Key to Understanding How Family Engagement is Defined

Authors: Edgenie Bellah, Family Engagement Coordinator, Texas Deafblind Project/Outreach Programs, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: family engagement, family involvement, sense of belonging, communities, family voices, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Education, decision-making, inclusion, family cultures, outcomes, federal policy, shared responsibility

Abstract: This article shares information on how the national initiative’s family engagement definition was created and offers statements to consider while reading about it.


The following definition was created by a small group of family leaders and state deafblind project family engagement coordinators after extensively researching various definitions. While many definitions found in the literature contained the key elements of family engagement, the workgroup believed there was a need to capture the heart of what was envisioned in the initiative. After it was drafted, families across the country were asked to review and share their suggestions. The overwhelming feedback was that the family engagement definition reflected what they want for themselves, and for other families, including future generations. As you read the family engagement definition, the workgroup invites you to reflect on the following statements: 

  • We were very thoughtful in the selection of each word and sentence.
  • The definition is about professionals listening to families and professionals doing the work. 
  • Every sentence is about the WHY
  • All the statements combined serve as an anchor for everything we do. This is true not only for professionals in the national deafblind network, but also for all who partner with the families of children who have disabilities and/or life-long medical conditions.

Deaf-Blind Network Family Engagement Definition (excerpt from the Deaf-Blind Network Definition of Family Engagement)  

Families are the guiding force behind all life decisions for a family member who is deaf-blind. Their unique lived experiences drive our shared responsibility to the goals they choose for themselves and their loved one. 

Family engagement is helping families find and elevate their voice while feeling a sense of belonging in their community. Family engagement is the genuine relationships in and outside the family, “the systematic inclusion of families in activities and programs that promote children’s development, learning, and wellness, including in the planning, development, and evaluation of such activities, programs, and systems” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 1).

Family engagement promotes sharing resources with and among families, promotes equity and inclusiveness while remaining responsive to families’ cultures and languages, and honors each family’s dynamics, beliefs, values, and priorities. Connecting all family members within the deaf-blind community and their communities of choice increases belonging and empowers them to plan and enjoy their lives.”

The Value of Family Engagement as Defined by Federal Policy  (excerpt from the Deaf-Blind Network Definition of Family Engagement) 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education (2016) released a policy statement on family engagement which affirmed that “Families are children’s first and most important teachers, advocates, and nurturers. Strong family engagement in…systems and programs is central—not supplemental—to promoting children’s healthy intellectual, physical, and social-emotional development; preparing children for school; and supporting academic achievement in elementary school and beyond” (p. 1).  Likewise, policies in five additional grants and acts (Head Start Act;  Child Care and Development Block Grant;  Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Public Health Services Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015) affirm that when families are engaged and empowered in the education of their child, better outcomes are achieved.

Previous Article

Everyone Has a Voice

Family Wisdom
Next Article

Hindsight is 20/20

Family Wisdom