From the Imprint. Opinion piece by Paul DiLorenzo, child welfare consultant–As a part of their efforts to engage families, many child welfare agencies sponsor community events. These happenings are designed to build social capital, to provide an opportunity for residents and stakeholders to meet each other and to create a network of supportive relationships.
We have finally come to understand that these activities can be a contributing factor to enhanced child safety and family well-being. In addition, it is a smart and practical way to meet community residents.
I’m always anxious to attend these events, and I’ve helped to plan and manage many of them over the years. It is an opportunity to enjoy myself and to be with others who are celebrating the life of a community. While attending, I always remind myself that I am a guest and should follow the guidance given to me as a child when my parents took us visiting – behave and be respectful.
In my consulting role, I find that most child welfare agencies have difficulty finding the right point of involvement with families and communities. When jurisdictions ask me how to engage with a community, I tell them to provide stakeholders with an opportunity for a conversation, then raise an occasional question and listen. If you do this well, the engagement will happen.
There is no special formula except empathy and respect, blended with a dose of humility. Effective community conversations require listening for our common interests and priorities, our points of accommodation around time and availability and setting realistic expectations of each other. Though I’m certain that someone has developed a manual or a tool for community and parent engagement, the right questions to ask, etc., I’m a believer in keeping it simple.