Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education


High quality Early Childhood and Education Care (ECEC) has been shown to enhance children’s developmental outcomes. For children whose families experience disadvantage, the opportunities provided by higher quality ECEC are considerable. However, the extent to which these children gain from higher quality ECEC is influenced by the ability of early childhood educators to build trusting and respectful relationships with families and to collaborate for the child's benefit. Strong partnerships between educators and parents have been found to enhance children's learning and development and minimise the adverse effects of disadvantage on children's development and well-being.

Despite the evidence of the numerous benefits associated with strong parent-educator partnerships in early childhood settings, many early childhood educators still experience difficulties in effectively engaging with families, especially when those families experience challenges associated with disadvantage. Educators report a lack of skills in knowing how to respond to the diversity of families and their needs, and a lack of confidence to communicate with parents regarding sensitive child related matters. Recent literature highlights the need to establish practical strategies that enable educators to form strong partnerships with parents and to develop professional development (PD) programs that provide educators with a pathway to the formation of strong partnerships with families experiencing disadvantage.

This thesis is reporting on a study that sought to understand how to enhance educators’ engagement with families experiencing disadvantage. Using a Design-Based Research approach within a qualitative paradigm, this study examines the perspectives of a small cohort of educators regarding the challenges that influence their practice with families. Informed by Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory, Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory, and Moll and colleagues' Household Funds of Knowledge Theory, the study sought to devise a set of design principles to guide the development and delivery of a PD aimed at enhancing educator engagement with families experiencing disadvantage. The thesis concludes by reflecting on the efficacy of the PD and its design principles for enhancing educator practice.

According to the findings of this study, educators' ability to develop trusting and respectful relationships with parents and to collaborate regarding the needs of their children improved as a result of their participation in the PD. Educator reports were supported by direct observation and parent feedback.

The major findings of the study are encapsulated in the six design principles that underpin effective professional development, covering two major areas: content of professional development (the ‘what’); and the process of its delivery (the ‘how’). Specifically, these included research and theory-based knowledges of working with families experiencing disadvantage that educators need to master, and what changes need to occur in their attitudes and beliefs (principles 1-4). Further design principles related to the effective ways of delivering the PD, including ‘when’ (at what stage of learning), where (whether at a workshop, in the ECEC setting or in the Director’s office) and how (through instruction, modelling, reflection and mentoring).

This thesis is unavailable until Wednesday, October 16, 2024



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.