In Head Start/Early Head Start, a coordinated approach to program planning and management supports the provision of high-quality services for children and families. Each year, programs implement a variety of required activities to guide programmatic and fiscal operations. The timing of these activities, and how they build upon each other, can impact their effectiveness and value they bring to the program.

Following an annual planning calendar can help programs to plan for, organize, and conduct program activities. Being mindful about how and when each piece is conducted will impact not only their usefulness, but will maximize time and create efficiencies for staff.

Here, we look at the sequencing of community assessment, self-assessment, and a program’s annual application.

First, community assessment. Community assessment is the foundation for program planning in Head Start whether your program is conducting its required comprehensive community assessment, once every 5-year grant cycle, or its annual community assessment update. Heading into the 2021-2022 program year, the Office of Head Start (OHS) highlighted the importance of having an up-to-date community assessment, including data on the impact of COVID-19, to inform program planning and grant writing. More than ever, community assessment provides an important step in documenting and understanding children and families’ needs to inform decisions related to service delivery.

Timing: We recommend giving your program a few months to complete its community assessment or annual update to ensure a reasonable pace of data gathering. Consider late summer to early winter. Your community assessment will serve as a tool during the self-assessment process, so having it complete before self-assessment begins is ideal.

Second, self-assessment. Self-assessment is an annual requirement for Head Start/Early Head Start programs and a five-stage process through which programs evaluate their effectiveness in providing program services. Self-assessment helps programs to identify strengths and areas in need of improvement. Self-assessment also provides an opportunity to measure progress towards your program goals. Information learned through the community assessment will be used in discussions, reflections, and goal-setting.

Timing: We recommend completing your self-assessment towards the end of your program year – typically in the spring (or summer for full-year programs). You might consider a “pre-planning” phase to your self-assessment, which could take place as you’re wrapping up your community assessment. During pre-planning, identify what your program will focus on beyond the basic requirements of self-assessment (e.g., community needs, upcoming monitoring reviews, funding criteria for grant writing).

Third, annual funding application. A robust annual application will have program goals that are aligned and responsive to what was identified through community assessment and self-assessment. It will also highlight the most current data on needs in the communities served. Therefore, it is important to have community assessment and self-assessment complete before writing your application.

Timing: Your program’s annual application due date will impact when activities take place. A majority of programs have an application due date that is late spring or early summer, which means application development may take place throughout spring. We recommend giving yourself a couple of months to complete the annual application.

When planning an annual calendar, programs should keep in mind the unique circumstances of their program. For example, if your program is preparing for competitive grant writing and needs up-to-date data, you might consider implementing community assessment earlier than usual. By spreading community assessment, self-assessment, and application development out across the program year, each step can intentionally inform the next and help the management team to balance the workload associated with these required tasks.

Our team at Foundations for Families has supported many programs with community assessment, self-assessment, application development and other program activities. We offer a variety of services to support programs throughout the program year. Contact us to learn more.

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