The “Hot Topics” portion of the Office of Head Start (OHS) webcasts on the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) always seem to offer interesting insight into grantees’ questions about the new standards and how OHS plans to address them. In this month’s webcast three areas were addressed during Hot Topics –

  • We were reminded about the new effective date for background check requirements. OHS reiterated that programs should review the Program Instruction and accompanying FAQs for the most up to date information.
  • OHS also clarified a frequently heard question related to programs’ ability to enroll children who are not yet age 3 into Head Start. As stated in the standards (see 1302.12b specifically), children must be 3 years old OR age 3 by the kindergarten cutoff date for their particular state. In other words, children who are not yet 3 years old can enroll if they will be 3 by the kindergarten cutoff date.
  • OHS is receiving lots of questions related to QRIS as well as curricula and staff qualifications. They are working on detailed guidance, and grantees are encouraged to continue to submit questions through ECLKC.

The topic of the January webcast was Health, Safety, and Mental Health. The webcast was packed with information about the new standards, justification for why the standards are the way they are, and links to lots of resources for programs. As a reminder, the webcasts are available on ECLKC. Below, we discuss a few of the highlights from the January webcast.

Suspension and Expulsion. OHS acknowledged they are receiving many questions related to suspension and expulsion, which they reminded us applies to children birth to age 5 (not just Head Start). They noted the standards are not a new practice, as they codify a long-standing practice in Head Start to not expel children. This new section in the HSPPS prohibits expulsion and limits suspension. There is some flexibility with the rule. If a program has explored all options for a child, documented all steps along the way, and determines that the placement is not appropriate then the child can be transitioned to a new (more appropriate) placement through a warm handoff. Alongside the suspension and expulsion requirements the new HSPPS provide steps for programs to take to address challenging behaviors and provides more detailed information on the important practice of engaging mental health consultants in this area.

Mental Health. “Social and emotional well-being” are the buzzwords used in the new HSPPS related to mental health. Mental health, along with health, oral health, and nutrition services are viewed as essential components to support children’s development and school readiness. On the January webcast OHS discussed an important new provision that at enrollment programs must obtain parental consent for mental health consultation services. The goal, in part, was described as helping to normalize mental health services. The importance in helping parents understand (e.g., through training, resources) child mental health – in terms of their social and emotional well-being – was also stressed. The new HSPPS were also strengthened to help ensure that mental health services help staff address challenging behaviors and with classroom management practices. A key to this success is use of mental health consultants, which according to the standards must be licensed or certified mental health professionals. OHS acknowledged that in some communities it might be difficult to find consultants who have experience with young children. To the extent possible, this would be the recommended practice.

Child Nutrition. Again, nutrition is one of the key service areas supporting children’s development and school readiness. In the streamlined standards, one of the new requirements is related to water. Now, programs must make safe drinking water available to children during the day. OHS reminded us that this was not in the previous version of the standards. The Child Nutrition section addresses topics such as how much food should be offered, and it also includes more specific requirements related to breastfeeding support. OHS noted that the breastfeeding standards appear in this section since they are connected directly to infants’ nutritional needs.

Lots of resources! Many resources were highlighted in the January webcast. Grantees were encouraged to refer to Caring for Our Children Basics for basic health and safety guidance, and were also reminded that they may exceed the guidance in Basics as desired or required through other avenues (e.g., state licensing). Resources for program staff, such as the Health Manager’s Orientation Guide, were highlighted, as were resources for families such as the Well-Visit Planner. Additionally, new videos will be coming to the HSPPS Showcase in February. According to OHS we can expect to hear more on the following topics – general structure of the new HSPPS, infants and toddlers, dual language learners, suspension and expulsion, family child care option, and home-based option.

It sounds like more guidance is coming soon from OHS related to certain areas of the new HSPPS and we look forward to sharing that here! As a reminder, there are two more webcasts left in the series on the HSPPS, with the next one scheduled for February 15, 2017. What has your experience been so far with the new HSPPS? Please feel free to be in touch if you have specific needs for assistance. Our experienced, knowledgeable consultants at Foundations for Families would be glad to help!

Thank you.

Contact Us

We have successfully worked with agencies in every round of recompetition to write winning grants, design competitive programs, confirm prudent budgets, and plan for a manageable start-up period.  Contact Amy Augenblick, Executive Director, at (703) 599-4329 or [email protected] to learn about how we can help.

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