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Engaging Communities: A Blueprint for Happier, Healthier, More Imaginative Childhoods

Parent holding infant child outside

When we launched DEC, we did so with a strategic plan that clearly lays out our mission, what we’ll do to achieve it, and why. A significant part of our strategic plan is its focus on engaging our community. Our families, grantees, and partners should be directly involved in our efforts, from planning through assessing if services are working well. For DEC, fostering meaningful connections with parents and stakeholders within the early childhood system is not just a goal but a vital part of our mission. 

How and what we communicate is a big part of that. Information about DEC, our programs, and early childhood as a whole needs to be accessible, comprehensible, and readily available. DEC’s work has an important impact for children and the adults who care for them in San Francisco, and much of that impact relies on strong, effective communication that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of our community. 

To ensure that we are doing this, especially when it comes to reaching all of San Francisco’s diverse communities, we embarked on a communications planning process that was rooted in meaningful community engagement. Now, we’re excited to share what we learned from it! 

Diverse Engagement Opportunities

It was important to us to center parents throughout our planning process. We started with a parent workgroup, which met five times to guide, discuss, and learn with us from the other community engagement activities. 

Then, through the workgroup, parent focus groups, an online survey, and community events, we got to hear powerful stories and perspectives from so many of the diverse, vibrant families raising children and putting down roots across San Francisco. Their stories play a key role in informing DEC’s successful communications. 

In addition, we spoke with others in our city whose work intersects with ours, holding listening sessions and conducting interviews with diverse stakeholders and partners.

Each of these strategies brought different perspectives and experiences to our communications planning process. What we learned, especially from parents and families, is invaluable in shaping the way we bring more families into strong early childhood systems.

Insights from Families

No One-size Fits All Approach

By centering parents in our communications planning process, we learned a lot. First of all, every family is unique. So it makes sense that their communications needs, interests and preferences are just as unique as they are. DEC needs to create content on a variety of topics and in a variety of formats allowing parents to opt-in to the information and delivery channels that work best for them!

However, some key similarities also did come up across all of the parents we talked to. Parents agreed that creating clear and concise materials with images that represent the families we are trying to reach, and that are produced in the languages they speak, helps ensure San Francisco families understand our information is for them.

They also let us know that one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is trust. Parents expressed that word of mouth from other trusted parents and caregivers, as well as from trusted organizations, is an effective way to learn about available programs and resources. For DEC, this can include tapping into existing networks and sharing information on platforms used by different parent communities.

Parent Engagement and Relationship-Building Insights and Preferences

So, how do we build trust? Through meaningful, consistent inclusion.

Families shared that DEC must provide ongoing, reliable support that demonstrates a real understanding of their needs. They want to get information on parenting, resources for families, and family events in San Francisco. Families want to see us in their communities, being attentive to the specific needs that each community has. Parents want accessible, culturally informed and relevant communications that are intentionally antiracist, and are centrally located and easy to find.

Communities in San Francisco are anchored in their cultures. Language is a key part of building that trust, but it goes deeper than that. Parents shared that intentionality around these cultures, for example, the food served or ethnicities of staff at events, goes a long way in building trust. 

It comes down to the fact that this is a diverse city, so the parents here have diverse needs, and it is our job to meet them. 

Ongoing Engagement

As much as we want to hear from parents, we are grateful that they want to share their input with us too! 

For parents, finding a way to engage that fits into their lives is important. Surveys and focus groups are the most popular way for parents to share their experiences with DEC. But some parents are also excited to get involved in longer-term engagement activities like a potential Parent Advisory Committee or parent ambassador program. Overall, parents and primary caregivers don’t just want to hear from DEC, they want to share their insights and expertise with us and with other parents and caregivers. They want to form connections with other families that they currently are not experiencing. With parents driving the communications, DEC can be a beacon that brings families together. 

We are excited to share back everything that San Francisco parents told us last year. These insights are the foundation of our communication strategies and our communications plan. Bringing families into this process ensures that our communications and outreach are not only effective but also responsive to the diverse needs of San Francisco’s communities. By fostering trust, embracing diversity, and prioritizing engagement, DEC is laying the groundwork for a more inclusive and impactful early childhood system.

Effective communication isn’t just about broadcasting messages; it’s about listening, understanding, and co-creating with the community. DEC’s journey exemplifies the power of community engagement in shaping meaningful outcomes and fostering stronger, more resilient communities.

What’s Next?

We’re currently finalizing our communications and community engagement plan, based on the findings from the planning process. That plan will guide what we do to share information with and engage families over the next several years. Stay tuned for more on that as soon as it’s released!