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Strength-based Family Engagement
November 2019


What does the research say about implementation of strength/asset-based family engagement programs to increase equity in engaging diverse families for improving the academic and social emotional skills of students?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Baker, T. L., Wise, J., Kelley, G., & Skiba, R. J. (2016). Identifying barriers: Creating solutions to improve family engagement. School Community Journal, 26(2), 161–184.

From the Abstract:
"Reframing notions of parent involvement (being present in the school building) to parent engagement (viewing multiple constructions of how parents are involved) is the purpose of this paper. The authors highlight the knowledge gained from data collected from a series of family and staff focus groups regarding parent and staff perceptions of barriers to family involvement and from families' suggestions as to what could be done differently to increase engagement. Using applied thematic analysis, five themes common to both families and staff are discussed: providing opportunities for involvement, improving communication, welcoming families into the building, making time, and moving from involvement to engagement. Findings show that, generally, parents and school staff agree on barriers to parent involvement but offer contrasting solutions. While parent solutions directly address the barriers identified and support parent engagement, staff frequently offered disconnected solutions, reiterating parent involvement—the necessity of parents being present in the building, rather than parent engagement."

Baquedano-López, P., Alexander, R. A., & Hernández, S. J. (2013). Equity issues in parental and community involvement in schools: What teacher educators need to know. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 149–182.

From the Abstract:
"In this article, the authors examine the literature on parental involvement highlighting the equity issues that it raises in educational practice. They begin with a brief historical overview of approaches to parent involvement and the ways in which 'neodeficit' discourses on parents permeate current education reform efforts. Next, they address how inequities related to race, class, and immigration shape and are shaped by parent involvement programs, practices, and ideologies. Finally, they discuss empowerment approaches to parental involvement and how these are situated in a broader decolonial struggle for transformative praxis that reframes deficit approaches to parents from nondominant backgrounds."

Gabriel, M. L., Roxas, K. C., & Becker, K. (2017). Meeting, knowing, and affirming Spanish-speaking immigrant families through successful culturally responsive family engagement. Journal of Family Diversity in Education, 2(3), 1–18. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"School districts and community agencies continue to support families with family involvement and engagement opportunities, but we question the methods utilized and the gap between the ideological beliefs and the beliefs of the families being served. In this article, we analyze data from one strand of a year-long study to explain and demonstrate the successful use of culturally responsive pedagogy when applied to the development of school-family partnerships with families from immigrant backgrounds. Six Spanish-speaking parent participants in the study shared their perspectives through Photovoice, a collaborative research method. The families shared intimate descriptions of the strengths of their families, their expectations for their children in school, their own experiences with schools, and what they want educators to know about them and their families. Given the findings, we conclude the article by asserting that educational leaders must rethink traditional models, methods, and strategies of family engagement and seek to be more inclusive in engaging a broader section of families in their partnering efforts to meet, know, and affirm Spanish-speaking immigrant family members."

Garcia, M. E., Frunzi, K., Dean, C. B., Flores, N., & Miller, K. B. (2016). Toolkit of resources for engaging families and the community as partners in education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Pacific. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and Community as Partners in Education provides resources for school staff to build relationships with families and community members and to support family well-being, strong parent-child relationships, and students' ongoing learning and development. Originally developed for the Guam Alliance for Family and Community Engagement in Education, the Toolkit is based on information from a variety of sources that address engagement in diverse communities. As a result, the Toolkit is applicable in a variety of contexts—and wherever school staff are interested in enhancing engagement of families and community members. The Toolkit is divided into four parts, and each includes a series of activities that can be used with family and community members, as well as other diverse cross-stakeholder groups. The Toolkit offers an integrated approach that helps school staff understand how their own cultural experiences and backgrounds influence their beliefs and assumptions about families and community members, and consequently influences their efforts to engage others in support of student learning. It also addresses how to build a cultural bridge through cross-cultural communication and how to use strategies that build trust between families, community members, and schools. In addition, the Toolkit helps school staff understand how to use two-way communication with families to gather and share data about student interests, progress, and outcomes."

Niehaus, K., & Adelson, J. L. (2014). School support, parental involvement, and academic and social-emotional outcomes for English language learners. American Educational Research Journal, 51(4), 810–844. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study examined the relationships among school support, parental school involvement, and academic and social-emotional outcomes for children who are English language learners (ELLs). The sample included 1,020 third-grade ELLs who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K). Results from structural equation modeling showed that higher levels of school support predicted more parental involvement, more parental involvement predicted fewer social-emotional concerns for ELL children, and fewer social-emotional problems were linked to higher achievement scores. Contrary to expectations, results showed that ELL students had lower achievement and more social-emotional concerns when they attended schools that provided more support services. The authors discuss possible explanations for these findings as well as directions for future research and implications for policy and practice."

