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With all the focus in youth programs going to the kids — and rightly so — an often-forgotten but important element of these programs is parent engagement. Building rapport between your staff and the parents in your membership base is important, since without their trust that you’ll take care of their children, your youth programs will have lower participation than you’d like.

At the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, this has been a particular point of emphasis for all staff members involved in youth-related services. “Parent engagement is a huge part of what we’re trying to do — so we’re moving into it more intentionally,” said Ashley Davis, the association’s executive director of youth development.

This intentional focus on parent engagement starts with the hiring process. New procedures can be taught, but the Grand Rapids Y wants to ensure it fills its staff with instructors who embrace the importance of safety and healthy development for children, and can convey that to any parents they might interact with.

As a result, much of the association’s focus during hiring and onboarding is on the practical application of curriculum for youth programs and best practices for parent interactions.

“We ask for examples of opportunities or times when candidates have utilized past experiences to create parent engagement opportunities for their organization,” said Davis. “We get into the specifics — purpose, intent and keys to success.”

According to Davis, to earn parents’ trust in the staff, the organization also carefully vets every new hire. “We ask new candidates to provide four references,” she said. “Once they move through that portion successfully, we put them through the general screening process, which requires fingerprints, background checks and social security traces.”

Davis also suggested having an open house for any youth programs, allowing parents to get an inside look at the activities their kids are participating in.

The more you focus on parent engagement, the greater their trust in your staff grows. And when they trust the safety and development of their children to your staff, your youth programs will flourish.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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