In recent weeks we reviewed community assessment in the new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) and talked about resources and tips for conducting a strong community assessment. Now, we’ll discuss how to leverage your community assessment to the fullest extent by integrating an equity perspective.
If you’re wondering what exactly is an equity perspective, a helpful definition was provided in the June 2016 webinar, Using Community Assessment to Advance Cultural Competence and Racially Equitable Outcomes for Young Children and Their Families. This webinar was held by the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, and the equity perspective in early care and education (ECE) was defined as the following:
Focuses on the strengths and needs of children and families and the causes of disparities. It attempts to ameliorate disparities through targeted strategies, programs, and policies.
Traditional community assessment gathers the required data. Applying the equity lens is an additional step. It will help you to continuously improve your program, and improve it to the extent that you notice changes related to the children and families in your communities. Those changes will be grounded in data.
One of our first recommendations when applying an equity lens to your community assessment is to engage in thoughtful discussion with your team and partners. Consider the following –
- What barriers exist to families reaching self-sufficiency and are those barriers different/unique for certain groups?
- Are community service providers and partners aware of any unique cultural challenges or barriers to serving Head Start families?
- Does data reveal any patterns across racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups that is of concern? Why might this be happening?
- Are there any unintentional effects that the Head Start program is having on different groups in the community?
- Are the program results significantly different by race, ethnic group, sex or socio-economic status? What could be the causes or underlying reasons?
What you may notice about these questions is that they probe you to look for data that tells a story – perhaps it is a pattern, or a trend that you notice for one subgroup but not others. The questions can be used to guide discussions to help determine if there are community equity issues. Then, use the information to consider new or different programmatic approaches that will help to ameliorate the disparities you uncovered. Determine who (individuals or groups) you will need to help develop a plan and then determine how the disparities will be addressed.
Next, think about the changes you made and how you will measure the impact. Are there particular data sources you will revisit? Do you need to track new data? This updated data will help you understand if your changes were effective and will answer a key question – do children and families have improved outcomes because of the changes we made? Continue to ask questions with an equity lens and be aware of new data. This will help you to leverage your community assessment as part of a broader, ongoing continuous program improvement strategy.
If your program is preparing to conduct its community assessment and you’re interested to explore the equity perspective in greater detail, please feel free to be in touch. Our consulting team has worked closely with grantees to gather and understand data and unique community needs. Conducting a strong community assessment, and particularly one with an equity perspective, has the potential to deeply impact the quality and effectiveness of services provided to children and families.