Over the past month the Office of Head Start (OHS) released significant guidance in the Aligned Monitoring Virtual Expo related to the FY18 Aligned Monitoring System 2.0 (AMS 2.0). There is a lot to digest, and according to OHS all grantees should know by now if they are receiving a FY18 review. If your program is getting a review then 60 days prior to the start of your review you will be notified of the review date.

If you have an upcoming review you might be feeling some anxiety about the new review process. There are steps you can take now to establish a strong foundation for the review. Today we’ll talk about preparing for a Focus Area 1 review, and soon we will follow up with a post addressing preparation for a Focus Area 2 review. While there will be some overlap in preparation, the nuances of the different reviews are important to address.

As part of the Aligned Monitoring Virtual Expo, OHS shared Eight Tips for Your Focus Area Review. A majority of these tips are focused on the review itself and are related to active participation, open communication and information sharing.

What can you do now, whether you have a review next month or next year? As you know, the format for a Focus Area 1 review is document review and discussion. The following tips are built around this structure.

File timely reports and ensure you recall and can articulate key findings, data and decisions driven by program information. Prior to your review the reviewer will read reports and data about your program to build his or her background knowledge and become familiar with your program design. As described in the FY2018 Focus Area One Monitoring Protocol, the following documents will be reviewed: grant applications/goals, Program Information Report (PIR) data, community assessment summary, past monitoring data, self-assessment data, annual reports, and audits. These might not all be documents you regularly access, so ensure you are maintaining your own background knowledge and can answer key questions about each.

Use OHS resources to help you prepare, and use the monitoring protocol as your checklist. Let’s take a look at an example. On page 3 of the FY2018 Focus Area One Monitoring Protocol it states the grantee will describe how the community strengths and needs informed the program structure and design. Next follows four bullets about your program option and design and how it meets community needs. This is your checklist to prepare. Can you answer all of the questions listed? What resources did you draw from – information gathering during your proposal development, community assessment, reports from community partners? If you’re not sure how your program would respond to a question about any of the criteria listed in the protocol then start a list.

As you prepare by walking through the monitoring protocol, identify areas that are challenging to respond to and work with your team to define a response. As part of the Focus Area 1 review the reviewer will hold telephone interviews with multiple staff. This is good news, as you likely have team members that are experts in different areas of your program. But, what if staff transition to a new opportunity or the person responsible for a particular content area isn’t able to attend the review interview? This is why it is important to ensure that those from your program who are most closely involved with the review process are aware of how to respond across the protocol.

Leverage policies, procedures, and protocols. You likely have policies and procedures in place, and preparation for a review – whether in the short-term, or long-term – is a great reason to revisit them. Consider the Designing Quality Health Services portion of your Focus Area 1 review, for example. What is your procedure for tracking and sharing information on children’s health status and needs? You should be able to pull this up from your policies and procedures, and it should accurately reflect the steps your program takes in this area. By maintaining up-to-date policies and procedures you are establishing a solid base for your approach to implementing high-quality services.

Consider the logistics of review week. For those of you who know you’ll be receiving a review sooner rather than later, it’s not too soon to start thinking about the logistics. Since the format of this review is a different than years’ past, there might be considerations you didn’t have to then that you will now. One of the most important considerations is ensure you have a plan for the telephone interviews. Consider where you have a quiet space with a telephone connection. As we all seem to have experienced, a choppy connection on a phone line, speakers that aren’t loud enough, or background noise can make a conference call less than ideal. If you bump into some of these challenges on a regular basis, come up with a plan to ensure that during your review you will have an ideal setting to communicate with your reviewer during the telephone interviews.

Be confident. You know your program best! It’s true; you and your team are the experts on your program. You know your children and families served best. You know your communities best. We’ve heard from OHS that this is your opportunity to describe why you do what you do and how you do it. Conversations will be fluid and integrated across program areas. Share what you do openly and clearly, and you will do great!

At Foundations for Families we provide a broad range of services to Head Start and Early Head Start grantees to help them successfully plan for and implement high-quality services. You might know that we provide grant writing services and strategic fiscal start up. Do you also know that we provide comprehensive community needs assessment consulting, and assistance with development or refinement of policies and procedures? We enjoy working with a great variety of Head Start and Early Head Start grantees and learning about your unique programs. To explore how we can assist your program please reach out to Amy Augenblick, Executive Director, at augenblick@foundationsforfamilies.com.

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