Engaging Families in State Initiatives: A Case Study of Lessons Learned

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodJun 7 2024

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states and communities developed new programs, strategies, policies, or initiatives to strengthen child care and early education (CCEE) systems and support families with young children. The purpose of this case study brief is to spotlight three state initiatives that sought to engage families and integrate their perspectives into their CCEE efforts while answering the following research questions:

  • What are examples of innovative family-centered strategies states used to support families with young children during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond?
  • What facilitated implementation of the strategies? What new structures, roles, or processes were created? What will persist after pandemic recovery?
  • What barriers or challenges emerged, and how did states address those barriers
  • How did families experience the strategies? What lessons can be drawn from their experiences?
  • In what ways did states’ strategies advance equity?
  • What are some recommendations for states to consider as they continue to develop and implement strategies to support families with young children?

This brief draws on interviews with 1) staff implementing initiatives in three states and 2) parents and caregivers that participated in these initiatives in various ways. In this brief, we provide a description of these initiatives and a summary of key themes that have implications for improving the CCEE system and efforts to engage families in future state initiatives. We want to note that this brief is not an evaluation of these state initiatives’ success or impact; rather, it provides illustrative examples of how states are engaging families in their work and lessons learned that can inform other states interested in similar efforts.

Designing and implementing programs that center families’ expressed needs and experiences is essential to keeping families engaged in their child’s care and education. Family engagement benefits children, parents and caregivers, and the communities in which they live. Research shows that family engagement at the individual service level (e.g., in their children’s CCEE programs) contributes to many positive outcomes for children and families, including increased school readiness for children and positive influences on socio-emotional and academic growth.1,2 Parents and caregivers also benefit from participating in family engagement activities at the system level (e.g., leadership boards, advisory committees, or task forces), reporting personal growth, including increased self-confidence, new connections, and new knowledge and skills.3,4 Community leaders also benefit from families’ involvement, obtaining a deeper understanding of their residents’ needs.5,6

Because of the rapidly changing circumstances for families’ health, employment, and child care arrangements, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of intentionally integrating families’ needs, priorities, and experiences into the design and provision of services and supports for families with young children. State leaders and staff implementing programs and services are eager to learn about strategies other states are using to engage families and integrate their perspectives into the design and implementation of programs and services.a There are many different strategies for family engagement, ranging from one-time or short-term efforts (e.g., a feedback session) to more intensive, long-term engagement (e.g., participation in an ongoing advisory board). Family engagement strategies can vary based on states’ needs and capacities, as well as families’ interests, preferences, and availability. The approaches used may vary in their effectiveness depending on how state leaders anticipate the supports families need to engage in meaningful ways. This case study brief highlights how three states engaged families in their initiatives, parents’ and caregivers’ experiences, and implications for the field moving forward.

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.


a The Child Care Development Block Grant requires states to collect and disseminate consumer and provider education on best practices for meaningful family engagement, so states are often interested in resources related to family engagement. In response to states’ interest, federal technical assistance (TA) centers have developed multiple resources to support family engagement work. For example, the PDG B-5 TA Center published a brief titled “How State Leaders Can Promote Meaningful Family Engagement at the State and Program Level” and compiled a list of resources to support grantees’ work to maximize parental choice and knowledge. The Early Childhood TA Center (ECTA) similarly compiled a list of national resources on family engagement which includes federal guidance, tools, and resources from other national centers and associations.


1 Sheridan, S. M., Knoche, L. L., Edwards, C., Bovaird, J. A., & Kupzyk, K. A. (2010). Parent engagement and school readiness: Effects of the Getting Ready intervention on preschool children’s social-emotional competencies. Early Education and Development, 21(1), 125–156. 10 .1080/10409280902783517

2 Sheridan, S. M., Knoche, L. L., Kupzyk, K. A., Edwards, C. P., & Marvin, C. A. (2011). A randomized trial examining the effects of parent engagement on early language and literacy: the Getting Ready intervention. Journal of School Psychology, 49(3), 361–383. 10 .1016/j .jsp .2011 .03 .001

3 Henderson, A. T., Kressley, K. G., & Frankel, S. (2016). Capturing the ripple effect: Developing a theory of change for evaluating parent leadership initiatives. Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University.

4 Cunningham, S. D., Kreider, H., & Ocón, J. (2012). Influence of a parent leadership program on participants’ leadership capacity and actions. School Community Journal, 22(1), 111-124.

5 Henderson, A. T., Kressley, K. G., & Frankel, S. (2016). Capturing the ripple effect: Developing a theory of change for evaluating parent leadership initiatives. Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University.

6 Early Childhood Investment Corporation & Michigan’s Great Start Collaboratives (n.d.). Parent leadership on the Great Start Collaboratives: A resource guide for the Great Start Collaboratives. https://www.ecic4kids.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Parent-Leadership-Resource-Guide.pdf