Developing and maintaining up-to-date policies and procedures is essential for any Head Start/Early Head Start program. It is important because they are foundational to a program’s operation and they provide a guide for staff – new and experienced – that helps to ensure clarity and consistency in program implementation.

 As many programs are all too well aware, there is a critical staffing shortage in the early care and education workforce. To address staffing needs, some programs are bringing on staff with less experience who may need more training and support in their new role. At the same time, existing program staff might feel stretched to support new staff while managing reduced capacity and heavy workloads.

How do staffing challenges relate to the importance of having well-defined policies and procedures?

First, when new staff are hired, knowing the steps they must take to ensure compliance with Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) is critical for them to succeed. And, they should be able to see how their responsibilities support the overall mission of the program. Up-to-date policies and procedures are a tool to support staff members’ effectiveness in their new role.

Documenting the what, when, and how of program operations will make it so that programs do not need to redefine these pieces when there is staff turnover. If policies and procedures reference staff positions, as opposed to specific staff members, they are easily transferrable during periods of turnover and new hiring.

Policies and procedures will be a reminder and guidepost for new and experienced staff. As programs continue to transition back to “post-pandemic” services, policies and procedures should reflect any changes to service delivery that may have occurred during the pandemic that will continue moving forward.

Further, federal monitoring reviews continue to take place, with less of an emphasis on the impacts of COVID and more on areas such as ERSEA and enrollment, specifically. A program’s policies and procedures will simultaneously support staff effectiveness and monitoring readiness.

With limited time and capacity, when should programs update policies and procedures?

In a best case scenario, updates to policies and procedures would take place year-round, with regularly scheduled reviews and revisions based on changes to program operation. We understand that for many programs this isn’t feasible given the current staffing crisis.

If your program is considering making comprehensive update to policies and procedures, you might consider summer for this work. Leading into the start of a new program year is a good time to document changes that took place in the past program year or are coming in the year ahead. It will also allow programs to reflect on policies and procedures through the lens of any newly hired staff and what they will need to be successful.

Asking key questions such as whether policies and procedures are compliant with HSPPS, and if they are clear and detailed for new staff, may help you to prioritize those most in need of refreshing. While updating policies and procedures can be a tedious activity, there are many benefits – from supporting staff to performance management of staff to monitoring readiness – that will come from investing time on this important activity.

Foundations for Families’ Consulting Services include providing assistance to Head Start/Early Head Start programs with their policies and procedures. Our team of consultants is highly skilled at implementing this service remotely and collaboratively with programs. If your program is interested to learn more, please reach out.

Thank you.

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