Community assessment has been a cornerstone of Head Start for years. In the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) this is no different. Community assessment is the key to understanding what makes your community unique. You then use this information to plan your program so that it meets child, family, and community needs. The data you garner through community assessment can also help you ensure resources are allocated to ensure equity and optimal child outcomes.

This overview is the first in a three-part series on community assessment. Next, we’ll share tips and resources for a strong community assessment. Finally, we’ll show you how to strengthen your community assessment with an equity lens.

Let’s take a look at community assessment in the new HSPPS, which appears in 1302.11.

Frequency. The new HSPPS require that community assessment be completed at least once over the five-year grant period. This is different from the old HSPPS that required it be completed once every three years.

Required Data. When it comes to data, much of the same information required by the new HSPPS is the same as the old HSPPS. The information is organized a bit differently, and it is slightly more straightforward in the new HSPPS. For example, in the new HSPPS there is now a specific sub-bullet that asks grantees to describe ‘strengths of the community,’ reflecting the desire for grantees to take a strengths-based approach. There is also new language about describing ‘Typical work, school, and training schedules of parents with eligible children’ (1302.11(b)(1)(iii)). As was the case with the old HSPPS, you have flexibility to include other relevant data in the community assessment that isn’t listed in the HSPPS.

Update requirements. In the new HSPPS a program must annually review and update the community assessment to reflect any significant changes. As stated in 1302.11(b)(2) this may include increased availability of publicly-funded pre-kindergarten, rates of family and child homelessness, and significant shifts in community demographics and resources. The Office of Head Start (OHS) clarifies in the HSPPS Preamble that the intent of the annual update is to ensure that programs “capture what may be quickly changing demographic and policy landscape characteristics in their community.”

Consideration requirements. 1302.11(b)(3) is new. The HSPPS now state “A program must consider whether the characteristics of the community allow it to include children from diverse economic backgrounds that would be supported by other funding sources, including private pay, in addition to the program’s eligible funded enrollment. A program must not enroll children from diverse economic backgrounds if it would result in a program serving less than its eligible funded enrollment.”

While the community assessment requirements in the HSPPS are largely similar to the old standards there are opportunities for enhanced data gathering and analysis. Visit the blog next week to learn about tips and resources for a strong community assessment!

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