A to Z’s of Early Childhood

The Science of Child Development and Learning

F is for Family-Professional Partnerships

Building Trusting Partnerships That Benefit Everyone

Families interact with doctors, teachers, and other professionals beginning from the time children are born. Strong family-professional partnerships are built when families and professionals use each other’s knowledge and resources to support children’s healthy growth and development. Research shows that when families and professionals work together as partners, everyone benefits.

Strategies for Building Family-Professional Partnerships

Here are six strategies with tips for building strong family-professional partnerships.

Strategy #1 - Establish effective and ongoing communication.

  • Use communication methods that are convenient for and preferred by families.
  • Ask questions and share updates on a regular basis.
  • Share information and resources that are easy to understand and use.

Strategy #2 - Be respectful.

  • Ask about each other’s values, beliefs, and goals.
  • Offer ideas for achieving shared goals with each other.
  • Let each other know their ideas and recommendations are helpful.

Strategy #3 - Focus on strengths.

  • Discuss the family’s and the child’s strengths.
  • Always discuss strengths first and then talk about how to build on them.
  • Celebrate small successes often.

Strategy #4 - Set shared goals.

  • Invite each other to share what they think is important for the child and family to know or be able to do.
  • Talk with each other about why the goal is important and how everyone will know when the goal is met.

Strategy #5 - Share information and strategies.

  • Talk about existing supports and resources.
  • Discuss what information and strategies are needed to accomplish family and child goals.
  • Check in regularly about whether the information and strategies are beneficial or whether new ones are needed.

Strategy #6 - Facilitate decision-making and goal-setting for family and child priorities.

  • Support families as active decision-makers in the goals they set for themselves and their children.
  • Share resources and information to help guide family decision making.

Establishing Effective Communication

Anyone in the family-professional partnership can use this helpful conversation starter.

What We Know About Family-Professional Partnerships

When families and professionals work together collaboratively across home, school, and community settings, their partnerships support children’s development and learning.5,10 These family-professional partnerships are important, but we also know families often count on their close connections with extended family, friends, and neighbors for long-lasting and meaningful support, which is just as important as working with professionals.3,4,8

What We Are Doing

The Anita Zucker Center and our collaborators are helping families and practitioners learn how to use strategies that will support strong family-professional partnerships.

Learn More:

    The BEST in CLASS intervention includes a home-school component that focuses on facilitating partnerships between teachers and families around supporting young children’s social and emotional learning and development. With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences, researchers at the Anita Zucker Center and Virginia Commonwealth University expanded the BEST in CLASS home-school component and created additional learning opportunities to support teachers in fostering a home-school partnership with families of children in their classrooms.
  • Early Intervention Research Team Awarded IES Grant
    The University of Florida’s Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies is set to advance research into supporting preschool children and families through a new project led by Dr. Crystal Bishop. The initiative, named “Tools for Families,” seeks to foster collaborative partnerships between teachers and families, enhancing children’s learning experiences both at home and in school, with a particular focus on inclusive preschool education for children with disabilities.
  • Center Members Collaborate with FSU and the Early Steps State Office on Professional Development
    Florida Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers (FL-EPIC) Early Steps Professional Development (ESPD) is a collaborations that began in 2017 among the Anita Zucker Center at the University of Florida, the CEC RAP Center at Florida State University, the Florida Department of Health, Children’s Medical Services, Early Steps Program, and local Early Steps programs throughout Florida.
  • The University of Florida and Florida State University are collaborating on a study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, leveraging partnerships with the Florida Department of Health’s Children’s Medical Services Early Steps program. The study is an initial efficacy study of Florida Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers (FL-EPIC) intervention, in which providers use a set of caregiver coaching practices to support families to incorporate embedded learning into child and family routines.

