Early Years Update looks at practical ways of developing strong relationships with parents and families

Studies carried out over the last 10 years have demonstrated the benefits of supporting parents to be fully involved in their young children’s learning and ensuring that the influence of the home learning environment is ‘enduring, pervasive and direct’ (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). Large-scale research projects, such as the EPPE (Effective Provision of Pre-School Education), REPEY (Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years) and the ELPP (Early Learning Partnership Project), which focused on children under five and their families, all support these findings.

As relatively few early years practitioners have received any in-depth training in working with parents, it is important to note the following personal qualities that underpin successful relationships and partnerships with parents (Braun et al, 2006, cited in Roberts, 2009).

  • Respect: valuing parents as individuals, believing in their ability to cope and make a difference in their family lives, and working within an ethos of partnership.
  • Empathy: showing an understanding of the challenges a parent is facing in their lives and being able to see the situation from his or her point of view.
  • Genuineness: being sensitive, honest, undefensive and trustworthy.
  • Humility: working in the context of an equal relationship and using parents’ strengths, views and knowledge alongside one’s own.
  • Quiet enthusiasm: bringing a friendly, positive energy to the relationship and a consistently calm, steady and warm approach.
  • Personal integrity: empathising with the parent and being able to offer alternative views when appropriate.
  • Expertise: the knowledge and experience that the practitioner brings to the work to complement the parents’ knowledge and skills, both in building the relationship and in providing information and support.

Auditing your partnerships with parents

The evidence that an effective partnership exists between parents and practitioners in a setting will be evident in many different aspects of the organisation and daily life of that setting. As a starting point for auditing how ‘parent-friendly’ your provision is it is useful to ask yourself the following questions.


  • Are parents greeted when they enter the building?
  • Is the entrance area tidy and inviting?
  • Are information leaflets available?
  • Is there a ‘library area’ where parents can borrow resources to help them support their child’s learning?
  • Do all staff wear name badges?
  • Are staff photographs up to date?


  • Are staff trained in how to talk to parents and share information with them?
  • Is there time at the beginning and end of the day to talk to parents?
  • Do parents know who to talk to if they are concerned about any aspect of their child’s development?
  • Do parents know who their key person is and what the role involves?
  • Do all parents have a copy of the prospectus?
  • Is information available in other languages as appropriate?
  • Is contact information kept up-to-date?
  • Do parents know where to look to find information about the setting?
  • Is email used effectively to keep parents in touch with the life of the setting?


  • Are parents consulted on key aspects affecting the life of the setting?
  • Does consultation take place in a way that helps everyone to participate?
  • Are the results of consultations fed back to parents and acted upon?

Equality and diversity

  • Does the setting have books and resources which reflect the diversity of the local community?
  • Does the membership of the staff team reflect the diversity of community it serves?
  • Are fathers made to feel welcome?
  • Are parents encouraged to share their skills with the children in the setting?
  • Are social events organised to develop the relationship between the setting and the local community?

Sharing skills and knowledge

  • Do we hold regular events to help parents understand more about early learning and development?
  • Are activities and courses for parents widely advertised and promoted?
  • Do we organise family support groups so they are responsive to parents’ needs?

Use the evidence from this audit as the basis for developing and updating your parent partnership policy and for discussion with colleagues on the staff team.

Early Home Learning Matters (www.earlyhomelearning.org.uk)

This website has been developed by the Family and Parenting Institute (www.familyandparenting.org), to provide information and advice to support parents and practitioners in developing effective partnerships to support the learning and development of children under five. It hosts a range of practical resources for both parents and practitioners and is accompanied by a publication, Early Home Learning Matters: a Good Practice Guide, which brings together much of the evidence from the Early Learning Partnership Project and Parents as Partners in Early Learning (PPEL) project on good practice in working with parents.


The Parent Partnership Toolkit for Early Years, by Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton, is a new resource to support practitioners in developing effective partnerships with parents.