Emergency contact information for students: Why it’s important

By Lydia Breiseth, Colorín Colorado

One of the most important things that schools and early childhood programs can do to support families is to help keep accurate emergency contact records. It is essential that schools and early childhood programs not only gather emergency contact records for each child but also make it easy for families to update them as needed and provide frequent reminders to do so. There are some specific considerations for the families of English language learners (ELLs), including those who learn and think differently. 

COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of helping families keep their contact information updated so that schools can share updates and information about distance learning. In order to keep in touch with families:

Be mindful of circumstances. Keep in mind that families’ housing and economic situations may be unstable, making it harder to stay in contact. Families who use prepaid cell phones may also change phone numbers regularly.

Make sure families know how to contact the school. Invite them to reach out either through their child’s teacher, case manager, or an interpreter for ELL and immigrant families.

Ask families their preferred method of contact. Find out the best way to reach them, whether via phone, email, text, or video call, as well as the best time of day to be in touch. (Many schools use the TalkingPoints app for family communication, although some families have expressed a preference for texting over WhatsApp.)

Stay informed. If needed, share information with colleagues, administrators, and families about ELL and immigrant families’ rights to information from the school in their home language. Talk with colleagues about what the school is doing to ensure that families have access to information in their language. For more tips and information, see:

Immigration enforcement

Educators who have experienced immigration raids or enforcement in their community say that keeping families’ contact information updated is one of the most critical steps educators can take on behalf of immigrant families.

This step can make a significant difference in the outcome of a family’s situation where questions of legal guardianship are at stake. Children of detained parents/guardians can end up in foster care.

How to make it easier for families to update information

  • Ask for multiple contacts of trusted adults for each student, as well as for older siblings. 
  • Be diligent about collecting this information at the beginning of the school year or when the child enrolls, and explain applicable privacy laws regarding personal information.
  • Review your contact forms and procedures from the point of view of ELL and immigrant families. For example, translate emergency contact forms and help immigrant families understand what they are, through an interpreter or parent liaison if necessary.
  • Include reminders to update contact information in all school- or district-wide communications and events so that immigrant families don’t feel singled out.
  • Ensure that families have instructions on how to update their contact information. Confirm that they understand those instructions.
  • Keep in mind that online systems may not be easy for families to access without a device or internet access.
  • Even if families are reluctant to share contact information, or seem to be moving frequently, encourage them to keep their information current.
  • In the event that parents can’t be reached and staff suspect they may have been detained or deported, train staff and administrators to follow all parental instructions and exhaust contact options to find a known caretaker in a safe environment in an effort to minimize referrals to child protective services. 
  • Share these recommendations with school and district administrators as needed.

Adapted from Colorín Colorado. © 2020, WETA. 

    Tell us what interests you

    Share

    About the author

    About the author

    Lydia Breiseth, Colorín Colorado is the director of