Connecting Families to Community Resources: Lessons Learned

By Curran Mahowald, partner success & marketing

“It needs to be familiar”
“And immediate”
“Has to feel comfortable to access”
“Yes, personal to the family”
“They have to be able to connect easily”
“Right. It has to be useful”

When our content team sat down to create a trauma-informed curriculum, they knew they had to address all 5 Protective Factors. After careful consideration and analysis the team knew they could address the first 4 factors in specific and actionable ways through our Fact, Tip, Growth messaging.

But the fifth, concrete supports, felt like it needed something different.

How could we, a national program provider, share concrete supports in times of need with individual families in diverse communities? What would it look like to send families messages that would meet this bar?

And so the brainstorming began.

How do you get concrete supports into families’ hands from afar?

Through our custom work, we had done quite a bit of resource hunting for partners across the country. And we were always struck by how unique and special each community’s resources were to their specific landscape, culture, and community. What better way to capture these qualities than a dedicated set of messages from the partner?

This became a cornerstone of Ready4K Trauma-Informed, and we call it the Community Support Stream. This allows families to receive a new resource every week that feels personal and rooted in the local community.

But even if you don’t have a text-based program like Ready4K, the lessons we’ve learned will help you get community resources into families’ hands. As importantly, it will encourage families to use the resources they need.

(And continue to the end for details about new funding to make this work easier)

1. Build Your Basics First

One of the first things we learned from working with so many organizations is that resources are incredibly variable. When we ask new partners for the 25 community resources they want sent to their families, some say “no problem” and others heave a big sigh. For every partner that begins brainstorming a resource list from scratch, there’s another that immediately sends over a 32-page booklet.

Pyramid of Resources

There are three categories of community resource that can be shared with families. All three have their role and together they make for a powerful web of concrete resources your families will find useful.

1. Ready4K vetted resources. Includes federal government programs, parenting supports, and national crisis supports. They provide a sturdy foundation.

2. Evergreen local resources. You know your families best. These resources will help families get the specific support they need.

3. Timely resources. Includes information, activities, and things they need to know in a moment.

Now it’s time to put your list together.

Our partners have found these guidelines make the process much smoother, whether they’re hunting for resources or whittling them down:

Start with the fundamentals

The most common community resources shared by our partners are the basics. That means food, clothing, housing, utilities, and transportation. If you’re working on your core list of essential resources, focusing on basic needs is a great place to start.

Look outside your community

Just like there are food deserts, there can be resource deserts. If you don’t have a local option, there are lots of great state, regional, and national resources.

Make it a group effort!

The Community Asset Mapping process can be a bit of a project for our partners. It can take time and often multiple team members. One person may not be the expert in every category! And don’t be shy about tapping into your network. Someone you know may have the information you’ve been looking for.

“We were able to gather family advocates, supervisors and other specialists in our program to connect resources we found most needed for our families.  This support has allowed us as a program to provide quality resources to our families throughout our region.”

– Aubrey Cooper, Education Coordinator at Kawerak Head Start

We’ve all had the experience of calling a phone number to try to get something we need, only to hear a dial tone or “this number is no longer in service.” Not only is this experience frustrating, but it can also discourage families from reaching out for help in the future.

This is why we guide our partners to contact each community resource before we include it in the community resource stream. It takes some time, but it’s worth it to provide a good experience for families.

Yes, building your basic list can be work. But once it’s complete, you’ll feel great knowing that you’re getting the right resources into families’ hands. One of our favorite things is to see the click counts rise as families access the resources our partners are sharing each week.

2. Think About the Whole Caregiver

Most of the families our partners serve are in a state of need, and many are unfortunately even in a state of crisis. Of our US partners where we have income data, 75% of children we served in June 2020 qualified as low-income. However, this doesn’t mean that families only want resources to meet their basic needs or respond to crises.

We’ve learned from seeing the resource click data in our partners’ dashboards that caregivers also want:

  1. Activities to support and engage with their children
  2. Self-care resources

Some of the most-clicked community resources are those that further parenting power. So work in a few resources that inspire and empower your families to feel great about themselves and their parenting.

“The Ready4K Community Support Stream is so important to our program. It provides a way for families to have access to supports they may have not known about before and have a way to reach out easier for help.”

– Aubrey Cooper, Education Coordinator at Kawerak Head Start

3. Messaging Matters

Finding the right resource to send is only step one. The message around the community resource is a critical part of giving access to the resource. Think about the difference between these two messages:

Version 1

Version 2

Contextualizing the resources does several important things:

It helps families self-identify

Is this resource right for me? The language you provide around the message will help the family to determine which of their needs this resource would meet. When families receive messages that refer to specific agencies they know or locations they’re familiar with, it feels like this resource is intended for them. Specifically for them. Which will increase their likelihood to use that resource.

It gives a succinct explanation of the value of accessing this resource

A quick explanation of why you see this community resource as important enough to share can transform the message from “why am I getting this?” to one that sparks curiosity to know more.

It normalizes the need

Many people have complex feelings about accessing resources, from fear of stigma to a sense that others need it more than they do. Assuring the parent that they’re not alone if they want to learn more can nudge them to use these critical resources.

Finally, giving families context also helps them avoid wasting precious time calling or clicking on something that doesn’t apply to them. Which brings us to our last insight…

4. Make It Easy

Timely and succinct is best

An important lesson we’ve learned is that it’s critical for partners to reflect on what their community needs most right now. Building a laundry list of every possible resource drains your team and is almost impossible for families to make use of.

If you have a great resource that families will love later in the year, save it until then. Not quite COVID-safe? Stash it in your list of things families will definitely want to hear about after the pandemic is over.

Keep your message short

We know that families are busy and stressed. And we’re all experiencing the information overload that comes with living in the 21st century! Which means that if there are too many words nobody’s going to read it. 

Of course, if you know Ready4K, you know what we’re going to say next: text it! We strongly encourage you to reach families by text because:

  • Text is the most universally used technology (98% of US adults under 50 use text)
  • It keeps your message short-and-sweet
  • Text is 400% more likely to be read than an email

Equity Grant now available

Looking for help connecting your families to critical resources? Thanks to philanthropic support, we are currently accepting applications for up to 100% off your first year of Ready4K Trauma-Informed. Organizations serving a high percentage of economically disadvantaged families are encouraged to apply.

Check out the grant to learn more.

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