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Home Visits and Family Engagement  

Barbara Wasik and Donna Bryant

The importance of engaging families in home visiting was recognized more than a century ago as M. E. Richmond provided guidelines for involving families in the visiting process. She stressed individualizing services and helping families develop skills that would serve them after the home visiting services ended. During the 20th century, early organized efforts in home visiting in the United States built on methods used in other countries, especially European countries. Although interest fluctuated in the United States during the past century, since 2010 interest has increased due primarily to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that provided for home visiting services to respond to the needs of children and families in order to improve health and development outcomes for vulnerable children and their families. Engaging families is essential for a productive home visiting experience requiring thoughtful program activities as well as knowledge and skills on the part of the visitor. Program responsibilities begin with the need to make good employment decisions regarding home visitors and then to provide effective training, supervision, and ongoing professional development. Providing professional training in helping skills such as observation, listening, and ways of asking questions to gain or clarify information is essential to ensure visitors can engage families. Using principles for effective home visiting—including establishing a collaborative relationship with the family; individualizing services; being responsive to family culture, language, and values; and prompting problem-solving skills—can enhance the ability of the visitor to engage the family. Programs can provide opportunities for visitors to enhance their skills in developing relationships with and engaging families. Engaging families is a reciprocal process. Some families will have a positive orientation toward working with visitors to accomplish their own goals and objectives; others may be less willing to engage. Although the program and visitors have the main responsibility for engagement, they will face challenges with some families and may need to seek creative solutions to actively engage. Just as home visitors need to engage parents in order to facilitate new knowledge and skills, parents need to engage their children to foster development. Recent research identified a set of parent–child interactions that visitors can incorporate to foster parent engagement with young children. These challenges are shared across home visit programs, as well as across cultures and countries, regardless of the professional training of the visitors or the goals and procedures of the programs.