DRS – otherwise known as Designation Renewal System – was put in place in 2011 to help ensure accountability for the delivery of high-quality comprehensive services in Head Start/Early Head Start programs. Finding out that your program is required to compete for funding through DRS can be unsettling, even if it was expected.

A program’s response to DRS is often reactive, addressing the conditions that triggered a DRS designation. Grantees may also choose to take a proactive approach when conducting required, annual activities. Viewing these tasks through a risk mitigation lens – as a way to minimize a program’s risk for competition in DRS – can help programs learn what they’re doing well and how they can improve. Ultimately, taking a proactive stance can prevent a program from meeting conditions that trigger competition in DRS.

What do we mean by risk mitigation? This is a planned and systematic approach or set of strategies used to identify, minimize, and eliminate risk. DRS is the greatest risk for Head Start/Early Head Start programs. Regular program activities can be part of a systematic approach to DRS risk mitigation.

Community Assessment. Community assessment is foundational in a grantee’s program planning process. Whether conducting a comprehensive community assessment or an annual update, the information gathered through this process provides context for determining community needs and whether the program is meeting those needs. Community assessment will determine if there are changes in the community and will inform a program’s self-assessment. This foundation for successful program planning is also the first step in a comprehensive DRS risk mitigation approach.

Self-Assessment. Through the annual self-assessment process, programs evaluate their effectiveness in providing program services and identify strengths and areas in need of improvement. Data and ongoing monitoring are key inputs. Self-assessment findings, with information learned from the community assessment, can support the development of robust program goals that will support continuous program improvement and positive outcomes for children and families. And, when prioritizing areas for exploration during the self-assessment process, programs should identify – and make a plan to address – factors that increase risk for DRS determination.

Policies and Procedures. Developing or updating policies and procedures is an ongoing program activity, yet some areas may require a more thorough undertaking to ensure compliance and clarity for program staff. For example, a specific focus on ERSEA, a focal area in Head Start monitoring, may help to yield some of the most impactful updates that will ensure program compliance with HSPPS and a strong monitoring review.

Federal Review Preparation. Because data from federal monitoring reviews are used to determine whether a grantee will need to compete for funding in DRS, its important to demonstrate strong performance during your review. By engaging in review preparation – aligned to monitoring protocols – your program can identify areas of concern. Programs can make any necessary improvements ahead of their official review and will be better positioned for a successful review. Then, once the federal review is conducted, programs can use the results to further improve their program as part of their DRS risk mitigation strategy.

Each of these four activities may have its own timeline within a program. As described here, they build upon one another to culminate in a comprehensive DRS risk mitigation approach. If your program does end up in DRS, completing one or more of these tasks with an eye toward mitigating that risk can strengthen your program and enhance the quality and competitiveness of your DRS proposal.

Foundations for Families’ Consulting Services include each of the areas noted above, and services are customized to meet the unique needs of each program. Our team of consultants embraces collaboration and is highly-skilled at implementing services remotely. If your program is interested to learn more about our services, please contact us.

Thank you.

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