Annual updates to Head Start/Early Head Start community assessments have taken on new significance and utility as programs navigate unprecedented staffing shortages and evolving family needs. Many programs are also planning for a Change in Scope Request, which requires a justification built on up-to-date and relevant community and program data.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) 1302.11(b)(2) describe the annual update as the following.

A program must annually review and update the community assessment to reflect any significant changes including increased availability of publicly-funded pre-kindergarten- (including an assessment of how the pre-kindergarten available in the community meets the needs of the parents and children served by the program, and whether it is offered for a full school day), rates of family and child homelessness, and significant shifts in community demographics and resources.

While the HSPPS requirement is a relatively narrow focus, we recommend a broader, more comprehensive approach to community assessment updates. This will help to ensure that data is useful and current. Below are a few tips on how to approach your program’s community assessment annual update.

  1. Refresh data points. Many programs have “go to” sources for community assessment data. One of ours is U.S. Census data, as it provides foundational state, county, and local data across many different topics. In December 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2017-2021 American Community Survey (AC)S 5-year estimates; in January 2023, ACS 1-year estimates were released. If time or resources are limited, you might consider identifying the most critical data points to refresh. A more thorough community assessment update will refresh all data points to present the most comprehensive picture of current community need.
  1. Build multi-year tables and look for trends. As your program refreshes data points, we encourage you to think about how you might build a story with the data. For example, if your community assessment reports high school graduation rate, and you are refreshing the data point for the annual update, consider adding the new data rather than replacing the data. Modify data tables to show year-to-year data; this allows you to see how data (and need) is changing over time.
  1. Identify new data points and sources. The availability of public data is constantly evolving. Sometimes, data that was in your original community assessment is no longer reported. When this happens, explore new sources, as you might find that information that wasn’t reported in the past is now available or is provided in new or different ways.
  1. Reflect on overarching factors impacting the community. A lot can change in the five-year grant period in which Head Start/Early Head Start grantees are only required to conduct one full community assessment. With annual updates, it’s important to highlight new overarching factors that are impacting communities. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great example; in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic did not exist, and by 2020 it was one of the most critical issues facing communities. A more recent example is inflation and its impact on low-income households.

Community assessment annual updates are one tool that programs can use to support program planning. These updates provide data and information for regular program improvement as well as that which is essential for higher-stakes activities like Change in Scope Requests and competitive grant writing.

Foundations for Families offers an array of Consulting Services to support programs, including comprehensive community assessment and annual updates. If your program is in need of assistance, please be in touch. We would be glad to learn more about your program.

Thank you,

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