Other Resources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Milestone Tracker
    Download the CDC’s free Milestone Tracker mobile app, to use as a tool to help foster strong family-professional partnerships by facilitating communication and informed decision-making. Using the Milestone tracker, families can track milestones, share summaries, and get tips and activities to support their child’s growth and development.
  • DEC Recommended Practices with Examples (.pdf)
    The Division for Early Childhood (DEC) Recommended Practices were developed to provide valuable guidance to families and professionals to work together to achieve shared outcomes and goals that promote family competencies and support the development of the child ages birth to five years old.
  • Tools for Early Steps Teams (TEST) Toolkit
    Learn about how providers in the state of Florida collaborate with families to promote positive outcomes for children who are receiving services through an Individualized Family Service Plan.
  • National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations Family Engagement
    The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) website offers several links to research-based resources on topics related to family engagement.
  • Home Activity Matrix (.pdf)
    The Home Activity Matrix is a tool that helps families provide embedded learning opportunities for their children to use targeted skills during everyday routines and activities at home and in the community. This tool supports families and professionals to build strong partnerships by sharing information and strategies.
  • Matteo Goes to Preschool
    Strong partnerships between practitioners and families support the 3R’s of Early Learning: Relationships, Repetition, Routines ™. This story shares how one practitioner supported a mother and her son Matteo through embedded instruction while in distance learning and then in-person inclusive preschool during the pandemic.

Articles by Center Members & Collaborators

  • Clark, C., & Snyder, P. (2016). Family-centered practices. In D. Couchenour & J. K. Chrisman (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of contemporary early childhood education. SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Conroy, M., McKnight, K., & Sutherland, K. (2019). Partnering with families of students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders. In L. Lo & Y. Xu (Eds.), Family, school, and community partnerships for individuals with disabilities (pp. 57-69). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-6307-8_5
  • Salisbury, C., Woods, J., Snyder, P., Moddelmog, K., Mawdsley, H., Romano, M., & Windsor, K. (2018). Caregiver and provider experiences with coaching and embedded intervention. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 38(1), 17-29. https://doi.org/10.1177/0271121417708036
  • Sutherland, K. S., Wu, E. G., Washington-Nortey, M., McKnight, K. W., McLeod, B. D., & Conroy, M. A. (2023). Caregiver and teacher perspectives on home–school partnerships within a tier 2 intervention. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 31(3), 219-232. https://doi.org/10.1177/10634266221130053
  • Woods, J., Snyder, P. A., & Salisbury, C. (2018). Embedded practices and intervention with caregivers (EPIC): Linking instruction and family capacity-building recommended practices. In P. A. Snyder & M. L. Hemmeter (Eds.), Instruction: Effective strategies to support engagement, learning, and outcomes: DEC Recommended Practices Monograph Series (No. 4, pp. 145-158). Division for Early Childhood.


  1. Blue-Banning, M., Summers, J. A., Frankland, H. C., Nelson, L. L., & Beegle, G. (2004). Dimensions of family and professional partnerships: Constructive guidelines for collaboration. Exceptional Children, 70(2), 167-184. https://doi.org/10.1177/001440290407000203
  2. Burke, M. M., Li, C., Johnston, A., Carter, R., Zhang, L., Francis, G. L., & Turnbull, A. P. (2023). Examining standards related to family–professional partnerships for education professionals. Teacher Education and Special Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/08884064231188389
  3. Canary, H. E. (2008). Creating supportive connections: A decade of research on support for families of children with disabilities. Health Communication, 23(5), 413-426. https://doi.org/10.1080/10410230802342085
  4. Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices: Family practices. http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices
  5. Dunst, C. J., Trivette, C. M., & Hamby, D. W. (2007). Meta-analysis of family-centered helpgiving practices research. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 13(4), 370-378. https://doi.org/10.1002/mrdd.20176
  6. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), Pub. L. No. 108-446. For complete source of information see http://idea.ed.gov/
  7. National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (n.d.) Family engagement. https://challengingbehavior.org/implementation/family-engagement/
  8. Shepherd, D., Goedeke, S., Landon, J., & Meads, J. (2020). The types and functions of social supports used by parents caring for a child with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50, 1337-1352. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04359-5
  9. Trivette, C. M., & Keilty, B. (Eds). (2017). Family: Knowing families, tailoring practices, building capacity: DEC Recommended Practices Monograph Series (No. 3). Division for Early Childhood.
  10. Turnbull, A., Turnbull, H. R., Francis, G. L., Burke, M. M., Kyzar, K., Haines, S., Gershwin, T., Shepherd, K., Holdren, N., & Singer, G. (2022). Families and professionals: Trusting partnerships in general and special education (8th ed.). Pearson.

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