Family Outreach and Communication

Published: March 31, 2020

Family outreach and communication refers to culturally responsive and tailored protocols, practices, and materials used to make services and information more accessible to students and families experiencing homelessness.

School environments are not always culturally responsive or welcoming for families experiencing homelessness. Also, existing formats (e.g., back-to-school nights, printed posters, forms, emails) are not accessible to all students, nor meaningful or tailored in a way that invites all families to act on the information. Additionally, methods for communication often do not reach each and every family experiencing homelessness.

Due to the complexity and instability of housing, it is critical for schools to partner with families to ensure the academic success of students.

(Note: Acronyms following recommendations indicate sources for those recommendations. See the Sources Key for details.)

Communication and Outreach

Goal 1:

Families are knowledgeable about the rights of students under McKinney-Vento and know what services are available.

Recommendations & Strategies
  1. Staff should give students and families a focused list of resources (e.g., students and families who are living doubled-up are given a list of resources that will help them obtain permanent housing). (PE, LE) 
  2. Provide workshops that are offered in multiple languages and accessible formats multiple times a year, including weekends and evenings. (PE, LE, MM)
    • Strategy 1:  Offer quarterly resource fairs that include government and community-based organizations offering housing, legal aid, behavioral health, and other services. Resource fairs can also include information on topics like affordable housing, the rights of undocumented students and families, and the Washington State Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds.
  3. Increase outreach efforts by bringing information directly to eligible students and families through staff presence at public events and community locations. (MM)
    • Strategy 1: One way to bring information directly to students is to provide a mobile outreach vehicle that visits various locations in the community throughout the summer.
  4. Make sure housing and McKinney-Vento related information can be accessed easily, including electronic formats. (PE, LE, MM)
    • Strategy 1: Post information on school and district websites, and email resources directly to students and their families.
    • Strategy 2: Post information about rights and available services in schools and in frequently visited public spaces, such as libraries, motels, campgrounds, and service provider locations.
    • Strategy 3: Materials should be up to date and inclusive (that is, information provided in different languages, available for hearing or visually impaired students and families, accessible for students and families who are disabled). Materials should be strategically placed and tailored to engage diverse populations.
  5. Conduct home visits. Home visits should only be conducted by staff trained on McKinney-Vento and as a tool to support families. Home visits should never create additional barriers for families experiencing homelessness. (PE, LE)

Communication Protocols

Goal 1:

Students and families experiencing homelessness can communicate with school staff in a variety of ways.

  1. Create a communication protocol for families that may not have regular access to phones, such as scheduling regular in-person meetings at an accessible location of the family’s choosing.

Culturally Responsive and Welcoming Environment

Goal 1

Students and families experiencing homelessness feel welcome in all schools and districts.

  1. Hold community nights that celebrate cultural groups in the school or similar types of events that also include information on homeless and housing services and rights. (MM)
  2. Send families a welcome letter and invite them to visit their students’ classrooms.

Goal 2

All staff can communicate with students and families experiencing homelessness in an effective, culturally responsive, and timely manner, with translation services available as needed.

  1. Create opportunities for staff, students, families, or friends to become certified translators to bring language support to schools where translation services are lacking. (LE)
  2. Make sure information is accessible for those who are hearing or visually impaired. (LE)
  3. Partner with culturally specific organizations to lead or assist with outreach in the communities they serve and for training on effective outreach and engagement methods. (PE, LE, MM)
  4. Work collaboratively and conduct cross-training with English language learner support staff and similar departments in order to coordinate and enhance outreach efforts. (MM)

Goal 3

Family engagement teams can provide support that will help gain the trust of students and families experiencing homelessness. Family engagement team members should reflect the community, experiences, languages, and the students and families being served, and provide culturally responsive support. 

  1. Provide case management for students and families experiencing homelessness. (PE, LE)
  2. Help families feel comfortable about approaching school leadership and speaking up about any issues they encounter. (PE, LE)

Sources Key

Professional Expertise
Lived Expertise
Mixed-methods Research
Sources include:
Building Changes/Schoolhouse Washington staff; school and district staff interviewed through Schoolhouse Washington-funded projects and the Students of Color project
Students and families of color experiencing homelessness interviewed through the Students of Color project
Beating the Odds quantitative and qualitative analysis showing association between a practice and better-than-predicted outcomes