Parsons, M. W., & Shim, J. M. (2019). Increasing ELL parental involvement and engagement: Exploration of K-12 administrators in a rural state. English Language Teaching, 12(10), 29–43.

From the Abstract:
"This study reports the findings from an exploration of K-12 administrators in a rural state about how they can more effectively engage and involve families of English language learners (ELLs). The guiding questions for this study are: (1) How does the role of administrators influence the engagement and involvement of ELL parents within K-12 education? (2) What can administrators do within their districts specific to their district in order to facilitate ELL parental engagement and involvement? Through an online survey and in-person interviews, the authors focus specifically on the perceived level of engagement of ELL families as it pertains to districts in general and a specific district. Furthermore, preconceived notions of expectations and language differences and the effectiveness of programs currently offered overall throughout the rural state are explored. Finally, the authors offer suggestions on how to better involve and engage ELLs and their families."

Semke, C. A., & Sheridan, S. M. (2012). Family-school connections in rural educational settings: A systematic review of the empirical literature. School Community Journal, 22(1), 21–47. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Parental participation and cooperation in children's educational experiences is positively related to important student outcomes. It is becoming increasingly evident that context is a significant factor in understanding academic achievement, and the setting in which a child, family, and school is situated is among the salient contexts influencing performance. Although the family-school partnership research literature has increased over recent decades, it has been conducted primarily in urban and suburban settings. The goals of this paper are to (a) review the empirical literature on family involvement and family-school partnerships in rural schools, (b) provide a synthesis of the state of the science, and (c) point to a research agenda in this area. Eighteen studies were identified that met the criteria for this review. A critique of the research methods and analytical approaches is provided, along with a call for more research on the topic of family-school partnerships in rural settings, including rigorous and systematic studies pertaining to the effects of family-school involvement and partnerships in rural schools."

Weiss, H. B., Bouffard, S. M., Bridglall, B. L., & Gordon, E. W. (2009). Reframing family involvement in education: Supporting families to support educational equity (Equity Matters: Research Review No. 5). New York, NY: Columbia University Teachers College.

From the Abstract:
"One of the most powerful but neglected supports for children's learning and development is family involvement both in and out of school. Over 40 years of steadily accumulating evidence show that family involvement is one of the strongest predictors of children's school success, and that families play pivotal roles in their children's cognitive, social, and emotional development from birth through adolescence. However, resources for and commitments to promoting meaningful family involvement have been few, weak, and inconsistent. To reframe public understanding of the benefits of family involvement in children's education, this paper lays out a research-based definition and more equitable approach to family involvement and positions it as a key cross-cutting component of broader comprehensive or complementary learning systems in which families, schools, after-school and summer learning programs, school-based health clinics, and others have a shared responsibility for children's learning. Beginning with a brief historical overview of conceptions of family roles and responsibilities in children's learning, this paper next offers a review of recent research on the ways in which expectations and support for family involvement have shifted, particularly with respect to economically disadvantaged and racial and ethnic minority families. Research suggests that low-income families have fewer opportunities for involvement and are, indeed, less involved in many ways. The next section lays out a reframed approach to family involvement: Family involvement should be situated within larger complementary learning systems to facilitate continuity of learning across contexts and ages, increase the chances that families and other learning supports will share learning goals and commitments to the child's school success, and increase the opportunities to surround children with a linked network of supports so that if one area of support falters, others remain. Interventions that have been developed to increase parental involvement among low-income families and other at-risk populations are another important part of the knowledge base. The next section of the paper reviews the family involvement research and intervention literature, coupled with research on the barriers and supports for the involvement of disadvantaged and minority families. The interventions evidence provides much of the warrant for the authors' proposed reframing of family involvement: Continuous, cross-context family involvement is necessary to meet the goal of educational equity. The recommendations and conclusion to the paper argue for a research-based and broadly shared approach to family involvement to guide policy development and practice. Family involvement within a complementary learning system is necessary to achieve educational equity and close achievement gaps; differences in opportunities for family involvement precipitate or exacerbate unequal educational opportunities and outcomes."

Other Resources

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2016). School-family partnership strategies to enhance children's social, emotional, and academic growth. CASEL. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Schools and families have essential roles to play in promoting children's positive development and academic performance. When educators and parents work together as partners, they create important opportunities for children to develop social, emotional, and academic competencies. This brief provides educators with strategies to promote children's social, emotional, and academic development using school-family partnerships. We begin with an overview of social and emotional learning (SEL) and school-family partnerships (SFPs) and a discussion of the important relationship of SFPs and SEL, which we illustrate with examples from an SFP framework. We conclude with suggestions of how educators can immediately begin to apply these strategies to build and nurture successful SFPs."

