What do families want?
That’s the question that the Massachusetts Partnership for Infants and Toddlers (MPIT) asked last year in a statewide survey of 1,260 families with young children.
Facilitated by Strategies for Children, MPIT is a “unique collaboration between early childhood professionals inside and outside of government, at the state and local level, spanning early education and health,” a summary of the survey findings explains.
The survey’s goal was to “learn about families’ experiences with early childhood programs and services. What works, what doesn’t, what are the barriers to participation, and what would families like to see more of in their communities.” Respondents were asked about a wide range of programs, including Early Intervention, WIC, home visiting, play groups, and child care. In addition to the survey, there were five in-person family focus groups.
The results provide useful insights. Parents said they wanted a greater variety of more affordable early childhood programs – such as swimming, dance, music, and yoga – where they could interact with other parents. They want programs with flexible schedules and more opportunities to talk with local experts about child development and family wellbeing.
These and other creative ideas from families were collected between November 2019 and January 2020. Soon after, COVID-19 arrived, and what parents wanted and needed shifted to things like pandemic child care, job security, and help teaching children at home. MPIT is currently gathering examples of how programs are making innovative adaptations to their family engagement efforts during COVID-19. We will highlight these next week in a follow-up blog post.
While it’s true that for now the pandemic dominates policy discussions, Massachusetts can still think about what families want as it reopens and rebuilds.
One key strategy that policymakers can pursue: pay attention to the needs of lower income families.
As the full report on the survey notes:
“MPIT was particularly interested in the views of lower-income families, as many publicly-funded programs and advocacy initiatives deliberately target lower-income families, or more broadly, under-served families who are furthest from equal opportunity due to various socio-demographic factors (income, education, race, home language, immigrant status, etc.).”
To highlight these needs, the report combines family incomes below $50,000 into one category. “There were 255 respondents in this ‘lower income’ group, which made up 23% of the sample. This income cut-point approximates 200% of the federal poverty level for a family of four, $49,200 in 2017. The Massachusetts median household income in 2017 was $77,385.”
When asked why they didn’t participate in early childhood programs, lower income families were more likely to indicate that they “didn’t know about the program.” Some reported having “no transportation to program” or noted “location not convenient,” (17% for each).
In other words, more outreach and choosing locations near public transportation could help improve family engagement and create more access to meaningful experiences for young children.
The survey also had open-ended questions that produced a range of good advice from families, including:
• “Provide more story times across the week and during times working parents have off. For example, I wanted to bring my toddler somewhere for Veterans Day but every library was closed.”
• have a winter program where children can “exercise or do some motor activity”
• run support groups for parents in languages other than English, and
• have “Fun weekend events for the whole family. Or date night events where the kids play and we get grown up time.”
As Massachusetts makes its way through the pandemic, MPIT is embarking on another year of work, and it will continue documenting how the pandemic has changed family engagement in order to share and highlight new innovations and best practices. MPIT’s additional goals include launching a parent advisory group and a data workgroup as well as advancing early childhood mental health care.
MPIT is always looking for new ideas, and partners to join its 40+ organizations and family engagement specialists.
So please send us your ideas. MPIT is looking for new partners to help serve infants, toddlers, and their families. We want to create statewide systems of support that can help programs and services be as effective as possible.
For more information, contact MPIT project manager Titus DosRemedios at firstname.lastname@example.org or (617) 330-7387.