When it comes to connecting families to community resources, organizations are constantly innovating. Whether it’s a nationally provided mental health crisis center or a local parent support group, these groups are moving beyond bulletin boards and community rooms to put the right resources into the right hands, at the right time.
Finding the right combination of relevance and timing is key to encouraging families to actually engage with available resources.
Through our custom work, ParentPowered has done quite a bit of resource hunting with our community partners across the United States. And we are always struck by how unique and special each community’s resources were to their specific landscape, culture, and families. As a result, this observation became a cornerstone of Ready4K Trauma-Informed called Community Support Stream. It connects families through text messages to something new from our partner’s curated set of community resources every week. Every resource and message shared feels personal and reflects the importance of family support by the partner organization.
A strengths-based guide for families to access the resources they need, when they need them.
Available in Spanish & English.
Even if you don’t have a text-based program like Ready4K, the lessons we’ve learned can help you get family resources into the right hands. More importantly, they will encourage families to use the programs they need.
1. Build your resource web first
Our first key takeaway from working with so many community and family resource centers is that supports are incredibly varied. When we ask new partners for the 25 family resources they want sent to their community, some say “no problem.” However, others may heave a big sigh. For every partner brainstorming their family resource list from scratch, another sends us a 32-page booklet of services.
Pyramid of Resources
There are three categories of community resources that partners share with their families. All three have an important role to play, and together they make a powerful web of concrete resources that your families will find useful.
1. Ready4K vetted resources. These include federal government programs, parenting supports, and national crisis supports. They are the sturdy foundation in your organization’s resource guide.
2. Evergreen local resources. You know your families and community best. These resources help families get the specific support they need in their locale.
3. Timely resources. These include information, activities, services, and other resources that families may need in the moment.
Now it’s time to put your list of family resources together. Our partners have found the following guidelines make the process smoother when compiling their resource guide for children and adults – whether they’re hunting for new services or whittling down a longer list.
Start with the fundamentals
The most common resources shared by our partners focus on the basic needs of families. That means connecting families to community resources that can provide food, clothing, housing, utilities, transportation, and even child care. Focusing on basic needs is a great place to start your core list of essential community resources. Additionally, these services provide opportunities to deliver immediate and direct benefits to families.
|MOST COMMON COMMUNITY RESOURCES|
|Financial assistance programs|
|Mental health services|
|Medical care and health services|
|Crisis intervention services|
|Food assistance programs|
|Domestic and child abuse services|
Look beyond your community
Just as there can be food deserts throughout the United States, there can also be resource deserts. Areas lacking local supports make it difficult for families to get the help they need, when they need it. If you don’t have a local option for certain community or family support services, research state, regional, and national resources. There are many great options that your organization can take advantage of or that you can share directly with families.
Make it a group effort
The Community Asset Mapping process can become quite the project for our partners. It takes time and often needs multiple team members to build a full resource guide – one person may not be the expert in every category! Connect with and tap into your community network. Someone you know may have just the information you need to round out your community services and family offerings.
“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
Check every link and phone number
We’ve all had the experience of calling a phone number for something we need, only to hear a dial tone or worse, “this number is no longer in service.” This is a frustrating experience for anyone, but it creates bigger challenges for families trying to get help. A disconnected number or broken website link can discourage families from reaching out to family resource centers in the future.
This is why we guide our partners to test the contact information for each family support service and community organization listed in their offerings before we include it in their Ready4K community resource stream. We also encourage partners to click on each link to online resources and websites for local agencies – a dead website link is a dead end! While it takes some time, it’s worth it to provide a good experience for connecting families to community resources. It also helps ensure families can access family resource centers or other organizations on their first attempt.
Yes, building your basic resource guide can require additional work. But once it’s complete, you’ll feel great knowing that you’re connecting families to community resources at the right time and place. One of our favorite things to see is more and more families clicking on our partner’s shared resources each week. This data tells us and our partners that families are connected with the right support at the right time!
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 U.S. partners where we have household income data, 64% of children we served in June 2020 qualified as economically disadvantaged, historically referred to as ‘low-income families’. However, this doesn’t mean that families only seek community services that meet basic needs or only help in crises.
On our partners’ Ready4K dashboards, we can see which resources are most often clicked on by their families. From this feedback, we’ve learned that caregivers also want:
- Activities to support and engage with their children
- Self-care resources
Some of the most-clicked community resources are those that further parenting power. As you craft your resource web, work in a few 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 community resource to send to families is only the first step. Next comes the message around the resource, a critical part of giving families access. Think about the difference between these two messages for families to highlight available self-care services and resources:
It is evident that Version 2 provides both a personal touch and key context for the national resource being shared with families. Contextualizing your family resources does several important things:
- It helps families self-identify needs. 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 referring to specific agencies they know or locations they’re familiar with, it feels personal, like this resource is intended especially for them. The more specific the family resource feels, the more likely it is that the family will use it.
- It quickly explains the value of a resource. A short explanation of why your organization sees this resource as important enough to share can transform a family’ response from “why am I getting this message?” to one that sparks curiosity to learn more about the highlighted services.
- It normalizes the need. Many people have complex feelings about accessing community or family resources. They range from fear of stigma to a sense that others need it more than they do. Assuring families that they’re not alone if they want support can nudge them to learn more and use critical services.
Crafting a targeted and succinct message helps families engage with the right family resource center or community services that meet their specific needs. Which brings us to our last insight…
4. Make it easy
Wherever possible, try to minimize the barriers preventing families from working with available resources. A parent, caretaker, or guardian that can easily access community services is much more likely to use them. There are two ways to keep access easy for families.
Share resources at the right time
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 makes it challenging for families to take advantage of the information.
Does your organization offer educational programs that help students transition back-to-school? Send messages to families in early summer, not the middle of winter! Are there local food pantries and other food assistance organizations with programs to support families during the winter holidays? Let families know about them throughout fall and during the weeks leading up to them.
Connecting families to community resources at the appropriate time makes them more relevant for families and increases families’ chances of engaging with them.
Keep your message short
We know that many families are often busy and stressed. And we’re all experiencing the information overload that comes with living in the 21st century! All of this means that if there are too many words in your family messages, it may result in few to no messages read.
Of course, if you know Ready4K, you probably can guess what we’re going to say next: text it! We strongly encourage you to reach families by text message because:
- Text messages almost guarantee your note must be short and sweet
- Text is the most universally used technology – 98% of US adults under 50 use text! (Pew Research Center, 2021)
- Text is 400% more likely to be read than an email (Pew Research Center, 2021)
The easier it is for families to learn about family resource centers, programs, or community services, the better the chances are that they will actually use them!
Access to the right resources benefits everyone
Connecting families to community resources is key to supporting their engagement in their students’ learning. Putting these lessons into practice can help families access the support they need, when they need it. Whether through direct services, comprehensive family resource centers, or just-in-time school programs, we know that when families thrive, communities thrive!