Ishimaru, A. M., Rajendran, A., Nolan, C. M., & Bang, M. (2018). Community design circles: Co-designing justice and wellbeing in family-community-research partnerships. Journal of Family Diversity in Education, 3(2), 38–63. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Researchers and practitioners of family engagement have long called for a move beyond conventional deficit-based family-school partnerships. In response, a burgeoning movement in the field has sought to identify and enact new forms of collaboration with nondominant families and communities, in terms of both change-making and the process of research itself. In this article, we bridge the fields of family engagement and design-based research to conceptualize and illustrate a solidarity-driven process of partnership we undertook with families and communities of color, educators, and other researchers towards community-defined wellbeing and education justice. We offer community design circles as a methodological evolution aimed at reclaiming the central agentic role of families and communities of color in transforming educational research and practice. We illustrate three co-design dimensions with vignettes from a national-level participatory design research project called the Family Leadership Design Collaborative: 1) building from and with families' and communities' definitions of wellbeing and justice; 2) disrupting normative, asymmetrical dynamics; and 3) building capacity for social dreaming and changemaking."

McIntyre, L. L., & Garbacz, S. A. (2014). Best practices in systems-level organization and support for effective family-school partnerships. In P. Harrison, & A. Thomas, (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology: Systems-level services, (pp. 455–465). Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this chapter is to provide school psychologists with foundational knowledge to implement practices that support family–school partnership activities within a systems framework. Specific learning objectives for school psychologists include (a) understand the key elements for fostering family–school partnerships, (b) apply a systems-level framework to an ecological approach to school-based family intervention, (c) understand how to adopt systems-level organization and support to the implementation of best practices in family–school partnering, and (d) apply knowledge of systems-level organization and support to best practices in family–school partnerships through a school psychology practice case example."

Miller, A. L. (2019). (Re) conceptualizing family-school partnerships with and for culturally and linguistically diverse families. Race Ethnicity and Education, 6(22) 1–21. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Family-school partnerships between special education personnel and culturally and linguistically diverse families can be fraught with disrespect and cross-cultural and linguistic barriers. As a ‘wicked problem,' the negative interactions culturally and linguistically diverse families have over time with professionals operate as mechanisms to disempower families, further resulting in inequitable and unbalanced family-school partnerships. That said, I propose a (re)conceptualization for special education teacher preparation research and practice to support the expansion and transformation of school personnel's interactions and collaborations with culturally and linguistically diverse families. I thread two existing frameworks: community cultural wealth and ecological resilience to imagine this (re)conceptualization. Then, I discuss implications for institutional change, including transformations in thought, research, practice, and policy."

Move This World. (2019). Social emotional learning toolkit: Family engagement. Move This World. Retrieved from

From the Website:
"Research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that parent engagement in a child's education and school community has a positive effect on students' achievement. This positive relationship exists regardless of race, ethnicity, parents' level of education, or socio-economic status.Social emotional learning equips students with lifelong skills that carry on outside the classroom. Engaging families helps strengthen these skills and create opportunities for children to identify and express their emotions at home."

Rudo, Z., & Dimock, V. (2017). How family, school, and community engagement can improve student achievement and influence school reform. Nellie Mae Education Foundation. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Family engagement is increasingly recognized as a critical link in advancing school reform efforts (Cavanagh, 2012; Mapp & Kuttner, 2013). Yet, despite this awareness, parents and schools have much to do—and learn—to fit family engagement into the reform puzzle. Although several research reviews have been published in this field, researchers and school leaders are still working to understand how to most effectively engage families, and which family engagement strategies lead to school improvement and increased student achievement, particularly in areas with underserved communities."

Wasserman, D., & Sabater, A. (2018). Toward authentic family engagement with counter-narrative and self-determination. Journal of Underrepresented & Minority Progress, 2(1), 32–43. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Education scholars have demonstrated that family engagement contributes to academic success for urban children. To date, engagement models have invited families into schools. This paper presents an alternative model that invites schools into communities where families use culturally-grounded counter-narrative and self-determination to establish meaningful instances of authentic family engagement. Derived from the Youth Resiliency Institute's Journey Project (Wasserman, Sabater, and Hill, 2017), this paper grounds the model in the relevant literature and explores relationships between the model's theoretical components."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Family engagement, Parent engagement, Deficit, Asset-based, Strength-based

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.