racism, trauma and generational poverty. We’re eager to continually improve our practice. If you have suggestions for our policy engagement work, please contact us at

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