4 Key Considerations for Family and Community Engagement in Public Health

Posted August 25, 2016 by Kelley Devlin, MPH, RD

Kelley Devlin
Kelley Devlin, MPH, RD
As public health professionals, we are tasked with designing, implementing and evaluating programs and policies that are intended to improve population health. A critical part of this work is engaging families in communities we want to reach. This is the best way to try to understand what matters most to them and how to plan culturally sensitive programs and policies that have potential for meaningful impact.

As part of the Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment (CHOPT) projects, NICHQ interviewed 28 families across the country this summer about their participation in Medicaid obesity programs. In the interviews, families were asked to explain what matters most to them about their health, describe their experiences in the programs and make recommendations for improving the programs to better fit their needs. Over the course of these conversations, families explained what they found beneficial, such as learning how to make healthier meals, and what could be improved, such as accessibility or program hours. Ultimately, this information will inform a toolkit for Medicaid health plans that is being created by the Institute for Medicaid Innovation. 

As I traveled around the country conducting these interviews, I was struck by families’ desire for more information and programming. When I asked them what they most wanted me to take away from the interview, the majority said that they just wanted the program to continue so that their communities could learn more and their children could be healthier. Most were motivated by family members who live with chronic diseases and the desire to prevent their children from experiencing the same. In many cases, the key to the programs was having a leader or clinician who could connect with the families. Hearing directly from families about what worked well in these programs reminded me how important it is to engage families in all aspects of program design and evaluation.

There are many factors to account for when engaging family and community partners in public health programs and research. From my experience, these four key considerations have emerged:

1) Embrace community members as equal experts
Community partners are experts in their lived experiences. It is essential that improvement teams, be they healthcare providers, policymakers or public health professionals, understand this and take steps to create an environment where everyone at the table feels equally valued, which includes fair compensation. Many times, it is the most passionate community members who get involved in these initiatives and would volunteer their time, but they deserve paid opportunities as equal experts.

2) Make sure it’s meaningful
Community and family engagement cannot be an afterthought. Ideally, these partners would be involved from the planning phase, which may start with input on grants or research proposals. That said, if there does not seem to be a meaningful way to engage these partners, it should not be forced in a way that treats it like a minimum requirement.

3) Be clear about the commitment
There are various ways to engage family or community partners in workshops or meetings. It’s important to be clear about the timeline, expected commitment, amount of flexibility, and if possible, options for participating in order to set people up for success and avoid confusion or miscommunications down the road.

4) Remember that one voice represents one person
Perhaps most importantly, we have to remember that one person does not represent anyone other than that person. One person can offer insight and opinions based on their experience and preferences but should not be made to feel as though they are expected to speak for an entire community.

Without seeking input from the most important stakeholders, families and community members, we are making potentially costly assumptions. Even the most well-intentioned efforts will not be effective unless the intended participants are on board in a meaningful way. 

Kelley Devlin, MPH, RD, is a project manager at NICHQ, focusing on children with special healthcare needs. 

Share:

Add your comment

 
 

 

Archive

Tagcloud

quality improvement tips QI PDSA cycle baby box safe sleep nichq infant mortality family engagement eccs coiin immunizations health equity health disparities accreditation im coiin astho onboarding collaboration engagement partnerships larc nashp breastfeeding new york wic new york state hospitals mom mother partners epilepsy data AAP early childhood pdsas texas community support learning session children's health new technology engineering transgender collaborative learning planning PDSA planning paralysis underplanning analysis paralysis vision eye health smoking smoke-free housing second-hand smoke toolkit e-module infant health dental care oral health underserved populations health inequity public health Maternal and Child Health Journal leadership engagement Sickle cell disease indiana SCD medicaid perinatal regionalization sudden infant death syndrome national birth defects prevention month birth defects pregnancy planning one key question prepregnancy health preconception health public breastfeeding support families patients experts insights CHOPT childhood obesity innovation food desert telemedicine TBLC breastfeeding supporting preterm birth prematurity racial disparities audiology ehdi follow-up illinois talana hughes vulnerable populations sports asthma soccer basketball obesity football SIDS Pokemon Go gamification smartphones interconception care birth spacing issue brief contraceptive use postpartum care CoIN HRSA early childhood trauma NHSA community health consumer advocacy womens health interconception health teenage health PATCH wisconsin missouri risk appropriate care community health workers SCD< infographic infant mortality awareness month inspirations childrens health national breastfeeding month maternal health patient engagement hearing loss hearing treatment pediatric vision vision screening eyesight pre-term birth early-term birth SCD clinic los angeles LOCATe CDC levels of care neonatal care maternal care smoking cessation project safe sleep practices neonatal abstinence syndrome NAS opioids maternal and child health MCH Family voices quality care mental health hydroxyurea SCDTDP men dads testing change data sharing state government city government apps sleep AJPM preconception care senior leadership breastfeeding support video series access BQIH exclusive breastfeeding long-acting reversible contraception unplanned pregnancies social determinants of health health innovations Best Babies Zone CoIIN baby boxes Rhode Island progesterone rooming-in Baby-Friendly parent partner patient and family engagement healthy weight healthy lifestyles primary care telementoring ECHO video conferencing socioemotional health childhood development pediatric Tennessee interview National Coordinating and Evaluation Center medical-legal partnerships mobile app disparities perinatal care overweight obese healthy weight clinic wellness pilot sites data collection education resources paternal engagement risk-appropriate care preterm infants high-risk babies Ten Steps public relations social movement reversible contraceptives medical home pediatric medical home patient transformation facilitator PTF skin-to-skin rooming in prenatal smoking information visualization charts SUID postpartum new mother webinar AMCHP QI Tips ongoing improvement fourth trimester partnership quality and safety coaching leadership support year end holiday message reflections gratitute Medicaid data doctor relationship PQC perinatal quality collaboratives vision care vision health evidence-based guidelines ASH health and wellness healthy living healthy eating home visitors home visiting programs March of Dimes APHA results evaluation supplementation formula reduction video infant loss social media advocacy leadership Berns Best Fed Beginnings Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding sustainability stress prenatal care data capacity epidemiologists surveillance data PFAC community partners preconception and interconception care motivational interviewing Native Americans ADHD NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale ADHD Toolkit system design care coordination skin to skin newborn screening reduce smoking aim statement safe birth Texas Ten Step skin-to-skin contact 10 Steps staff training small tests acute care mother-baby couplet collective impact population health preconception Newborn Screening Program substance abuse breast milk formula milk bank crisis first responders NYC improvement healthcare health system sickle cell diease treatment protocol family health partner maternity care Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network Health Outcomes Cross-Sector Collaboration Knowledge Sharing Child Health