Missy Saylor, Child Development Director, KCEOC Community Action Partnership

Missy Saylor, Child Development Director of KCEOC Community Action Partnership, shares her experiences conducting a Head Start/Early Head Start community needs assessment with Foundations for Families. She provides reflections about the process, surprising data, and advice for Head Start/Early Head Start programs about how to make the most of information learned through community assessment.

What is your professional background and role at KCEOC?

I have worked in the early childhood field for over 30 years, beginning my career in teaching positions. I joined KCEOC in 1997, as Infant/Toddler Specialist in Early Head Start, and transitioned into the role of Education Manager for Head Start/Early Head Start in 2008. I held this position until 2016 when I became Child Development Director, which includes oversight of KCEOC’s Head Start/Early Head Start program.

Can you please tell us about the history of KCEOC’s Head Start/Early Head Start program?

KCEOC has a long history; in 1964, it was one of the first community action agencies created in the United States. Our human services programs have assisted thousands of residents in six of the highest need and most remote counties of Southeastern Kentucky’s Appalachian region. KCEOC’s Head Start program was also one of the first, as the agency was awarded its grant in 1965. Our first Early Head Start grant was awarded in 1997. What began as a small Head Start grant in Knox County and an Early Head Start grant serving Harlan County has grown to a six-county service area reaching over 1,000 children birth to age 5 years old.

What type of information did you learn through your program’s community assessment?

Data was helpful in revealing information about the communities and the need for services. One example is that even though the population in our service area has been declining in recent years, the number of children under age 5 far exceeds child care capacity. We saw poverty rates differing from county to county and, in some cases, rates that were twice as high as the poverty rate in Kentucky. We also learned that, across our service area, KCEOC sites are among the highest quality. These points confirmed that our services are needed for children and families.

Was any data particularly surprising or something you didn’t know previously?

A few data points were particularly surprising. When exploring community needs, we learned that in one of the school districts in our service area, the number of K-12 students experiencing homelessness was exceptionally high. We know that many of these students have younger siblings, providing an opportunity for Head Start/Early Head Start to serve an even greater number of families in need.

When looking at health needs, we reviewed state and local data about families impacted by the opioid crisis, including infants affected by their mother’s use of drugs prenatally. These data were surprising and revealed information that mirrored our observations about substance abuse challenges in the community.

How did your program apply what was learned from the community assessment?

Through the community assessment process, including surveys of families, staff, and community providers, we learned about ways our program could improve to meet the needs of families. We are now considering changes to our program design – exploring improvements such as extending classroom hours, moving 4-day per week Head Start classrooms to 5-days, and converting some Head Start classrooms to Early Head Start. These changes will help our program be responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.

What did you find to be the most useful part of the community assessment process?

The community assessment process gave us a true picture of our community – the strengths and the needs. It helped us see and better understand causes of the challenges some families experience in our service area.

And lastly, do you have advice for other programs about the importance of community assessment or how to use information learned?

The data tells a story about your community. Don’t be afraid to let that story guide programmatic decisions to improve services for children and families.

Thank you, Missy, for sharing your experience with us.  If you are interested to explore how Foundations for Families can assist your program to conduct a comprehensive community assessment, please contact us.

Thank you.

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