Last month, we wrote about the importance of having up-to-date community needs data, including data on the impact of COVID-19, to inform program planning and grant writing. Since then, the Office of Head Start (OHS) released a Program Instruction (PI) describing expectations for programs as they prepare for the 2021-2022 program year. Here, we bring these pieces together.

The recent PI from OHS describes that programs are expected to continue providing in-person services during the 2021-2022 program year, if already doing so, or move to in person services, as local health conditions allow. Programs are also expected to work toward full enrollment and full comprehensive services. Further, as stated in the PI, updated community assessments should guide intensive recruitment efforts and inform any changes to program options.

The pandemic has created and exacerbated long-standing disparities and inequities for families who have been marginalized for decades. The number of children and families in poverty has grown significantly. All grantees should update their community assessments to guide their intensive recruitment efforts and to ensure they are reaching families most in need of services. If a program determines that their pre-pandemic approved program option will not meet the needs of the community, they must submit an updated community assessment and request approval for a change in scope.

During the past year, it has become increasingly evident that the pandemic has highlighted already existing needs in communities and has led to new and changing needs. More than ever, community assessment data is a key to understanding and meeting families’ needs. In fact, any program that requests a change in their scope of Head Start/Early Head Start services is required to submit an updated community assessment. This is a departure from the most recent baseline/continuation application guidance, which no longer requires submission of a program’s community assessment.

Given that all Head Start/Early Head Start programs are required to update their community assessment annually, we recommend that these updates be conducted with a lens specific to the impact of COVID. The same is true if conducting a comprehensive community assessment. COVID impact data may reveal trends not previously observed in communities, and can help to identify eligible populations of children.

You might be wondering how a program can conduct their community assessment or update in a way that captures the impact of COVID-19. A few tips to get you started include: looking at trends (compare year to year data), explore monthly data from throughout the pandemic (do you see spikes in data? increased need?), and consider widening your sources (what type of data or information has been released by local food banks? child welfare agencies?).

Keep in mind that some 2020/2021 data may lag in reporting, though there are other sources of information that can supplement. Local community service providers and social service agencies are likely similarly navigating the impact of COVID. Leverage your partnerships and networks to learn and share information that will benefit the community.

Foundations for Families has extensive experience conducting community needs assessments and providing data updates for Head Start/Early Head Start programs, and we would be glad to assist your program to uncover data that illustrates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Explore our Consulting Services and contact us to learn how our team of consultants may be able to help. We look forward to learning about your program!

Thank you.

Thank you for reading our blog. We encourage you to use our blog posts for thought, integration, and sharing. When using or sharing content from blog posts, please attribute the original content to Foundations for Families.

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