Addressing the Barriers to Engage Families in School Wellness

Family Wellness

What is family engagement?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), parental engagement in schools is defined as “parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents.”  For the purpose of this fact sheet, we will refer to parental engagement as family engagement, since youth are oftentimes raised by extended family, friends, or guardians.

Why is family engagement important?

Research has shown that family engagement improves students’ grades, test scores, attendance, homework completion, and high school graduation rates, and both increases positive attitudes and decreases negative at-risk behaviors.  Some additional benefits for the entire family are that they obtain a better skill set and knowledge of their children, develop healthier relationships, and improve in the support and family services they seek.  Engagement allows youth and families to excel.

What are the steps to family engagement?

There are a variety of ways in which families can be encouraged to participate in school wellness. Here are some suggestions:

  • Address the barriers: Some common barriers that may exist to family engagement are language, time (dual income earner families, working more than one job,  and/or working evening hours), culture (the norms and traditions of a given family), transportation (reliable, convenient, affordable, and accessible means of transportation), childcare (other children in the family need to be accounted for), etc.  Once the barriers have been identified, finding ways to overcome those barriers can be very valuable for increasing family engagement.
  • Educate families about the school guidelines for nutrition and physical activity, and how they can support schools in managing chronic health conditions.  This can be done in a variety of ways, including increasing communication methods (see below) or offering seminars or classes to families.
  • Communicate what youth are learning with families through newsletters, phone messages, social media, fliers, bulletin boards, etc.  One form of communication will not be enough.  It is important that families hear messages multiple times and in multiple different formats.
  • Encourage family members to participate with personal invites to events centered around school wellness.  These could be daytime and/or evening activities—perhaps activities that happen during school pick-up or drop-off times.  In-person trainings, volunteer opportunities, and events are also ways for families to participate.
  • Invite families to participate in a school wellness committee.  This serves to solicit thoughts and ideas on relevant health and wellness topics.  While some schools may have a standalone wellness committee, wellness topics could also be a facet of a Parent Teacher Organization/Association the school already has running.

What are some strategies and ideas for family engagement centered around wellness?

  • Have families assist with healthy fundraiser ideas.
  • Have families assist with events during the school day (Field Day, 100th Day of School, etc.) that focus on healthier options for youth (inclusive of physical activity, nutrition, etc.).
  • Have families pledge or agree to providing healthier snacks or treats for classroom celebrations (provide suggestions for possible treats in the school newsletter, on social media, and on the school web page).
  • Have drinking water available at all events, activities, etc. and readily accessible to encourage hydration.
  • Have a family wellness committee weigh in on school meals and smart snacks for youth once they have appropriate knowledge of school nutrition guidelines.
  • Have families participate and encourage youth fitness programs such as Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures, or the Presidential Youth Fitness Program.
  • Have families support youth in learning about chronic conditions such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, and oral health through help in organizing guest speakers, booths of local health professionals, health fairs, etc.

The CDC has a variety of resources to assist in family engagement for wellness programs.  For more information, go to:

webinar: Right Partner, Right Place, Right Time: Exploring New Avenues to Create Partnerships


Vanessa Spero-Swingle, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Elizabeth Shephard, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Angelika Keene, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences


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Epstein, Joyce Levy (2019). School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Your Handbook for Action. Corwin, A SAGE Company.

“Parent Engagement in Schools/Protective Factors/Adolescent and School Health/CDC (2018).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Retrieved from Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.

Parent Involvement in 4-H Development; A Guide for Leaders (2015). University of New Hampshire Extension.  Retrieved from: Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.

Scholtz, D’Ette, et al. (2014) “Expanded Learning Opportunities: Parent/Family Engagement, Participant Guide EC488.”  University of Lincoln Nebraska Extension. Retrieved from Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.

Tiffany, Jennifer, and Sarah Young (2004). “Involving Parents as Partners for Youth Development.” Adolescent Self-Esteem.  Retrieved from  Accessed 15 Feb. 2019.